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Breaking the Narrative Episode 93: Boy’s Love or Simple Male Bonding? A Review of Banana Fish!

This summer season of anime has shown some of the usual mindless fare that could be expected. However, there is one anime this time around that has honestly shocked me, something rare for this day and age to be sure. Before I begin, I want to explain that this particular title is not simply purely for adults but is NOT for the faint of heart. This is not because of the ultra-violence factor either. because for an anime it depicts its subject matter with brutal realism. It’s the subject matter in-and-of-itself that is to be taken into consideration, due to mature and severe nature in its presentation. Yes, you will see blood and violence but you will also hear about subjects not easily talked about even in edgier circles on the internet. At the same time is important specifically due to how it is presented in this show.

So what is Banana Fish? As explained in the early episodes of the show it is a J.D. Salinger reference for death but it’s also the name originally of a 1980’s manga that was controversial at the time. In the anime version, it’s been transposed to our day and age with references to the Iraq War replacing references to Vietnam, as well as the implantation of Smartphones, and an update to the drawing style to fit more contemporary styles in America. Other than that, it is completely faithful to the original source material manga-ka Akimi Yoshida penned from 1985 to 1994. With this all set out, Let’s Hammer This In!

To begin why did I title this article the way I did? I feel this should be explained specifically due to part of the joke involved. This show and its source material is supposed to be dubbed as either shonen-ai or yaoi more commonly referred to as “Boy’s Love.” In other words, it’s a homosexual love story written to get women wet at the thought of watching a powerful man overtake a more effeminate man. It’s commonly read by ‘fujoshi’ or “rotten women.” However, in attempting to get this feel combined with the setting given in this show, the author inadvertently created a masterpiece of male bonding and camaraderie. As of this writing 6 out of 24 episodes have been released and it is currently in the middle of arc 2 out of 6, not including side stories which from perceived popularity could get made into Original Video Anime.

We begin this story with one of our main characters, Eiji Okumura arriving in New York City with his benefactor Shunichi Ibe. The two are working as a pair of photojournalists doing an expose on low level New York street gangs. It’s through this that the other main character, Ash Lynx, is introduced. He has picked up a vial from a dying man who two of his own gang killed along with a Los Angeles address and the words “Banana Fish.” This is all in the first episode, so no spoilers have been broached as of yet.

We then find out that a few years prior in Iraq, a team of U.S. Marines was attacked by one of their own named ‘Griff,’ who shot up his squad in a delirious trip while all but screaming Banana Fish, being stopped by one of his closest friends who shot him in the legs to bring him down and try to peacefully incapacitate the crazed soldier.

Fast forward back to the present in the anime and we see Ash walk into an apartment toward a disheveled and wheelchair-bound older brother, the formerly crazed soldier, “Griff.”  He leaves the information and stuff he got from the dying man and goes to visit Mafia Don Dino Golzine. It’s here where we see the first vestiges of its intent as a yaoi by depicting most of these mafioso as gay or bisexual, implying that Dino and some of his goons have molested and even raped the 17 year old Ash when he was a much younger child, even going so far as to toss out a burned DVD of what is implied to be child pornography of Ash.  I warned you this was going to be controversial but I will at least state that we are never shown any actual imagery of the sexual violations, for obvious reasons.

Actual CP is still illegal in Japan, and I wager that while a localized version of this will keep with the mentioning of Ash’s troubled past, they will likely age him up one year to 18 for the sake of some of the scenes where he goes to prison. Why do I say this going into the story proper? Did you ever watch Oz on HBO? Yeah, we don’t see the actual act but Ash is seen post-violation. While this is a well written show I never said it was going to be a comfortable one, and considering its subject I don’t think it should be. So why am I covering these aspects in such detail?  Because this is a reality we face as men due to our disposability.

Bacha Bazi, the alleged issues in Hollywood and the political elite… a large amount of child sex trafficking is of young boys specifically because of how our society perceives male children as naturally predisposed towards sexual impurity and easy arousal. Just look at how many young boys are said to be ‘lucky’ when abused by their female teachers and how easily they get off on the issue until recently. While #PizzaGate and more recently QAnon are questionable sources to say the least, the issue they try to point out with this seems to be valid.

We can even say that since for the most part this show is directed towards YOUNG WOMEN that our women are being raised to see young boys as impressionable and ripe for their abuse. This is a problem that needs to be addressed, because if it isn’t it will just get worse. To reinforce the disposability factor, one of the few genuine friends Ash is shown to have early on is a young black boy named Skip. Ash takes a liking to the kid, who idolizes him as a big brother figure, and as such Ash protects him to ensure that Skip never suffers the fate he had to endure as a young child. In other words, by protecting Skip, Ash is attempting to reclaim at least in part the innocence torn from him from such a young age. This is where I’m giving an early episode 2 spoiler. Select the text in the white space below to read it.

SPOILER: Skip is killed in cold blood by one of Dino’s goons who has a big crush on Ash and yearns to violate the youth vulgarly. After running, the killer is murdered in cold blood by another one of Dino’s men in order to frame Ash and get him imprisoned in order to torture the youth for information about the drug Ash got in episode 1 and is having an underground doctor investigate.

With that over, we are going to touch upon Eiji’s aspect in all of this. As an older 19-year-old he is shown as more naive and sheltered as he has not had the brutal life of his fast friend Ash. We see this friendship form so quickly because in another life Ash would have loved to have been Eiji, a young man clean of the trauma and horrors that he had to endure. The worst Eiji had endured was a minor injury that he felt robbed him of his Olympic-level pole-vaulting ability, an ability he’s shown to still have in spades when trying to escape from those sent after them at the command of “Papa Dino.”

While safely out of prison, knowing full well he is innocent of the crime attributed to him, Ash meets a war buddy of his older brother named Max Glenreed, investigating from within the prison under the alias Max Lobo. Max is trying himself to learn about the Banana Fish that Griff  had suffered. He reveals himself to be the very one who shot Griff’s legs to stop his rampage, enraging his new cellmate Ash, who he was charged to protect. Ash tells Max his true name of Aslan Calenreese. When Max realizes what he got himself into, he buries himself in his own grief and self-loathing.

It is through the actions that occur here that the two men work out their differences and ultimately get past their grief, after learning that Griff came to and was shot dead when trying in an attempt to protect the vial that Ash hid. That vial is discovered to be the eponymous “Banana Fish.” From this point forward I can’t go into much more without spoiling a lot of big events in the series. Like I said, only six of 24 episodes have been released so far. What I’ve given so far is merely a sliver of the depths this show has gone into which just goes to show how complex of a property this is.

Now for why I’m saying that this is more of a show of natural male bonding than gynocentric homosexual-themed smut.  This comes from the genuine admiration Skip has for Ash as a big brother figure, the long time bond between Ash and Shorter, a Chinese-American youth who acts as a chameleon at times. Then finally there’s the strong and fast bond born between Eiji and Ash in the throes of gang warfare. Despite Ibe’s protests, Eiji chooses to stand with Ash, seeing in his quest a noble purpose, though Ash’s entire purpose is fraught with the desire for vengeance for the wrongs done to both himself and his brother.

Men are brought together and made stronger through hardship. Going through pain and misery can make even vastly different men into virtually brothers, though at the same point these things can make men into bitter enemies, so its a double-edged sword. It also shows how disposable we men are to a society that is willing to discard us into criminality and despair for even the slightest impurity, especially if said impurity is not of our doing in the first place. I also must add that despite being written by a Japanese woman, the depiction of American gang culture and the dregs that embody it are shockingly precise. I can’t find if Yoshida-sensei ever came to the US to research this considered Magnum Opus, but I would not be surprised if she did.

To finish this up I wish to say I don’t condone crime or the culture created in ghettos that promote mindless killing, but these are issues we have to figure out how to deal with, and I do think accurate depictions such as this are a start at addressing them. Next week I’m hoping to go into something more game related to head up towards the fourth anniversary of #GamerGate. Until then, Please Remember to Game Freely!

Alex Tinsley
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Alex Tinsley

A student of Fine Arts and Japanese culture of six years at Murray State University. Having never graduated due to difficulties with a specific teacher has gained a unique perspective upon the issues being faced by men and boys. A father of a young boy and loving husband.
Alex Tinsley
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Alex Tinsley

A student of Fine Arts and Japanese culture of six years at Murray State University. Having never graduated due to difficulties with a specific teacher has gained a unique perspective upon the issues being faced by men and boys. A father of a young boy and loving husband.

  • disqus_AzaOIQiCct

    This was an excellent review. Although it does have gay subplots, Banana Fish isn’t a typical exploitative yaoi series, and that’s why it’s so good. The prison and gang scenes and the bonds between the male characters feel realistic and natural. The exploitation of men and boys is treated as a serious problem and not a punchline or a sexual joke. These experiences also have lasting effects on characters and aren’t ignored or treated lightly. It might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I agree with you- it focuses on a group of people and a lifestyle (gangs/prison) that primarily affects and harms men, and it treats their suffering with respect.