BANANA FISH – Episode 1 – “A Perfect Day for Bananafish”

Well, it certainly has been a while since I’ve done this, hasn’t it? Yeah, the last time I did any kind of episodic recaps of a seasonal anime series, it was with the second season of Attack on Titan, and it burned me out trying to just go through the whole episode and note every little thing down. But now that I’ve had a long time away from this, I’m going back into this field doing things a little bit differently than before. I always had a habit of just notating every event in an episode, so this time around, I’m going to be a bit looser and more succinct with that format while still giving a good impression of the episode as a whole, and since a show like BANANA FISH (yes, all caps) is, unfortunately, locked away on Amazon due to their noitaminA block exclusivity deal, this will give those of you who don’t have access to their video service a way to follow along with the show.

And now for the obvious question: “Weren’t you going to cover the third season of Free! instead?” Well, I still am, but that’ll come a bit later down the line, along with some other things I’m brewing up. So with that in mind, let’s get to a not-so-obvious question:

What exactly is BANANA FISH?

This is a series coming from MAPPA (you know, the Yuri on Ice studio) as an adaptation of the manga of the same name; BANANA FISH ran in Shogakuan’s Bessatsu Shōjo Comic magazine from 1985 to 1994. Keep that in mind as we go along, we’re seeing a manga from 1985 adapted in 2018. Set for 24 episodes, this is supposedly going to tell the whole story of the manga, which was split into five major arcs (not counting the prologue), and even though this is classified as a shōjo series, it isn’t the kind of shōjo series you’d expect. It’s more of a crime drama like you’d see on HBO on Sunday nights, full of a gritty and violent nature that would honestly make it feel right at home on HBO, at that. And it starts immediately in this first episode, in a flashback to Iraq War (the Vietnam War in the manga, because remember, 1985), where an American soldier goes rogue and shoots his own squad dead, but only when he’s shot down does he utter the words “banana fish” to a fellow soldier.

“If you come across a banana fish at sea, you’ll suddenly feel like dying.”

Enter our first main character, Ash – no, not that Ash. Looking a bit more like Yuri Plisetski from Yuri on Ice (again, MAPPA) despite being from Cape Cod, Massachusetts, this blonde-haired bishounen runs a gang of street thugs in the bad side of New York City and takes care of his brother Griffin, the rogue soldier who became severely mentally handicapped after the incident from before. Ash is a bit curious as to what this “banana fish” could be, but all he’s got as a lead is a vial with something in it and an address from Los Angeles. Now, don’t let his looks fool you, he can be downright ruthless to his gang, going so far as to shoot at them with a revolver, a Smith and Wesson .357 Magnum, just as a means of intimidation. But when he’s not doing that, he’s tied up in the clutch of one Dino Golzine, a mob boss of the Corsican mafia, having been groomed as both the heir to the Don’s gang empire and as a sex slave. And the Don is interested in what Ash is hiding, as well.

Did I mention Ash is only 17 years old? That’s a packed resume, right there.

Then we have Eiji, a 19-year-old college student from Japan who has flown to NYC to report on street gangs as an assistant for a photojournalist named Ibe. He’s pretty happy to be in New York, even going so far as to say it looks like “CSI: New York,” and before you ask, the answer is yes – the show really does name-drop a CBS program. Crazy, I know, but it’s true. Anyway, as part of his investigative inquiries, Eiji is going to be introduced to Ash, in a setting quite fitting for this series: a basement dive bar. Of course, the first ice-break moment isn’t as smooth as it could be, but once Eiji notices Ash’s gun tucked away, he’s both amazed at it (note: Japan has EXTREMELY strict weapons laws) and curious about holding it. Ash throws him a bone and lets him hold it for a moment, before Eiji asks a hard question:

“Have you actually killed someone?”

Take a guess what the answer is.

The festivities don’t last too long, though, as Ash gets tipped off by his half-mohawked friend Shorter (more about him in a later episode) that someone’s coming to do some whacking. Cue the awesome fight sequence and Ash’s young second-in-command Skip leading Eiji out, but both he and Eiji get taken captive by the enemies. So what does Ash do once the car speeds off? Shoots one of the assailants dead with one gunshot. The chase is on, and that leads us out of the episode with one thing on the horizon: gang warfare. And a LOT of it.

As a first episode, it does a very solid job of setting the scene and introducing the main characters, with a great amount of preliminary background info to get the viewers accustomed to them. There isn’t a whole lot of action until you get to the final few minutes, but the purpose of this episode seemed to have been to serve as a prologue and introduction, to ease everyone in. Better than than pulling an “in media res” situation, I’d say. It’s worth noting that the director of the series, Hiroko Utsumi, previously worked at Kyoto Animation on the first two seasons of Free!, which had to have been quite a coup for MAPPA to pull off and bring on board for this project. And while the animation does look more modern, given this is MAPPA we’re talking about – the hardest working and most in-demand studio around, arguably – it does keep some traits of its manga roots in place, to give it a little bit of that mid-80s manga aesthetic with its character designs, courtesy of Akemi Hayashi (Fruits Basket). The episode also closes out with the OP for the show, “found and lost” by Survive Said the Prophet, which is a pretty solid heavy J-rock banger that dives into some great metalcore elements in its chorus – thumbs up.

Lastly, this is a bit off topic, but it is worth mentioning here: this is my first time seeing a series through Amazon, and I’ve noticed that their subtitling in this show is a bit reminiscent of the days of AnimeLabs fansubs of DBZ. There’s a bit of unnecessary obscenity in spots, most notably through the use of a certain F-word that I will not repeat here, as it is considered quite a homophobic slur in certain contexts. Full disclosure here, I have no knowledge of how the spoken Japanese language works, so I’m just going through general opinions about the aforementioned usage, and from what I can gather, it does feel like there are some mistranslations going on, where the word “f*g” is being placed where it is not needed.

And since this is Amazon we’re talking about, I wouldn’t cross my fingers on episodes being out on time. They’ve been good for the first two episodes, but they’ve dropped the ball a few times. On that note, and a more personal note at that, what bugs me about this being locked away on Amazon is that a show with this kind of setting and story would work perfectly with an English dub, much like how a show such as Black Lagoon does. But my guess is that we’ll have to be waiting a while for anyone else to pick this up, and it is very much possible, since Sentai Filmworks recently acquired and are dubbing Scum’s Wish, which was also a noitaminA series on Amazon. Maybe there’s timed exclusivity between Amazon and Fuji TV, but we’ll be waiting a while before anything happens, most likely.

We’re gonna be in this show for the long haul, folks, so come on board and follow along. I’m glad to be back doing this again.

BANANA FISH airs in Japan on Fuji TV’s noitaminA block every Thursday night at 12:55am JST (10:55am EDT), after which it can usually be seen on Amazon Prime Video within a few hours of broadcast.

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