Banana Fish #5: From Death to Morning

The reference in this week’s episode title is a little tricky. “From Death to Morning” is a collection of short stories by Thomas Wolfe, released in 1935. Many of these stories include war and death. Many also explore loneliness, despair, and other related Very Fun things (at least one of those takes place in New York).

If you’re into 20th century American literature (or if you have been following these write-ups) you might have already noticed that all the stories Banana Fish references have certain things in common (besides being terribly depressing).

In one way or another, these stories reference or are connected to war. Since Banana Fish takes place in the U.S. and has characters from different countries and ethnicities, it’s worth noticing that the wars these stories reference are always the world wars, and they’re always written by American authors (thus far).

War references aren’t strange considering Banana Fish has an actual war and war veterans. However, that’s not the only kind of war this story has.

max says i'm going after banana fish again
me every week

I’ve mentioned still being in the introductory phase of the story around episode 3 and in that sense, this is a game changer episode. Ash finding banana fish and trying to investigate it (with little results) is what causes a drift between Dino and him, kickstarting… Well, everything.

While in jail, Ash reveals that he has been waiting for his chance to fight and break free from Dino for a long time. Practically everything that has happened thus far has been mostly Dino trying to punish Ash for “stealing” banana fish behind his back while the latter has been adjusting and surviving the situation.

It’s only in this episode that Ash appears in front of Dino intending to confront and kill the bastard. Regrettably, Ash fails and both end up with shoulder wounds; a mark that emphasises the declaration of war between them.

Death & Change

There’s so much purple in this episode. There are splashes of deathly purple on the walls when characters talk about death, like street kids killing themselves or the whereabouts of Giffin’s corpse. However, the most notable purple is perhaps the one that subtly informs us how everything is about to change.

ash prepares to shootash scream dino before shooting

Dino wears purple when he finds out Ash has gotten out of jail, which wouldn’t be weird considering its association with wealth, but it does fit into the pattern. When Max realizes and tells his lawyer that Ash intends to get revenge, little splashes of purple are always present in the walls. There’s purple in the background when Ibe tells Charlie that he thinks he knows what Ash and Eiji’s next move will be.

There’s a little purple in the sky when Max goes to Chinatown, thinking about the craziness in Ash trying to fight a mafia don by himself, declaring that Ash enemies are also his enemies, and how he can’t leave the boy alone. He also wears his own tone of green and red. Doesn’t this combination sound familiar? (If you’re new here, the answer is Ash.)

Purple’s there when Ash talks about the Chinese mafia taking interest in banana fish, and also when we see Shorter in the truck, ready for Ash’s plan.

Ash puts his plan into motion, and right before he shoots Dino, there’s plenty of purple, most notably in the sky. The plan fails though. Ash jumps into the river–successfully getting away from his pursuers–and when we see him suspended against the sky for a while, surrounded by clouds–which had been associated with freedom–there’s purple.

purple in the clouds

In fact, everyone jumps into the river to escape. They all succeed, and when we see the three boys, Max and Ibe getting out of the water–all together for the first time–purple dominates the sky. Almost immediately, we get a general shot of the city while we hear the police mobilizing–signalling that it’s all over–and in the sky… Yep, more goddamn purple!

All these scenes with purple have things in common. For one, they appear in moments that lead to our main group uniting for the first time. They all also form part of a series of events that end in what becomes a notable and open declaration of war between our protagonist and the main antagonist.

After Ash gets out of jail, Dino–believing him to be cornered–didn’t actually plan to pay him any attention. Ash was counting on this, and if it wasn’t for Arthur’s intervention (there’s also purple there), Dino would have been dead now (Arthur you fucker). Laying in bed injured, Dino disgustingly declares Ash to be his, fully intending on capturing him now. In this scene, he wears purple.

Notably, this is also the episode where it’s revealed that banana fish is not actually a person; it’s a drug that will literally change the world.

Reliability, wealth & royalty

general shot of dino from arthur's perspective

Previous episodes use gold and purple in Dino’s home to emphasise his wealth. This episode has a scene with Dino tending to his orchids. In the Victorian era and ancient Japan, orchids were symbols of luxury and wealth. These associations are perhaps the reason orchids, out of all possible flowers, usually appear around Dino.

White orchids can symbolize devotion, and they have appeared in scenes when Dino pursues Ash. In this scene, Dino–believing Ash has “lost everything” and can’t do anything–expresses disinterest in doing so. As Dino says this, he cuts the white orchids, emphasizing the point.

Dino’s also surrounded by purple and pink orchids, which can symbolize royalty and admiration, grace and joy respectively. We’re seeing this with Arthur; rich and powerful Dino is the one that can make Arthur’s ambitions come true. It’s all pretty messed up.

arthur says i'm a guy you can count on

Notably, Arthur wears black and grey in this episode. We’ve seen this combination last week with Eiji, and they both convey reliability, but Arthur’s grey is more flashy. I’m guessing that difference is no coincidence.

Eiji is a very empathetic person; him wearing such muted colors can be a way to mirror the grim situation (Griffin dying). Arthur tells Dino he’s trustworthy enough to be told about banana fish. He also saves Dino’s life and takes the lead to look for Ash, so it makes sense for his colors to reflect reliability while slightly showing off (for grey’s standards).

In people like Ash or Max, red is an active color that can mean aggressiveness, passion, hot-headedness, and the like. In someone like Dino, we could say it means power and call it a day. Chinese culture has its own language when it comes to certain colors though, especially with red and yellow.

lee general shot.jpg

If we look at Lee’s introduction with traditional Chinese color symbolism in mind–and I’m guessing we’re meant to, considering decoration like the traditional painting of a plum tree and so on–red is a color of happiness and good luck. Yellow’s historical associations with emperors and royalty make it a color of power.

Like Dino’s home, the room used to introduce Lee–who Ash’s notes is a presumably powerful figure in the Chinese mafia–is an extremely luxurious one. There other colors present (the tones are all “refined”) but red and yellow dominate. When we get close-ups of Lee, the light that comes from behind him is almost golden. Notably, we practically only see red and yellow when Ash tells Lee that he has no interest in the latter’s business, and Lee responds that “they have come this far without the help of any other race.”

Ash, Eiji & Shorter

This trio has been hinted at in the OP, and I’m happy to inform that the good boys are finally together! Unfortunately, they won’t be able to catch a breath any time soon.

ash eiji and shorter.jpg

Shorter is wearing an energetic and youthful orange again. Based on things like Eiji’s nori², it’s fair to say that details in the clothes deliberately add a little more personality to the character, and Shorter wears a shirt with a triangle pattern.

Upward triangles can symbolize strength and stability. Fitting, considering Shorter has already proven himself to be someone we can count on. He does it again in this episode by playing a key role in Ash’s plan and protecting Eiji. Triangles also invoke trinities, and in a shot that’s meant to convey Ash and Shorter briefly opposing each other while Eiji’s in the middle, their position and distance does bring a triangle to mind.

All by himself

ash says this is my problem.jpg

In a few episodes, this story has proven multiples how calculating but reckless Ash can be, especially when it concerns his own safety. Things like brutal face-kicks (or headbutts) and the fork revenge also mark just how merciless he can be when he fights or gets back at those who hurt him. However, this episode also marks that he’s not cruel–which was already noted by the main antagonist himself–and doesn’t want to hurt others if he doesn’t have to.

We’ve seen this in the first episode as well, when he scares off (rather than killing) the two guys in his gang that betrayed his trust. We see it again when he tells Shorter not to kill the guy who was following him in Chinatown. It’s perhaps worth to notice that said guy is an example of using opaque grey in an attempt to pass unnoticed. Not that it helped him: Ash quickly scans his surroundings in a way that’s frankly reminiscent of superpowers, and spots him effortlessly.

ash eye

It’s just a moment, but little details like this really help in highlighting just how crazily skilled and competent this boy is. It’s not hard to see how Ash would be used to do things by himself. This is reinforced by the way he spends a good part of the episode refusing to let others “get involved in his business,” even though they are already involved for their own reasons. On the other hand, having scenes with Eiji, Shorter and Max refusing to go away also helped in establishing (or reaffirming) the multiple reasons these characters all end up together.

Since I mentioned superpowers! I’ve neglected to mention the action before, but I’m paying close attention to it. The premiere excelled with a nicely choreographed but believably chaotic bar fight, and I’m living for literally any time Ash kicks someone. Episode 5 did well in emphasizing force, impact and movement–usually combining different angles with quick and shaky camera movements.

shorter says he gotta get his action.jpg

It nicely builds up Ash, who slowly reveals himself while the natural light illuminates him. Ash stands tall and menacing while he aims for Dino, and there’s a nice dramatic pause at the moment he spots Arthur. Ash’s escaping in a way that looks like he’s flying away it’s also satisfying to see. The action in the chaos that ensues when the plan fails though… Well, it does the job, but it’s average.

A broken wing

In a scene with Shorter, Eiji and Ash, we see again the big impact Eiji’s pole-vaulting had in Ash. Hell, he practically brags about having seen it. However, the purpose of the scene is to explore a fundamental part of Eiji’s past, which gives us the reason behind the boy wanting to be there so much.

eiji is injured.jpg

Last week’s episode already told us that Ibe brought Eiji to the states because he was having a hard time, and Eiji himself has said that he’s a pole-vaulter–or was. Now, we learn that after a big injury, Eiji couldn’t jump anymore. Pole-vaulting is not the kind of thing you can get into without investing a significant amount of time, dedication, and passion, so it’s easy to see how Eiji would get depressed after losing something he had worked so hard–and presumedly spend a considerable part of his life on–to be able to do.

In the flashback, we see Eiji after recovering, running to gain momentum (while looking distressed) but stopping before doing the jump. Maybe the injury has such a big effect on him that an unconscious fear of getting injured again is stopping him from jumping, maybe he never recovered enough (physically) to be able to properly jump competitively again.

A mental block is just as valid as the reason as any physical impediment when it comes to not being able to perform. While we can only speculate what exactly happened there, what’s most important is that Eiji perceives the situation as him giving up.

eiji looking at the obstacle

While Ash and Shorter seek revenge and freedom, Eiji is clearly full of regret and determination. Even though the situations couldn’t be more different, in his mind, he can’t afford to give up again. For better or worse, he’s involved in Ash’s messy situation now, and he refuses to step back until he sees the end. (We didn’t get much of Ibe yet, but it’s fair to assume that he’s determined to follow Eiji. I’m also beginning to notice that his color palette has a lot in common with Eiji’s.)

Curiously enough, knowing about his past gives a lot more weight to the fact that he did jump to save Ash and Skip. It also reaffirms that, while Eiji is courageous, it’s something that comes out of him because of how much he cares for other people.

Ash & Eiji

eiji says ash i'm so happy you're out

First of all, let’s talk about colors! At the beginning, Eiji wears green, which I’ll remind you has been heavily associated with Ash (Shorter also wears a little green).  After that, Eiji combines his calming blues with green pants. Ash, on the other hand, combines a red hoodie with a blue jacket. Eiji has worn this combination before, both when he met Ash and when he got out of that jail visit, determined to help Ash.

Fittingly, Eiji’s blue and red are always bright, while Ash’s are more opaque–the blue looks almost black in some scenes. They both have at least one color that’s associated with the other, and they wear them for practically the entire episode.

In one of the many scenes when Ash tries to reaffirm that he will do things by himself, he puts a plan into motion to get rid of Charlie and the others (and take the car). It almost fails, but Eiji decides to help him and “saves him” from Charlie and Ibe by taking control of the car and driving away. Ibe later notes how surprised he was, since Eiji is usually very calm and timid.

happy eiji says really i can stay with you.jpg

I’ve called Ash and Eiji Partners in Crime before, and I was only half-joking. It’s not like this is the first time Eiji does something he wouldn’t normally do for Ash’s sake either. Like I said, his courage manifest when he wants to help others, but things like this tell us that he’s willing to push his own limits to help Ash. This, plus his excitement when he learns that Ash is getting out of jail–or that he can stay with him–tell us that Eiji already cares about Ash.

Eiji’s introduction and pole-vaulting scene connected him to clouds, most notably linking him with freedom (and in control of his own life). When Ash tries to make Eiji leave, Eiji refuses, and clouds frame his body. This could symbolize how Eiji getting even more involved in Ash’s world is his own decision.

eiji with clouds says this is my problem too.jpg

Notably, this is a scene where Eiji blames himself for someone else’s death (again) but Ash is not even remotely close to blaming him (again). Ash tells Eiji that he won’t be looking out for him, and turns his body away from his visible enthusiasm… But he lets him stay, and later, he shows concern for him anyway. It shows that Ash too cares about Eiji, but he’s not really used–or ready–to Eiji’s sincerity and pure-hearted enthusiasm. He literally turns away from it.

There’s another scene that reveals that Ash cares. After everyone escapes capture, Ash wakes up to discover that they’re now on Max’s hideout. The first thing he sees is Max tending Shorter’s wound, but both look alright. While Max talks, we see Ash going up the stairs, and we soon see that Eiji’s sleeping there with Ibe sitting close to him.

After seeing that Shorter and Max are fine, Ash presumably (at first) goes up to check on those two, but the camera only focuses on Eiji. We get a close-up of his sleeping face, and he’s wearing a happy, bright yellow shirt. He’s covered in black sheets, and while black and yellow have reasons to be Banana Fish’s colors, the lighting is too warm here to assume dangerous connotations. After seeing Eiji’s sleeping face, we immediately cut to Ash’s face before he turns around and gets out of the room.

eiji sleeps

In short, things are presented in a way that conveys that Ash goes up to check on Eiji, specifically, but it’s also worth to notice that Ibe’s presence also reaffirms how much he cares for Eiji. (There’s also purple in that wall.)

What I’ll mention next is so subtle I almost didn’t notice it, but since Ash giving Eiji a gun was heavily coded when they meet, I had a gut feeling that made me carefully go over this scene a couple of times (I also might or might not enjoy watching how Eiji wakes up).

Ash wears a lot of black shirts. Notably, both Ash and Eiji wear black (Eiji is entirely in black) when Ash gives him a gun. Ash face is hidden from us when we see Eiji’s funny reaction to waking up with a goddamn gun on his face. When we do see Ash, he’s serious. Black can be many things (like elegance) but serious and ominous are some of the meanings that are perhaps more relevant here. Ash means business.

ash says once the fight starts i cant protect you to eiji.jpg
When the danger is real, Ash is firm, but what he says is a lot more sensible than his previous “look after your own ass”

There are rays of light that caught my attention because they can be used as a subtle way to invoke danger or uneasiness (they’re usually yellow). However, the rays that are present in the introductory shot, when we see the gun alone and when Eiji takes it are soft, and some actually have rainbows.

The first time Ash gave Eiji a gun after Eiji asked–and Ash never let anyone touch his gun before–besides marking Eiji as trustworthy, it works as a metaphor for consent. When Eiji jumps, we see a rainbow on the wall (or, curiously enough, the colors of the LGBT flag) along with an awestruck Ash. So it’s really hard to ignore the fact that we are getting rainbows in a scene where Ash gives Eiji a gun.

The rainbows in the establishing shot and in the shot showing the gun are really faint, almost imperceptible. There are just a little more clear when we see Eiji looking at the gun. Notably, as Eiji takes the gun, the streak of light that touches him gradually gets stronger. By the time Eiji points the gun at us, the colors of the rainbow are strong enough to be noticeable.

rainbow over eiji
Only the ray of light that touches Eiji have these colors

I can’t blame anyone for being too concentrated on this (adorable) boy to notice anything, but if you focus solely on the main ray that touches him, it’s there. It’s especially notable because a change in colors of part of the lighting doesn’t make much logical sense; Eiji barely moves from his position and it all happens in a few seconds. After considering all these things, I just had to assume that it has a purpose, rather than attempting to be logical–and attempt to subtly reaffirm trust and add a double meaning to the scene.

It’s an insane attention to detail–even more considering this is basically hidden in plain sight– but we’ve already seen this in previous episodes.

On the other hand, such attention to detail has made it easy for some Japanese fans to notice inconsistencies with the depictions of Ash and Eiji’s guns in this episode. Apparently, things like the engraving in Ash’s gun reveal that they were modeled after model guns, rather than real ones. While I see just enough reasons to cut the staff some slack over things like this–especially since they seem to have done a good job with other guns–I can’t blame any gun fan for being annoyed.

A horrible business

I can find the right words to express just how messed up this is, but I agree with Eiji and Shorter choosing “gross” and “sickening.” In a deeply disturbing scene, Ash tells to Eiji and Shorter that Dino has a seafood restaurant, which is actually just a cover-up for the real thing; a place where human trafficking takes place. This is when things get hairy.

the merchandise is kids.jpg

Greyscales, red highlights and noisy filters make what we see somber and heavy. There’s almost a feeling of seeing a police-like documentary.

Original content includes giving the victims actual names and faces, which goes a long way in humanize them and giving the situation more weight. It’s just not the same to be told “the boys” and actually seeing the boys’ “missing” pictures. We’re also shown that “important” people like senators go there, meaning that even people from the actual government are involved with Dino.

This is admittedly makes thing more complicated in more than one way. We were shown someone as disgusting as Marvin right from the beginning. While it’s refreshing to see the word “gay” being thrown around so naturally, it’s less than optimal when it’s used to describe a freakin pedophile, especially because that’s unfortunately a prejudice that’s not entirely dead yet. After Marvin, such blatant connection doesn’t happen again. There is an effort in the script to avoid conflating both things after this–which is why translation using slurs that aren’t there is so infuriating.

kids are drugged so they can't run away.jpg

However, it’s true that in just five episodes we had a pedophile targeting Ash, who is soon revealed to have raped him when he was a kid forced to appear in child pornography. Soon after that, Ash is also gang-raped in jail. Now we see an undercover club for pedophiles. It’s all horrible and seeing it all in such a short time it’s more than A Lot; it’s admittedly one of the most (if not the most) disturbing and frustrating things in Banana Fish. It’s being framed as horrible, but I don’t blame anyone for understandably feeling uncomfortable when so much of the present and blatant depiction of queer sexuality thus far is negative.

While I’m willing to meet the show halfway in this “80s with modern aesthetic” hybrid endeavour, this is something that I seriously hope gets more actively challenged in one way or another. We do have Ash and Eiji’s blossoming romance which, compared to the original, it’s being considerably more intense thus far. But well, we’ll see where this goes.

Concern & powerlessness

nadie say you let the street kids kill each other.jpg

If you’re getting the impression that you will get little to no women in this show, let me inform you right now that you’re correct.

Women thus far have barely appeared: there’s Dr. Meredith’s secretary who appeared in two scenes more or less, and one of them was for the purpose of being a victim used to force Eiji to talk. The other is Shorter’s older sister, who also had few scenes–including one of relative importance in this episode–but for some reason, she hasn’t even been named yet.

I take issue with having to address this woman as Shorter’s sister rather than as her own person (honestly, why hasn’t anyone said her name her yet?) so I’m going to cheat and reveal that originally, localization named her Nadia. It’s complicated (the guidebooks use another name) so we might or might not get a different localization here, but I’ll be using Nadia for now.

charlie says it's not like we don't want to do anything

nadia gives her back
Nadia is listening, but she’s notably giving Charlie her back while shadows cover her face. 

The importance of Nadia’s scene with Charlie, besides showing her concern for her brother, it’s to highlight frustration with the system. In Nadia’s eyes, the police are just letting street kids kill themselves, and she’s not afraid to reproach this to the cop in front of her. On Charlie’s side, this affects him as well, even though it’s not as personal. Charlie wants to help, he wants to stop to this, but as long as there’s no proof, he’s powerless. While he’s sincere, his words don’t offer much comfort. Unfortunately, good intentions alone can’t help here.

The episode ends with the promise that Dino will not rest until he captures Ash. It also reveals that our main group’s next move will be going back to Ash hometown, getting a hold of Griffin’s things and exploring more about Banana Fish. We’re literally told that Ash, being a runaway, is less than thrilled by the prospect of going back to his hometown.

lonely ash.jpg

The mention of the home Ash once shared with Griffin without any imminent danger ends up being too much.

Ash goes to the rooftop to be alone. There are very saturated yellows and oranges, bloody reds and deathly purples. When Ash cries, purple dominates. We cut to a general shot, which shows him as a small and fragile figure against the big city.

The last thing we see is Ash as he mourns for Griffin once again, consumed by the city and the toxic, deathly colors. It’s a lonely sight, and it certainly doesn’t bode well for what’s to come.


Episode #4 This Side of Paradise

Episode #6 My Lost City


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7 thoughts on “Banana Fish #5: From Death to Morning

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