Sometimes, just the title of an anime alone snags my interest. It happened with Letter Bee (Tegami Bachi) and it happened again with Banana Fish. It had a name that stood out but when I read the premise, I was quite intrigued. Although the premise didn’t exactly tell me what the show was fully about, it did tip me off enough to warrant checking it out. Needless to say, I’m so very glad that I did. Why?
Banana Fish centers around a 17-year old by the name of Aslan Callenreese, otherwise more popularly known as, Ash Lynx. He was the promising protégé of mafia Don Dino Golzine; a perverted man who used Ash as a sex toy all while grooming him to be the next head of his crime organization. Fed up with the mistreatment and after the discovery of what happened involving a hallucinogenic drug and his brother, Ash decides to turn his back on Golzine. Ash isn’t alone; however, as he also leads a street gang that worships him as though he were a God among men. When you see just how calm, collected, and deadly Ash is with a handgun, you’d understand why they give him the respect he deserves.
Simply put, Banana Fish is the story of rebellion and revenge by Ash Lynx against his former “master.” Thought to be cold-hearted to a fault, Ash has that demeanor broken when he comes in contact with a Japanese boy named Eiji Okumura, who came to America as a photography assistant to a news reporter looking to run a story on Ash. An intangible friendship between the two of them develops and Ash gains a secondary purpose of protecting Eiji and preserving their friendship at any cost.
The duality of the story adds many layers to it but it doesn’t stop there. The cast of characters is vast but each one of them has their own story to tell which adds to the overall plot but also gives you a reason to care about each and every one of them. Whether its Sing’s angst over Shorter and Ash, Arthur’s jealousy, to Cain’s loyalty and heartfelt respect for Ash, each character is unique but their involvement adds additional layers, no matter how subtle they are.
Needless to say, all of the elements that make an anime great are here and it kept me in agony waiting for the next episode to come out. There is so much more to this story than I laid out but going any further would venture into spoiler territory and (if you couldn’t tell by now) I want to encourage people who passed this show up to give it a chance.
Speaking of the characters, let’s get to them.
So, if you ever think that your life is rough, just imagine being used as a male prostitute for a mafia Don. That’s the kind of life Ash led up until he discovered that it was Golzine’s research into a drug, nicknamed Banana Fish, that lead to the death of his brother while he was serving in the military. Ash is very cold and straight-forward in his personality. In the beginning, he doesn’t really hide much in terms of his emotions. Just wake him up from a nap if you want to see just how blunt he can be! That all changes when he meets Eiji and that’s when you see a softer, more caring side of Ash. Ash shows that he will go to any length to protect Eiji from Golzine and preserve their friendship because all Ash needed was someone who didn’t fear him. Eiji is that person.
I really enjoyed Ash as a character. You felt sorry for him for all the things he had to go through. At the same time, you understood why he was as fierce as he was. Anyone with a past like that would turn out to be the same way. Ash by himself added so much depth to the series. Hands down, the best character in the show.
Eiji is the opposite of Ash. He is a typical, respectful 19-year old boy from Japan. Eiji serves to show a stark contrast in the American and Japanese mindset. It’s because of this mindset, that he doesn’t show any fear towards Ash. In fact, he wants to get closer to learn more about him. Eiji is one of the few people who truly understand and sympathize with Ash which is why Eiji becomes too precious to him. Eiji is very timid as you would expect but as the series grows, you see him grow a little bit of a backbone… despite the fact that he does so in a way where it preserves his timid tendencies.
I didn’t really connect all that much to the Eiji character even though I fully understood his role into the show. I understand he is the contrast to everything that is happening but I just couldn’t buy into him fully. Maybe it’s because he reminded me of nearly every timid male protagonist out there. Had he been slightly more aggressive in the end, I could have grown to like him more but there’s also that fine line where if they did go that route, would it have sacrificed the core of his character? I mean, Eiji wasn’t a bad character… I just felt he was fine. Just fine and nothing more.
Arthur was a partner of Ash’s under Dino. Arthur has always had a seething jealousy that Golzine favored Ash over him. When Ash left, Arthur sunk his fangs into Golzine’s right-hand man position and didn’t let go. This fueled his determination to eliminate Ash at any cost so that he could take his rightful spot as heir to Golzine’s organization… a spot that he felt he deserved from the very beginning. This lead to a hatred-filled rivalry between Ash and Arthur that, in all honesty, seemed a bit on the generic side.
It was just your typical “fueled by jealousy” story and Arthur’s character wasn’t all that unique to make that role stand out. Short-tempered, focused only on his primary target, a little overconfident in his skill. All of the base archetypes for a character such as his were there and nothing really extended beyond that. They had some potential with him but I just felt like they didn’t do anything above and beyond. Still, not a bad character… just another one that was “just fine.”
It is not often that you see a series with two main antagonists but Banana Fish gives it to you here. Yut-Lung’s backstory goes into spoiler territory but let’s just say that he has the proper motivation to try and get rid of Ash… in exchange for Golzine’s help for helping him deal with his own problems. What seems like a partnership at first, goes south when Yut-Lung kind of goes rogue.
Yut-Lung was a highly interesting character and his quest for revenge and redemption was a lot more interesting than Arthur’s. In fact, you could say that Yut-Lung and Ash have similar revenge stories but each one was told in a slightly different way that made each one stand out on their own. I just think Yut-Lung’s hunger for revenge drove him a bit to insanity where Ash was able to control his emotions. That was the biggest difference between the two of them. Still, there could have an anime series just based on Yut-Lung with the amount of detail they gave this character. VERY solid character that I highly enjoyed.
Su Rin Sing
I contemplated talking about this character because of a lot of what has to be said about him ventures into spoiler territory. I will say that this complex character became embroiled in his own personal moral dilemma. So much so that it drove him to question certain aspects about his life and his loyalty. After Shorter Wong left Chinatown, Sing (or Sing Soo-Ling as he was also referred to as), became the boss. His relationship with Ash was one of mixed feelings due to a huge misunderstanding. A misunderstanding that leads to his own moral dilemma. I thought that they handled his character well. Especially when they even had him question whether or not he was fit to be boss of Chinatown. I actually enjoyed his character quite a lot as his indecisions added some great unpredictability to the series.
Ash met Max when he was captured and sent to a correctional facility. Max served with Ash’s brother in the military. Once the two of them got out of prison, they remained bittersweet friends/enemies. That eventually faded and Ash felt like he could trust Max. Then Max’s character kind of faded away into obscurity. Sure, he had some parts to play in the back half of the series but I felt like he was used only when the story called for it rather than being a more integral part. Then again, with a cast this large, it’s easy to get lost in the shuffle and some sacrifices have to be made for time constraint purposes. Max was probably just one of those characters that were held back at the end for the bigger picture to take center stage.
I will stop it there as that covers the major characters (except for one). There are just SO MANY to talk about such as Charlie, Ibe (the guy who brought Eiji to America), Sing’s brother Lao, Cain Blood (who was one hell of a cool character!), to our THIRD main antagonist, Fox. I’ll just leave that last one at that because that would, again, blow a huge spoiler as well.
Of course, the major character I glossed over was Blanca. Next to Ash, he was my favorite character in the show. I’ll just say that he’s the only who trained Ash how to fight but I won’t go into his involvement because, again, spoilers. That’s one of the problems with this show is that every character has a purpose and talking about them ruins the show for those who haven’t seen it. Minor or major, all characters are interconnected to the plot and help make it flourish.
Art, Animation, and Sound
MAPPA did an amazing job with the art. This had a gritty street gang feel to it. Being at the heart of the inner part of New York City, it was easy to be pulled into the atmosphere of the show. Seeing the stark contrast between where Ash lived and Golzine’s territory really drove home that atmosphere they were looking for. The characters all stood out and the coloring used gave the show a flatter look than most anime. Shading was used in a minimalistic way which really made the anime stand out. It really proves that you can do more with less in that regards.
There weren’t any real abnormalities with the animation as everything looked and felt great. Everything felt natural and there wasn’t anything that jumped out and looked out of place. From bullets flying through the air to the epic knife fight between Arthur and Ash, everything was done extremely well. Hell, even simple hand-to-hand combat scenes were choreographed in believable and engaging ways. To have that level of quality consistent over the course of 24 episodes is no easy feat but MAPPA made it look easy.
The OST is really forgettable though. The background music fits the mood but there really isn’t any tracks that stand out and make you want to go pick up the OST. That doesn’t hold true for the opening and endings though. Survive Said the Prophet lent their talents to the first opening with “Found and Lost” and the second ending with “Red.” I thought the first opening was killer and helped set the mood for the show. If anything, go out and pick up the album that contains that song. The second ending; however, was SEVERELY disappointing.
Red was a perfect emotional track that showed a deeper, more melodic side to Survive Said the Prophet; however, since this track came out RIGHT AFTER they released an album, that meant either this was going to be a short filler song or it would be a very long time before we got a full version. Well, what if I told you it ended up being both? Not only did we have to wait a couple of months for the full version, when we got it, they took the cheap route and simply repeated the TV Size lyrics throughout the entire song and called it a day. They even removed some of the backing guitars which helped pull in some of that emotion, much to my chagrin. A song that had so much promise was treated like a mere afterthought and I really felt disappointed by the end product.
The second opening, “FREEDOM” by BLUE ENCOUNT was a mixed bag for some people for it’s more light-hearted (but still hard-hitting) nature but I actually enjoyed it. “Prayer X” by King Gnu had a rather serene opening that fit the style of a mafia show. It then breaks out into a pseudo-urban beat with melodic lyrics that give the song some attitude. After the disaster with Red, it’s easy to say that this song wins as best ending of the show.
Overall, I highly enjoyed this series, but you knew that from my intro. The TL;DR version is this show has a driving story, interesting characters that add a ton of layers to the story, great openings, endings, and very solid art and animation. The only thing missing was a memorable soundtrack.
If I were to fault this show on anything it’s their inability to fully handle as large of a cast that they had. Even with 24 episodes, some characters were pushed to the back burner while some seemed like mere plot devices that were called upon when they needed to remind people that they were still there. If they trimmed some of the cast down, they could have still had the same impact. Still, despite that, not many anime hit the ground running and stay running on all cylinders from beginning to end but Banana Fish is one of those shows that does just that.
If it weren’t for the deeper emotional situations that Violet Evergarden brought to the table, this would have been my Anime of the Year without question… and even still, after making my decision, I’m still rethinking it. Can we just call it a tie and move on?
I don’t hand these scores out often… but Banana Fish gets the full 5/5 from me. It’s really worth your time!
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Engaging characters that intertwine with a compelling story gives you a recipe for a fantastic anime. You felt a connection to all of the characters no matter if they were in a main or supporting role. Add in a gritty art style with fluid animation and you have everything you need for an amazing show!
- Compelling story
- Engaging / relatable characters
- Fluid animation
- Gritty and unique art style
- Wide range of emotional moments
- Forgettable OST
- Cheap ending song with Red