Banana Fish
Episode 23

by Rose Bridges,

How would you rate episode 23 of
Banana Fish ?

This episode leans into what makes Banana Fish good: character development. We finally get more detailed backstory for our two most interesting antagonists, allowing us to explore what the series might be trying to say about them and about Ash. It would be nice if I still had much faith in Banana Fish's ability to stick the landing, but it seems like this will be quickly undone by the show's reliance on angst and pulp by the end of the episode.

As Eiji lays in the hospital recovering from his wounds (of course they weren't really going to kill him off), Banana Fish explores just what makes his bond with Ash so meaningful. both through the dynamics within Ash's group and outside of it. Within the group, this leads to some new drama between his various factions; Cain's group remains loyal to Ash, but Sing's is splintering. The double-crossing reveals how many of his men were never on board with his decision to align with Ash and had been working for Yut Lung all along. When Sing agrees to be "punished" by Ash but simply delay it until they can rescue all the hostages, Lao finally splits permanently from the group. Sing bemoans the woes of being a leader. Unlike Lao and others, he's a sweet person who insists on seeing Ash's true heart—through his connection with Eiji. He knows how important Eiji is to him and even grovels over it, but Lao doesn't care. He wants to get what's his, so he refuses to question his belief that Ash is an inhuman monster.

Outside the group, we see this reflected in the dynamic between Blanca and Yut Lung. Both turned to the dark side because of traumatic experiences earlier in their lives. In Yut Lung's case, we finally get the full story of his birth and horrific childhood: His mother was basically a child sex slave to his elderly father. She was only 10 when the 60-something man "took her in" and began grooming her. Despite this, Yut Lung seems to have been treated well by his parents, until his father died suddenly when he was six. His brothers seem to suspect Yut Lung's mother in this—or maybe they just hated her anyway and didn't care. They rape and murder her and force the little boy to watch, which first teaches him how to hate. Unfortunately, he never learned how to love—and he doesn't seem to be able to recognize love in others. He knows Ash was taught to hate by the cruel circumstances of his early life as well, but he only sees Eiji as a pet and a distraction from his truly monstrous self. Blanca, by contrast, does know how to love, so he realizes what's actually happening with Eiji.

Series like Banana Fish that center on a gay romance (Ash and Eiji) without ever making it explicit often try to make their intentions clear by comparing the central couple with a heterosexual love story. Because those stories are clearer in their intentions, viewers can connect the dots between the similar gay love story that hits all the same beats. Banana Fish already did this by talking about Ash's dead girlfriend, making it clear that she played the same role in his life that Eiji does now. Blanca's story serves as a reminder for us of the truth nature of Ash and Eiji's love. Like Ash, Blanca was raised as merely a tool of the organization he worked for—in this case, the government. (Once again, it's not clear which government, since Blanca is from Kazakhstan but clearly worked for Russia, and those aren't the same countries anymore. This modern-day update makes more than a few things weird.) He never felt any emotions until he met his wife Natalia, who taught him how to love. However, the government was always skeptical of his connection with her, due to her father having been killed by the Soviets as a political prisoner. (This doesn't quite check out with the current political situation in either Russia or Kazakhstan, who've embraced a lot of former Soviet prisoners and exiles.) Plus, a soldier in love is a soldier with potential loyalties other than his country. So Natalia is killed when Blanca is away in Crimea, emotionally destroying him and likely leading to him taking on a false name and leaving Spetsnaz.

He leaves Yut Lung and decides to work for Ash because he sees Yut Lung as trying to create another one of "them," while he cares too much about Ash to let that happen. It's a curious switch from his attitudes even earlier in this episode, where he tells Ash that Eiji doesn't exist "for his redemption" and if he cares about him, he should let him go and be safe elsewhere. It seems like the conversations he has with both Ash and Yut Lung across the course of this episode are what change his mind. Blanca's transformation makes him one of the best-developed characters in this series, and we've only had a few episodes to get to know him. It really stands out considering that we're just now getting Yut Lung's detailed backstory, after he's hung around for most of the show. As it stands, I wish we had a few more episodes to enjoy Blanca on Ash's side.

Once again, Banana Fish's desire to sprint toward another twist works against it. Dino Golzine finally gets killed, something that's been a long time coming—it would've felt wrong if the story ended with him still alive. But instead of getting killed by Ash or someone else who matters to viewers, Colonel Foxx takes him out, a man whose entire character is "the power-hungry second in command who's like Dino but maybe worse?" I've seen some defense of his character because he plays this important role, but I'm unconvinced. There are several other people who could have done the deed and given it more meaning. Yut Lung's been set up as a rival for Golzine since he appeared in the show, so why not him? Heck, they could've found a way to keep Arthur alive and have him do it; he's not an interesting character either, but he's at least someone Ash has history with. Foxx is like the embodiment of the series' worst writing tendencies, with lots of setup for something better that ultimately devolves into cheap thrills.

This doesn't give me much confidence in the series' looming finale. It would be satisfying for the story to stick the landing with Ash surviving, redeemed by the power of love, but I just have a feeling that's not going to happen. Tragedy is more clearly foreshadowed by Ash and Eiji's heartfelt hospital scene, which would be sweet and romantic without the aura of inevitable foreboding looming over it. They reach out for each other, with Eiji barely able to walk and hanging on to the wall just to get to the man he loves—but they can't quite make it. The world is pulling them away from each other, and even after being redeemed, Ash and Eiji's lives are just too far apart.

Part of my issue stems from the idea that Ash needs to be "redeemed" for anything. Unlike many heroes of these kinds of shows, Ash never chose this lot in life; he never chose to fight all these monsters around him. He was a victim of child trafficking! He has no "responsibility" that he has to atone for, and it feels like half the time the series forgets this crucial detail. Banana Fish has all the raw material to be a fantastic, probing, heartfelt analysis of recovering from sexual assault and trauma, and I get why fans have such an attachment to its fleeting moments of brilliance. Unfortunately, the execution keeps undermining the content.

Rating: B

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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