Coupling a strong opening sequence with plenty of likable characters and intrigue to unravel, Banana Fish looks poised as one of this season’s strongest offerings. Do not miss this premiere.

Banana Fish.

Banana Fish starts with a group of soldiers huddling around a campfire, but the quiet is interrupted with erratic gunfire from one of their own. When the rogue soldier is incapacitated, he can only mutter two words: Banana Fish.

The rest of the episode jumps forward to a city, where we follow the protagonist Ash, a 17 year old gang leader. Through his interactions with his subordinates and superiors, we learn that he has dealings with the Mafia, who may be dealing with some sort of crystalline drug. The secondary protagonist introduced later is Eiji, the assistant to a “journalist” that came to Japan to interview Ash for his magazine; though it’s heavily implied, if not outright stated, that the two are in the employ of the local police. When the Mafia suspects Ash of having in his possession the unnamed crystalline drug, a number of thugs attack Ash’s hideout, kidnapping one of his youngest gang members as well as Eiji himself, who got caught up in the crossfire. What is the drug that the Mafia appear to be making? Is it related to Banana Fish? What the heck is Banana Fish code for, if it’s a code at all? What’s with the rash of suicides, and are they related to the drug or Banana Fish?

Bad touch! Bad touch!

By the end of the premiere episode, there were a lot of intriguing questions raised. While it’s a bit slow when we follow Ash as he goes to speak to the Mafia and its Don (who’s creepily named Papa Dino, complete with uninvited touching), all of the scenes work to develop the world and individuals Ash deals with. Ash himself is a solid protagonist; his no-nonsense attitude is amusing to watch as he navigates dialogue with his “papa” and other subordinates, while a couple of scenes show that he has a solid heart of gold, whether it’s sparing the lives of two gang members, or caring for his older brother.

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Ash is a pretty solid character so far.

Eiji is a mildly weaker character, however it could just be due to lack of screen time. His overexaggerated reaction about drinking alcohol in the gang hideout got a chuckle out of me, as was his....demeanor during the episode’s big fight. He’s naive but well meaning, always a solid, if not typical, combination.

The other speaking characters, while not having as many lines as Ash or Eiji, have designs that fit their roles well and show some promise about their motivations. I particularly like Skip, seemingly the youngest gang member, who seems to show a lot of loyalty to Ash.

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Eiji, you’re in a bar. A gang’s bar. Come on pal.

Studio MAPPA is handling this adaptation and their skills are on showcase again. Banana Fish features the rich and varied color palettes and environments of previous MAPPA productions, and the mildly muted aesthetic helps to ground the story into something not as fantastical. It’s always nice to see an anime without the familiar sheen/shine on everything. Furthermore, the animation is so very smooth. Character movements flow nicely, especially during kinetic scenes such as the hideout fight. The fight itself is gorgeous to watch. While it doesn’t have the bombastic dynamic of other shows, it was never meant to; it’s just a good, “clean” (aesthetically speaking) fight scene.

The music employed during the episode was excellent in conveying the specific mood of the scenes, as we’re following gangsters, not bubbly high school teenagers. Describing the music is tough, it isn’t “down and dirty” but it does give a feeling of the street gang life, with a touch of not very nice intent.

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The theme that plays at the end of the episode, supposedly the opening theme, is energetic and features some solid guitar chords (I believe is the word?). While it doesn’t sound too far off from the average J-rock sound, it’s still pleasant on the ears.

I really enjoyed the first episode of Banana Fish and it’s definitely a show I’ll continue following for the season. Coupling a strong opening sequence with plenty of likable characters and intrigue to unravel, Banana Fish looks poised as one of this season’s strongest offerings. Do not miss this premiere.

Rating: A

Banana Fish is currently streaming on Crunchyroll. My mistake, it’s Amazon that has the streaming rights. It’s up on Amazon Prime.