This week’s episode is titled “In Another Country” which happens to be a Word War I short story written by Ernest Hemingway in the 1920s. Just as the title says, the story depicts a wounded soldier undergoing recovery in another country, struggling with isolation and inadequacy. That’s right folks, Banana Fish has Hemingway references, and that alone should tell you just how freakin depressing things can get here.
At first, I considered a connection with Eiji. After all, he got kidnapped on his first day at the job and thrown in the middle of a situation that couldn’t have been more alien to him. However, it seems more fitting to connect the title with Ash, who, after being forced to relive past wounds, gets hospitalized and then sent to jail (with a framing that highlights caging and his separation from the rest of the inmates).
I’ve always considered Banana Fish to be a gritty 80s fantasy world, and thus far that hasn’t changed. The setting might have been updated, but that’s just somewhat reflected in the visuals. Sure, they have phones and internet now, but a lot of (unoffensive) design choices–and most notably, the story–still scream 80s to me.
One of the biggest hurdles in choosing a “modern day” setting is that much has changed–legally, culturally, and so on– since the time this was written. If the story defies logic by 80s standards, it does so even more by modern ones, which starts to be apparent in this episode. With the cops, there’s not one mention of relevant laws against sex offenders that were introduced after the original manga’s time, for instance, when it would’ve made sense in the context of the scene.
Well, when I mentioned the story roots and not expecting certain changes last week, this is what I meant. More than a “modern day” Banana Fish I’m considering this a “hybrid” Banana Fish; a combination of its 80s foundation with some modern touches here and there. The story was announced as a “modern day” though; time will tell whether or not (and to what extent) that will backfire.
I’m still intrigued to see where this goes, and none of this mean that the story (if handled right) won’t have anything substantial to offer to modern audiences. I’ve suspended my belief many times for Banana Fish, and to some extent, I’m still willing to do that for this adaptation. Still, it’s worth to mention the little changes that do show some awareness of the problems the original had–without actually going as far as to change parts of the story.
Op & Ed
This episode introduces the opening and the ending of the show, and it’s worth to briefly discuss what they reveal. Both are from Ash’s point of view, and both portray just how lonely and isolated he feels from the rest of the world.
In the opening, Ash is presented as a person who uses rage to hide pain and fear. In that same vein, by using a front to protect himself, he expresses things he doesn’t necessarily feel. If you’re not familiar with this story, you would do well in remembering this part.
After this, Eiji is very clearly established as the one Ash longs to keep at his side. Shorter is included in the last seconds of the line “with you by my side” in the group, marking him as a close friend. He’s notably walking in front of the boys though, giving them his back, while Eiji walks by Ash’s side.
Ash enemies tower before him, big and intimidating, in flames that threaten to consume him completely. Two notable gangs are introduced with lines “in my heart,” which tells that they’ll get close to Ash, but it’s not time to talk about them yet.
Notably, “fate somehow brings hope inside my heart” are synchronized with a running Eiji and a lonely Ash, who is being consumed by dangerous, toxic yellows and oranges.
The ending shows Ash alone, drowning in water, consumed in the green tone of his eyes–an ambivalent color that marked the decadence of his world at his introduction, but that can also symbolize hope. Plenty of promotion materials assign Eiji a calming blue while Ash is a fiery red, and the ending song actually gets more upbeat when a blue and red heart is introduced. I’m very inclined (to say the least) to think that this is a metaphor to highlight Ash and Eiji’s compatibility and connection. At some point, Ash tears his chest open to reveal the same blue-red heart inside of him.
Murders, plots, and abuse
Introduction time is over, so this episode didn’t have to deal with nearly as many abrupt scene jumps. The pacing is still crazy fast though. Not giving you a moment to catch a breath is the most Banana Fish thing, and whether or not that will create problems in the future remains to be seen.
This episode gets noticeably darker than the first one: we have the first notable deaths and Ash implied abuse is mercilessly brought up in a scene that’s still making my stomach turn.
There were casualties, but the important antagonists that were introduced last week are, of course, still around. Marvin never seemed like much, and this episode confirmed just how much of a simpleton he is; he gets murdered “mysteriously” but quickly, amounting to nothing more than a pawn in Dino’s plot (not that this scum deserved better). Dino himself doesn’t appear much, but when he does, the unsettling symbolism with the white orchids (devotion) is always present when he talks about capturing Ash. Arthur didn’t get what he wanted (it’s too soon anyway) but he manages to safely get away when all his plans go astray. We will be seeing more of him.
Sadly, Marvin isn’t the only one who gets killed for the sake of furthering a plot in this episode.
The “always” part in “the black character always dies first” is more of a “widespread cultural notion” rather than an actual statistic. However, it cannot be denied that historically–if they’re not outright excluded–the body count is high. Some readers might already be painfully aware that many black characters have been killed off, often after receiving little to no development, often for the sake of furthering the stories of the (white) heroes–particularly in the horror and sci-fi genre.
Banana Fish has plenty of horrifying elements, but it’s a crime story, rather than horror. Still, such horrifying and/or life-threatening elements–plus the fact that it’s set in New York–brings to mind what we know of American film history when it comes to the treatment of POC, especially in this situation.
Besides the updated designs (and deleting some outdated dialogue) the adaptation made some effort to improve its depiction of Skip. Last week’s episode added a scene that made it seem like Skip was the one who convinced Ash to receive “the Japanese reporters.” That cemented his position as Ash’s right hand in a way the original never did, because it explicitly shows that Ash relaxes around and listens to him. I’m gonna cheat a little here and add that another scene also showed (in the background) that they re-designed a character that wasn’t originally black. This change means that with Skip’s death, at the very least the story won’t be getting rid of the only notable black member in Ash’s gang.
Through those little added moments, effusive character animation and voice acting, the Skip of this adaptation was full of life and personality in a way he wasn’t before. It was quick, but when Skip’s shot, the adaption allowed him to show what he felt while Ash held him in his arms and implored him not to go. The original scene just focused on Ash’s (less intense) reaction–which painfully highlighted just how disposable Skip’s character was–but these few added seconds at least give some humanity to his last moments.
Regrettably, he still succumbs to his troubling fate. The people who die in the introduction are virtually background characters, which makes Skip our first real casualty. While the adaption truly presented Skip as a lively, charming boy, he’s still killed before getting any real development. His death is used to make Ash fall into a trap, which (familiarly) moves the plot to the next dangerous “adventure.”
Unfortunately, Banana Fish is one of those old messy queer works that associate explicitly gay men as predators–pedophiles, to be specific. Marvin casually being described as gay rather than a pedophile means this episode still didn’t make any changes to address that. Hopefully, the adaptation will find a way to address this at some point. Hopefully.
The first episode already gives hints of Ash’s abuse, like Dino’s loaded line and Ash refusing to let a camera capture his face. After Dino pulls some strings, Ash ends up being interrogated by a corrupt cop, who cruelly brings up his past in an attempt to get the worse of him. While the original adds pauses between panels to create tension and impact, the adaptation chose to play to the strengths of the medium to make its point without slowing down the pacing.
It’s impossible to ignore what’s in front of us with details like actually seeing the cover of the magazines and the sick bastard’s (Marvin) legs in a video the absolute scum of a cop plays while Ash is in the room. (Yeah I’m still so upset.) Still, Ash tries to do that, turning away as soon as he realizes what’s happening. We see the extent of Ash’s pain and anger through framing and character animation: wild and pained eyes, trembling body, blurry camera movements. It’s important to notice that not even a single hair of Ash is shown when he’s abused, nothing. Other characters might see the material–the other cops in the room were properly horrified–but Ash is protected from the prying eyes of the audience.
There’s a moment in particular when Ash is provoked to “confess” to having killed Marvin as retaliation for his abuse. He abruptly stands up, livid, but what gets my attention is the framing. A tilted angle conveys tension and uneasiness, but low-angle shots are used to convey strength and power. Ash is angry while the cop who’s provoking him is smug with the knowledge that what he’s doing is getting to Ash. However, as Ash towers over him, in spite of everything, the framing gives Ash power.
After that, we see his trembling fingers as he contains himself. The moment is over. He sits, trying to calm himself down, and the shot places a physical object to separate Ash from the cops, indicating that again, Ash went back to close and isolate himself. Curiously enough, framing that conveys separation (and caging) with physical objects it’s used earlier in the episode, but in that shot, Skip and Eiji aren’t separated from Ash; they’re right beside him.
As Ash is taken to the hospital, his pain and distrust manifest as anger when a sympathetic cop tries to console him. Horrible wounds have just been re-opened, and Ash refuses to be touched.
Ash & Eiji: skies and freedom
The opening isn’t the only thing that places Eiji as someone who will be by Ash’s side–or someone whose company Ash will desire. This is conveyed multiple times throughout the episode. We also see how Eiji is starting to genuinely care for Ash: he cries for him, and in a previous scene, we see white daffodils appear when he tells Ibe how bad he feels for being safe in a hospital while Skip and Ash are still in danger. Skip has been by Eiji’s side since the bar scene, so it’s more than reasonable for Eiji to be attached to him. His interactions with Ash, however, have been pretty limited thus far. Still, their scenes are conveyed in such a way that they highlight the strong impression the boys are already causing on each other.
White daffodils symbolize new beginnings. That meaning makes it a new year flower in some cultures, and it can also be seen on bouquets at weddings. The scene marks the beginning of Eiji’s affection and involvement in Ash’s word; Eiji caring for Ash and his people, in other words.
In last week’s episode, Eiji was introduced with a hand “trying to catch” a flying plane, with clouds surrounding his body. While this could be seen as Eiji not belonging in the physical, dangerous New York, this episode frames Eiji as belonging in the sky.
In a scene that gives us a first glance at Eiji’s bravery, he pole-vaults to get away from their kidnappers, leaving Ash and Skip behind to get help. The scene is dark and there’s purple–which foreshadows change–but as Eiji prepares to jump, the sky opens and light comes in. When he jumps, we see him suspended in a beautiful, clear sky. We get plenty of shots showing an awestruck Ash, including a close-up of his eye reflecting a “flying” Eiji. We see Eiji as a breathtaking figure in the sky because that’s how Ash is seeing him.
Notably, if you look at the wall in the shot with Eiji “flying” the colors there might just seem like a rainbow that came out when the sky opened, but they perfectly match the colors of the LGBT+ flag, rather than just a rainbow’s (which can vary). The way the shot is framed makes sure we understand just how big the wall Eiji jumps over is (while also highlighting the sky) but with a staff that goes as far as to show how a character’s blood type matches his personality, using such a big space to include those colors is deliberate. Purple foreshadows a change in Ash; he sees Eiji with other eyes now. Eiji flying transforms him into a symbol of freedom, but those colors also code what we are seeing as romantic.
Flying, of course, is a symbol of freedom, which is why birds themselves symbolize that. In a later scene, when Ash is at the hospital, he’s looking at a tufted titmouse. The meaning behind that bird varies wildly depending on the culture, but it can notably symbolize maintaining inner nobility and opening perceptions, besides bringing healing and joy. Right then, Eiji enters the room.
To Ash, Eiji is no different from the untroubled birds he sees flying freely in the sky from his hospital bed. In an episode that frames Ash as being isolated–and throws him into a plot that will literally get him caged–Eiji is strongly connected to the flying birds. In Ash’s eyes, Eiji is someone who’s both free and freedom.
The framing that protects Ash from the audience is seen here again. When Ash asks Eiji if he knows about his past, we see nothing but their shadows, which shields their bodies and faces from us and gives a sense that they’re having privacy.
That’s all for now–there was certainly a lot to unpack this week! Join me again next week as we meet Max, see Ash in jail and unpack even more pain.
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