This is (so far) the hardest review I’ve had to write, not because Banana Fish did anything wrong-in fact, it did many things right-but because of my own shortcomings.
To first get it out of the way, was this a good episode? Yes it was. The animation was smooth, the music was even better this episode with the hostage situation as it complemented the escalating situation with solid beats, and the hints into character histories make everything so worthwhile. There was one (big) issue for me, but we’ll discuss it later.
Things may have only moved forward slightly in terms of the big picture, but slowing things down for an episode makes perfect sense from a narrative stand point. The last 5 episodes have been (in ways) a mad dash from getting to know the world, to raising the stakes with a few deaths, to a preliminary gunfight with the Papa Golzine. Assuming that Golzine is the “final antagonist” of the story, it makes sense for things to simmer down for an episode before ramping things up again. Of course, Banana Fish isn’t going to waste an episode doing nothing (for one, its source material is long completed), so it takes the time to slightly flesh out Eiji and really dive into Ash’s past.
To be quite blunt, finding out Ash was raped when he was 7 did two things: it made me sick to my stomach and caused me to sigh in exasperation (not simultaneously). While Banana Fish has never shied away from the seedy side of Ash’s criminal life, to find out that he was molested at age 7 was...disgusting. I’m glad the scum was shot dead a year later (especially since as it turns out, he was a serial killer to boot), so there was some comeuppance, but that was seriously depraved of that creep.
However, adding yet another trauma to Ash’s life feels almost overdone at this point. Not only was he raped by Marvin, kept as a pet/sex slave by Golzine, and raped many other times in prison/on the streets, the show (and manga, by extension) decides to add childhood molestation to it.
The thing is though? It is still within the realm of reality. Things like this can (and do) happen in real life, and it feels wrong to be flippant about it.
Notably, one of the episode’s best lines is delivered by Eiji when he hears about all of this.
“But even after all that, he still isn’t broken. Ash is strong.”
Not only does this speak to Ash’s character, but it sets up for...well, Ash’s probable crash later (I’m speculating here, no spoilers please) and it contrasts amazingly with Ibe’s comments about Eiji earlier.
While we previously knew that Eiji was a pole vaulter, we learn that after his injury, he stopped doing it. Ibe brought him to America in hopes that he’ll find a spark to encourage him to take up pole vaulting again. For anyone that has experienced any sort of loss, the aftermath is often a very numb experience. Sometimes though, people will dive right into something else, such as a rebound after a relationship ends, or seeking out a new hobby or experience to supplement the loss. In Eiji’s case, it seems he’s diving into Ash’s life to make a difference (though so far it seems to be that the opposite is currently happening).
These are interesting plot beats that definitely showcase how anime is more than simply “Japanese cartoons;” the stories they potentially tell can be just as powerful or meaningful as any other story in any other medium. One of the big issues with this episode?
I couldn’t connect to any of it. I can understand the significance of the episode beats, I can write about why they’re important (as I tried to do above), but without any emotional connection to the material, it’s harder to write about it apart from academic analysis-in which I’m not entirely confident with either!
I find the characters likable, the plot intriguing, and the action/music/animation great. This is definitely one of the best shows I’m watching this season, a title that I would definitely recommend to non-anime viewers because it avoids many of the anime stereotypes (apart from a bit of Boy’s Love cliches), but I’m not sure if I can properly write about the show and do the material justice. Ash’s many traumas, Eiji’s seemingly lost of motivation in his old sport (though he never shows that he’s upset over it, hm...), the material is gold.
I don’t know if I have the ability to do this show justice for the future episodes - but at the same time I want to try. If worse comes to worse, it’ll be one of my first proper AniTAY reviews at the end of December/early January (it’s a 2 cour show).
Episode 6 did have one big issue for me though, and it was with Ash’s father. Aside from his crass attitude at the start (calling the other people Ash’s whores), his response to the police ignoring the fact that a child was molested was...unnerving. Let it happen but make sure he pays for it? What kind of message is that to the kid? He even lets it happen for a year before Ash resolves the problem himself. It’s frustrating because it’s horrible behavior and completely irresponsible of him to effectively abandon his son!
Apart from that, the episode was really good. Personally, I think the episode was almost as good as the premiere, if not for Ash’s father, which broke many camel backs.
Banana Fish is currently airing on Amazon Prime.
Missed last week’s review?
EDIT Aug 19, 2018: for a myriad of reasons, I’ll be halting coverage of Banana Fish for now. There’ll be a write up either at the halfway mark or afterwards. Thank you for reading!