Banana Fish – 12 – “Who am I?”

Ash continues his winning streak by knocking off one gang leader after another, with Arther getting more flustered as his subordinates report the losses.

Ash is also confident almost to a fault, whether it’s confronting Dino at the airport to tell him shit is ON, to meeting with the leader of a Harlem gang alone and even pulling a gun on him while completely surrounded. In both cases, Ash earns respect.

He and Eiji have also settled in to an idyllic domestic life at the fancy condo. Eiji is kept busy photographing everyone who goes in and out of the mafia property next door, as well as preparing a traditional Japanese dinner.

But while it’s all smiles and rainbows at home, Ash is spilling lots of blood on the streets, including by his own hand. While I’m sure opinions vary on its continued utility, I feel that instances in which protagonists come right out and ask themselves “Who am I?”  should be retired from drama forever.

That being said, I do enjoy the very natural chemistry and interactions between Ash and Eiji throughout the episode; they truly come off as a couple of people who care about each other a great deal despite very different backgrounds and skills.

Indeed, when they get into a fight when Ash comes home with blood on his shirt, Eiji basically has him pegged, and Ash lashes out not because Eiji is wrong about him, but because he’s right. Thankfully, they make up quickly the next day, when Eiji finds him at the library.

The Harlem gang leader (Bloody Cain) whom Ash impressed with their first meeting ends up as a go-between observer in Ash and Arthur’s full-on war, which I imagine will soon culminate in Ash and Arthur going at it mano-a-mano. In preparation for that, Ash is ready to send both Eiji and Ibe back to Japan…though one wonders if they’ll be safe there.

Meanwhile, Eiji’s photos and further research have uncovered a massive conspiracy between White House officials, congressmen, and military officers. Ash believes Banana Fish will be used to cause coups-de-etat in countries America wants kept in chaos.

As Max says, this is really big…too big, frankly. Just like Ash’s unspeakably awful past or the extent of the gang activity on Manhattan, the whole titular Banana Fish thing is just too comically huge and ungainly; it’s honestly hard to take seriously.

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Banana Fish – 11 – Ashilles Heel

Turns out leading a gang is like riding a bike: you never really forget how to do it. Ash slides right back into his simpler life, and Eiji sees, for the first time, Ash the Leader, and how all his subordinates hang on his every word and breath.

They’re also impressed that Eiji isn’t scared of waking Ash up from a two-hour nap. But once Ash is up, he sends them all off on an intelligence-gathering mission, leaving him and Eiji alone to enjoy a simple meal of takeout together.

It’s there that Eiji sees yet another side of Ash, as for the first time ever in their friendship they can just relax. He also learns that Ash has cucurbitophobia (fear of pumpkins) and teases him for it, eliciting a very boyish pout.

That night we see the contrast between the two young men: Eiji sleeping soundly and Ash waking up from nightmares that will probably never go away. Ash lets himself be vulnerable with Eiji and cries into his lap; it’s how they both end up falling asleep.

Ash gets up at dawn, letting Eiji sleep in, and sets to work on his laptop. Having spent his jade earring buying guns from “The Fly” yesterday, Ash hacks into Golzine’s stocks, using the spyware he implanted on Dino’s computer while Dino was having fun with him.

So not only is Dino’s favorite mansion in ruins, but so are his finances, and those of the mafia organization he’s a part of. He’ll have to answer to the dons now, which means his life is a lot more complicated and fraught with danger. From what we know of Dino, no one deserves it more…though Arthur is trying to make a case for himself.

Ash uses his influx of cash to buy an $8 million condo right next to a building owned by the Corsican organization, showing he’s still a fan of bold moves. He has Max pretend to be his dad to cosign on the purchase. But Max is worried that for all Ash has accomplished since gaining his freedom, he still has one potentially crippling weakness: Eiji.

Banana Fish – 10 – Wounded Tiger

The youngest Lee brother sat out last week’s unpleasantness, but returns to Ash to tend to his wounds and also decides to lend him a hand in escaping from Dino’s mansion. Dino is away for the night demonstrating Banana Fish on a woman who is forced to kill her husband, a presidential candidate. Meanwhile Ash’s gang has joined forces with Shorter’s Chinese crew, led by Sing, and after gathering some intel, they hit the mansion the same night Dino is out.

Ash makes use of the key Lee slipped him by doing a bit of gymnastics, then frees Max and Ibe, head to the armory full of military-grade weapons. From there, Ash becomes the “devil himself”, mowing through Dino’s men on one side of the house while his allies burst in and take care of business from the other. Lee leaves Ash with one more gift: injecting Abe Dawson with a paralytic.

That means, after meeting up with his men, Ash tells them to all get the hell out before Dino’s cavalry arrives, then heads down to the lab, where Abe had been busy extracting Shorter’s brain. Dawson begs for his life, but Ash responds by emptying a mag into him, then burns Shorter’s body so he can pass over in peace.

That gesture leads to a misunderstanding with Sing, Shorter’s subordinate, who heard that Ash killed Shorter (but doesn’t know why). He picks the wrong time to demand vengeance against Ash, who makes quick work of Sing, but lets him run away.

Sing ends up running right into Lee, who takes him away in a helicopter and spots Ash in his red Italian sports car heading back into Manhattan. It was an ugly one, and came at a high cost, but it was good to see a win for Ash, even if it just meant getting his freedom back.

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?

Banana Fish – 07 – Lee Lee Land

Ah, Los Angeles, home to…Roadside CGI Booty? All right then! Ya know, Shorter, women aren’t objects to be catcalled from the back of a truck! But in Max’s case, women are the people who take care of your adorable son while you’re in prison or on an unpaid cross-country investigative journalism gig. But at least Jessica “Lobo” is handy with a rifle.

Max paying a visit to his son on his birthday ends up being a bush-league move in addition to a dawdle, as it only serves to let whoever is following/watching them know that Max has something to lose. When they arrive at the address they got in Cape Cod, they find a kidnapping in progress. Ash breaks it up with his nighttime marksmanship, and they end up rescuing a very pretty young man: apparently the adopted son of Abe Dawson, who was apparently kidnapped six months ago.

Ash spends an inordinate time at a computer hacking into Abe’s files, which does not make for particularly thrilling action. After dicking around on Windows XP, Ash discovers that Banana Fish is not a “who”, but a “what”; an experimental psychotropic drug that may have been developed by the military.

Meanwhile, in L.A.’s Chinatown, Shorter is ambushed and forced to spy on Ash for the Lee clan, lest they kill his sister. Realizing how big this shit has gotten, Ash decides to play the bad guy and insist Eiji get the hell back to Japan.

Shorter voices his disillusionment with the Lee clan, who he once looked up to despite all the bad stuff he heard, which turned out to be true. The pretty raven-haired kid, who turns out to be the seventh son of the Lee clan, almost seems ashamed after Shorter’s rant.

Even so, some goons from either Golzine or Lee show up to Max’s ex-wife and son’s house, so they’re either dead or hostages. Whatever Ash intends to do—and I’m not sure exactly what that is, beyond “confront Dino again”—he’d better to it quick before his enemies are out of loved ones to kill!

Banana Fish – 06 – All the Good Ones Die First

Ash, Eiji, Shorter, Max and Ibe head north to Ash’s birthplace at Cape Cod, far from the blood and chaos of NYC. The scenery is gorgeous and the air is clean, but the family dynamics have a few warts.

Ash and Griff had different mothers; Ash’s mother forced Griff’s mother out, but then left their Dad. Ash’s Dad welcomes him by calling him a “whore” about six times in two minutes of contact. Ash doesn’t care; he just wants the keys to their now-abandoned birthplace.

It’s a sad, lonely little house. His Dad’s kindly companion Jennifer assures him he’s actually happy to see him; I have no reason to doubt her. She lives with the guy, plus it’s always hard for Dads to express their true feelings, and often cover them up with a bunch of machismo and faux loathing.

At the house they find the clue that indicates that their next destination in discovering the truth of Banana Fish will be Los Angeles, but the truck needs to be fixed before they can set off. Ash and Eiji share a sunset, but Ash tells him there’s nothing there, and he has no feelings for it.

Ash gives Eiji a shooting lesson the next morning, while Ibe talks with Max about how he wants to help Eiji after he lost ability to pole vault competitively. When Max tells Ash’s Dad that he was in Iraq with Griff, he loosens up a little, has a drink with Max, Eiji, Ibe and Shorter.

He tells them how Ash was raped when he was 7 by a coach. It went on for some time but eventually Ash killed him, and the coach was exposed as a serial rapist and murderer. Considering what a cruel and violent childhood Ash endured, it’s no surprise he’s gone on to live a cruel and violent life.

Not only that, but people close to him tend to get caught up in it. Case in point, Golzine’s goons catch up to him and take his Dad and Jen hostage. IN the ensuing fracas Jen gets shot dead and Ash’s Dad takes a bullet in the chest. So yeah, Ash’s record with hostage situations clearly sucks ass.

No matter, when the chips were down  his Pops came through for his son, stalling the authorities so Ash & Co. can escape and get on with their mission. But while Golzine has nobody out west, he forges a quick alliance with Mr. Lee, who does have men in L.A.’s Chinatown. One wonders who among the five-man group will kick the bucket there.

Banana Fish – 05 – No More Quitting

Ash is on his best behavior when interacting with Max’s lawyer, who manages to score a conditional release for the kid, checking off one of the items on my wish list for this week: Get Ash Outta Jail. Max, thanks to his time inside with Ash, isn’t fooled, but Charlie and Ibe are when, after telling him Griff was killed, he breaks free of their custody. Though that’s only possible when Eiji decides to commandeer the car. Ash wants to take care of everything by himself, but between Eiji and Shorter, he’s destined to be disappointed.

Having to quit pole vaulting has never sat well with Eiji, and now that he’s involved (feeling responsible for getting Griff killed since he was followed), he’s done quitting. Shorter too doesn’t trust Ash to do anything on his own but get himself killed. Thankfully, he listens to reason, and the trio are harbored by the “banker” Mr. Lee, who is cool with anyone trying to bring Dino down. Ash knows where Dino will be…but so does Max, and he tells Ibe.

Everyone converges at “Club Cod”, a restaurant front for a dastardly child sex trafficking operation that once included Ash himself and still ensnares bigwigs the nation over, who end up in Dino’s pocket (for the record, the Mafia aren’t that powerful in America anymore…though they certainly once were!). Unsurprisingly, things go pear-shaped: Dino takes a bullet, but it’s not fatal, and Ash and Shorter get shot too (though also not fatal).

Max and Ibe arrive in the middle of the fracas, and decide the best move is for all the good guys to take a swim in the river, which, East or Hudson, ain’t a pleasant experience. But it’s certainly better than getting killed, which no one important to Ash is, notably. Max knocks Ash out and takes him to his hideout where he fixes Shorter’s wound and plots the next move: heading to Cape Cod, where Ash and Griff grew up, hoping to find more clues in the Banana Fish investigation.

Banana Fish – 04 – Thoroughly Punished

Arthur gives Eiji a choice—tell him what he knows or watch one of the white coats die—but even when Eiji relents, he still orders the woman’s death, only cementing the axiom that a traitor like Arthur can never be trusted. Shorter manages to rescue Eiji and the two white coats, but at great cost: Griffin is shot when he bursts into the middle of the standoff, and eventually dies from his wounds.

It seemed like a great deal of what Ash was doing was for the sake of his brother, but he doesn’t learn until after he defeats his new bunkmate Bull. Ibe feels responsible for Eiji and wants him to return to Japan now that his life is in danger, but Eiji wants to stay put; he can’t leave Ash now. Ash is also attacked by convicts loyal to Golzine but he manages to handle them thanks to a fork he hid. After that, Max lets him know about Griff’s death, and the two have it out, each giving in to the grief.

As Ash and Max reach a kind of detente, bunkmates once more, the wheels of justice may be slowly turning in Ash’s favor. I certainly hope he’s out of prison soon; the fights and threats of rape have grown stale, especially since it’s clear Ash can handle himself. Even with Griffin dead, Ash probably won’t stop scratching at this itch of a mystery once he gets out, and Eiji will no doubt be by his side in the search for the truth, no matter how many dangers accompany their path.

Banana Fish – 03 – Survive, But Never Repent

When Ash is thrown in the slammer indefinitely, without a trial, Eiji, Ibe and Charlie reach out to Max Lobo, a rough-and-tumble guerrilla journalist who happens to be in the same prison for punching a cop. Max isn’t confident he can actually protect Ash, and when he meets the kid, that confidence withers even more, though he’s impressed that he’s read his column in the Bulletin.

Ash doesn’t particularly help his own case while in prison, lashing out at the first guy who lays hands on him and earning a night in solitary. When he’s out, that same guy finds Ash and rapes him, with Max finding him naked and bruised.

It’s very likely Max had an impossible job; he can never be in the same place as Ash at all times, and even if he is, he’s just one man; easily outnumbered and out-muscled. As for Ash, he takes the assault he’d been dealt out as just doing what had to be done to survive; he’s not dyin

While in medical eating a banana, Ash mutters “Banana Fish”, a term Max knows about and has been researching for the last decade. He’s been able to learn is that it’s the name of a person or organization related to a drug route, but unfortunately the man he was going to meet with after release was the man Ash watched die muttering the words “Banana Fish.”

Max also learns that Griffin—whom he knew while in Iraq and who wigged out from the drug and attacked him, forcing him to shoot back—is Ash’s big brother. Ash is not pleased with how Max handled things with Griffin, and vows to kill him when he gets out. Max seems halfway willing to let him.

During a visit, Ash makes a big show of French kissing Eiji to conceal the fact he used the kiss to get Eiji a message written and rolled into a medicine capsule. That message leads Eiji on a fruitless search for Ash’s at-large ally Shorter Wong…and eventually, right into the clutches of Ash’s betrayer and new boss of the gang, Arthur. D’oh!

I wonder what Ash was thinking, having Eiji go on such a dangerous mission alone (if that was his intention). The kid’s greener than Ed Begley Jr.! Now Ash’s enemies have someone in whose well-being he is invested.

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.

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.