Nature made Ash Lynx beautiful; nurture made him a cold ruthless killer. A runaway brought up as the adopted heir and sex toy of "Papa" Dino Golzine, Ash, now at the rebellious age of seventeen, forsakes the kingdom held out by the devil who raised him. But the hideous secret that drove Ash's older brother mad in Vietnam has suddenly fallen into Papa's insatiably ambitious hands—and it's exactly the wrong time for Eiji Okumura, a pure-hearted young photographer from Japan, to make Ash Lynx's acquaintance...
Since its publication in a shoujo magazine in the 1980s, Banana Fish has garnered several labels such as boys’ love (BL), shounen-ai, and yaoi. However, these terms 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.
Those are the terms at the core of Banana Fish. This is a carefully crafted crime drama about a teenage sex slave rebelling against his abusers. It touches upon heavy subjects without sensationalizing or sugarcoating their brutality. And as a consequence of such honest storytelling, there will be
moments that are uncomfortable to watch and simply put, this anime is not for the faint of heart.
Like its manga counterpart, this adaptation starts off with a fast-paced narrative that is rarely seen in anime nowadays. With little exposition to back it up, Banana Fish requires its audience to pay close attention to all the details it is showing. Scenes that seem insignificant later become important. Each episode is filled to the top with information and content, but the pacing rarely feels rushed. But despite this breakneck speed, the series does not truly begin until episode 7 as much of episodes 1 through 6 serve as a prologue that eases its viewers into the show’s important characters’ backgrounds and motivations. Regardless, once the real story begins, it locks its viewers in a vice like grip, rarely letting moments of respite to trickle through the constant action and tension taking place. Combined with an amazing soundtrack and studio MAPPA’s fluid and dynamic animation and storyboarding, Banana Fish is a wild feast to behold.
No other character in Banana Fish is as carefully realized or developed as the main protagonist, Ash Lynx; but no matter how small their character arc is, most of the protagonists are given the time to organically develop. Villains of varying degrees of depth and competence will come and go. All are terrifying in their own way, most are disturbing, many will be hated, and some are more than they seem. While Banana Fish is not one to have overly complex villains, they all serve the narrative purpose that they were written for. However, Dino Golzine and Yut Lung deserve a special mention as they are subtly layered as the series progresses and are by far, the most prominent antagonists. Each character has been made to life by talented and carefully casted voice actors, which have thus far only provided stellar performances. But the grim, convoluted events in the future will be the true test of each voice actor’s capabilities.
Despite the strengths of this adaptation, Banana Fish is not devoid of issues. Studio MAPPA has decided to update certain aspects of the adaptation to make it take place in modern day despite the original manga being set in the 1980s. Character designs have been modernized and smartphones have been given to the majority of the cast. While this only seems to be a harmless cosmetic overhaul, contemporizing Banana Fish means covering dated topics such as a violent, gang-filled New York. This results in needing the audience to suspend their disbelief more often which may ultimately break immersion in its world. If anything, this adaptation should still be treated as if the setting was still in the 1980s as the technological upgrades the world receives have had no impact on the plot.
Translations are normally not a problem for adaptations, but in Banana Fish’s case, it has affected the series negatively due to the sensitive topics the show covers. Currently, Amazon has been subbing Banana Fish and from the first few minutes of the first episode, there is a clear issue. In the scene where Ash visits Dino, Ash calls Marvin a “fag” right before entering the mansion. The Japanese spoken in that scene is simply an insult akin to “asshole” but Amazon has translated it to a homophobic slur. And unfortunately, this translation has been misused again since its debut and exacerbates a problem that the original manga had.
In the early parts of the manga, some horrifying themes Banana Fish portrays can be tonally off-putting, and while this adaptation had the chance to remedy this issue, it did not. One example of this can be found when several characters mention that Marvin is gay. However, his sexual orientation is beside the point, it is rather that he is a rapist that should have been of note. This example can be explained as those who remarked that Marvin is gay probably have no idea that he is in fact a rapist, but nonetheless, these scenes provide the wrong message and the anime would have benefited if they were excluded in general. Fortunately, these tone-deaf messages are relatively confined in the early portion and while sensitive topics such as sexual assault may garner odd reactions from the story’s characters, they are never portrayed in a positive light.
Banana Fish’s manga received critical acclaim and shook the industry for a reason. Its boldness to take risks and tackle heavy subjects gave it a kind of maturity that was not often found. And its grounded approach made it a unique gem more in line with Western films and television than that of anime. However, it is also a product of its time and despite its maturity, has some questionable depictions of sensitive topics. Additionally, some aspects, like rape, re-occur so often that one may begin to question its usage. With how faithful the adaptation has been thus far, it will bring both its beloved and criticized aspects to the table. Banana Fish most certainly has its flaws. But despite all its flaws, it still entranced me in its thrilling action and mind games. It disgusted me with its convoluted villains. It hurt me in a way no other series has. And it continues to lurk at the back of my mind even today. Banana Fish at its core is an unforgettable rollercoaster of relentless action and raw emotion. There really is no other anime like it. And one no one should miss.*
*Disclaimer: but only if you can stomach the long list of heavy content this show has
After watching the first six episodes of Banana Fish, it has proven its self to be one of my favorite animes this year.
The plot is arguably the best part about this anime. The fast-paced actions scenes coupled with the well thought out actions of the characters (albeit gruesome) create an absolutely thrilling experience.
The contrasting natures of the two main characters are enthralling. Ash being the stubborn and intelligent gang leader with a dark history, and Eiji a timider character just starting to regain his lost courage. In addition to this, I would like to point out the effort that has gone into
the intriguing backgrounds of the MC's.
The art fits well with the story and does a fantastic job of properly portraying the characters.
Admittedly, I'm one of those people who just skip the beginning, so I'll leave up to you to form your own opinion about this.
Although I typically watch animes more on the line of The Irregular at Magic Highschool and was very reluctant to watch Banana Fish. Looking back, it was a move I don't regret taking. Whether you are like me, obsessed with the idea of magic, a thrill-seeking horror devotee, or simply someone watching for enjoyment. Banana fish will prove to be one of your favorite animes this season.
At the age of 8, after his notorious debut role in the critically acclaimed cult show, Boku no Pico, Ash "Pico" Callenreese ran away from his home in Cape Cod to escape social pressures and was taken into the custody of Papa Dino (or simply, Papa), the leader of the Corsican Mafia, to become its future leader. Turns out Ash does not wish this to happen, but Papa like really wants, so naturally we now have a series about 2 gay mafiosos running after each others because neither of them wants to change their opinion. One could even go as far as declare they aren't
thinking very straight.
I read Banana Fish manga 7 years ago and didn't like it very much. After seeing the anime getting produced by MAPPA (which I adore), I assumed/hoped the anime adaptation could do better job dealing with the drama, action and even character design - which were all pretty problematic with its shojo art style and female target audience which seemed to be quite limited to fujoshi pandering. I am saying this as a guy who has read over 400 shojo manga, and in generally appreciates works aimed for the demographic. The anime is already better, but it didn't fix its characters or story.
My biggest problem are the characters - who, on the other hand, are driving the narrative - which means the story is also problematic because the characters are. For some reason, whenever there is a criminal warlord -- who has removed themselves from the shackles of modern society, created their very own world and hierarchy similar to the one they escaped themselves -- the same person wants to push their own shit and agenda onto others. "Don't do like I do, do like I say." Papa is not manly man nor a bro dude. He is an asshole with terribad double standards, who thinks he knows better what others should do. I rarely appreciate control freaks and narratives that are driven by some baddie acting like a freaking plot element. But that's exactly how Banana Fish works. Ash and Eiji - AKA the runaway gay couple - are not much better. Ash acts like a brat, and Eiji is more obviously gay than any other character.
The writing mainly reminds me of a show 2 cours back called Citrus. Series where every character was a lesbo and the lesbian was shoveled down the viewers throat. Banana Fish is practically the male version of that show. Everyone is gay, looks gay or at least talks about gay people. Ash calls one dude a faggot for watching homo porn... where Ash himself is the porn star. Good comedy, I guess. Every time we meet a new character who knows Dino, he casually mentions "btw, that dude is gay." If there ever is a character who doesn't announce they either enjoy shotas, manly buttholes, or are in a gay relationship, you can safely assume that they are at least checking 2 of the 3 mentioned because apparently, executing a show about gay people is best done in a manner similar to ecchi series which promote being hetero with boob fondling, pantsu shots and nose bleeding.
The actual events are a collection of cliches from kidnapping incidents to mexican standoffs. And of course, every Ash's "assassination" plan fails because none of the million people who attack him brought any guns. Baseball bats and random pipes are just that more efficient in a fight where the opposing party uses a fucking magnum. But don't worry! It's all just part of the bigger plan. Whenever anything happens, you know it is just an excuse for the story to go in the direction the author prefers. This is beyond visible and obvious in the series. Oh, and how are the kidnap incidents overcome, you ask? Simply by one of the characters announcing how one of the kidnappers is gay, followed by Ash trolling them with his cuteboy butt, and voila! the day has been saved once again.
The worst part of the production itself is that these are the production values to this anime, when they could be the values to something that is good. Go watch Gungrave, 91 Days (pronounced 91 Gays), Rainbow Nisha, Gangsta, Speed Grapher, Kekkai Sensen, or even Dogs instead. Come back to this one only if none of those pleased the manly mobster love in you, and even then, be prepared for some extra nonsense.
[Updated after episode 9] Since starting to watch this show I've quickly learned why Banana Fish's manga is one of the most well recieved and impactful manga of all time in Japan; Banana Fish's animated adaptation is rapidly shaping up to become one of my all time favourite anime.
Essentially the plot is that Ash Lynx, a 17 year old gang leader and abuse survivor, is caught up in the fallout over a thing or entity named "Banana Fish", linked to his brother Griffin and the war in Iraq. Ash's boss and abuser Dino wants the drug back. Meanwhile 19 year old Eiji from
Japan arrives as a photojournalist covering New York's gangs, but gets caught up in the conflict.
The plot, while certainly reliant on genre tropes, makes for an excellent thriller. There's never a dull moment in any of the episodes, aided by a smart and fast adaptation of the manga. Not an episode goes by without a few major developments and plot twist or three. Intelligently, the series doesn't focus *too* much on the mystery of what "Banana Fish" is, with plenty of other plot developments going on aswell. Don't worry though, there are fairly quick answers as to the truth about "Banana Fish", and it's turning out to be more interesting for the plot than you think seem at first.
While not grimdark, Banana Fish isn't a happy series - there's mentions and (non-explicit) depictions of eg child abuse, violence, and sexual assault, though it's balanced out by some typically shojo sweet or funny moments. The subject is approached with respect and isn't sensationalised or sexualised for the viewer. Rape and child abuse is depicted as an being about an abuse of power rather than sex, and is always told from the point of the view of the victim traumatised by what they went through. The show also discusses topics such as victim-blaming and disbelief of people's experiences, especially from sources of authority including government and the police - issues that continue to be as relevant today as the 1980s when the manga was written.
While the plot is intriguing, BF's key strength is in its' characters and the emotional impact the plot's twist and turns have on both them and we as the viewers. The cast is interesting and fresh all round, with almost every character being very likeable (or hateable for the villains) and memorable. The characters and their struggles are the beating core of this series. Honestly, I've rarely felt as emotionally invested in an anime; Banana Fish succeeds in getting you to care deeply about the characters before putting them into horrific situations - contributing to the strong emotional impact of the recent episodes.
Ash is becoming one of my favourite anime characters ever. He's overcame great adversity, but doesn't treat himself as a victim. He's sassy and confident in getting back at his numerous attempted rapists and abusers, and always resourceful in taking down his enemies. You''ll root for him as he sets out to take revenge on the men - especially Dino - who've ruined his life. No only that, but he's actually really smart and well read which goes against stereotypes for this kind of character.
Eiji is pretty much the polar opposite to Ash, being naive about and unaccustomed to the world of the mafia. He seems shy though lovable at first, but in ep 2 and 3 we see that he's a lot braver than we thought. He's already really committed to helping out Ash. Honestly you'll grow to love him pretty quickly, he's likely to be the most relatable character for most viewers.
Shorter has swiftly become a fan favourite, winning from many the accolade of best boy. He's a good counterpart and friend to both Ash and Eiji, being a fun character to watch but also quick to come to the rescue of the protags when they need it. He definitely comes across much better than the manga, with his updated design - now keeping that mohawk - and more expressive animations.
Yut Lung is introduced a bit later so I don't go into as much detail about him, but he's an interesting mirror image to Ash, and a strong presence on screen helped by his VA Fukuyama Jun.
BF succeeds in making you really hate its villains. Dino is a mafia boss and a dirty old man - but there seems to be something deeper below the surface in his relationship with Ash. One of his underlings, Arthur,
Banana Fish is famous for being one of the formative works in the BL genre and has a good number of LGBT fans. If anyone is misled by the "Yaoi" tags this series has on some sites, there is nothing sexual in the relationship, it is purely platonic. That doesn't make it less valid though. Many viewers will appreciate the depiction of an close non-sexual platonic relationship between two men.
At the moment its only a third of the way through the show's runtime, but I'm assured by manga readers Ash and Eiji's relationship is going to get much deeper and more emotional as things go on. But already, the groundwork for their relationship has been set, and the anime is notably putting more emphasis on their relationship than the manga did up to this point.
BF is a very solid outing from studio MAPPA, aided by the visual storytelling skill of Free!'s season 1 and 2 director. The designs have been updated a bit for animation but are still recognisably 80s, a nice change of pace from the usual modern art style. Ash doesn't look as good as his manga counterpart, but Eiji, Shorter and other characters look better or about the same as they did in the manga. The animation does good work in depicting the characters, their expressions, body language and movements, etc., as well as the show's frenetic action scenes.
What I especially love is the use of different colour palates and background art. It really adds to the world and tone BF is aiming for and makes for a lot of visually interesting scenes. The anime is really building on the manga's artwork in many places which is great to see. There's so much personality and care put into the character's expressions and body language which brings the show's cast ti life.
Overall BF is a pleasant treat for the eyes, and the visuals complement the emotional goals of the show very well.
Voice acting is excellent. Especially love Ash's VA, he fits the role very well, but everyone is in good form here. In particular the voice acting carries the more emotional and stressful parts of the story (like the most recent episode) brilliantly.
OP and ED are excellent. The OP is one of the best of the year so far. The OST is also one of the best in recent anime, a lot of these tracks would be good to listen to on their own. The OST really fits the tone of each scene and adds a lot on top of the animation and voicework.
Banana Fish is flying under the radar at this point, but it doesn't deserve to. It's an easy frontrunner for AOTY so far, and I wholeheartedly recommend it if what you've read pique your interest.