First Look: Banana Fish

Manga Adaptation by MAPPA
Streaming on Amazon Prime

Premise

Ash Lynx is the 17-year old leader of a New York street gang. Coming across a dying man in an alleyway, who speaks only the words “banana fish” and a street address in California, Ash becomes caught up in the machinations of mob boss Dino Golzine, just as Eiji Okumura, an assistant-photographer from Japan, arrives in New York to carry out a report on street gangs.

Artemis’ verdict: Intrigued

As one of the more genuinely interesting-sounding and, dare I say it, ‘quality’ anime titles airing this season, I went into Banana Fish with at least mildly high expectations, despite knowing absolutely nothing about the source material or really anything else about the show. And while I wouldn’t say the premiere completely sold me on either its story or its cast, I’m certainly curious enough to keep watching.

I’d say the fact that Banana Fish is set primarily in New York both helps make it unique, not just in this season but for anime in general, and also could potentially be one of its biggest issues for a Western audience. On the one hand, the number of anime set mainly in real life New York, or even just in real life America at all, are relatively few and far between, so this immediately makes Banana Fish stand out from the crowd. On the other hand, I’ve seen enough anime set in foreign countries to know that Japan tends to get it wrong a lot of the time – presumably because there are a lot of assumptions and generalisations (mostly to do with social and cultural aspects of the setting), coupled with little to no research or actual experience with said foreign country. I’m not talking about language here, but about the way people act and think and speak and just go about their daily lives – which yes, can be very different in Japan than it is in America, or any other country for that matter. If Banana Fish is going to make any major mistakes that pull me out of the broader story, this will likely be it.

So far I haven’t gotten to know the characters well enough to say whether I even like them or not, let alone whether they’re actually interesting. I did roll my eyes a bit at the whole ‘Ash Lynx… because a lynx is a wild cat, what a cool and mysterious/deadly guy’ thing. This is the sort of detail that’s more likely to make me laugh than anything else, and Banana Fish is definitely not a comedy. However, I do like the potential romantic/sexual relationship going on between Ash and Eiji – not only because I’d love to see more yaoi go mainstream, but because I’d love to see more yaoi in general that doesn’t fall back on the awful clichés of the genre (rape as love, high melodrama in place of just about anything else, a rigidly defined masculine/aggressive and feminine/submissive role, etc. etc.). For what it’s worth, I don’t think we’ll have much to worry about there, especially given that the romance aspect of the Banana Fish manga is apparently only ever implied, but it’s something to keep an eye on.

From a technical standpoint, I’d like to think Banana Fish will be safe enough in the expert hands of MAPPA. There’s a definite retro feel going on in terms of the general look and feel of the piece, although this goes doubly so for the character designs; I assume because the manga was released during the mid-80s to mid-90s. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, particularly for viewers who prefer something a bit more old-school. The colouration and animation, on the other hand, look a lot more modern, which makes for an interesting combination.

On the whole, I’m eager to see more, even if the premiere felt a little too fast-paced at times. I wouldn’t be too surprised if it ended up being the best show of the new season, especially given the competition. Either way, it’s definitely worth a look.

Jel’s verdict: Mixed Bag

I love to see anything that smashes conventional anime demographic clichés, so the idea of getting a violent, pulp action series about a gang war that is written for women by a woman fascinates me. There are certainly no shoujo sparkles to be found in Banana fish, and aside from the hints of yaoi (the 1980s manga is considered a very influential work in the Boys’ Love genre) you could mistake this for a lot of other male-targeted crime series we see pop up from time to time.

That said, there’s a lot going on in this first episode and it’s a little hard to get a feel for what kind of show this is trying to be. On the one hand, our main character is named ASH LYNX and he carries a giant .357 magnum that is most certainly, definitely not a sexual metaphor. On the other hand, it feels like they are trying to build a legitimate plot that demands to be taken seriously. I’m not saying you can’t mix dumb pulp action into a complex and well written story, but historically that is difficult to pull off. In this one episode it felt a little bit rushed and confused so I am concerned moving forward, however I can see a ton of potential and if they do pull it off this could be one of the best shows of the season.

2 thoughts on “First Look: Banana Fish

  1. “I love to see anything that smashes conventional anime demographic clichés, so the idea of getting a violent, pulp action series about a gang war that is written for women by a woman fascinates me. There are certainly no shoujo sparkles to be found in Banana fish, and aside from the hints of yaoi (the 1980s manga is considered a very influential work in the Boys’ Love genre) you could mistake this for a lot of other male-targeted crime series we see pop up from time to time.”

    Women can and do enjoy violent, pulpy action series and have done so since the beginning of time – actually, the significance of Banana Fish in manga history lies in proving that even shoujo manga could be like this and still have an audience. Years before manga publishers acknowledged women as the buying force they are, this manga was proof that women wanted more from manga than what the overwhelmingly male editors/publishers thought they wanted. (Other similar shoujo manga are, for example, Shimizu Reiko’s Himitsu – Top Secret -, or Itsuki Natsumi’s OZ and Juuousei.)

    For what it’s worth though, Banana Fish wasn’t very influential on BL, however. That aspect of it is fairly conventional.

    • Hopefully that didn’t come across as me saying women don’t normally enjoy pulp action, it’s just that it’s so rare for something like this to make it to the mainstream anime scene and I think it’s cool to see it happen. I did try to do a little research before watching but clearly I’m out of my element here, thank you for the extra info.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.