by Rose Bridges,
How would you rate episode 17 of
Banana Fish ?
It's nice to have Ash and Eiji back together again, isn't it? I feel like I've been starved for affection between these two, and episode 17 delivers in spades. Luckily, that's not all that it has going for it, or else it wouldn't be that exciting of an episode. "The Killers" is a showcase for the series' current best villain, Yut-Lung, that also introduces a new challenger for that title.
After hovering around the shadows for the last few weeks, Yut Lung finally gets to exact his revenge on his horrible family. He strikes a deal with Golzine that basically involves them using their skills to go after each other's enemies, like the evil mafia don version of "I scratch your back, you scratch mine." Both succeed, but since Yut-Lung is a multidimensional character we care about more, his family's destruction gets more actual screen time and feels far more thrilling. My only complaint would be that this feels like it happens far too quickly. For all the build-up we've had over several episodes, it's a bit anti-climactic to see Wang-Lung dispensed with over the course of just one scene. Then again, Yut-Lung does have six brothers and hopes to wipe out each one's entire family, so I'm guessing this is only the beginning.
But ultimately, this isn't Yut-Lung's story, it's Ash's and Eiji's, even if episodes like this can make you sometimes wish that it was the other way around. It's obvious Yut-Lung's desire to wipe out the entire Lee clan would eventually means killing himself too, and we've seen more and more indication that this might be what he wants. While he's not doing anything to try to reverse course, he does seem to be aware on some level that he's a twisted person who's drowning in loneliness and despair. Whatever's leading him to want to end his existence, it makes him more sympathetic than I had ever expected when he was first introduced. So in some ways, it makes him a more interesting character than Ash, who for all his trauma and pain still feels unrealistically perfect at times. Yut-Lung also is super-smart and capable beyond his years, but that's eating him away inside at a much faster pace. Ash still has a survival instinct and basic goodness that's probably more due to his upbringing than any sort of "cursed" aspect of the Lee lineage.
At least in between all this dark stuff, we get some sweet scenes. I'm glad that Ash has finally realized how much he needs Eiji emotionally. It's frustrating that they needed to both be captured and separated from each other in order to see that, but I'm glad they finally got there. It felt like MAPPA was trying to make up for all that separation by really turning up the romantic ambiance, with that soft orange lighting during some of their scenes alone. While some things have improved, you don't have to read between the lines much to see that there's trouble in paradise. Eiji is reluctant to tell Ash about how he met Yut-Lung, and even when he does, he withholds details about how Yut-Lung will go after Eiji as long as he's the key to Ash. Eiji doesn't want Ash to worry too much, but he also knows that Ash will baby him and get overprotective, suggesting that the two still have some trust issues.
Adding to that is Ash's mounting paranoia this week, leading the boy who always trusts his own instincts to begin doubting them. He can't put his finger on why, but he just has an eerie sense of constantly being watched, making him even clingier about Eiji, which probably isn't helping these trust issues. Of course, Ash turns out to be right, introducing what I've heard from many manga fans is one of the series' best characters, Blanca.
Blanca is an assassin hired by Golzine to track down Ash, and he seems to have a history and a bond with his target that initially makes him reluctant to take the job. Spying on Ash makes him reconsider, because he's curious about what the boy has been up to and sees him as a worthy opponent. There are suggestions that Blanca might have taught Ash his own gun skills, complimenting him for following his methods. All this makes it puzzling that Blanca is willing to kill this boy he seemingly helped train and raise, but the "checking in on a former pupil" part makes sense. If only that "check-in" wasn't so deadly in nature…
Despite the title "The Killers" sounding like it could describe any Banana Fish episode, it's a reference to a 1920s short story by Ernest Hemingway about Prohibition-era mob violence and the inability of ordinary people to do anything to stop it. I don't think I have to explain how this relates to Banana Fish and this episode in particular, full of cascading mob hits. As the bodies stack up, the complexity of our cast of characters does too (except Golzine, who's as one-dimensionally evil as ever). I hope he dies soon. Ash has enough more interesting opponents to make up the difference, especially after this week.
Banana Fish is currently streaming on Amazon Prime.
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