Banana Fish focuses on Ash Lynx, a runaway who was forcibly raised as a child prostitute and now leads his own gang in the crime-infested slums of Manhattan. Alongside a Japanese young man named Eiji Okamura, Ash finds himself dragged into a large conspiracy concerning a mysterious drug that drives its users into psychotic, self-destructive rages. This makes him a target of Dino Goldine, Ash’s adoptive father who leads the mafia crime syndicate in New York City and raised Ash into his unwilling stint into prostitution.
I must admit my thoughts on Banana Fish were quite over the place throughout its run. While having a good deal of story elements and themes it dabbles into that give it some poignant insight into rampant corruption and child prostitution, it also unfortunately stumbles a good deal during a number of points as well. There’s a good deal I plan to dabble into with the series to attempt giving my thoughts on it, while attempting to minimize spoilers where I can. It also may be a little uneasy for some folks to watch through at points as Banana Fish explores child prostitution and the psychological toll that victims of rape and sexual assault cope with.
From what I researched on Banana Fish’s manga source material, it looks like the series was originally set in the 1980s and meant to be commentary of sorts into the crime-infested world of New York City and American government corruption. This exploration does get some elements of the era right with ethnic gangs being in turf wars with one another, crime syndicates like the local mafia being practically untouchable to the city police, and American meddling into Middle Eastern military conflicts.
However for whatever reason, the anime adaptation to Banana Fish chose to modernize the setting of the series with characters shown to have access to modern technology like cell phones and the Internet, and more recent military conflicts such as the 2000s American “war on terror” being brought up. This attempt at modernization does lead to some inconsistencies with story and character elements that were originally nods to era-appropriate events and behavior of the 1980s. Those who have lived in or are read up enough on 1980s culture and global events will likely be savvy enough to pick up on the anime’s inconsistent meshing of 1980s and modern events and cultural trends.
Moving on from era-appropriate utilization, probably the most interesting element to Banana Fish is the character of Ash Lynx. His character is depicted to have a good deal of dimension shown throughout the series as he is dealing with the mental trauma of his past as a child prostitute and desires a way out of the crime-infested world he was forced into due to a rather ugly and tragic past. The bond that Ash establishes with Eiji throughout Banana Fish serves to provide a look into his vulnerable side and a rare instance in his life where he receives unconditional trust and acceptance from someone. Ash is also shown to be exceptionally smart and skilled in fighting and guns due to being groomed by Dino into being the future successor to his crime empire, leading him to utilize these talents to piece together more about the conspiracy he unravels and trying to stay a step ahead of those connected to it.
The handling of other characters throughout the series has its ups and downs. Some characters get a good deal of fleshing out and development as Banana Fish explores how they cope with the world of crime or dabble further into the conspiracy. A freelance reporter named Max Lobo gradually develops a bond with Ash and comes to learn of a connection he has to the boy’s quest into the conspiracy both are investigating. Chinese mobster Yut-Lang makes for an interesting contrast to Ash with both forced into the crime world, yet Yut-Lang has a more cynical outlook on his situation and struggles to comprehend Ash’s bond with Eiji throughout the series.
Some other characters are either rather shallow in terms of depth or there are problems in how they are handled throughout Banana Fish. While Golzine is portrayed as a competent and merciless crime boss with his handling of the conspiracy he’s involved in, his single-minded obsession with claiming Ash can usually get quite over-the-top. Eiji’s character is a bit of a double-edged sword for me as while serving as one of the few characters that Ash shows vulnerability toward, being a weakness to Ash leads to one of the two getting captured often by any criminal faction in later episodes and becomes frustrating to watch. Also without spoiling too much, one character’s presence in the final four episodes of the series felt rather awkward and sudden with their addition into the main conflict between Ash and Golzine.
The show’s handling into exploring sexual assault has its ups and downs as well. It does do well exploring the mental trauma this has on its victims through Ash’s forced stint into child prostitution. The experiences had emotionally hardened him to be able to endure such hardships within Manhattan’s criminal underworld and he can comprehend the dehumanizing experience that sexual assault has on its victims. However, the show does dabble into sexual violence at points just for the sake of shock value with bigger men shown to either attempt or be in the aftermath of raping Ash. While the series doesn’t outright show rape scenes involving Ash, this sort of storytelling trope hasn’t aged well into today’s more sensitive culture and I must admit I am not a fan of this sort of cheap shock value for any kind of creative medium, even if it may have been employed in older titles.
One major issue with Banana Fish that becomes noticeable in later episodes is becoming a bit too reliant on plot twists to attempt stirring up drama within the series. While the twists introduced in earlier episodes were solid, later ones felt like they were tacked on just for the sake of adding cheap drama or thrills and only drag down the overall focus of the series as a result. It especially reduces the overall impact of seeing the final stages of Ash’s rivalry with Golzine.
Overall, I must admit Banana Fish is quite the mixed bag having a good amount of highs and lows. It has its solid character developments and story elements which, mixed with its dabbling into real world issues from the 1980s, make it a rather unique anime to see compared to many modern titles and could have been a classic title for modern fans. Unfortunately, a decent number of questionable plot directions, setting choices, and character elements lead the quality of the series as a whole to rise and drop enough throughout its run. It seems reception to the series is rather divided with MAPPA’s handling of adapting Banana Fish, so I suppose I’d suggest watching it at least once to come to your own conclusions of what the series has to offer.
Rating: 7 of 10
Someday I’ll be gone To somewhere that we belong And God has never played his role 'Cause I’m the one who saves my soul It’s a perfect world we’re longing for
Oh wow, I did not know they changed the time for the setting from 1980's to now. I thought it was just a homage to the old art style set in a modern time.
I might be not able to stomach it. I didn't know they touch upon child prostitution. I left or forgot to keep watching it before it got to that point. It has a lot of plot twists than a soap opera show.