Banana Fish #3 Across the River and Into the Trees

Last week I said that introduction time was over, and in a way, it was. Banana Fish‘s premiere is a compelling hook that introduces practically all major players (and banana fish) and gives you the first taste of its world. However, I should clarify that we’re still in the introductory phase of the story. Fundamental positions and dynamics are still being established and strengthened on both sides.

Episode 3 introduced journalist and Iraq veteran Max Lobo, one of the last key players (for now) and gave some baby steps regarding the mystery of banana fish. A lot has happened already because this is Banana Fish, we will rarely get any breaks here, but like I said, we’re still on an introductory phase, not only narratively, but aesthetically as well. To give a more concrete example: this is the first time we see chibis reminiscent of Yoshida’s style, as well as other light-hearted details like floating bananas, stars and so on–with proper “comedic” sound effects.

max chibi

Narratively, the focus here wasn’t in the mystery itself as much as in the characters chasing after it. The episode strength lies in introducing Max with his motivations, exploring more of Ash as a character and connecting what we’ve seen at the prologue of the show with them. The pacing has slowed down a little, but it’s still pretty snappy.

The title of this episode is a reference to the 1950 novel by Ernest Hemingway “Across the River and Into the Trees.” It tells the story of a dying old Coronel who reminiscences his days as a soldier, and his connection with a far younger woman.

The episode focuses mostly on Max and Ash, so fittingly, the references and connections with characters of the novel can be seen with them. In Max and his traumatic war experiences; Max who “lives in the past,” spending over a decade chasing after the mystery responsible for putting him in a position where he had to shot his best friend. In Ash, who’s a much younger character linked to Max that “lives in the present” (and aims to have a future).

The prison

max says damn kid what he said hit home
It takes seconds for Ash to get under Max’s skin, showing his perceptiveness 

Some sensible updates are present not only in the re-designs of some (mostly background) characters, who look practically the same as in the manga minus the caricaturistic racist traits. Some outdated dialogue was left out too, including some racist jokes.

We spent a considerable part of the episode in Max’s head, which is effective both in showing us what kind of men he is and how Ash is seen from an outsider’s perspective: rude, unpredictable and incredibly perceptive. Max himself is a kind and sort of playful person, but ghosts have been chasing him for over a decade now, and it weighs down on him.

Max can also be somewhat childish. He doesn’t particularly want to look after Ash, and when the latter enters their shared cell, Max is reading a fictional book that’s very clearly titled “UNFAIR.” The author of the book is the fake Joe Nicol, which is a fitting reference to Joe Nickel, a real (and prominent) investigator.

max reads UNFAIR
Really subtle, Max

Ash’s abuse

Oh boy. I won’t give spoilers because I promised these would be safe to read for non-manga readers. However, when addressing these scenes, I feel like I should discuss a couple of things now that you will need to know to decide if this is a story you can continue to watch.

Sexual abuse is one of the hardest, most complicated–and sometimes, most frustrating–parts to discuss in Banana Fish. Hell, I get upset just writing about it. It always makes sure to frame them as horrible experiences, but this is one example of the triggering and extremely disturbing situations you’ll find in this story.

The amount of pain and abuse inflicted on characters will often leave you wondering just how they even endure such things. This story doesn’t always present all these things with a particularly “sensible” approach, but you bet it will find moments to be all about the emotions they cause and the scars they leave behind. Not in this episode, though.

ash kicking the bastards
Ash is shown to approach situations with a cold, calculating head. Whenever Ash feels in a position to fight back, he refuses to be touched. However, every single thing he does has another purpose that fits his schemes

Again, when Ash goes through any form of abuse, he’s protected from the prying eyes of the audience, but–just like in the previous episode–we saw, we see, and we will continue to see a battered Ash after it’s over. Here, we do get strategic close-ups that, while they show less skin, they make the scene even more upsetting than before.

Lying on the floor and close to Ash tied hands, we see some books, but only one has a title. There’s not a “Silent Summer” by any Helena, but a book with that title does exist in the real world: it mostly catalogues the state of the wildlife of animals like mammals and birds. Considering that the previous episode notably showed birds that represent freedom–and the incredible attention to detail this show has–I’m very inclined to see a connection. Showing this book next to Ash’s tied hands could cruelly symbolize how Ash is not free from the abuse that keeps finding him. Out of all possible options, a book with the word “silent” in the title is a grim choice that can tell us just how Ash endures his pain.

Ash getting abused ever is beyond upsetting, but it’s worse right after learning about his past… and this is followed by one of the most questionable scenes of the episode. The show’s preference for “show, don’t tell” it’s perhaps more of a weakness here, where we see Max’s concern in his expression rather than his words, which is admittedly easier to miss. While the episode leaves out a couple of insensitive lines, it also cuts some that give more gravity to the situation (“of course he’s not fine”). Something that has always bothered me and I do appreciate not to see here, though, are the implications of victim blaming (from a character, not the narrative).

ash and the capsule

Failing to add weight to the scene it’s certainly a shortcoming of the adaptation, but I do have to wonder if this was executed in this way out of sympathy for Ash and his decisions; a “let’s not talk about and relive Ash’s abuse in front of him as if he wasn’t here” sort of thing. Ash acting with an unsettling casualness after being horribly hurt is one of his defining character traits: he goes through tremendous amounts of pain but almost instantly forces himself to “get over it,” even when the effects of his abuse never truly leave him. We will be exploring more of this in the future.

This also shows the reckless and insanely self-harming lengths Ash is willing to go for the sake of his goals. In a previous scene, we see Ash strong determination to fight Dino and survive (getting back to this in a second). When he’s approached by the others inmates, he knows what will happen, and he chooses to use that as an opportunity to get to the infirmary. Always calculating, Ash already anticipated that Dino’s men would appear at Doctor Meredith’s place, so his goal was to obtain a capsule to send a message through Eiji, attempting to get his trusted friend Shorter to secure the means he currently has to fight Dino.

In the infirmary, the adaptation has both the doctor and Max speaking to him only in a gentle manner. Ash focuses on his goal, and when Max mentions what happened, Ash speaks of the situation calmly and matter-of-factly. Contained rage is only shown when he stabs the banana with a fork, but unfortunately, this has always been questionably framed in a “comedic” way, intentionally subtracting weight to the moment and abruptly (and crudely) getting both Ash and Max to leave the moment completely behind.

chibi bananas

The introduction of a banana has another purpose as well: it brings banana fish to Ash’s mind. After mentioning it without realizing it, the mystery ends up connecting and revealing what both characters have in common while uncovering their true identities.

Colors in clothes and the atmosphere

With each new episode, it’s becoming more and more clear that character’s color palettes don’t only reflect their personality; they show relationships and connections with other characters as well.

If you’re needing extra nightmares, I’ll remind you that Dino was prominently wearing green over some red in the first 2 episodes. Both colors have been associated with Ash in different instances. In this episode, we learn that Arthur has taken over Ash’s territories.  In a scene that has both Arthur and Dino together, Dino is wearing blue.

Deep blue has been associated with Arthur as a color of intellect in the premiere, and the color is present when he comes face to face with Ash (having the upper hand) at the warehouse. Arthur is gaining more power and stands closer to Dino now. As they plan their next move against Ash, deep blue dominates Dino’s clothes, but he’s still wearing green underneath. Arthur, who has a clear obsession with Ash, also wears green.

dino and arthur
purple is freakin everywhere, just in case you forgot this bastard’s rich

Interestingly enough, Eiji’s clothes strongly imply his connection with Ash. When Eiji was “exploring” New York, he wore green. Eiji wore red twice, even when such an aggressive color doesn’t fit him at all. It makes sense when you consider how red is associated with Ash though, and fittingly, Eiji only wears it with blue. Red is an active, anxiety-inducing color while blue can be calm and passive, which makes both colors complement each other in a way that’s reminiscent of the characters they represent. We also see this color combination in the ED’s heart.

Eiji wears this combination when he first meets Ash and when he gets out of prison after Ash trusts him with a mission. The design of the jacket he wears after getting out of the prison makes this combination even more obviously deliberate. Both instances mark him as Ash’s match.

Eiji also wears pink, which is notably a tint of red. Pale pink is a nice, cute, and tender color, and Eiji wears this with a white shirt, both at the beginning of the episode and in the hospital scene in episode 2, when Ash asks him if he knows about his dark past and the narrative associates him with the flying birds. Pale pink combined with white conveys innocence and chastity. Later, Eiji combines hot pink with black. If he gives you the impression of being even remotely “sexy,” well, that’s one of the reasons. Hot pink is a playful color, and while it can be “sensual” it remains notably pure.

eiji is so cute

If you’re wondering whether or not Eiji’s wardrobe can get sweeter or purer, the answer is yes, it can.

Yellow is both the harshest and brightest color of the color wheel, however, when you desaturate it, it becomes far more delicate. Eiji uses pale yellow twice with different saturations: when he goes to China Town (visiting a Chang with a more stylish re-design that still retains his Very 80s vibes) and (very notably) when Ash kisses him. Pale yellow is happy and trusting, innocent and vulnerable.

ash eiji kiss
 receiving a kiss with eyes wide open is a common way to convey that a character is both surprised and very, very innocent

A cold determination

Blue is a color that invites retrospection, which we’ve already seen that with Arthur. Is a color that produces a lot of different responses as well, but its passive qualities can make it a color of powerlessness. We also see it on the warehouse when Eiji, Ash and Skip are captive in episode 2, and, perhaps most obviously, in the prison. (Interesting how blue is present in Dino’s clothes when Arthur gains power.) Dark and deep blues, however, are more often associated with the intellect.

That blue is present when Ash and Max discuss details surrounding banana fish in their cell. It’s there when water is used as a metaphor to convey Ash’s (internally) overflowing emotions, even when he looks calm. It’s also present when Ash makes clear his resentment and promises to kill Max in revenge. At some point, the angle is titled, conveying uneasiness, and decadent greens can be seen on Ash’s side. Sickly green will dominate no long after that, when Max’s overwhelming guilt makes him see Griffin’s ghost in Ash.

Intense blue consumes Ash when he’s in solitary confinement. In this scene, an angry but calculating Ash remembers Dino buying him when he was eleven, waiting for his chance to fight back ever since, and seeing Skip get killed by Dino’s men. Shadows cover his body, but as he thinks “I’ll never lose to him” he lifts his head, and light covers his face.

ash says i will survive

In the next shot, Ash thinks “I’ll survive” with a framing that makes clear he’s caged, but his body is in the light now. He’s thinking and steeling himself to do whatever it takes to bring down his enemy, presumedly aware that it won’t be a pretty fight. In this case, blue conveys his cold determination.

Like I mentioned before, this scene comes before he (disturbingly, to say the least) sees the logic in letting the sick bastards that were targetting him have their way so he could be taken to the infirmary and get that capsule.

Ash & Eiji: Partners in Crime

I mentioned the story still being in an introductory phase, with dynamics and positions being established, like with Arthur and Dino; and strengthened with Ash and Eiji. Previous episodes have shown the boys having a strong impact on each other. Cute, innocent Eiji had a scene coded with attraction for the untamable Ash. Ash had a scene where a “flying” Eiji takes his breath away; transforming Eiji into someone admirable while the colors used fill Ash’s impression with romantic undertones.

blushing eiji as ash touches him

Episode 3, in short, further develops this by establishing trust and understanding between the boys.

Eiji himself is clearly an incredibly good, sincere and sweet boy. His color palette and connection to birds also inform us that he’s freedom and healing, tenderness and openness, among other things. It makes all the sense in the world that Ash would be so drawn to someone like him.

Notably, Ash doesn’t have any problem with casually touching Eiji. When Eiji blames himself for what happened to Skip, a relaxed Ash puts his arm around Eiji’s shoulder and reassures him that it’s not his fault. When Ash stands up, he leaves his hand on Eiji’s back for a while before letting go.

ash says it's not your faulteiji says you think so

After this comes the kiss. As we’ve already seen with previous scenes, there’s an important difference between the purpose of the narrative and the framing. Ash french-kisses Eiji to pass the capsule with a message without the risk of being intercepted by the wrong people. That’s, of course, the narrative’s purpose, the plot’s reason, etc.

The framing tells another story. Originally, the kiss took 2 panels and had a largely comedic framing; you could see Charlie and Ibé’s exaggerated chibi reactions right next to the kiss. Eiji gets visibly flustered remembering it, sure, but it was accompanied with laughable lines from Ibe. It’s worth to notice how the panel of Ash giving Eiji a serious look after the kiss presents things in a way that makes us look at him with Eiji, with the feeling that he’s trying to tell us something.

Here, the sequence is surprisingly longer, more tender and detailed. There’s already a big difference when they stand face to face looking into each other’s eyes. There’s no doubt that Ash, besides being abused, has been sadly forced into a position where he often uses his sexuality as a tool to further his goals. An easy example is when he lures Marvin in by “seducing” him on episode 2, just to knock him out and escape as soon as he falls for it.

ash and eiji looking at each othereiji looks at ash closing in

None of that Ash can be seen when he’s with Eiji. He looks at him fondly before starting anything. When he speaks, Ash’s voice and expression are soft. He gently caresses Eiji’s face and his hair, easing Eiji into it before doing anything more. As he leans down, we see the same framing Eiji’s jump uses to convey that he’s someone who, in that moment, is both breathtaking and dominating Ash’s world, but this time, is Eiji’s turn to be speechless.

When we see Charlie and Ibe’s reaction, it’s separated from the actual kiss, and nothing that happens while they’re kissing is played for comedy; there aren’t any chibis here, they’re shown normally. We even see a tongue because, well, why the hell not. The playfulness and laughs come after both the kiss and the look they share is over.

That look after the kiss is just as important. We get a close-up of Ash and Eiji looking at each other with equal determination and understanding. They both get equal space in the shot, telling us what Eiji wearing a red and blue combination was already conveying: in Eiji, Ash has found his match. We’re no longer looking at Ash with Eiji, we’re now outsiders looking at two boys who are clearly sharing a secret. While the kiss happened because Ash needed to pass a message to Eiji, everything is framed in a way that conveys that Ash is exposing himself to someone who’s worthy of his trust.

ash and eiji patners in crime look
This, folks, is a Partners in Crime look

Unfortunately, Ash’s enemies know not to underestimate him. Ash is being heavily monitored and just the fact that he met with someone is enough to arouse suspicion, so Eiji gets followed and Arthur ends up cornering him.

arthur says samurai boy
Arthur what the fuck 

Until next week!


Episode #2 In Another Country 

Episode #4 In This Side Of Paradise


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7 thoughts on “Banana Fish #3 Across the River and Into the Trees

  1. Thanks for the great analysis, especially of the visual coding and framing!

    Your comparison of the kiss in the manga vs. the anime was very interesting. I currently find it hard to get on the Ash/Eiji ship on the basis of the anime alone. Firstly, because I don’t get why Ash would suddenly care for the guy who came to interview him to the point of risking his life for him. Their connection becomes much more believable after Eiji’s brave escape, but that first episode still bugs me. And then Ash cozying up to Eiji in prison – I saw that more as an act to give the kiss more context, make them look like lovers. I thought the way he softened his voice sounded unnatural for him.

    Eiji definitely seems affected, though. Don’t get me wrong, I love what is developing between them, and the conspiratory look after the kiss was perfect. Your analysis and interpretation gave me a new perspective that I wouldn’t have found from watching the anime alone, so thanks for that!


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