Genres: Action, Adventure, Drama
For someone who says she doesn’t like watching sad anime series, more often than not, I fall into watching another one. Banana Fish is one such example. Thanks to scrolling through anime recommendations on social media, like a moth to a flame, I got pulled in and burned.
At just 17 years old, Aslan Jade Callenreese, more known as Ash Lynx, is a boss of a street gang in New York City. He was a runaway that was raised by Dino Golzine, a ruthless mafia leader. After leaving Dino’s wing, Ash started investigating the mysterious ‘Banana Fish’ to figure out what happened to his older brother after he returned from Iraq. But Dino is not about to let Ash roam free.
At the same time, 19-year-old Japanese college student and photographer assistant, Eiji Okumura comes to New York with photographer Shunichi Ibe to report on the lives of American street gangs. Shortly after being introduced to Ash, Eiji gets caught up in the chaos between Ash and Dino’s fight.
With their lives intertwined, Ash and Eiji must find a way to survive and unveil the truth behind Banana Fish.
Heavy but good
TW: This anime covers a lot of unsettling themes (rape, paedophilia, drugs, prostitution).
Banana Fish is not the kind of wacky anime I was expecting with a title like that.
The story focused heavily on Ash, his backstory and development, so it’s really hard not to sympathise with him. From his unfortunate childhood in his hometown up to his very last moments in the series, you could probably count the Ash’ happy memories they showed in one hand. My heart would break a little every time they reveal a portion of his past or show scenes where Ash was tortured or assaulted. No break is too long for him, because before you know it, he or another person he cares for is in trouble.
The attachment you develop with Ash also contributes to making this show very uncomfortable to watch. While not overly graphic, the way they deliver certain points of the story makes you painfully aware of the events that occurred off-screen (e.g., Ash’s dishevelled clothes and defeated expressions). The series had a good balance of ‘show, don’t tell’ scenes and the characters clarifying what’s happening through their lines to ensure you’re still following along.
I really liked the pacing of the series. There was a wide range of dynamic scenes with deep dialogue incorporated in between to allow us to learn more about the diverse cast. It felt like watching a long action film, at no point did I feel disengaged or bored. And when it comes to hitting you with emotions, they knew when to deliver.
Art style complements the grittiness of the show
I’m not the biggest fan of the show’s art style, but it fitted well to the feel of the show. It looked rough but soft at the same time (not sure if I’m describing it well). And while I felt like there was a lot of flat colours, there were times where MAPPA’s signature eye colouring shone through to illustrate emotions. Those were my favourite parts of the animation.
Unbalanced character developments
In terms of criticisms I have towards Banana Fish, I felt that Yut Lung became annoying and unnecessary in the latter half of the show. His development felt like it was reversed, Yut Lung was first introduced as very capable and smart but became whinier as the series went on. While I get he shares similar misfortunes as Ash, how Yut Lung’s obsessions with Ash-Eiji, and then Blanca, came about was unclear. As the show carried on, it felt like he was just a convenient plot device to help propel the story whenever they need to kickstart the action again.
Eiji is another character I felt had little to no character development, merely due to lack of screen time or lines. I did read in some articles and reviews later that Ash and Eiji had a very strong bond, but I don’t think it came across that well for me in the anime. The only thing that gave any firm indication of that was Ash’ iconic scene of pulling the trigger on himself in exchange for Eiji’s life. But even then, I was a bit baffled as to how and why they became so close. Although maybe this could be a good thing too, as it allowed Ash to be the true centre of the story, rather than their relationship.
I also found a few aspects of Ash’ characterisation a bit exaggerated, making him quite the OP main character. He was apparently a genius and jack of all trades (hacker, military strategist, gunslinger, etc.) at 17. Yet despite his abundant skills, he seemed to constantly get the short end of the stick.
And I’m probably not alone in this, but I was not satisfied with the ending. I know I’ve been warned before starting this series that it’s not gonna be a happy end, but I felt like it was a copout. I kinda semi-predicted who would be the culprit, so I felt disappointed that it went that way. It gave me one of those annoying feelings that you know it’s going in a certain direction you don’t want, but all you can do is watch helplessly. Anyway, while I did not cry, it still freaking hurt.
Due to the art style and general themes of the show, Banana Fish is not something I would’ve picked up normally. But I’m glad I did as I thoroughly enjoyed the storytelling and fast-paced action. And despite my seemingly many criticisms, I felt the emotions they were trying to convey in the story and those hit me hard. 9/10.
RV is the otaku behind Raving Otaku, where she writes anime reviews, rants and recommendations.