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This Week in Anime
Does the '80s-tastic Banana Fish Work For Modern Anime Fans?

by Michelle Liu & Steve Jones,

Banana Fish brings the grit and scandal of a 1980s BL-flavored crime drama into the 21st century. This week, Micchy and Steve scope out how well this material has aged and what it can offer the anime fans of today.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by the participants in this chatlog are not the views of Anime News Network. Spoiler Warning for discussion of the series ahead. Not Safe For Work warning for content and language.





You can read our weekly coverage of Banana Fish here!

Hey Steve, I got a question for ya.

I don't know, but I'm pretty sure it's going to continue to fuck me up for the next several months. In a good way.

Having read a good part of the manga, you're not wrong: get ready for the pain train.

Excellent!! Can't wait!!!

So anyway, here's Banana Fish, the long-awaited anime of Akimi Yoshida's groundbreaking shojo manga from the late '80s. It's been modernized for its new adaptation, but it still seens very '80s, for better or for worse.

Yeah, I should mention that I haven't read the manga, but I do know it by its reputation of being A) a seminal shojo crime drama, B) very '80s, and C) very gay

Updated character designs and modern tech aside, Banana Fish is still the Banana Fish we know and love in its tone and worldview (unrepentantly gritty and grungy). Probably the most glaring example of its datedness is how it treats sexuality, because hoo boy is it Problematic with a capital P. 1985 was a time when queer sexuality was very much associated with deviancy and taboo, and a lot of that complicated baggage still carries over into this new adaptation.

It's messy as all hell. Three episodes in, we've already broached the topics of child pornography and rape multiple times. To the show's credit, I think it handles these scenes as non-exploitatively as possible, but it's still a heck of a lot to deal with if you're not expecting it to get so dark so quickly.

For what it's worth, I remember being impressed that the manga straight-up stated that characters were gay in no uncertain terms; on the other hand, when most of the sexuality in the show is presented through some sort of violence, it gets a little hairy. And you're right, it is presenting the heavier elements delicately, a handful of leery scenes aside, but it's no doubt going to be upsetting to folks nonetheless.

It's like, the frankness of this line is honestly refreshing to see in a mainstream anime production.

It just sucks that it's about a guy who molested Ash.

I like that Ash's friend Shorter just tacks on that fact at the end of a whole other conversation.

Vindictive and gay IS a big mood, to be fair.

Just maybe we can do without the pedophilia.

Thankfully it's not all bad, and the central budding romance between Eiji and Ash is extremely cute so far.

Ash sees in Eiji what he never had for himself: innocence, freedom, and control over his own life.

plus they literally have eyes for each other

Tho I'm gonna be real with ya, Ash's angsty backstory is a pile of tragedy porn.


Taken in by the mafia at age 11, forced into child porn and sex slavery, grew up on the streets, took control of the local gangs by 17 but remained under the thumb of his abusers, his entire life is a string of misery.

And let's not forget the drugged-up comatose brother he has to take care of!

It feels almost calculated how every last bit of it is designed to make the ideal broken bad boy in need of healing, the kind you find in pulpy straight romance novels or BL manga. That's not to discount how compelling his story is! That said, parts of it absolutely border on voyeuristic and exploitative, just piling on the suffering in a way modern audiences don't necessarily need.

The purpose it serves in the plot is obvious and familiar, and it probably seemed less outlandish when it was written, but audiences have changed a lot in the past 30 years, and we really don't need ALL THAT to empathize with Ash's plight.

Basically, the time you'd save cutting out some of the misery porn would be better served showing more of Ash's sweet kicks.

It's a little disconcerting that of all the disposable elements to preserve, the numerous prison rape threats still make the cut. They're never directly played for humor or titillation, but it still kinda sucks that there are so many.

On the other hand, cut out too much of that twisted eroticism and Banana Fish ceases to be Banana Fish as we know it. It's a balancing act that I'm not sure Utsumi and staff have quite gotten down yet.

What they do definitely have down is the intimacy between these two boys.

Oh don't worry, I've got the full action.

This scene was like two itty-bitty panels in the manga just FYI.

The staff have done an impeccable job translating the manga into aesthetically compelling TV, which definitely includes the kiss sakuga.

It happens for Plot Reasons™, for the record, so it doesn't mean they're gay (but they're totally gay).

It seems like we're going to have to live with the seedier elements, and I totally don't begrudge anybody for deciding it's too much for them. But I'm fully on board this pain train to hell.

Same! Even if its depiction of New York is, uh, dated to say the least. Like most of the locations depicted in the show do exist, they're just gentrified to hell now, like a lotta American cities. That's why I choose to believe Banana Fish takes place in a version of 1985 where smartphones exist. It's a lot easier to explain that way.

I'm also pretty sure this was no truer 30 years ago.

To be fair, Ash is white. I'm sorry, I mean Aslan Jade Callenreese is white.

That casual reveal that Ash was doomed at birth because his parents were huge C.S. Lewis nerds...

You can't tell me millennial parents wouldn't name their kids Aslan and Griffin though.

The updated setting also means that we've lost some of that good classic '80s fashion we know and love. I've heard there were a lot more Hawaiian shirts in the manga, which is huge if true and a very tragic loss.

Hey, Eiji's trying his best to fill that void. He may not have a Hawaiian shirt, but he's still reppin the banana leaves.

Let's be honest tho, if he REALLY wanted to blend in with 2018's bad boys, those pants should have had weed leaves on them. Not that I'd ever expect this sweet summer child to be so street savvy.

He's a good boy, Steve.

He's very good but very in over his head, and he's gonna need all the help he can get from his strong blond bf.

Be Strong, Eiji

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