Aslan Jade Callenreese, known as Ash Lynx, was a runaway picked off the streets of New York City and raised by the infamous godfather of the mafia, Dino Golzine. Now 17 years old and the boss of his own gang, Ash gets his hands on a mysterious drug called "Banana Fish"—the same two words his older brother, Griffin, has muttered since his return from the Iraq War. However, his investigation is hindered when Dino sends his men to retrieve the drug from Ash at an underground bar he uses as a hideout.
At the bar, Skip, Ash's friend, introduces him to Shunichi Ibe and his assistant, Eiji Okumura, who are Japanese photographers reporting on American street gangs. However, their conversation is interrupted when Shorter Wong, one of Ash's allies, calls to warn him about Dino. Soon, Dino's men storm the bar, and in the ensuing chaos kidnap Skip and Eiji. Now, Ash must find a way to rescue them and continue his investigation into Banana Fish, but will his history with the mafia prevent him from succeeding?
If there’s one thing that’s enticing about the Noitamina network, it’s their way of broadcasting shows to a variety of audiences. Banana Fish seems like one of those shows that isn’t aimed at a wider audience but it definitely has its own appeal. Taking place in a crime-noir setting, the series deals with teenage gangs in a corrupted city. It’s a time period of recreation and Banana Fish sets a firm example of an old school crime drama resurrected to modern life.
Now I have to admit, I’m not too familiar with Akimi Yoshida’s work or her style of writing. The only other series I’ve read
by her is a manga called “Yasha”. It has no relation to this series but the artwork is distinctive with her work. Not to mention, her series evokes a sense of mystery that’s present in Banana Fish. Yet, just what exactly is Banana Fish?
To be clear, the original manga was published from 1985 to 1994. This adaptation serves as a celebration of her 40th anniversary. It’s also somewhat unusual that Noitamina adapted this into 24 episodes rather than their usual 11/22 format. Regardless, Banana Fish strikes to me as a refreshing experience. First impressions are important and this show accomplishes that with the aesthetic story setting. It shows New York in a crime driven state and conflicts dealing with mature content. It's also interesting to note that the series has a more modern feel compared to the 1980s. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
A main appealing factor that drew me into the show is the character relationship and development. We meet Ash Lynx, a snarky young man who ran away from home. Despite his not-so-friendly attitude, Ash has charisma that makes him a person not to be underestimated. He also possesses a variety of skills that puts him on the wrong sides of the law. Being incredibly daring and never afraid to take risks, Ash stands by example as a daredevil. It’s almost if he anticipates his death at any moment and isn’t afraid to risk it for what he believes in. This puts him on the opposite side of Eiji Okumura, a photographer’s assistant and college student. Unlike Ash, Eiji is a kind young man but often easily manipulated or gets caught into complicated circumstances. The story goes to show his character relationship with Ash. Now I’m just going to throw it out there but there’s heavy implication of BL context between the two. While not being too explicit, it’s shown that Eiji develops a growing love towards Ash. On the other hand, Ash shows his own devotion with action that speaks louder than words. Ash’s acts of self-sacrifice becomes a central part of their relationship as he takes on many risks to save his life. The story often involves with Ash’s enemies exploiting his weakness and that would be Eiji.
Still, the million dollar question remains. What exactly is Banana Fish? To be clear, the title itself isn’t necessarily just about what Banana Fish really is. Rather, it’s a pivotal component of the plot that has Ash investigate into. In essence, Banana Fish delivers a sensation of mystery and suspense. The main premise focuses on how Ash’s fight against the mafia in this rebellious age. Crime lords like Dino Glozine is the stereotypical antagonist you’ll quickly love to hate. I don’t mean that in the sense of him being a distasteful human being. Rather, Ash has a personal agenda to settle with him considering their dark history together. The series isn’t shy to deliver mature context in the form of drug deals, criminal activities, sex slavery, or gang wars. If you’re here to stay for the show, then be ready suck it up and indulge on these controversial topics. In the meantime, we also meet allies that Ash meets in his quest of vengeance. Characters such as Ibe, Max, Griffin, Alexis, and Jessica join to fight the good fight. In many cases, their roles all are important for the overall mission. On the other hand, their most prominent adversary is Corsican Mafia consisting of Dino and his crew. Deep down, this anime crafts these antagonists with intentions to destroy Ash’s life. It becomes a crime thriller that often tests the limits of the main characters and how much longer they can last. Later in the show, we also meet other dangerous groups such as the Chinese mafia. Among their members includes the cunning Yut-Lung Lee who wants Ash’s head on a plate.
At its core, Banana Fish shows that in their society, crime is more than just a social problem. In our society, criminal activities are not tolerated and punishable. In the world of Banana Fish, characters believe they are above the law. Some even believe they are the law. Let’s take a closer look at Ash for instance. Having being raised by Dino, it’s clear that he has a dark past that’s explored more and more as each episode progresses. While I don’t consider Ash to be a villain, there’s no doubt that he has committed questionable acts. As this show takes place during a period of gang warfare, Ash stands out as more of an antihero to me than a protagonist. And of course, the man who raised him wants nothing more than to destroy Ash. I think in many cases, Dino wants to destroy Ash’s soul rather than just his life. It’s a fate perhaps worse than death and just one of the few examples of how cruel characters can really be. Indeed, Banana Fish contains mature content that isn’t suited for a younger audience. Going back to what I said before, Noitamina’s audience expands beyond than just a general audience and Banana Fish is an example of that.
Adapting a manga from over two decades ago isn’t an easy task. Manga being resurrected again after all this year tends to lose steam but I can say with supreme confidence that Banana Fish hits the marks. It manages to recreate a sensation of the 1980s while the anime takes place in a more modern setting. Rather than going with any flashy style of presentation, it commits to bring the manga’s characters up to date. Characters such as Ash and Eiji are designed to look exactly how their personalities are meant to be. Gang wars and violence are showcased without holding back with the intense bloodshed. There’s also some daring scenes of man service present that may be nerve wrecking or pleasing to watch. As I mentioned before, there are cases of gay moments although it’s not distracting to the point of losing its main focus. Watch this series and you’ll see that it’s more than just a homosexual relationship between two men. In addition, I have to give some well-earned praise to the voice acting in the show. These characters are older than your typical high school students and crime lords like Dino isn’t easy to portray. Yet, they all looked pretty damn believable in such a time period.
Banana Fish is a show with a peculiar title that could probably be quoted often. It’s Akimi Yoshida’s most well-known work and MAPPA manages to produce such a series with commitment. Director Hiroko Utsumi worked on Free! in the past so it’s no surprise that you’ll see some man service along the way. But really, Banana Fish isn’t just about a gay romance story between two guys. It celebrates the chance to showcase a crime story in a setting of corruption, revenge, and politics. Now it’s your chance to experience that story.
“He very definitely told your father there's a chance – a very great chance, he said – that Seymour may completely lose control of himself.” – J.D. Salinger.
A soldier’s life is one of hardships. Seen as the pride of a nation, they are tasked with defending the honour of their motherland with both flesh and blood. A life that requires chivalry, discipline and steadfastness. Their existence serves as a beacon light to the tame and cowardly; a source of inspiration for the youth to grow strong. But underneath all the glory and medallions reveal a darker tale more telling of their lives.
Ordinary people before donning a uniform and sent off to war, a life of violence and suffering entails them. A hellish nightmare seeming to never end makes it near impossible to return to their former self. One must be physically and mentally tough to ever hope to survive such a turbulent time, but not everyone is capable of carrying that weight.
J.D. Salinger was one writer who certainly understood the pressures put upon people in severe circumstances such as war, through first-hand experience being drafted into the US army in 1942, even being hospitalized by ‘combat stress reaction’ months after Germany was defeated in World War II. He was clearly affected, going so far as stating “[he] found it impossible to fit into a society that ignored the truth that he now knew.” These events all informed his writing of the short story titled “A Perfect Day for Bananafish”. While numerous interpretations of the story do exist, the common belief is that it symbolizes those soldiers sent off to war and came back traumatized; gorged by the anguish brought on from war and stained of bloodshed. Decades later this short story would be loosely referenced to in the successful shoujo manga series Banana Fish, written and illustrated by Akimi Yoshida that would later be considered highly influential to the BL subgenre. And now over 20 years since the manga’s initial release, Banana Fish received an anime adaptation produced courtesy by Studio MAPPA to run for 24 episodes in the latter half of 2018.
Banana Fish focuses on the relationship between Ash Lynx, a cold ruthless teenage gang leader in New York City, and a naïve assistant photographer from Japan in Eiji Okumura. Both men, despite appearing as polar opposites in personality and upbringing end up being caught in a fallout over an entity known as “Banana Fish”, that also happens to be related to Ash’s brother and what occurred on his stint in Iraq. The pursuit of this mystery further pulls Eiji to the centre of this conflict, thereby leading to Ash pushing against the wishes of his bosses and gang members who put the safety of his newfound friend in jeopardy. It would be easy to summarize the story as simply a developing romance between two men, but the series is more concerned in making the story and overarching weight of it at the forefront of the tale, causing the narrative, despite being heavily reliant on genre tropes, to work effectively as a fast-paced charming thriller. The series uses heavy topics regarding drugs, sexual abuse, corruption and other mature themes to craft a careful drama that avoids sensationalizing the sheer brutality inherent with such subject matter. Likewise, these ideas further accentuate the thematic correlation between Salinger’s “A Perfect Day for Bananafish” and this loosely inspired adaptation.
No other character is as carefully crafted nor developed to the same degree as the main protagonist Ash Lynx. His backstory alone would be enough to garner the sympathy of many: a boy who ran away from home at 8 years old only to be taken into custody by the head of the Mafia. Having been kidnapped as a sex slave numerous times later before being granted leadership of a street gang years later, he has seen his fair share of violence and trauma. Part of his likability derives from him never seeing himself as a victim and therefore is able to overcome adversity. However, his meeting of Eiji is what ultimately acts as the cause for Ash to slowly reveal himself emotionally and properly recover from trauma accumulated throughout the years. His character easily parallels that of Salinger’s protagonist, as someone who has been exposed to so much that the idea of recovering from it all is improbable. Both of these characters take a liking to their more innocent counterparts, seeing in them what they once had but now have lost for reasons that were outside of their control. Clinging to that one person in the hope to keep them sane, and in the case of Banana Fish, no matter how the world might see Ash, Eiji will remain by his side. But similarly to Salinger’s short tale, it may not be enough to help Ash change to a more civil lifestyle.
Despite the original manga being set in the 1980’s, Studio MAPPA decided to move the setting to a more modern time and as such caused various changes to the anime that deviate from the original source. Some of the most obvious examples include using character designs typical of the current animation standards rather that the original’s well-defined character models, and the implementation of technology such as smartphones used by the majority of the cast. These changes, whilst they may come off slightly off-putting are fairly harmless in the grand scheme of things. Although when it comes to contemporizing the story and its themes, there are numerous issues that arise. For example, by revising the setting to present day, many of the topics covered can be considered outdated and requires a certain suspension of disbelief not to lose any immersion the viewer has with the world established. This take also renders most of the social commentary the original story had as nearly obsolete, which was one of the aspects that made the manga so important for its time. It’s something that most viewers probably wouldn’t have a problem with, as it still remains a piece of fiction that can be enjoyed without social context. But for those that want to look at this show deeper that the ordinary fan, it’s an issue that can easily cause disappointment amongst certain anime fans.
Another key issue that I personally had throughout watching was how many elements regarding the plot and characters slowly become narrowed as the series continues. Allow me to elaborate; the beginning of this show was really appealing, not only on a visual level with how vibrant the settings were and the distinct designs on display, but with how many different parts there was to the plotline. From the main characters, to the supporting cast gang members, to the numerous villains, to everyone else involved, each of these groups felt like their own intricate parts to the storyline that had the potential to create something truly special. But as the plot continues, it becomes apparent that the storyline is only meant to focus on the relationship between Ash and Eiji. This is not necessarily a bad thing – Banana Fish revolves around this in particular. But I can’t help but feel disappointed when a show with so many moving parts to begin with are funnelled out to prioritize all the screen time on the core plotline. Especially if comparing the anime to the manga, which gave more balanced attention to the large cast of characters intertwined. The villains all had varying degrees of depth but none of which I would honestly call complex, most characters not associated with a gang are shafted halfway through the anime and the gang members that are fleshed out are always given time and focus corresponding to their relationship with Ash. This is not a severe knock against the show, but I can’t help it when I see a series like Banana Fish have so much potential and not seriously capitalize upon it.
The visuals for Banana Fish are a solid outing for Studio MAPPA. While I have my personal preference for character designs, the animation present here is energetic in how it depicts character movements and expressions, as well as providing the audience with some very exciting action scenes. The dynamic colour palette and background art are both visually appealing that while some might consider it detrimental to the tone of the show, I believe do better to initially attract anime fans to the series in general, acting as a pleasant treat for the eyes at first glance. The framing of the most controversial events that took place in Banana Fish was also commendable in giving the series a good sense of artistry.
The audio for Banana Fish is also praiseworthy with strong performances for voice acting overall, really capturing the essence of each main character. The soundtrack also fits most scenes well despite none particularly standing out, except for the OP and ED tracks which is just simply fun to listen to. No matter what your music taste, these tracks are pretty accessible and make for fun openers to each episode. The translations however could definitely act as a detriment to the series as a whole depending on your take of the sensitive topics covered in Banana Fish. Personally I found it funny when Ash calls a separate character a “fag” in the translation considering what the series is about, but some could easily take such as a homophobic slur and the anime as a whole as tone-deaf. Just be careful what you’re getting yourself into, k? :)
Looking back on Banana Fish, I see a series with a lot of upside to it. A carefully handled crime drama, innovative for its time, critically acclaimed source material, etc. And despite having my own criticisms against the series I would still recommend this to anyone interested in the series at all. Despite creative liberties it is at its core a well-made drama with emotionally powerful moments that are likely to entrance you in a tale barely brought to light by anime. There may be homoerotic undertones present, but the series was not made solely for such. Instead it clearly values a strong appreciation for storytelling, for that is how people from all different backgrounds are able to relate to what is told here at a fundamental level.
Invert the two and what do you have……..a fat dick. **badum-CHING**
Summer is the time of year for promiscuous young-adults to experiment with their sexual desires, in a hassle free relationship that requires no commitments from either party. But why limit one’s exposure to the opposite sex, when there are plenty of “gay-fish” — I mean, banana fish — for the taking. Why else would a Shoujo anime feature two young queens in New York? For a “crime” investigation? Now that’s rich.
Speaking of wealth, the main character in the
show, Ash Lynx, was groomed to inherit a vast amount of opulence and power through the successive process of becoming Dino’s heir. Be that as it may, the early steps of “graduating” to his “destined” role were mired with egregious abuses of standing law and personal freedom. Not one to remain docile and allow circumstances to be determined by the judgement of others, Ash seized the initiative in an attempt to ameliorate the atrocities of his past. This manifested into a plot to assassinate Dino via — and I kid you not! — standing on top of a moving truck in a public arena, while shooting a pistol.
Not one to put all his pumpkins in one basket, Ash used his adroit computer skills to plunder $90 million from Golzine and severely handicap his financial clout as a Mafia Don. This blow to the ruthless Kingpin allowed Ash to claim an important victory and set the stage for the ensuing battle to come. That being said, however, Ash’s ability to steal Golzine’s money and manipulate his company’s stock price seemed too straightforward. If Ash had that sort of capability, why not use that skill to make himself fabulously wealthy (say, like, a billionaire) and use his newfound fortune to assemble a crime syndicate that would dwarf that of Golzine’s? Furthermore, why did Ash risk his life with ridiculous, poor planned stunts when his intellectual prowess could easily circumvent Golzine’s physical brutality?
To underscore this point, allow me to present the following:
1) Ash has an IQ of 180; placing him in an echelon of exceptionally gifted individuals (rarified air, if you will).
2) Ash understands military-level tactics at a proficient level, commanding his gang to coordinate attacks against their various foes.
3) His various senses are finely tuned and his anticipation of danger is second to none (well, maybe Batman has him beat).
Yet, instead of making use of these various skills to sidestep hazardous situations, Ash willingly embraced instability via having a knife fight in a subway station against his gang rival, Arthur. In the midst of their battle, predictably, Ash get’s ambushed by Arthur’s gang — proving how poorly planned Ash’s plans truly were — and is forced go John Wick on their candy asses (highly unrealistic, by the way), before his final Mortal Combat-esque showdown.
Look. Ash has far too many advanced abilities for his own good and they become contradictory at times. Most protagonists who are portrayed as elite fighters have a weakness in the planning/thinking department and vice versa; however, Ash literally can/will do anything. Even the greatest QB of all time, Tom Brady, can’t run faster than a six year-old girl to save his life (butt-hurt Patriot fans incoming). Counterbalancing greatness with a deficiency elsewhere is a great way to explore a character’s resolve, through their willingness, or unwillingness to ameliorate their weaknesses. Match Ash’s flawlessness with his attractive appearance, and you have a character that is simply too good to be true.
Eiji be like, “he’s a sweet candy bar in the bedroom, especially when he wears his nurse outfit.”
“Yes. I can confirm this.” — Golzine
“Me too.” — Shorter
“Hershey chocolate is so delicious, sweet caaaaaaannnndddy bar.” — Arthur, Max, Su Rin, Yut-Lung and about half of New York City (everyone except for the LAY-DEES!)
This brings up another concern with the story, that being that everyone and their father are homosexual, or have homosexual tendencies. I have no qualms about an individual’s personal choice, but is it conceivable to think that every man Ash runs “into” has the hots for him? Seems rather absurd, when only ~4.5% of the population identify as being gay.
Due to the plethora of melancholic moments throughout the series, it was quite evident that the conclusion of said events would not be a happy one. Deducing the exact ending was nigh impossible (unless you read the manga), but anyone who presumed that Ash and Eiji would both survive their ordeal was ignoring the foreboding atmosphere established in the prior episodes. This insight on “where” events would lead, sort of ruined a level of anticipation for the viewer, but not enough so to be a significant hindrance.
The review thus far has been scathing, but there are redeeming qualities that make Banana Fish worth watching. While the characters within the show are not layered or terribly complex, they do come off as being “real,” particularly with the omission of classic anime tropes. Their actions mirror that of “normal” people, making the flagrant abuses seen or talked about feel extremely impactful. It’s hard not to become attached to Ash’s cause of exacting revenge on Golzine, especially considering that his brother became entangled in the B1 (i.e. Banana Fish drug) “experiment.” Banana Fish, to its credit, pulls at the viewer’s heart strings — perhaps, too frequently — to establish an atmosphere not unlike our world. It damn near forces the audience to empathize with the plight of Ash Lynx and cheer him on as he dismantles the mob empire that robbed him of his innocence. Is it rudimentary in its approach? Yes, as indicated in the earlier parts of this review; nevertheless, Banana Fish provides exhilarating action sequences (even if they don’t make sense within the context of Ash’s projected character), moments of shock and awe, and some rather interesting character interactions.
With that said, Golzine’s character felt pedestrian, exhibiting features that were not distinct enough to differentiate him from your standard mob boss. The biggest takeaway anyone could discern from his screen time, is that he is a closet homosexual and he is infatuated with making Ash his sex slave. In essence, he merely serves as a mark for Ash to conquer in his quest to liberate himself from the crime syndicate. Marlon Brando’s, Vito Corleone, is an excellent example of how one could/should construct a terrifying human being who instructs his “business associates” to leave a horse head in a director’s bead, but also lives by a set of principles and accumulates wealth for the sake of his family. People, even the so called “evil” ones, will always have redeeming qualities that contrast the malicious activities they deem necessary to accomplish their goals. Rarely does anyone consider their own actions to be immoral, giving a writing staff an opportunity to flesh out these “justifications” and determine why these particular people think in ways that abnegate the norms of a typical society. Deep, complex characters with diametric views always make for interesting conversations, forcing the audience to introspect and reconsider their own viewpoints about topics that have no clear answer. Banana Fish, unfortunately, fails to entertain these narrative motifs.
Much like its namesake, Banana Fish is a mixture of good and bad. How so?…
Bananas are high in potassium and other useful nutrients; Bananas contain high amounts of carbohydrates.
Fish are high in omega-3 fatty acids, which lessens one’s risk of experiencing a heart attack or stroke; Fish can have high amounts of mercury, leading to brain defects.
Banana Fish is an exhilarating ride with a large cast of diverse characters; Banana Fish presents an unrealistic protagonist who takes unnecessary risks to take down an underdeveloped antagonist in Golzine.
5/10….meh, make it 6/10 (tis the season, after all)
Since its publication in a shoujo magazine in the 1980s, Banana Fish has received several labels such as boys’ love (BL), shounen-ai, and yaoi due to popular misconceptions. Not only are these terms incorrectly applied to the work, but they also do not cut at the meat of what Banana Fish is. And even its original shoujo demographic tag deeply misrepresents the content of this anime.
These are the terms at the core of Banana Fish. Though at the same time, the crime and gangster backdrop is not all the story is about and confining it within those
boundaries massively undersells the broad scope of topics this anime covers. Because while Banana Fish's pragmatic and deplorable world is filled to the brim with death and sexual violence, the tale it tells of its main character, Ash Lynx, is a visceral story about life and love. And just as deliberate as its juxtaposition of death with life and lust with love, Banana Fish is a carefully woven story about dichotomies. Its two halves, like the darkness and light reflected in its two main protagonists, Ash and Eiji, permeate this character drama in numerous ways to paint a grounded tale about both the ugly and beautiful aspects that make us human.
With little exposition to back it up, Banana Fish sets up intrigue from the outset and primarily uses its early episodes to build character back stories, motivations, and tension until its first major climax. From there, the copious amount of setup spent on its foundation gets grounded and becomes meaningful. Although Banana Fish has an overarching narrative, its story can be broken down into multiple arcs. The narrative shifts seamlessly from arc to arc; however, the tone between them can vary drastically. These tone shifts combined with Banana Fish's brisk pacing, does cause sudden mood swings, that at times lead to whiplash. But overall, its purposeful tonal dissonance is used to great effect to accentuate the light and dark themes that imbue its story. Its pacing allows eventful occurrences to happen every episode but sometimes hurts the show in its calmer hours. And unfortunately, the anime rushes a few episodes in the second cour to accommodate the daunting task of adapting nineteen volumes of manga into twenty-four episodes of anime. While in its other weaker moments, Banana Fish can suffer from clumsy plot developments, become somewhat fantastical, and get repetitive with both innocuous and annoying elements, overall, the story rarely ceases to entertain and because it is comprised of many moving parts, it often takes unpredictable turns that keep its audience on their toes. Though because a large amount of finer details were cut, viewers are required to pay close attention and often read between the lines, which at times, can lead to the discovery of surprise character nuance.
While Banana Fish's story can be described as its weakest element, its characters are its strongest. Despite having a rather large cast of relevant main and supporting characters, Banana Fish adeptly characterizes the important ones in a short amount of time and consistently develops them throughout the narrative. As a result, characters as well as their interactions are both dynamic and engaging. At the center of this ever-evolving maelstrom of personalities is the two protagonists, Ash and Eiji. No other character in Banana Fish is as carefully realized or developed as Ash, who teeters between his hardened persona and vulnerable self seamlessly, but the complex, multi-faceted relationship Ash and Eiji share come close. Their relationship, while not the focus of the story, is just as important as the plot. It never becomes physical because of Ash's past, but the emotional connection between the two cannot be understated as it develops both protagonists and organically becomes the emotional foundation in which the narrative is founded upon. However, unfortunately, due to the limited episode count, several side characters are stripped of their more nuanced character traits that can be found in their manga counterparts. And even Eiji was regrettably simplified in the anime. Antagonists of varying degrees of depth and competence will come and go. All are twisted in their own way, most will be hated, and some are more than they seem. While Banana Fish is not one to have overly complex antagonists, mainly because writing sympathetic rapists and pedophiles goes against the themes of the piece, they all serve the narrative purpose that they were written for even if it is not entirely clear from the outset. However, Yut-Lung and Blanca deserve special mentions for not only being complicated and interesting, but for also highlighting Banana Fish's themes by serving as impressive foils. Each character has been made to life by talented voice actors, but most notably, Uchida Yuuma, the voice for Ash, has given a powerful performance with resounding care and heart put forth in conveying all of Ash's complexities.
Consistent with other series produced by studio MAPPA, the animation and art quality are spectacular for the first several episodes before eventually becoming a series of ups and downs. The latter half of the show and the action-oriented episodes in particular have suffered as the anime progressed. For this sole reason, it is recommended to watch the Blu-Ray release, which has already been confirmed to have touchups. Despite its dips in animation and art, Banana Fish's cinematography remains very strong throughout its entire run. Storyboarding is consistently dynamic, and when applicable, framing is done with a certain message in mind. The music composed by Shinichi Osawa, also known by his stage name, Mondo Grosso, while not necessarily memorable, is distinct, stylish, and fitting.
As an adaptation, the anime does a commendable job in keeping the manga's spirit in spite of its brutally short episode count. MAPPA makes predominantly solid decisions on the material to cut and while the anime loses some of its plot cohesiveness as a result, prioritizing the character moments was the correct call. And in general, the manga is a highly recommended alternative for those interested in the gritty details that the anime had no choice but to leave behind. However, despite the strengths of this production, not all of MAPPA's adaptational choices enhance the experience. Most notably, the decision to update the original manga's 1980s setting to modern day in the anime has been baffling. Character designs have been modernized and smartphones have been given to the majority of the cast but the world continues to exude an anachronistic 80s vibe. While this may seem to be a harmless cosmetic overhaul, contemporizing Banana Fish means covering dated topics. This becomes most apparent when the anime delves into political maneuvers that would be more plausible in the Cold War environment that the original manga was written in. And because Banana Fish is a product of its time, the anime, though not always through the fault of MAPPA as Amazon has also mistranslated generic insults into homophobic slurs, contains elements that can be considered tone-deaf in today's sociopolitical climate. If anything, this adaptation should be treated as if the setting was still in the 1980s as the moderization Banana Fish's world received are largely superficial and even leads to plot inconsistencies.
With the vast majority of anime released nowadays abiding by successful formulas and character stereotypes, Banana Fish stands out as one of the rare few that is unafraid to take risks. Its brashness in that regard will inevitably land itself many criticisms but hidden beneath its rough exterior is a gem worth digging for. It touches upon heavy subjects without sensationalizing or sugarcoating their brutality. Its grounded approach makes it a unique work that is more reminiscent of Western films and television than that of anime – fitting as many of Banana Fish's climatic events can be direct references to old Western action flicks. It shows us the truly wretched sides of humanity but also reminds us of the hope and love individuals all possess and expertly invokes an array of emotions ranging from optimism to dread to warmth to intense grief and rage. From start to finish, it is a hauntingly real depiction of the very essence of being human. And despite the flaws in its story and adaptation, it leaves much to ruminate about. It is a deceptively simple story that can become complex in the themes it explores and the topics it leaves its viewers to ponder. Even the series' namesake, derived from the short story "A Perfect Day for Bananafish" by J.D. Salinger, and references to other American literature in the form of episode titles or overt mentions offer food for thought. Banana Fish is far from perfect, but at its core, it is an unforgettable rollercoaster of relentless action and raw emotion. The manga broke genre barriers over thirty-years ago and while the anime regrettably does not retain all the qualities that made the manga as groundbreaking as it was, it does deliver its own one of a kind experience with much of the same heart. There really is no other anime like Banana Fish. And it is one no one should miss.*
*Disclaimer: but only if you can stomach the long list of heavy content this show has and search or ask for trigger warnings if it is of concern to you