Banana Fish – Mid Series Anime Review
Synopsis: Ash Lynx, a 17-year-old boy, is the boss of a street-kids gang in New York. One day, a man who was murdered before his eyes entrusts him with something. And the last words uttered by that dying man was the phrase, “”BANANA FISH””. That is the word his brother, Griffin, often mutters. Ash has a destined encounter with Eiji, a kind Japanese boy who comes to New York as a cameraman assistant. (Official Amazon Synopsis)
Mid Series (12 Episodes) Review (Warning: Minor Spoilers to Follow):
Tom: Banana Fish maintains generally strong visuals, with vibrant character designs that leave even smaller characters memorable. There’s a bit of a dip as one approaches the middle of the twenty-four episode run, but the show never becomes a trainwreck of a production, unlike another series we’ll be reviewing later this week.
Linny: Plot-wise, Banana Fish moves at breakneck speed so much so that it seems to silently demand that the audiences be already familiar with the original manga it is adapting.We barrel through the story, hardly ever pausing to dive into character exploration or backgrounds, save for rare glimpses. That said, the show does do a great job of making its story easy to follow, though those of you who like deep character exploration may end up finding things a little underdeveloped in that regard.
Tom: Things are indeed still rushed, the series never slowing down from its breakneck first episode. As Linny said this often bulldozes straight through potential character work, never allowing the audience time to digest and become invested in our emotionally turmoil ridden characters.It doesn’t help that Banana Fish is complex, with different factions, back stabbing, conspiracies and the like. The rushed pace makes it a tight fit just to include all of that, let alone time for Ash and Eiji to really flourish as leads. The rushed paced also produces unintended comedy. The best example is as we approach mid season, when Ash, Eiji and the gang visit Ash’s estranged father. Ash’s father sees his wife murdered before his eyes, yet seemingly cares little for her death as there’s no time to mourn over this fallen woman. Instead he sets about getting Ash and Eiji on their way, making his seeming indifference for her death jarring and laughable. This isn’t the only issue with the narrative, as parts become increasingly contrived. Namely a harrowing event for Ash as he’s forced to choose between his life and that of a friend’s. But the circumstances and build up to his choice are filled with such contrived, maniacal villain moments that it feels tortured. Later on, similar contrived elements rear their heads with characters being purposefully obtuse in order to produce wrought and tired drama. Coupled that with the rushed pacing and it can become difficult to remain enthralled.
Linny: Banana Fish also has a homophobic vein running through it with a LOT, if not almost every villain character revealed not only as a homosexual but being of a violent and abusive kind. In fact, the term almost seems to be derogatory with it being included as part of the negative terms to describe some of the villains in the series. If the show had opted to portray a more positive depiction of same sex relationships in a clear manner, say between our leads Eiji and Ash, one could maybe overlook the negative connotations from the rest of the series. However, so far things have been super chaste between Eiji and Ash, never depicting any interactions that could be blatantly depicted as romantic, making one wonder if the story feels that homosexual tendencies are only something for the depraved to engage in.Of course as I have not read the original manga, I cannot speak for how things develop in the latter parts so there’s a chance the show will turn sweeter and more positive as it continues on.
Tom: Eiji and Ash’s romance is very underdone, initially an aspect the manga was lauded for, keeping some of the more toxic, rapey elements to boys love shoujo off the page. While Banana Fish was a huge leap forward for shoujo gay romance in the 90s, it feels all too common today. Despite this, Eiji and Ash are perhaps the show’s strongest offerings. Eiji’s altruistic and naive persona make him endearing. And Ash’s tortured self, while sometimes too edgy, is saved by his desire to right wrong and seek revenge angst the most repugnant of villains. This keeps him someone you can root for, even when the pacing leaves little room to grow familiar and comfortable with everyone else.
Linny: While both are likeable leads, there’s still no denying that the rushed storytelling causes lots of little dents and holes in their characters. It might irk more picky viewers when a big part of the plot is Ash’s journey to avenge his brother when we never really see the two of them bonding to really build up emotions and investment. Also Eiji’s injection into the story feels borderline random because of how quickly he becomes embroiled in Ash’s quest for revenge, especially given how little time the two have to bond.
Tom: Banana Fish’s anime has a lot of problems. My temptation would be to suggest that for anyone intrigued by the story they seek out the manga (which Viz Media was crafty enough to begin reprints in conjunction with the new anime) but I have no direct familiarity with the original manga, nor how much of the anime’s pacing issues are influenced by the manga’s original run itself, rather than a rushed adaptation.Still the anime speeds through too much, never giving you the chance to get sucked in. Characters feel distant, scenes become laughable, and developments turn flimsy. Even with the other periodic issues I’ve listed, like the more contrived elements, Banana Fish would still be something I could recommend if it wasn’t so focused on barreling through its content as fast as it possibly can.
Linny: Banana Fish is best viewed and celebrated by fans of the original manga. It might not be the easiest story to get into for newcomers, not only because of the anime’s rushed pacing but because the honest fact is that a fair amount of it feels outdated and possibly even ignorant/offensive in today’s more educated and progressive culture.That said, if you enjoy stories that don’t ‘waste’ time on character building and instead focus on telling a fast and action packed tale, you might still enjoy Banana Fish, which does a good job of keeping its plot simple to follow and supports it with good animation (for the most part) and some great music.
Banana Fish is available for streaming via Amazon Prime Video.