The summer season is finally here! And it is indeed a perfect day for Banana Fish. My life has known no peace ever since I read this godforsaken manga, and now that I’ve seen the first episode of the new show you can bet, dear reader, that I’ve been unable to think about anything else. I’m a huge fan, I mean.
Before starting, it’s important to remember that Banana Fish is intrinsically a product of the 80s; it’s practically impossible to truly remove its roots–even if you modernize it. I’ve written a primer in the past where I mention some of the problematic aspects of the story, including its depictions of race and queerness. It’s unclear whether or not this adaptation will make the changes necessary to address some of its most questionable elements, but some things are just so rooted in the story that I’m not expecting them to be changed.
I’m not here to make speculations, though. I also firmly believe that adaptations should stand on their own, so these weekly write-ups will focus on what’s actually in the episode. If you’re following the anime without having read the manga, these will be safe to read after you finish the episode in question. I’m interested, however, in seeing if this adaptation improves things from the source material, so I will bring up the manga if I feel the episode made remarkable changes in the framing of a scene, the portrayal of characters, and so on.
The Look and Direction
I’m a huge fan of character designer and animator Akemi Hayashi, so of course that I’m in love with her designs. Her characters are vibrant and modern while also preserving some retro vibes–I’m particularly fond of the character’s 80s round noses and soft, textured lines. I’m very pleased with the designs of main characters Ash and Eiji too: one is cool, stylish, with almost perpetually lonely eyes; the other is impossibly soft and cute.
The designs of the people of color is already a huge improvement over the manga, which depicted black people–big white mouths, skin’s colored unflatteringly–in a way that invokes older racist caricatures. (Unfortunately, I can’t say Akimi Yoshida was the only mangaka doing that in the 80s and 90s.) Toshiharu Mizutani’s art direction is worth to mention too: he creates a dangerous, decadent but occasionally vibrant urban atmosphere while also making it look like people actually live there.
Hiroko Utsumi directs the episode with passion and energy; the episode covers a lot of ground introducing key plot points and players with a snappy, blink-and-you-missed-it pacing and strategic, creative transitions.
Unfortunate translation choices aside, I just love how everything is coming alive so far (the character animation could be so expressive sometimes!). Here’s hoping the rest of the show keeps up this level of quality!
Establishing the main characters
We start with a short prologue showing a scene from the Iraq war, when one of the soldiers–Griffin, Ash’s older brother–goes on a killing spree before falling into a catatonic state, murmuring “banana fish,” and giving our protagonist a reason to get involved. We quickly jump into an establishing shot of New York, and then we are introduced to Ash Lynx.
The first time we see Ash, he’s on the streets, walking with his head covered by a hoodie. The atmosphere is painted in a dark, sickly green, and Ash is practically consumed by it. Green is a very ambivalent color, but in this case, is the color of danger and decay. Just think of all the time you’ve seen poison and “evil” (think Maleficent) corpses and zombies respectively being depicted with that color. Without saying a word, those first few seconds of Ash already tell us that the rotten, malicious world in which he lives plays a fundamental role in shaping his character.
While our hero is covered in green, our antagonist is surrounded by purple. Dino’s opulent house is covered in gold and purple, just in case you weren’t sure whether or not the fucker is filthy rich. Purple is a color that’s historically associated with wealth and royalty because it’s hard to find in nature (meaning all those purple robes were harder to make). Combining that with gold is honestly overkill. Curiously enough, like green, purple can also be a color of decay, and can be found in the undead and occasionally, the evil.
We’re introduced to Eiji–the other main character–with a close up of his hand covering a plane that’s flying away before switching the angle, revealing the boy looking up at the sky, almost in a trance, with clouds surrounding his body. The framing doesn’t just tell us that he comes from somewhere else. It’s saying that he doesn’t belong in this world–yet he’s here anyway. It’s worth to notice when Eiji is introduced too. Before this scene, we have the first (and only) scene of Ash openly showing vulnerability while looking at his brother. After a close-up of Ash’s vulnerable face, the shot of his bother abruptly jumps to Eiji’s introduction.
Symbolism with Dino
Banana Fish’s first episode is a perfect example of “show, don’t tell.” When it comes to Dino, this takes a particularly sinister turn. During one of the first scenes with Dino and Ash, we already get some strong hints of Ash’s abuse. There’s a close up of Dino “caressing” Ash’s shoulder and the very loaded line that asks him to “put his hand to good use.” (Later, we get another hint when Ibe asks Ash for photos and the latter refuses to show his face.) In that scene, Dino uses ai (愛) to say that he loves him. Ai is a word that expresses pure affection. It doesn’t have to, but it can also express desire… Or favoritism.
In other words, Dino casually expresses his love as “pure and true,” but the narrative disagrees. The atmosphere is a grim and unsettling. Ash is sitting in a green chair, giving Dino his back. All the colors look opaque, dead. Both characters are facing opposite sides while Dino touches Ash’s face possessively. What we are seeing is corrupt, rotten.
However, this already gives us some insight into what’s going on trough Dino’s head. This is reinforced in a scene where Dino is tending to white orchids; there’s a close-up of the flowers right in front of his face. White orchids are normally associated with purity, and they can also mean devotion. Just after this, he discovers that Ash has gotten hold of “banana fish” and–without hesitating–gives permission to his men to hurt him as much as they want, as long as they don’t kill him. I regret to inform that this creep is indeed the main antagonist, and we will be spending a considerable amount of time with him for the rest of the show.
Intellect and transformation
Other important antagonists introduced in the episode are Marvin and Arthur. Marvin doesn’t really look like much, and seems to be pretty easy to manipulate from the moment Arthur speaks to him.
Arthur, however, is someone the show wants us to pay attention. Ash openly addresses him in a scene where he is taking care of the underlings who defied his authority. We are shown that he resents Ash (to say the least) because he scarred his fingers too. Additionally, Arthur goes out of his way to bring someone who he knows is dying to get his hands on Ash into his plans.
When Arthur explains his plans to Marvin, the scene is covered in dark, deep blue. Blue is a calm color that invites you to think. For that reason, is a pretty “intellectual” color as well. Blue is telling us that Arthur is a smart adversary, and he’s not going to be rash and impulsive. Blue is also cold. We have to take his plans as a serious threat.
I’ve written about purple before, and one of its notable uses is to foreshadow big changes or even death–either literal or metaphorical, like “the death of innocence.” It’s fitting then, that a ghostly purple dominates the scene with Griffin, Ash and the doctor. Griffin’s condition and the words “banana fish” is what made Ash interested in whatever that is in the first place. The doctor makes a connection with J.D.Salinger’s novel “A Perfect Day for Bananafish”–where, if you come across banana fish, it makes you wish for death. Ash getting involved with banana fish is what shakes everything up, what transforms his situation, kickstarting the events of the story.
Ash and Eiji watch
Oh boy, expect to see this corner a lot. Ash and Eiji’s first meeting is already way more intense than in the original.
In an incredibly loaded (ha) metaphor, Ash lets Eiji holds his gun, and Ash never lets anyone hold it. While this has always been a gesture to immediately mark that Eiji is trustworthy and special, I must say that with the anime’s framing, is the first time it occurs to me–and instantly, mind you–that this could be a metaphor for something else. Everything about the way the scene is presented invites us to think (and invokes consent) that the boys just might not be talking about Ash’s literal gun.
The episode also makes sure to give us each of the boy’s perspective during their first meeting. By the time Eiji meets Ash, we already know that the boy is the softest, cutest little thing, but in the gun scene, we see his innocence through Ash’s eyes.
When Eiji asks Ash if he had ever killed before, the shot is framed in such a way that makes the viewer look at Eiji with Ash. Ash’s affirmation is seen through Eiji’s eyes, which is pretty emotionless. It quickly cuts to Eiji’s response, which gets a non-committal mid-shot, away from his face, his expressions. Like Ash, we are not meant really to know for sure what’s going through Eiji’s head. With a close-up, we know exactly what’s Ash’s first impression of him though.
However, it doesn’t take long to see how Eiji sees Ash. When Skip tells Eiji just how cool Ash is, the scene is coded romantically (as attraction).
Eiji having a drink with alcohol provides the perfect excuse to give him the deepest blush, but the framing makes sure we understand the drink it’s not to blame. Eiji simply can’t take his eyes off Ash, and we get a close-up meant to make us pay attention only to his deep blush and soft, entranced look. Skips talking about no one being able to tame the wild Ash while we see Ash with lonely eyes and Eiji giving him his undivided attention, of course, is not a coincidence.
Banana Fish‘s colors
During the final scenes of the episode, Skip and Eiji are kidnapped. When we see Ash going after them, yellow dominates the scene. Saturated, harsh yellow can also be a dangerous color. It puts you on alert (think about all the warning signs using yellow) and it’s the harshest color of the color wheel (think about suddenly turning on the lights when you’re sleepy. That shit hurts).
We also see a black and yellow combination when we get a close-up of Ash’s determined face. Because of how often we find that combo in poisonous animals in nature–that, even if they don’t kill, will incapacitate–it can be read as poisonous and dangerous. Ash is both dangerous and heading towards a very dangerous situation.
If you have ever looked at the manga covers (and every single anime promotion) I’m sure you have noticed that those also happen to be Banana Fish‘s colors, so closing the episode with them is a pretty neat gesture.
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