The Summer 2018 Anime Preview Guide
How would you rate episode 1 of
Banana Fish ?
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How was the first episode?
All right, now that was pretty cool. Banana Fish wasn't on my radar at all coming into this season, but after this episode I'm definitely on board for more. Sharp and compelling right out of the gate, this premiere brings the viewer into the show's world in a natural and engaging way. While it gives us all the information we need to follow along with the action, it does so without slowing things down for a big info-dump; the audience is there in the moment with the characters, and backstory trickles in as needed. It's the kind of smooth introduction that few titles are able to pull off, and it's a good sign for this show's ability to tell a coherent story.
Having a strong cast of characters certainly helps. Ash makes for a charismatic protagonist, calm and independent with enough weaknesses to make him both intriguing to the audience and vulnerable to his enemies. In a crime story like this, he's exactly the kind of hero who could doom himself by trying to do the right thing, and that possibility is an exciting one from a dramatic standpoint. Eiji's role in the story also seems like it'll be worth following, and he reminds me a bit of Rock from Black Lagoon: the ordinary young guy caught up in a world that's completely alien to him. While some of the villains seem a bit too archetypal at the moment, they are at least competent enough to pose a legitimate threat, and that's crucial in an action thriller.
This episode is also pretty darn good-looking, especially when it comes time to start knocking heads together. The bar brawl in particular is worth watching for its animation and visual direction alone; it has a sense of carefully choreographed chaos that makes it feel artful and authentic at the same time. For the most part, the visuals also do a commendable job of establishing the setting. We get the impression that we're in the bad part of town, yet it also seems like a place where people live and work. Put all of that together and you get a premiere that keeps the viewer immersed in the show's world.
If I have a complaint here, it's that Banana Fish hasn't hooked me on an emotional level just yet. I like the main characters well enough and I want to know what's going on with the mystery drug, but nothing here really pulled at my heartstrings. That's fine for now, but at some point I'd like to see this series land a proper dramatic punch. In the meantime, I'm both entertained and intrigued enough to stick with it for the foreseeable future. This is easily the most compelling offering of the season thus far, regardless of whether or not it falls into your usual genre wheelhouse.
Banana Fish is one of the few series I've noticed all that much hype for going into this summer season, so I was excited to check out this premiere, even though the only thing I knew about this series was that it is an adaptation of what I initially thought was a yaoi manga. I was surprised to find that this wasn't just another treacly tale of adolescent love in some everyday high-school setting, but a gritty crime-thriller. From the opening scene where a drugged up American soldier named Griffin guns down his squad-mates in a crazed stupor, Banana Fish sets a unique tone that I can't say I've seen often in many anime of late. From there we're introduced to the hard-edged but principled gangster Ash, who is quickly becoming embroiled in a mystery surrounding a recent hit taken out by some of his men, the drug that the victim was carrying, and the code word “Banana Fish”, which just so happens to be the only words Ash's brother, Griffin, has been able to say since he lapsed into his catatonic state.
This is a great setup for a throw-back style crime story, and things only get more interesting when a young boy named Eiji Okumura shows up in New York from Japan as a photojournalist's assistant, as he predictably becomes wrapped up in Ash's own violent story. It was We only see the beginning of Ash and Eiji's connection here, but their chemistry is bound up both in their interactions and in the premiere's propulsive plot; we find Ash interesting because we see the wily, willful resolve he possesses in striking out against the lecherous mob boss known as “Papa” Dino, so we immediately understand why Eiji might find him so fascinating as well. It was only after watching this premiere that I did a little more research and discovered that the romantic themes that I assumed Banana Fish would resolve around might end up being more nuanced and subdued than I first thought, but given how propulsive Banana Fish's premiere is in developing its plot and characters, I can absolutely see how the journey of these two men could end up being incredibly compelling.
Banana Fish also benefits from some superb aesthetics; MAPPA Studio has done a bang-up job here to translate the more old-school style of Akimi Yoshida's original manga while still having things feel vibrant and kinetic. It's early on in the season yet, but Banana Fish's first outing seems like the premiere to beat, since I can't wait to see where the series goes from here.
Coming into this debut episode, I knew basically nothing about this title beyond it being based on a late '80s/early '90s manga and that it was one of the most anticipated shows of the new season. After seeing the first episode, I can easily understand why it was so highly anticipated.
Of course, being directed by the woman behind Free! (Hiroko Utsumi) and the studio that brought us titles like Rage of Bahamut and Yuri!! On Ice (MAPPA) just might have something to do with its hype as well. The first episode lives up its pedigree on the animation front; this will easily be one of the best-looking titles of the season if the effort seen here remains consistent. Though not perfectly flawless, it's still crisp, active, and rich with detail. The design work also give the series a look that sets it apart from other anime, especially in its effective handling of characters from a variety of distinct ethnic backgrounds. The artistry also effectively portrays the grittiness of the urban settings. One detail I did find curious is that current smartphones are focused on in multiple scenes, which seems to indicate that the story's original post-Vietnam War setting has been dramatically updated.
The storytelling is also a success. Important characters are well-defined from their first appearances, with assorted hints about Ash's sordid background casually being worked in over time. Dialogue is also sharp and believable. The plot doesn't waste any time either, quickly getting down to business with the strange drug that Ash obtains from a dying man, the dissension within the ranks of his underlings, and the scheming of the mafia don. His first meeting with co-star Eiji is also depicted, as are the first hints of a bond forming between the two. All of this sets up the scintillating bar fight scene, which puts most equivalent brawls to shame, and the pursuit of the kidnapped Skip and Eiji which sets a potent hook for next episode.
The one negative I can foresee is that one character is portrayed as a fairly stereotypical gay sexual predator, and this story pitches itself consistently as a seedier exploration of its boys' love subject matter, so it's reasonable to expect these kinds of details going forward. But if you can tolerate that kind of edge, then the rest of this premiere is a treat.
As a high-profile adaptation of a classic manga by a talented ex-Kyoto Animation director, Banana Fish is easily one of the most highly anticipated shows of the summer season. And so far, this adaptation seems likely to satisfy: it's fast-paced, the storytelling is very sturdy, and the fight at the end is a terrific spectacle. Banana Fish certainly doesn't have a perfect premiere, but it's a fine ride with plenty to recommend it.
I don't personally have any experience with Banana Fish's original manga, but based on this first episode, it seems to mostly be a solidly constructed mafia thriller. We've got the orphan-turned-gang leader Ash who's attempting to avenge his brother, the starry-eyed assistant journalist Eiji, and the overarching mystery: what exactly is “banana fish,” and what did it do to Ash's family? The character writing is more workmanly than truly gripping at this point, and the twists are all pretty familiar crime drama turns, but “professionally scripted crime drama” is still a perfectly fine thing to be. Banana Fish's story doesn't look like it'll turn out to be my sort of thing personally, but if you're looking for a thriller, the story so far has been confidently told and relatively intriguing.
In terms of this adaptation, Hiroko Utsumi's take on the material comes with its pluses and minuses. There were a fair number of distinctive shots throughout this premiere, and the scene-to-scene pacing was generally very intelligent, with a laudable amount of the storytelling conveyed largely through purposeful shot transitions. Additionally, though most of the episode was fairly reserved animation-wise, the bar brawl at the end was a terrifically animated highlight, featuring both believably messy combat and lots of engaging character acting. On the negative side, both the character art and the backgrounds felt consistently washed out all through this episode, and there is a massive quality gap separating this show's better backgrounds from its worse ones. At its best, this premiere felt as lively and casually cool as its protagonist Ash, but more often its scenes suffered from perplexing art design choices that dragged the overall energy down.
The balance on the whole is definitely positive, though. So far we've got a tightly plotted thriller with inconsistently inspired art design, and if the manga's enduring reputation is anything to go by, I assume the story at least will stay gripping to the end. Banana Fish gets a solid general recommendation for me, and if you're a crime drama fan, this one's a must-watch.
I'd never read Akimi Yoshida's Banana Fish manga, but I'm certainly going to now. As far as plots that get more interesting as they go on, this episode has it made – from a brief sojourn in what we later learn is Iraq where a soldier apparently loses his mind, we shift to the mean streets of New York City, where the teenage Ash, gang leader extraordinaire, witnesses a man dying in front of him, apparently killed by some of the less obedient members of his own gang. The man is somehow linked to his brother, who ever since he lost it in Iraq has only said the words “banana fish,” which the dying man also utters.
At this point I still wasn't entirely sold on the show, but by the time Ash confronts mafioso Dino and we begin to see the depth of the banana fish scandal, I realized that I was hooked, and when the second main character, Japanese college student Eiji, arrives with his boss to interview Ash for an article (apparently on the thugs of New York), the story truly had me in its grasp. What's remarkable about that is that the build up is relatively subtle. As names are dropped and we start to realize that soldiers from the opening scene are very much still a part of the story, a suspicion is beginning to grow that Ash may be in over his generally capable head, and Eiji throws an unexpected wrench into the works with his naivete. Skip could probably handle being kidnapped by Marvin, but Eiji's the type who might try to do something stupidly noble that would screw everything up, and honestly Ash doesn't appear likely to leave him behind. This is all even without the whole “banana fish” mystery, which may or may not be linked to a line in a J.D. Salinger novel. It all comes together with a surprising smoothness, drawing you into the story.
That the visuals are slick certainly helps. The animation is smooth, especially during the fight scene at the bar, but even incidental moments like Ash climbing onto his bed look good. The story has been updated from its original manga time, which opened in 1973, but the basic grittiness of 1980s NYC feels like it has remained intact. Put simply, this is an engaging, well-told episode that makes you want to know what happens next. I'm concerned that the show will try and adapt all nineteen manga volumes in too few episodes, and I'm fairly certain that this story won't have a happy ending regardless, but as far as first episodes go, this one is definitely a winner and well worth watching.
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