So far, Banana Fish is definitely one of my go-to shows this season.
So unbeknownst to me when watching the premiere, Banana Fish the anime is based on a critically acclaimed Manga of the same name that ran from 1984 to 1995, being serialized in a shoujo magazine. Huh.
Episode 2 and 3 doubled down on the criminal side of the story, while also sowing the seeds for a relationship between the two male leads. After getting captured at the end of episode 1, Eiji and Skip are used as bait by Arthur and Marvin to lure Ash out and capture him. The plan unfortunately succeeds, but nothing some pole vaulting and gang violence can’t solve. However, this is a crime drama, and of course the mafia have their hands in the police department and judicial system. Ash is sent to prison where he encounters Max, the soldier from the premiere that stopped Ash’s brother from killing his entire squad (just most of the squad). While Max initially agreed to protect Ash in prison, after finding out his real identity (and also that his former squad mate Griffin is still alive, messed up but alive), he “quits” being Ash’s protector due to a combination of guilt and shame. Eiji meanwhile is trying to fulfill Ash’s request to find the doc that has the Banana Fish sample, but runs into Arthur instead.
Let’s get one of the big things out of the way; Banana Fish certainly does not try to hide its depictions of sexual violence, with Ash being at the center of it in both episodes. The first instance being of Ash getting abused by Marvin when he was younger, and the second when he’s beaten and raped in prison. While the graphic details aren’t shown, the show certainly shows the aftermath of the encounters, whether its Ash’s disdain and manipulation of Marvin, or his beat up body in the prison library. Personally, while the act of violence is horrendous, it certainly helps to characterize Ash as being a survivor of traumatic events. It’s not a novel approach by any means (especially in 2018) but I appreciate that the anime isn’t shying away from depicting those scenes (presumably they were in the source material anyway).
The other noteworthy point is the developing connection between Eiji and Ash. Episode 2 was quite blunt with its imagery showing the different situations surrounding the male leads; Eiji is akin to a free bird, soaring in the skies and being able to do what he chooses, whereas Ash is caged, stuck in a hospital bed/prison and making decisions to claim his freedom, as well as try to help his brother. The teary Eiji in episode 2 was a bit melodramatic, but it does fit his more submissive character in comparison to Ash’s take charge personality. Again, it isn’t the most novel characterizations (the quieter, submissive one is more emotional) but the contrast works well enough.
Interestingly, while the overall plot slowed down in episode 2, it picked up quickly with episode 3 by sticking Ash in prison with his brother’s former squad mate. It’s certainly quite the coincidence that the two were in the same prison, sharing the same cell, but it keeps the story moving and also adds more depth to showing how Griffin’s psychotic break continues to affect the people closest to him, even 10 years later.
I did have a couple of issues with the episodes. The first was in episode 2 when Skip tells Eiji that Marvin “likes” Ash, and Eijj’s subsequent freak out. Apart from the eye roll of Eiji’s exaggerated response, did we really need to have it spelled out that Marvin has the hots for Ash? It was already pretty evident, so having it spelled out felt a bit too lowest denominator. My second issue was with episode 3's pacing. Some of the scenes felt like it jumped around too quick, especially after a line was delivered.
Nonetheless, the effort by Studio MAPPA continues to be great. The animation is smooth, character designs are on point, and I loved how the prison environment felt cold and bland in comparison to the outdoor environments, such as the end sequence in Chinatown. It really helps add to the feeling of isolation for Ash. The music deserves special note as well, with its eclectic beats that add to the underground crime vibe.
So far, Banana Fish is definitely one of my go-to shows this season. Its central mystery about Banana Fish lies beneath the surface of every scene, but it’s the developing relationship between Eiji and Ash that is starting to get me more emotionally invested in these characters.
Also, how about that kiss huh?
Banana Fish is currently streaming on Amazon Prime.