by Rose Bridges,
How would you rate episode 5 of
Banana Fish ?
Now this is the episode of Banana Fish I've been waiting for. It combines all the best elements of the show, from its strong relationships and character writing to exciting action scenes, while leaving behind the more unsavory elements that have recently threatened to overwhelm the show. Perhaps most importantly, it opens the door to a whole new storyline that will deepen our characters and their relationships.
Ash finally gets out of jail, and as everyone predicts, proceeds to go after Dino. This is especially true now that he's learned about his brother's fate. Max even busts himself out to try and prevent this from happening. In the meantime, Ash has to assemble his troops, including Shorter Wong and Eiji. Ibe would prefer his young charge return to Japan, but Eiji is determined to stay with Ash. When he allows him one more chance to see his "friend" before they fly home, Eiji capitalizes on this opportunity to run away.
Eiji is the star of this episode. He continues to be adorable, sweet, and make lots of great faces (my favorite being this one). At the same time, he's also starting to develop some sharper edges, due to his strong devotion to Ash and commitment to see this mystery through. It makes sense that Eiji wouldn't be ready to fire his gun at a living person yet, even if he enjoys goofing around with the weapon. I get the sense that it won't take him long to get there, though. After all, he manages to drive the car away from their caretakers to help Ash, sending Ibe and Charlie on a wild goose chase after them. The Eiji of a few episodes ago wouldn't have been able to do that, perhaps Ash is finally starting to rub off on him.
This brings up the topic of the connection between our two main boys. They obviously have a ton of cute chemistry together, and it's easy to see why Eiji likes Ash so much, as the coolest and toughest teenager to ever exist. It's a little less convincing from the other side, though. As lovable as Eiji is, what particular hold does he have over Ash? He was already offering him the chance to hold his gun ("""gun""") in the first episode, so it's almost like he imprinted on him. I think Banana Fish wants us to think that Eiji's relative innocence compared to everyone else in Ash's life makes him irresistible. Eiji is pure and untouched by the harsh world Ash has lived in ever since he ran away from home. Of course, that poses the question of what will become of their relationship as Eiji becomes embroiled in Ash's way of life and loses his purity. After that, Eiji's seemingly unconditional love will have to hold their relationship together. It's a little early to say that their bond is that strong, but Eiji does appear to accept Ash no matter what he does. Ash has never had anyone in his life quite like that. He's used to people using him, but having someone with no ulterior motive in his life could help him heal from his psychological wounds and open him up to love.
The other big thread this week is the grief suggested by the episode title, which uses "morning" as in the beginning of a new day, but it also obviously means "mo(u)rning" as well. At first, it felt odd that Ash didn't have a moment to just process his grief, immediately running off to start planning his revenge instead. However, many people skip around the classic "five stages" and do them in their own order. For Ash, anger and wanting to fix the situation came first—he hoped that by punishing the people responsible, he could get some personal closure and justice for his brother. I think it's important that Banana Fish doesn't actually grant him that so easily. It's not just important in a story sense—Dino is the "main villain" so far, and it would be strange to kill him off so early—but it forces Ash to grapple with the full reality of his brother's death. He can't simply "fix things" by avenging him. He will still have grief to process when it's all over. At least now he'll be able to process it in his childhood home and possibly gain more insight into the mystery behind "Banana Fish" while he waits. Dino gives the audience an important clue this week, referring to the drug as "something that can change the world." We'll just have to see what he means by that.
Ash going back to his childhood home opens up lots of story potential. I'm curious why exactly he ran away in the first place. Being from Cape Cod would presume he came from a rich family. So why did he give all that up for his life now? How bad was his family to force him to run away? Did his parents try to find him, or were they too neglectful or distant? And how is all this connected to the mystery of "Banana Fish"? I've enjoyed the show's intrepid action scenes, but I'm eager to dig into Ash's backstory too. It opens up lots of new avenues for the series to explore. We just got a little more of Eiji's background, with his history as a former competitive pole-vaulter sidelined by an injury. (And it was cute to see how impressed Ash was by this story.)
MAPPA has obviously done a stellar job animating this show, but one of the aesthetic standouts for me is the music. Banana Fish has a quirky and eclectic score that felt particularly well-used this week. There is a funky percussive track that adds a weird tension and charm to the early scenes, as everyone reacts to Ash getting out of jail. The Latin jazz number punches up Shorter's re-entrance into the story and helps add some of the "urban cool" aesthetic that this story thrives on. There are some musical moments that don't work as well and feel overused, like the gloomy piano music used for a lot of Dino and Arthur's scenes. Still, Banana Fish's music adds to its unusual appeal and mix of tones and moods.
There's still a lot of sensationalist silliness hanging out on the edges of this story. But Banana Fish has a strong core to its story about how people can ruin or better each other's lives, and episode 5 hones in on the parts of that story that work best. I'm finally getting a sense of what made this manga so beloved over the years and how this anime could pass that on to a new generation.
Banana Fish is currently streaming on Amazon Prime.
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