Banana Fish
Episode 19

by Rose Bridges,

How would you rate episode 19 of
Banana Fish ?

Content warning for in-depth discussion of rape/sexual assault and its effects on victims.

This might be the best episode of Banana Fish if you're a huge fan of Yut Lung (like me). He takes center stage to put his own spin on all the twisty plans coming together at this point in the show. At the same time, it's also a pretty depressing episode for our protagonist, Ash. In a weird way, Yut Lung functions as comic relief here despite being a threatening villain, which goes a long way to explain why he's such a popular character.

The other feature character this week is Blanca, who Yut Lung is determined to get on his side after last week. Blanca insists that he's retired and the job for Golzine is an exception, but then Yut Lung pulls out his trump card. He's looked into Blanca's past and found out about his history as the KGB (or whatever fictional equivalent) agent Sergei Varishikov. (Studio MAPPA, reminding anime fans of the existence of Kazakhstan since 2016.) Blanca doesn't want this getting out, so he signs a contract to become Yut Lung's protector—but nothing else. He won't kill needlessly, just to protect him. At the end of the episode, Blanca tells Golzine about his new job, as the only other person who knows his true identity.

The timeline here is a little weird, making me wish once again that MAPPA's adaptation would have committed to the original 1980s setting rather than trying to bring things up to the present day. I'm not sure exactly how old Blanca is supposed to be, but considering it's now been almost 27 years since the dissolution of the Soviet Union—and likewise, his native Kazakhstan becoming an independent nation—he's a little young to have been a former Soviet-era KGB agent. I'd guess the oldest Blanca would be would be late 30s, which would mean he was in middle school when all this went down. That's probably too young to be working for the KGB, and it's definitely too young to get married. It's one of the many ways that Banana Fish's political commentary gets twisted into its attempts to bring the show into the present day. Some things just don't have easy modern analogues. At least we get the fantastic lead into all this: Yut Lung pretending to be a spurned lover of Blanca's to chase his date away. I love seeing reminders that these brilliant characters are in fact teenagers, and Yut Lung gets to be his most petulant and childish this week.

The "Kafghanistan" stuff falls prey to this big politics mix-up as well. In the 1980s, Afghanistan was in the midst of a civil war, where US-backed insurgent groups battled for control of the country against the Soviet Union and the Afghan government. The idea of using a Banana-Fish-infected Taliban to install a US-friendly coup makes a lot more sense in that particular political milieu. (Arguably, the Taliban's eventual takeover of Afghanistan was an attempt at something like that, gone horribly wrong.) Currently, the country is ruled in name by a US-installed democratic government. Of course, anyone who follows contemporary Middle Eastern politics at all knows that Afghanistan is in a more or less anarchic state, with many parts of the country ruled by different insurgent groups including the Taliban. The discussion of former US troops still being in the country fits into that modern stage, but not the part about a US-backed coup—presumably they'd be trying to prop up the one already there.

All of these are side details, which is probably why their adaptation can feel so convoluted and confusing. It doesn't really matter if Banana Fish fits into a nuanced understanding of contemporary geopolitics, because that's not what its story is about. What matters is Ash and Eiji's relationship and the arcs of occasional supporting characters like Yut Lung or Blanca. The point is that Ash has to present himself as this despicable, calculating disciple of Golzine's, carrying out his evil plan perfectly, as part of the deal he made to keep Eiji safe. But he's losing his own health and sanity trying to go back to this. Eventually, Ash ends up in the hospital with acute anorexia, seemingly proving that he can't do this. But Golzine is determined to possess Ash or let him die trying, even promising to adopt him.

I've talked in previous reviews how Banana Fish often feels like the female author processing her own feelings about rape culture, and Ash's "breakdown" in this scene is a perfect example of that. It's specifically about his situation, but it also speaks to the feelings of rape and assault victims more broadly, and why rape is such a unique level of violation. Ash talks about the child-catcher who raped him asked if he was hurt, like he couldn't realize it on his own. It was the first time it hit Ash just how much rapists don't see their victims as people, but as receptacles for their own desires. They're seen as bodies, with their minds only serving to direct their bodies—Golzine more or less states multiple times that he sees Ash this way. So when Golzine says he wants Ash to sell his "soul" this time, not just his body, he's not acknowledging the way that rape already does that—because it involves a fundamental denial of the victim's self, identity, and independence.

So yeah, stuff gets pretty heavy with Ash this week. It helps to see Yut Lung at his most comically evil and even silly, like in the Blanca hook-up scene. The third prong of our drama comes with Eiji and Sing's plan to rescue Ash and turn the tables in their own favor. Sing is still working with Yut Lung and even helps Eiji to see him—which Yut Lung uses to mess with Eiji. It doesn't work though, and Eiji gives one of the strongest affirmations in the series so far of the love he shares with Ash. He's determined to do whatever it takes to protect his man, even if he has to kill. Through all this, Sing begins to see that Yut Lung might not be the best ally, becoming more tempted to outright turn against their alliance; he even warns Yut Lung about this. Granted, Sing's always known he was a shady dude, but he seems to truly confront Yut Lung's dark side through his deal-with-the-devil with Golzine. He's realizing that Yut Lung is a devil himself. Even if he saves his life at one point, Sing seems to have no compunctions about plotting against him to help Eiji and Ash's gang members.

This episode is packed to the gills with basically every major character playing an important role in setting up the show's endgame. I won't be surprised if Golzine ends up going out during this lavish party; it seems almost too perfect of a setup for an assassination. He's at the top of his powers right now, which puts him in the perfect position to fall. The loaded nature of "Ice Palace" works not only for plot purposes, but also in an emotional sense. It's easier to stomach what's happening to Ash because of everything else that's going on with other characters. Banana Fish has near-perfected its tonal balancing act in these past few episodes.

Rating: A

Banana Fish is currently streaming on Amazon Prime.

Rose is a Ph.D. student in musicology, who recently released a book about the music of Cowboy Bebop. You can also follow her on Twitter.

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