Ikebukuro West Gate Park – 05 – The Golden Land

IWGP has done a great job mixing up Majima Makoto’s cases-of-the-week thus far, underlining how valuable someone with his skills and relationships can be to a diverse array of people. This week he’s approached by Lin Gaotai, an advisor to immigrant labor trainees from China. He is looking for 19-year-old trainee Guo Shungui. If she’s not found within a week, she and all 250 of her fellow trainees will be forcibly deported back to China.

This isn’t just a case-of-the-week for Makoto, but a kind of wake-up call, as he puts it prior to the OP. He’d never thought of himself or the people of Ikebukuro and Japan in general as “blessed”, but they most certainly are compared to the crippling  poverty of rural China from where both Lin and Guo hail. The lure of life-changing pay leads to fierce competition; Lin and Guo are where they are only due to working themselves to the bone.

At first, Makoto isn’t sure what to make of Lin, a “trainee advisor” who not only knows enough kung fu to scare off some Dongleng toughs, but has a keen enough grasp of Japanese to speak appropriately formally and modestly to the local Dongleng boss. He even bails the less courteous Makoto out of what could have been serious trouble. The boss is loath to give up Guo, but when Lin asks the boss’ boss in Shanghai for a favor, Guo is freed from her position at the China Doll Hostess Club.

When Makoto finally meets Guo, she looks quite a bit more glamorous than the photo provided by Lin, but the look of “the incurable illness of poverty” is still in her eyes. Turns out she didn’t know leaving her sweatshop would cause 250 people to be deported; she accepted the Dongleng hostess job because her father’s health back in China was worsening and she needed more money fast. For a 19-year-old to have to sell her body to save her family is a heartbreaking choice, but Makoto respects it’s her choice to make.

Ultimately, Guo weighs her father’s life with those of the 250 and, knowing firsthand how hard they all worked to make it to Japan (and their financial reasons for doing so), decides she’ll return to the factory. The day before she’s to leave, Makoto takes her out on the town. Guo marvels at everything from the beauty and vitality of Tokyo’s people to the newer cars and cleaner streets. Makoto can’t help but see it all in a whole new light. She even meets Kyouichi, who dances for her.

That night when Makoto’s mom feeds him, Lin, and Guo, we learn that when Lin brought up the Japanese woman who adopted him, he was planting the seed for Makoto’s mom to adopt Guo, which is what she decides to do. Guo, obviously, is overwhelmed with joy and gratitude, as she didn’t want to leave Tokyo but also really didn’t want to work in the sex industry. Makoto’s mom took one look at Guo’s hardworking hands and knew she’d be a good addition to her produce stand.

Makoto not only gains some welcome perspective on his extremely fortunate lot in life relative to other parts of the world, but gains an lovely sister as well! I am one am glad the episode ends on a high note, and hope we’ll get to see more of Guo. Rather than ending up like the first pen she used to learn Japanese—devoid of ink without anything to show for it—Guo will be free to realize her potential and live the life she deserves.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Banana Fish – 09 – Dino’s Inferno

If it wasn’t clear last week, it certainly is now: things are going to get a whole lot worse before they get better. Ash is in custody, on his way to New York. Eiji and Shorter are already there. Shorter is injected with Banana Fish and comes to think of Eiji as the manifestation of all his worst fears.

Eiji just manages to escape becoming just another one of Dino Golzine’s sexual conquests (he’s called away by Ash’s arrival). Yut-Lung, like Ash, is far more willing to get on with it for the sake of survival, and tells Eiji he should start thinking that way if he likes breathing.

Dino has a bit of a flair for the theatric, and so dresses up all of his hostages in black tie for a sumptuous dinner before getting to the “main event”, Ash having to watch Shorter kill Eiji with a knife. This is all just thoroughly unpleasant, especially with the younger Dawson brother doing his Mad Scientist thing and Arthur smirking and laughing through it all, having a blast.

The only—and I mean only—two glimmers of hope for any of the “good guys” are Yut-Lung escaping from the bedroom (though he doesn’t do anything this week, he only watches) and Shorter’s and Ash’s gangs deciding to join forces to spring their leaders.

But those glimmers of hope are too little, too late, as Ash’s chains are loosened and he’s given a gun with one bullet. He shoots Shorter before Shorter can kill Eiji, and to add insult to injury, Dawson drags Shorter’s body away to dissect his brain.

If it wasn’t already obvious, Ash and his misfit friends are so far out of their depth it’s not even funny (except to Arthur, who finds all of this hilarious.) It sucks to see Shorter go, and awful to see it happen by Ash’s own hand.

Now he, Eiji, Ibe and Max will have to hope either Yut-Lung makes a move on Dino, and/or Ash and Shorter’s men can turn the tables. But it is not looking good at all for our brash, handsome, precocious young gangster.

Banana Fish – 08 – A Very Bad Trip

I won’t mince words: this was a mostly thoroughly unpleasant episode to watch. While it’s not a deal-breaker when things never seem go the protagonist’s way, you have to throw the audience a bone once in a while. BF’s eighth episode did not oblige. Pretty much everything sucks for everyone.

Take the hostage situation involving JessicaJennifer and Michael. Lee’s thugs demand Max hand Ash over if he doesn’t want his family killed, but when they show up, the thugs are gone, replaced by police. Michael is fine, and Jennifer is alive (though it’s implied she was raped by one of the thugs).

While Ash and Max are gone, Yue-Lung makes his move, incapacitating both Ibe and Eiji and preparing to take the latter to his brothers in Chinatown. While paralized, Ibe can still see and hear, and so knows Shorter betrayed them, something Shorter is not proud of.

While he may have officially turned his coat against Ash, Shorter makes it his personal mission to see no harm comes to Eiji…which will be a tall order, as the Lees plan to hand him over to Golzine where he’ll be sold into sexual slavery just like Ash was. I’d point out that Eiji is not a “boy” but a 20-something adult, but the show is keen on him being the damsel-in-distress, while the paralytic completes his total loss of agency.

No, it will be up to Shorter to try to keep him safe (he vows to kill him and himself if/when that’s no longer possible) and Ash and his friends to rescue him from the clutches of the Lees and Golzine. But first, Alexis, the older brother of Abraham Dawson (and owner of the house where Yue-Lung was essentially squatting) shows up out of nowhere to inch the mystery forward.

Lex shows Ash and Max his hidden research room and the info they get from him indicate Golzine is doing a deal with the US Government to weaponize Banana Fish, which can be used to perfect soviet-era drug hypnosis. Then Lee’s men show up at Lex’s house, capture him, Ash, Max, and a recovered Ibe, and prepare to ship them all off back to New York.

Going to Los Angeles may have netted some answers for Ash & Co., but their presence there got Jennifer raped, Michael traumatized, and Lex’s lab torched. This is way bigger than revenge now where Ash likes it or not, but even assuming he frees himself from captivity and gets his .45 back, fighting Golzine and his government co-conspirators won’t be easy; perhaps the goal should be exposing them to the public.

We’ll also have to keep an eye on Yue-Lung, whose two half-brothers killed his mother in front of him when he was six. Despite his talk about it being in the past, it’s also in his back pocket, and he’s willing to go down himself if it means taking Hua-Lung and Wang-Lung with him. Perhaps he’ll eventually join Ash and Eiji to form a bad-guy-busting bishounen triad?