by Rose Bridges,
How would you rate episode 10 of
Banana Fish ?
Banana Fish is easier to watch this week than it was last week, but not by much. Its first few minutes wallow in the tragedy porn of last week's conclusion, before quickly moving back into the fast-paced plot. The series keeps jumping from one big confrontation to the next, and Ash is only going as far as his old home base in Manhattan. It probably won't be long before Golzine's men track him down again, but for now, he could get some justice for his friend and his brother.
This episode is basically watching Ash and Sing's group take down Golzine's compound, while the head honchos are away arranging a political assassination. The Banana Fish drug is used to kill the "next presidential candidate," seemingly by having his wife stab him under the drug's influence. They go off to celebrate with other politicians and military personnel, including the White House Chief of Staff, who appears to have gained a lot of weight and grown a mustache. I must admit that it's funny the way they emphasize that all the politicians they're hob-nobbing with are Republicans. I'm not sure how much research into American politics Akimi Yoshida did when writing the manga, but the Republican Party held a lot of power back in the 1980s, particularly around Reagan's massive re-election win in 1984. As for the present-day update...let's just say their omnipresence works well for 2018 and leave it at that.
Sing and Ash's gangs, on the other hand, look as '80s as ever in their hairstyles and outfits. Sing is here to rescue Shorter, attacking with his own special gimmick—shuriken on a string. It's been a little frustrating how much the Chinese characters adhere to stereotypes, given Yut Lung's all-powerful acupuncture needle, so at least Sing's weapon of choice is Japanese instead? Sing can't believe that Ash would actually kill Shorter, since they were best friends and all, but he seems to buy it more when he sees a rather scary-looking Ash burning Shorter's corpse, telling Sing that he doesn't want to be bothered about it. I got the sense after Yut Lung kidnapped him that Sing was starting to figure out that this situation was more complicated than it seemed on the surface. Anyway, it was thrilling to see his gang take over Golzine's estate as Ash did, but I should have figured he'd eventually be used to keep Yut Lung in the story.
Episode 10 finally gives us some answers to our Yut Lung questions. I had been wondering where the story was going with him, seemingly building him up as more sympathetic while fans seem to regard him as a more sick and twisted villain. Between recounting his own history of trauma to Eiji last week to his horrified reaction at Banana Fish's effects this time, it seemed like the story was imbuing Yut Lung with humanity in him than the other baddies. He even frees Ash, though I guessed that there was more to it than sudden feelings of remorse or mercy. It turns out that Ash's rampage through the mansion and subsequent search for Eiji provides a good diversion for Yut Lung to grab what he wants: the stash of Banana Fish in the basement lab. He paralyzes Abraham, who of course Ash later kills for what he did to Griffin and Shorter. For someone in shock just a few hours ago from seeing the drug's effects on Shorter, Yut Lung bounces back pretty quickly. He might have his moments where it seems like has a soul, but the evil plan seems to be ultimately be winning out. I'm just glad that Banana Fish has at least one clear villain who is more than two-dimensional.
Ash, on the other hand, is clearly troubled by what happened to Shorter and that won't change anytime soon. If it wasn't obvious enough from his behavior, the dialogue keeps referring to "the devil himself" in terms of how Ash sees himself after being forced to kill his best friend. It was interesting that he didn't even attempt to deny or explain to Sing when he confronted him at the end of the episode. Normally, I get frustrated when this happens, where characters just stubbornly refuse to "use their words" in order to artificially prolong conflict. Sometimes it works though, because real people don't always do the most logical or the "best" thing for them in a particular moment. I thought Banana Fish justified this choice by how Ash is haunted by his trauma. Hopefully, at some future date, Sing will learn the truth, whether from Ash or Yut Lung (who I suspect knows it's more useful to keep him in ignorance for a while) or someone else. I'm glad Banana Fish went the route that was more honest for Ash's character.
I'm happy to see Ash and Eiji finally reunite when Ash rescues him. The show milks their dialogue and gestures for all the romantic tension they're worth, with statements like "I'll protect you" and "never leave my side" that ride the line between innocuous and passionate. It was especially encouraging how Eiji responded in kind, telling Ash nothing can happen to him or he'd "go crazy," and that he would "wait forever" for him to return. Even if these two never explicitly declare themselves a couple, given everything they're throwing at us, Banana Fish is pushing the limits of pure subtext in its romantic characterization.
There's still a lot in this show's presentation that makes me uneasy though. This episode spent a lot of time during Ash's rampage fixating on his rock-hard abs and all the intricate scratches across them. It's one of those rare moments where you're reminded of the director's past work on Free!, and while at least this time Ash is shown in a powerful position—not as a suffering victim—it's still distracting and inappropriate, pulling me out of the story. At the same time, Banana Fish keeps making these characters and their dynamics more interesting and complicated. I'm not sure where we're about to go now that Ash and friends are back on familiar turf, but too much has fundamentally shifted for them to keep running in circles. I'm curious what Yut Lung plans with his drug acquisition and how he'll clash against both our heroes and the other villains—including the rest of his family and their alliance with Golzine. I wonder if we'll find out more about the specific political plans Golzine's gang is nudging along. (My guess is no, since that's not really important to Ash and Eiji's story.) The show's presentation and its content might clash sometimes, but the latter is strong enough to keep Banana Fish worth watching.
Banana Fish is currently streaming on Amazon Prime.
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