Banana Fish's body count has ramped up as the story powers past new points of no return every week, but does this diminish or enhance its appeal? This week, Michelle and Steve discuss their complicated feelings on this crime drama's dark spiral.
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.
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Well Micchy, this marks the second week in a row that I'm being driven to drink by anime bananas.
So it's safe to say you're being driven bananas
ANYWAY, it hasn't been long since we last discussed Banana Fish, but this high-octane crime drama has only been speeding up. A whole ton of shit has gone down.
Unfortunately, most of it's gone down in Shorter.
Shorter was my favorite boy and having read the manga, I knew this was coming. Doesn't make his death any less painful though!
Speaking as a newbie to the Banana Fish experience, it hurt a lot! He was a good boy with good hair.
So yeah, since Ash's stint in prison, he's been released, attempted to assassinate Golzine, visited his home in Cape Cod, gone to Los Angeles, and now he's all caught up in the MK Ultra conspiracy back in New York. Oh I'm sorry, I meant the Banana Fish conspiracy. This is set in the 21st century and not the 1980s, of course.
Not gonna lie, it's startling how quickly we've progressed from mob warfare to straight-up supervillain stuff, but the ride's certainly been engaging.
Ah yes, the real threats to society: the mafia, the military, and the Republican Party.
Not to get too political in a discussion of cartoons, but the one thing that's stayed relatively timely is Reagan-era politics compared to Trump-era politics. Watching from the sidelines (for now) is Yut-Lung Lee, the illegitimate seventh brother of the Lee syndicate, who is a colossal piece of shit.
Not to mention kind of a walking stereotype, because of course the Chinese guy is an expert in acupuncture.
As somebody who shamelessly loves huge pieces of shit, I like Yut-Lung a lot, and his introduction adds another layer of complexity to Banana Fish's already labyrinthine web of revenge. He's playing as many sides as he can in order to get revenge for his mother, which in the grand scheme of Banana Fish is a fairly noble goal.
It's just a shame he has to kidnap the most innocent boy in the world to do it.
See, I love Moon Dragon-kun a lot too; he's easily one of my favorite characters in spite of all the garbage I know he'll do in the future.
and i will eat that garbage up
I hope you enjoy some truly despicable shit! Because this boy does not let up. On the topic of innocent boys though, I've been feeling conflicted on the show's characterization. Eiji's sheltered upbringing is a given, but the thing that makes me wary is how all of our protagonists are weirdly wholesome. Ash and Shorter, for all their crimes, are always shown in a positive light. We know they've killed people, but we don't see them take out anyone sympathetic; their victims are mostly unnamed goons and garbage people. You'd think they'd have made mistakes at some point that would give them some rougher edges aside from that bad boy angst. As it stands, it almost feels calculated how we're forced into rooting for Ash and his friends against the unrepentantly evil Arthur and Golzine, in a story that's ostensibly about more shades of gray. I love these boys a lot, but there's a part of me that feels like I'm being manipulated. That's technically true of all fiction, but it doesn't need to feel so obvious.
That's definitely a good point! I think it demonstrates how much Banana Fish is a shoujo drama at heart rather than a hard-boiled crime drama. I mean, Ash isn't even 18, he's a full-fledged gang leader in New York, and he's also impeccably good-looking. And his real name is Aslan. We're obviously not operating in anything close to reality. The drama is heavily manufactured, but for the most part it works for me, because the character relationships have felt pretty natural. My nagging problem with the show is how it seems like every single episode, either an innocent person gets caught in the crossfire or someone gets threatened with rape. Or both.
I don't want to diminish this work by saying it's not a crime drama, but it is just a little more shoujo manga than crime drama, which isn't necessarily a bad thing, just maybe deceptive on the surface.
It certainly feels like the kind of crime drama somebody who watched a bunch of crime and action films in the '80s and '90s would have written. It's a glossed-up and amped-up version of the genre's more basic ideas. It's just as entertaining, but you gotta suspend a little more disbelief.
That's absolutely fair. That thing you mentioned about everyone getting threatened with rape is kind of an extension of what I was saying about Ash. Bad things pile up on our protagonists to such an absurd degree that the seams start to show. It starts getting dark for the sake of being dark, which doesn't always work for me.
Like, this scene didn't need to be so kinky.
And it's not an adaptational choice; Ash is tied up while Golzine praises his beauty in the manga as well. He's being ogled while we're supposed to act as witness to his emotional pain. I gotta stress that I like this show a lot, but I'm not a huge fan of treating Ash like an object so often.
Exactly. And from a purely narrative perspective, throwing the same threats at the audience over and over is gonna have diminishing returns no matter what the threat may be. I understand why all my friends warned me about Banana Fish being Problematic with a capital P now, and while I don't have an issue with its choices in terms of entertainment...
...well, it would help my emotional investment to dial things back just a touch.
I can't believe they cut other fun scenes from the manga in favor of keeping Golzine's aborted threesome.
Fun scenes like people being incredulous that Ash can use a computer? Which has been updated to him suddenly being an EXPERT HACKER?
Does he have a desktop at home? If Golzine's got ties to the government, can't he pull some strings and find a way to track his phone? The questions pile up from this addition. In the manga, they get into Dawson's computer by flipping through the library in the hopes that he wrote the password down somewhere, so either way this scene was gonna be contrived as hell. So I can roll with the idea of Ash getting his hands on a super hacker script.
It's a sensible update to modern times at least. In that spirit, I'll also be keeping my ear out for any mentions of Banana Fish being sold on the dark web.
If that doesn't happen, you can go to the new Lupin III or Gegege no Kitaro for all your classics-updated-for-the-internet-age needs.
In better news, you finally met my boy Sing and his posse!
Any friend of Shorter is a friend of mine.
I know I grumbled about Yut-Lung being a stereotype earlier, but I do like Shorter and Sing as depictions of Chinese-Americans. While they do place heavy importance on blood ties and family solidarity, their brand of teen rebellion feels pretty distinctly American. At least as American as Ash's gang, anyway.
It's definitely not perfectly executed, but the international and multicultural aspects of Banana Fish are nice to see, and they do set it apart from a lot of other anime.
That's definitely what drew me to the manga back in the day; I'm always interested in stories about first- and second-generation immigrants, which are pretty dang rare in anime. Banana Fish is my personal Crazy Rich Asians, I guess, in that it includes characters of Chinese descent that aren't just the tired-ass twin-bun Chinadoll or acupuncturist assassin.
For all of our grumblings, there are a (banana) bunch of reasons why Banana Fish has been held in high enough regard to get an anime adaptation over two decades after the manga finished. It remains fundamentally compelling despite its issues, and I can't say I'm not wracked with worry about what's going to happen to our boys next
The gang warfare is hella ramping up soon, but right now I just want these boys to be happy.
I totally get now why all the Banana Fish fanart I see is so cute and fluffy. The only thing I want is their happiness, and the only thing they actually get in this story is pain.
You said it, Arthur.
Let The Boys Be Happy 2018
Let Ash Teach Eiji How To Handle His Gun In Peace 2018