Anime Taste Testing: Banana Fish


I’m doing things a little differently with my Anime Taste Testing posts this season – or at least, this particular Anime Taste Testing post – because there really are so few titles this summer I have even the vaguest interest in watching. The vast majority of these didn’t debut this first week of releases either, whereas I usually split my Anime Taste Testing posts into two, with about five to ten titles for each one. What’s more, while I don’t often have a whole bunch to say about any given premiere episode, where I‘m normally satisfied with one or at most two brief paragraphs, Banana Fish actually left me with a lot of food for thought. I’m not yet sure whether I’ll write a single dedicated post for each title I watch this season, but I did feel that Banana Fish’s premiere gave me enough inspiration and incentive to write a whole post just about that.

As usual, I knew (and still know) little to nothing about the source material before going in, and was/am very happy to keep things that way. However, I will readily admit that I still went into Banana Fish with at least mildly high expectations; it seemed like one of more genuinely interesting-sounding and, dare I say it, ‘quality’ anime titles airing this season, and also something that would naturally be in my general wheelhouse. I’ll also go ahead and say right off the bat that, although the premiere didn’t completely sell me either on its story or on its cast, I’m certainly curious enough to keep watching and would encourage anyone else who hasn’t already seen it to at least check it out.

First off, although the basic premise of Banana Fish might not seem particularly special at first glance, Banana Fish’s setting absolutely gives it some uniqueness – not just in this season, but across anime in general. After all, the number of anime set primarily in real life, modern-day New York, or even just in real life, modern-day America at all, are relatively few and far between. Most of its characters aren’t Japanese either (presumably the one main Japanese character is speaking English in most of his interactions), and these facts immediately set it apart from the crowd.

On the other hand, this could potentially turn out to be one of the anime’s biggest issues in terms of authenticity. I’m sure most readers have seen enough anime set in foreign countries to know that  Japan tends to get it wrong a lot of the time – presumably because there are a lot of assumptions and generalisations (mostly to do with social and cultural aspects of the setting), coupled with little to no research or actual experience with said foreign country. I’m not talking about language or even things like physical places and architecture here, but about how an entire society and culture (and, in America’s case, a whole multitude of societies and cultures) are represented. The way in which people act and think and speak and eat and just go about their daily lives – which yes, can be very different in Japan than it is in America, or any other country for that matter. Anime such as Michiko and Hatchin tend to be the outliers, while titles that are either so generic as to be set just about anywhere or else make huge cultural gaffes (usually so ridiculous as to be more funny than offensive), are far more common, like Black Butler or Hellsing. If Banana Fish is going to make any major missteps that pull me out of the broader narrative and/or take my suspension of belief much too far, this will likely be it.

So far, I haven’t gotten to know the characters themselves well enough yet to say whether I even like them, let alone whether they’re actually going to be interesting. I did roll my eyes a bit at the whole ‘Ash Lynx… because a lynx is a wild cat, wow, what a cool and mysterious/deadly guy’ thing. This is the kind of detail that’s more likely to make me laugh than anything else, and Banana Fish is definitely not a comedy. That said, I do like the potential romantic/sexual relationship already developing between Ash and Eiji – not only because I’d love to see more BL go mainstream, but because I’d love to see more BL in general that doesn’t fall back on the awful clichés of the genre (rape as love, constant high melodrama in place of just about anything else in the story, a rigidly defined masculine/aggressive and feminine/submissive role, etc. etc.). For what it’s worth, I don’t think we’ll have much to worry about there – especially given that the romance aspect of the Banana Fish manga is apparently only ever implied – but it’s certainly something to keep an eye on.

From a technical standpoint, I’d like to think Banana Fish will be safe enough in the expert hands of MAPPA. There’s a definite retro feel going on in terms of the general look and feel of the piece, although this goes doubly so for the character designs; I assume because the manga was released during the mid-80s to mid-90s. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, particularly for viewers who prefer something a bit more old-school. The colouration and animation, on the other hand, look a lot more modern, which makes for an interesting combination. Again, I haven’t decided whether I personally like it or not, but I’m not automatically opposed to the mix and if nothing else, it adds a distinct and individual flavour to the show.

On the whole, I’m eager to see more, even if this opening episode felt too fast-paced at times – the amount that happened in terms of plot could easily have taken place over two episodes in favour of fleshing out the setting and characters more evenly in the premiere… which in turn would probably have earned a more solidly positive response from me that just “eager to see more.” Even so, given the competition, I wouldn’t be too surprised if Banana Fish ends up being the best show of the season. Either way, it’s definitely worth a look.

Question of the post: Have you watched Banana Fish yet and if not, do you think you will? If you have already watched, what did you think of the premiere and will you likely be continuing?

6 thoughts

  1. Banana Fish was okay. It’s not generally my genre (not that fond of ganster settings), and considering this it did above avarage well. As for the implied boys-love angle, I admit I chuckled at “Wow, he never lets anyone touch his gun.” That has to be code.

    I get what you mean with cultural differences. The body language of characters is often a little strange, in different contexts, but when I’m watching an anime show, I have something like an auto-translator, so I don’t often even notice. I might have a different perspective if I were living in Japan; it often feels like they portray foreigners as impolite Japanese, and that might start to grate. Most of the time, I’m really dense, though. I often just don’t see the difference until someone points it out. [I do notice in extreme cases, like in one video game where an Italian fortune teller was standing with her legs very close together, bowed slightly at the hip, and waving with a happy smile… just like an… Italian.]

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    1. I’ve always been quite fond of gangster settings, although the way they’re portrayed in anime is often quite frustrating to me. Peaky Blinders – now /there’s a great gangster series.

      I can’t tell if it’s because I’ve been living in Japan for a few years now or if it’s just something that’s naturally a pet peeve, but it does really tend to grate on me when apparent foreigners in anime speak or act in certain ways. It sometimes feels very disingenuous, or otherwise just outright dumb. That Italian fortune teller case you speak of is exactly the sort of thing that makes me grind my teeth, and unfortunately, I see that kind of thing all too often in anime.

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  2. Banana’s source manga was released in the 80s-90s, so your guess is absolutely correct. The one major change made was updating the source’s 1980s setting to modern times, otherwise everything follows that 80s style. Banana will be 24 eps, should you want to follow it.

    Interestingly, Banana’s the 1st ever title of the creator to be animated, but her other works have gotten some live action adaptations. One recent title was a live movie of Umimachi Diary, of 3 sisters who take in and raise their recently discovered younger half-sister following the funeral of their estranged father.
    Apparently it got rave reviews at Cannes; have you watched that movie before?

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    1. Yes, I looked up a little of Banana Fish after I watched the premiere and wrote this mini-review of it. I noted that the setting had been updated, so that Ash’s brother in the Vietnam war was changed to the Iraq war. I’m sure there will be many other changes of that type scattered throughout the series (although given that I’m not familiar with the source material, I probably won’t notice the vast majority of them).

      In fact, I just watched that film a few months ago – that’s very interesting. I had no idea the story was created by the same person who created Banana Fish. I did very much enjoy Umimachi Diary, and while I’m hesitant to make any sort of comparison with Banana Fish, I can at least tell that Yoshida Akimi is capable of writing a good story. (Whether or not it’s adapted well is an entirely different matter, of course.)

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