You know, it’s been hard figuring out how exactly I feel about Banana Fish. It’s definitely a memorable tale and it’s easy to see the blueprints its source material left behind for the then developing Boys’ Love genre (even if some aspects sadly remain the same nearly 30 years later).
The big issue with this show though is that it’s horribly uneven. Some incredible highs can be found here and there — I particularly enjoyed Shorter’s death, Blanca’s introduction, and just about every scene between Ash and Eiji the most — but there’s definitely some serious lows too. Most of the deaths feel too disposable (Remember Skip? Remember Jennifer?), most of the villains feel too one dimensional, and some jokes can feel too out of the blue. I kind of like how wild of a ride this show is; it certainly had me second guessing my interpretation numerous times (a slight disadvantage for me after I fell behind on coverage). That said, maybe the show is a bit too obsessed with throwing you off your guard. The last five or so episodes especially feels that way when it went as far as to introduce a couple of new characters that have no time to be fully realized. I can safely I like Banana Fish but do I love it? I feel that, to say, that I have to overlook a lot of what bothered me.
In a way, the series finale is emblematic of what I liked and didn’t like about Banana Fish. The final battle being so over the top, even by Banana Fish‘s standards, is fine by me. Knowing the age of the manga helps and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t find it fun and exhilarating in of itself. But boy is it still disappointing that Fox of all people is the “final boss”. I just fail to see the appeal of this villain, just another maniac who thinks he can psychoanalyze Ash while also wanting to bang him. I guess he’s better suited to wipe the floor with Ash than an old geezer like Golzine but that’s such an incredibly thin excuse to have this character. And that aside, this whole mercenary groups wants Banana Fish for themselves to take over the world bit is a pretty dull stake in the story. I realize that the drug was never the most important part of the story but at least not make it so obvious that you gave up trying to make it a big deal.
There’s some good parts in the showdown, however. Having Blanca be an ally for the very end makes complete sense since Ash clearly couldn’t beat him and I figured he was one of the few people in Ash’s world who genuinely care about him. His rapport with Sing, though brief, does get a few chuckles out of me. Max and Jessica reunite and agree to re-marry. As contrived as it was for Jessica to appear in NYC, seeing her and Max survive and have that happy ending the show teased does make me super happy. I’ll even admit that it was also cool seeing her join the fight rather than wait for Max to be rescued.
Golzine surviving long enough to sabotage Fox’s plans and even kill the bastard is hilarious but I’ll take it since it lets the man go out on his own terms. What really piques the brain though is when he falls to his death. On the surface, it might look like he simply gave into his injuries before he could shoot Ash. The time it takes for him to trip and fall though could also make the action seem deliberate. Maybe Golzine finally accepted defeat. Even if he did make out of this fight alive, his career is over thanks to Max’s investigation. And what about that slight smile he gives to Ash? Was that him acknowledging that Ash as a person and finally letting him go? The only thing that is for certain is that Ash is finally free of the monsieur.
For a couple of minutes, it seemed like everything was wrapping up quite nicely. Golzine is dead and so his reign of terror comes to an end. All the evidence surrounding Banana Fish gets destroyed which means no one can’t replicate again ever again or at least anytime soon. The evidence Max presents causes an uproar in Washington D.C.. As mentioned earlier, Max and Jessica vow to remarry. Blanca resigns back to his vacation. Sing…somehow convinces Yut-Lung to clean up his mess…okay, that part is a bit of a stretch. There’s really only one loose end left at that point: Ash and Eiji.
I only have one complaint about the very last scene and it’s the fact that Lao is the one who kills Ash. Aside from the fact that Lao is a complete waste of space in the scripts, it was far too obvious that he was set up as Ash’s killer and therefore, far too predictable that he gets his chance at the end of the series. Worse is that this scene feels entirely avoidable had Ash simply told the Chinese why he killed Shorter. Hell, Sing should’ve explained to his men anyway after Lao started to cause such a big rift. That would even be a cathartic end to him mustering the resolve he needs to be a true crime boss, more so than helping Yut-Lung got his act together. So when you think about it, Ash’s death entirely pins on this one contrivance as a foundation and it can frustrates to no end.
Despite such a glaring issue, I think the ending still works emotionally. Having enjoyed Ash and Eiji’s relationship a lot, I find it so heartbreaking that Ash doesn’t get one last chance to reunite with Eiji. Worse is that even if Lao didn’t attack him, the odds of him reaching the airport in time before Eiji flies back to Japan with Ibe seems low anyway. The only thing about this scene that feels even remotely uplifting is that at least Ash dies knowing that, despite everything that’s happened, Eiji still wants to be a part of his life. Ash might think he’s a monster who doesn’t deserve Eiji and would only bring suffering to him but in the end, Eiji doesn’t care. As stated in his letter, Eiji recognizes that so long as Ash is need of healing and he can be the one to heal him, he’d gladly be there for him. It’s the closest Banana Fish has ever gotten to confirming Eiji and Ash’s feelings for one another as romantic and despite the issues, it’s the right note to end the story on.
And so ends Banana Fish. It took me long enough! There’s many ways this anime could’ve been improved upon but for what it’s worth: it was certainly a ride. It’s hardly the best anime but it is one that I won’t be forgetting anytime soon.
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