Banana Fish – 02 – Nothing But Trouble

Ash seems like a do-things-for/by-himself kinda guy, so he goes after Skip and Eiji’s kidnappers all on his own…which is not smart. He’s captured immediately, unable to make a move lest the captors (Arthur and Marvin) kill either of their hostages.

While Ash may not possess the strongest strategic mind, he is able to outsmart Marvin, whom he convinces he’ll roll in the hay with but takes the guy down and steps over him. When he, Skip, and Eiji hit a dead end, Eiji reveals his hidden talent: he’s a pole-vaulter. LOL WUT.

He gets over what looks like a 14′-15′ wall, which is pretty good (the all-time record is 20′) but with no padding, Eiji is injured and eventually passes out in the street from blood loss. When he comes to, he gets word to the cops of Ash and Skip’s location, but Ash’s buddy Shorter and his friends make it there first.

In the ensuing fray between Dino’s guys and Ash’s, Marvin puts two bullets in lil’ Skip, and just like that, the kid I thought would be a mildy-annoying recurring sidekick is gone. A couple minutes later, at the end of a chase, so is Marvin—but not by Ash’s hands. He’s framed for murder by Dino’s many minions.

He’s wrapped in a neat-little murder package, what with the overwhelming motive of wanting to kill Marvin. A dirty cop owned by Dino happens to preside over the jurisdiction where Ash was arrested, and sees fit to play videos of porn involving Ash as a child (definitely not NYPD protocol), filling in the blanks of his past quite devastatingly concisely.

Ash knows he can plead innocence all he likes, but the bottom line is Dino has too many people in his pocket. Ash is refreshingly self-aware in his ineptness at staying on top of the game (even if he spent time there due to sheer will and charisma). Also, he fully admits even if he was framed and someone else killed Marvin, that person merely kept him from doing something he’d planned to do one day anyway.

Eiji is deployed by the cops in an attempt to get Ash to blab about Dino & Co., but Ash isn’t having it. He may hate his “dad’s” guts, but he still has his personal integrity to consider. Yet he doesn’t blame Eiji for being the transparent pawn he is; instead, he’s still goddamned impressed Eiji was able to vault himself over that huge wall!

Things continue to not go particularly swell at all for young Ash, as Dino gets a judge he’s friendly with to make Ash’s process as undue as possible, transferring him to a state prison where plenty of Dino’s men are waiting to kill him. (On the subject of men- unless I’m being grossly unobservant, I have yet to a single female character in these two episodes. I’m wondering if we’ll ever see one…)

The cops prepare to reach out to Max Lobo, the convict Eiji’s boss was planning to interview, who’s in the same slammer. I’m sure Ash would like to think he can take care of himself, but particularly in prison I hope he avails himself of any and all assistance offered him. In any case, dude’s an elite-level trouble magnet.

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Banana Fish – 01 (First Impressions) – Look Young, Live Fast

Banana Fish is a manga dating back to 1985, which makes it, well, old. Yet it looks to be a story about one young man getting suddenly, violently mixed up in the very complicated life of an even younger man. We spend much of the first half following the first young man around, one Ash Lynx, who has a lot going on.

Leader of a powerful multi-ethnic street gang in NYC, the 17-year-old Ash is also apparently the heir (and former lover) of the mafia boss Dino. Ash takes care of his big brother Griffin, who has been helpless and only mutters “Banana Fish” ever since he fought in the war and suddenly…snapped.

Ash ends up encountering another man muttering the same thing, ends up with a vial of some kind of drug, and starts digging, suspecting Dino is up to something and also eager to cure his brother’s condition, if he can.

In the midst of all this comes the mild-mannered, babyfaced 19-year-old Okumura Eiji, who is immediately both impressed and terrified of the wild young rogue Ash. Eiji is merely an assistant for a photojournalist looking to do a story on the street gangs, and young Eiji may be the key to getting Ash to open up.

The two meet and barely spend an hour at one of the gang’s hideouts until a plan is put into place which had been simmering beneath the surface of events the entire episode, involving a member of Ash’s gang and one of Dino’s bodyguards betraying Ash. They use Eiji and Ash’s young friend Skip as bait to lure him to a seedy warehouse where they have awful things in store for him.

When we leave Eiji, he’s freaking out a bit, just trying to remind himself that he’s currently dealing with a reality about as different from his peaceful life back home as is possible, while Ash commandeers his friend Shorter’s red motorcycle to give chase, playing right into his betrayers’ hands.

One wonders why it took 33 years for this manga, apparently a classic example of BL with wide appeal, to become an anime. This first episode doesn’t answer that, but the source’s age does inform the retro character design, while the soundtrack is more contemporary. It also achieves what any good first episode does: leaves me wanting to find out what happens next.

Shokugeki no Souma 3 – 11

Last week I pleaded for the show to do something, anything with Erina before the cour is out, and it seems like my prayers were answered … somewhat. She’s finally out of that horrid brown frock, back in uniform, and more importantly, outside the friendly confines of Polar Star.

Erina confides in Isshiki that she doesn’t expect her relationship with Alice to improve anytime because of the “horrible things” she did to her in the past, even though those things were done when she was under the absolute influence of Azami.

So it comes as a shock to the system when Erina arrives at the Shokugeki hall to find Alice telling Azami off right to his face, demanding he let Erina be her own person. Alice knows it wasn’t Erina’s fault she never got her letters, and never again wants her cousin in the postition where she can’t write back.

But this isn’t going to work if Erina herself doesn’t stand up straight and show her domineering creepfest of her father that she’s her own person. Alice can’t let her main rival be a cowering puppet!

The Alice-Erina interaction is wonderful, but things get even better and more complex when Yukihira and Megumi’s teacher is dismissed and replaced by First Seat Tsukasa Eishi. (Additionally, as Ryo was the only rep to beat Central, Azami quickly purges of the other 32 clubs and societies that lost in the first round.)

Tsukasa, wonderfully voiced by Ishida Akira, is the siren, if you will, who will bring the students to heel through their adoration of him; the class is understandably super-stoked to have the opportunity to learn from the First Seat.

Where things get interesting is when Souma volunteers to be Tsukasa’s teaching assistant, then proceeds to exceed Tsukasa’s expectations with the skills he honed at Shino’s, keeping up with the superfast pace of Tsukasa’s cooking.

The class is wowed, and frankly, I enjoyed Souma and Tsukasa—ostensibly an enemy—putting aside their differences to work some culinary magic in perfect harmony. As Souma says, it was fun!

Meanwhile, Erina has worked up the courage to return to scheduled classes, a big step forward and a relief to her admirers. In a scene that’s touching despite the blatant fanservice, Hisako remarks how she’s noticed a change in Erina.

Erina acknowledges is a result of witnessing all of the people, from those in RS’s to Polar Star, Souma, Ryo and Alice, standing up against her father, something she once thought impossible.

She’s now become worried less about how to please father and more worried about what she Nakiri Erina, wants to do with herself…something far beyond taking a side in Totsuki’s not-quite-dead Civil War.

Speaking of sides, Erina, Hisako, and later Megumi end up eavesdropping on an extended conversation in which Tsukasa offers Souma a job as his right-hand man, making him an official member of Central.

When Souma says he wouldn’t want to present Yukihira Diner’s cooking at Central, Tsukasa calmly reveals that such a thing wouldn’t be necessary, because Yukihira Diner’s cooking isn’t necessary.

All Tsukasa wants is Souma’s “supportive abilities” to help him refine his own cooking, while Souma’s cooking would presumably die off. Tsukasa, literally Number One at Totsuki, has no qualms exposing his boundless selfishness common in many elite chefs.

Souma doesn’t see the point if he can’t serve his own cooking, and says for all they know, Souma’s cooking is better than Tsukasa’s, to which Tsukasa responds with an informal challenge right then and there. If Souma wins, Tsukasa will surrender his First Seat to him. If Souma loses, the rest of his days at Totsuki will be spent as Tsukasa’s sous chef.

Tsukasa begins cooking immediately, and the smell of his venison is so invigorating, Megumi and Hisako—outside the classroom—have foodgasms without a bite! Even Souma hesitates in the presence of such superlative cooking skill—until he hears of Azami and Central’s ultimate plans.

Central aims to literally take over the Japanese culinary world, shutting down all restaurants deemed subpar, including Yukihira Diner. This isn’t just a silly little war within the school, it’s primed to become a nationwide battle between the monolithic empire of orthodoxy and the rebellion of independence an individuality.

Here’s the thing: I just don’t see Souma beating Tsukasa. Does that mean he loses and is forced to switch sides? If this is a conflict the effects of which will extend far beyond the school, will he instead choose exile? And since she’s been listening and watching this whole time, what will Erina decide to do?

LOL. Never change, Erina.

Joukamachi no Dandelion – 12 (Fin)

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Election day is finally upon us, and the Sakurada siblings are all scraping together their final speeches before the votes are tallied. The leader of Akane’s fan club notices she’s changed in the last eleven episodes, but while she’s not as shy or prone to flash people, he remains as strong a fan as ever. Hana’s friends are thinking of voting for her boyfriend Shuu, though they worry they’ll see less of her if he wins.

Aoi, the expected victor in the election, informs her parents she’s backing out, and neither of them are disappointed. The whole reason they had so many kids—and have an election to begin with—is so they can all choose their own paths in life, which may not include ruling the country.

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On election day, with the gathered masses in attendance, Aoi announces she’s withdrawing her candidacy and explains why (Absolute Obedience will give her more power than she wants or should have). Her siblings’ speeches are interrupted by a runaway airship headed straight for the castle and the crowd below, but thanks to quick thinking and teleporting by Shuu, Shiori’s ability to talk to the airship, and Akane’s ability to manipulate gravity, the siblings end up preventing a calamity of Hindenburg-like proportions.

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In fact, it’s another all-sibling effort, with Haruka determining the proper landing spot for the airship, Kanade creating a barricade, and Teru pulling the ship to a stop, while Misaki, Hikari, and Aoi keep the crowd calm and safe. But it’s Shuu, who is able to give a speech as this is all going on, who ends up winning the election and becoming king, by taking the lead in averting disaster and promising both to Hana, and everyone else present that he will strive to protect everyone and help them to thrive and live happy, fulfilling lives.

With Shuu crowned, Aoi is off to college, Kanade studies for medical school, Misaki becomes class president, Hikari reveals her identity but remains an idol, Shiori and Teru continue their studies, and Akane pretty much continues on as she has, only now that she’s been through the rigors of an election she’s come out with a thicker skin and more confidence. And she still has time to stop and admire the dandelions.

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Joukamachi no Dandelion – 11

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With only a month to go before the election, the Sakurada siblings watch the latest polls, and the question of why Akane is so scared of crowds and attention comes up. Her older siblings recall that she wasn’t always so shy in public; quite the opposite, and thus we enter a flashback with that bold, courageous Lil’ Akane, obsessed with spreading justice throughout the land (perhaps influenced by comic books).

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Her confidence in and ease with which she wields her powers leads to her ditching her guards in order to hang out at her best bud Karen’s house, only to encounter two burglars tossing the place. The two girls are paralyzed at first, but Akane gathers her courage and uses her powers to foil the bad guys in a Home Alone-style action scene.

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Then the bad guys take the kid gloves off and threaten to hurt the girls, at which point Akane has no choice but to go a little overboard, scaring the burglars into submission, but destorying Karen’s house in the process. The gathering crowds around the site, with all the opinions and judgements flying as Akane stands holding a thankful Karen’s hand tight, gradually overwhelm her. It’s an ordeal that informs how she reacts to being in the spotlight to this day. But as Kanade said early in the episode, she had some stuff in the past that she managed to deal with; so can Akane.

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Her story is carried into the second segment as she gets the opportunity to overcome her shyness once and for all (or, at least, partially). That’s because their dad the king is in bed with a strained back (much to their mom’s chagrin), and the Sakurada princes and princesses must work together to accomplish all the official duties he’s unable to.

Akane initially helps out saving various people at a town that was hit by a landslide with her powers under the bespectacled guise of Scarlet Bloom, but she gets so into her good deeds, she doesn’t realize she loses her “Jamming Glasses” (which we know don’t really do anything) and is recognizable to all as Princess Akane.

She then remembers Karen remarking on that day she saved her from the burglars. Sure, there was some collateral damage, but that didn’t mean anything to Karen or presumably her folks, because Karen was alive and okay thanks to Akane’s heroism. So she can hold her head high—as herself, not Scarlet Bloom—as the election approaches. Because far more people like her than don’t.

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Joukamachi no Dandelion – 10

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Hikari remains not-my-favorite Sakurada, but her half of the episode benefits not only from Sacchy, who has some hot takes on royalty (they don’t understand true hardship; they’re set for life no matter what), unaware her fellow idol is in fact a princess. Akane is also cleverly brought into the storyline, since she’s such a huge Sacchy fan and is (slightly) aged up by Hikari to serve as a substitute assistant. Then Sacchy learns the truth—accidentally, creating fresh tension.

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Hikari’s manager wants her to reveal her true identity after the next joint concert with Sacchy, but Hikari decides not to do so. Now, in the past, this might seem like backtracking on the original plan to increase her exposure to the voters through idolling. But she feels to do so now would be unfair to “Raito”, and more importantly Sacchy and her fans. Still, she wants to tell Sacchy the truth before they take the stage, and she does.

Sacchy doesn’t care which identity Hikari chooses; she knows she’s a hard worker and someone she wants to keep performing with. Akane is inspired to see how much her little sis has grown, and a little envious she knows what she wants to do (outside of becoming king) and is going for it with everything she’s got.

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The second half is arguably a far simpler story, focusing on the twin siblings Shuu and Kanade. Just as the first half was a callback to a previous Hikari-Sacchy segment, the second is a callback to Kanade’s feelings of grief, regret, and idebtedness for injuring her brother by recklessly using her powers as a youth. When she sees him on the street with his girlfriend, she re-resolves to become king so she can heal his legs.

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Then, all of a sudden Shuu teleports before her, knows she’s troubled by something (they are twins after all) and tells her…he doesn’t want her to become kind just to heal his legs. He’s happy with his life, and Kanade doesn’t own him anything. Kanade’s personality is much like her power: transactional, so she can’t easily accept Shuu’s position. It just doesn’t make sense to her. Frustrated, she runs off, and nearly falls victim to an anime classic: the Bundle of Heavy Pipes Precariously hanging over the street above her.

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It’s almost history repeating itself: Shuu getting hurt because of her, but both of them are fine, as he teleports the two of them to safety. Kanade, in Shuu’s arms, is still frustrated, but Shuu reiterates, thirty seconds or no, he’s her BIG BRO, and it’s his goddamn job to protect her, no matter what happens to her. It’s her job, as his little sister, to shut up and let herself be protected. Kanade lets Shuu carry her home, and tells him she’ll no longer try to become king just for his sake, but for hers…so she can build a despotic state she’ll rule, like, well, a king!

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Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun – 01

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Commiserations, Ao Haru Ride: you had the misfortune of being followed by this on my watchlist; not that you would have fared much better had I watched them in opposite order. Getting down to brass tacks, this slick, nimble laugh-fest of an episode made Ao seem like a feckless, nebulous, lethargic, overly straight-laced chore. And we didn’t even dislike Ao Haru Ride…while we were watching it!

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We could only summon a slight snicker or two from Ao Haru Ride, while numerous parts of this episode had me loosing legit belly laughs. It’s a show that’s not afraid to let its hair down and get silly and ridiculous, as it does when Nozaki and Chiyo brainstorm ways for a guy and girl to ride a bike, culminating in the two riding a tandem bicycle in similarly goofy ways. Also, the misunderstandings between the two in matters regarding romance were understandable and/or clever; never labored.

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The bikes are just one example of the many ways the show grabbed hold of ideas and squeezed just the right amount of comedy out of them before moving on (the many cats mistaking Nozaki for a telephone pole, or something, were another). The exercises in futility that are Chiyo’s attempts to confess to Nozaki are another; both attempts bookend the episode and end in the same undesired result for Chiyo: a signed autograph.

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Another plus: unlike the kids in Ao Haru Ride, Chiyo and Nozaki aren’t just bland, confused students milling around school trying to fit in; they’re artists. Nozaki is a published and highly popular manga artist; the fact he’s an enormously successful shoujo artist is one of the many running gags, as it’s never adequately explained exactly how he’s able to touch the hearts of so many girls with zero romantic experience.

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But that lack of experience also informs how he looks at Chiyo. She’s always looked at him as a love interest, but gains even more respect and admiration when she finds out what he does (even if she’s not sure how he does it). Nozaki, meanwhile, has been watching her for some time too, but as a mangaka scouting for talent, which Chiyo has. The two settle into a nice cozy creative routine, and their “bicycle research”, while hilarious, also exemplifies their collaborative efficacy, as it leads to a popular manga, a source of pride for Chiyo.

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In short: they make a damn good team. Sure, they seem incapable of seeing eye to eye on matters of romance between them, but chalk that up to Chiyo simply failing to get unmistakable words out (she only gets out mistakable words, like “I’m a fan!” She may have struck out twice, but she’s still very much in the batter’s box, just as Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun has earned a solid place on our roster. Sports metaphors!

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Stray Observations:

  • The sheer volume of laughs approached those of the very best episodes of Sket Dance; not faint praise from us.
  • Never heard Ozawa Ari before, but she’s very good here as Chiyo, expressing a great range of emotions. Both her inner and outer dialogues fizz like a fresh Alka-seltzer.
  • If there’s ever an anime where the guy speeds off in a bike while the girl runs behind him, I want to watch it.
  • A subtle but ever-present sight gag is in effect here as well: Chiyo is absolutely dwarfed by Nozaki, underscoring the figurative “heights” she’ll have to scale for her feelings to reach him.
  • Those cats…so random…but so good.
  • The ending theme was kinda obnoxious…but who cares?

Kami-sama no Memo-cho 11

As Ayaka lies in the hospital in a coma, Narumi asks Alice for help investigating her attempted suicide. Alice officially names him her full-fledged Assistant. They soon learn that Hakamizaka, a brilliant young student specializing in plant genetics, is the one behind the recent Angel Fix distribution. Through Toshi, he made Ayaka unwittingly plant flowers in the gardening club’s greenhouse to be used in the producition of the narcotic. Naurmi still doesn’t believe Ayaka tried to off herself after finding out what she’d been doing, but only Toshi and Hakamizaka have the answers. Meanwhile, Sou and his yakuza are scouring the city for the scientist, irrespective of sentimental considerations: their goal is merely to clean up the city.

I liked this episode, where for once Narumi is fighting for a very personal cause – discovering the truth about someone he cared about far more than he initially realized. I’m unsure whether it was anything other than a formality, but Narumi is now Alice’s full assistant. Now that they share a common trauma – Ayaka’s attempted suicide, perhaps she feel it would be best if they collaborated as closely as possible for the best results. Seeing with her eyes and speaking with her voice, he directs the other NEETs to find the information he needs. I had assumed Ayaka was dead dead, but here she’s just in a coma. Thus, the chances of her waking up, while announced as slim, are not nil.

Poor Ayaka. For someone as kind and pure as her to come to the realization she’s been helping to create drugs that kill people must have been devastating enough – but that her own beloved brother was putting her up to it must’ve been worse. She didn’t feel she could tell Narumi any of this. As for the exact reason she jumped, perhaps she was goaded into it – or even pushed – by the likes of Hikamizaka. The guy is your classic mad scientist evil genius with pretensions of grandeur and a thuggish side. But now that he’s a wanted man, he’s even more dangerous, as is Toshi, who seems to be hopelessly addicted to Angel Fix. As for Ayaka herself being drugged…well, you’d think the doctors would have checked her bloodwork by now.


Rating: 3.5