We’re back to Ernest Hemingway references. “Banal Story” is a short story published in 1926, which basically presents a struggle between “romance” and “realism.” It would make sense to associate this with the revelation of banana fish’s origins, its effects and its creators, which is one of the main focuses of this episode.
The struggle could come with the “romance” in a scientist who couldn’t bring himself to destroy a new creation. The “reality” would be in the catastrophic consequences that could come with allowing this drug to exists–without mentioning the damage it already caused.
This is a pretty straightforward episode; a big part of it focuses on explanations and setting the stage for what’s to come. Visually, we mostly see the things that previous episodes were already foreshadowing–or have already established. This week, I have more thoughts on some of the story elements.
We have some changes and some modern touches and updates here and there, but we’re still getting a pretty faithful adaptation. We’re past the first half of the summer season (first cour in this case) and while I’m guessing the bigger “cuts” to fit the whole story in 24 episodes will happen later–after all, we haven’t even reached the material from volume 6 yet–there’s no way to know if this won’t be the case with future episodes.
Based on what we have, it seems more sensible to assume the series will continue to be faithful until proven otherwise. My spoiler-free advice to anime only followers is to look at what we have seen thus far and to either run away now if it’s Too Much (understandable)… or brace yourselves because for better or worse, this story is unrelenting and it will get insane.
I want to start with arguably the worse because goddamn am I angry about this. I’m always angry whenever there’s abuse–I want my boys away from this bullshit and we’re not even half-way through the story–but there are specific things here that I find unsettling beyond the intentional.
I don’t particularly fault the adaptation’s execution as much as the actions themselves. The original scene, while it did offer more pause and haunting but straightforward declarations, it also proceeded to make questionable decisions that do undercut the importance of Jessica’s suffering almost immediately.
Seeing someone as strong-willed and courageous as Jessica fight just to see that it only made the abusers angrier, breakdown and lean on Max just to be abandoned almost immediately because “their friends needed help” are things that I frankly didn’t want to see. While there might be a point in how the “strong” can still be targeted by horrible people, it’s not a point that I wanted to be made with one of the most notable female characters in a show that barely has any.
While the adaptation didn’t give the scene as much pause, it also cut all the bits that made me feel like they were directly telling me “yes, something horrible happened here but we have a plot to focus on,” which undercuts the importance of Jessica’s pain. Banana Fish rarely slows down, but we spend a lot of time with Ash and will see how things affect him sooner or later. It’s his story, after all. However, in Jessica’s case, we literally leave her behind after this.
In the adaptation, unsettling, lewd comments imply what happened. The state of Jessica’s clothes indicates that the violence has been toned down. Considering how they handled Jennifer’s scene, this does seem to be this adaptation’s aim. Regrettably, it doesn’t go as far as to change the story to spare these women, but it scales down the violence against them, and it gives them if only a little more dignity by not making the audience see their half-naked bodies.
At the very least, ending the scene with a focus on Jessica being comforted and supported it’s a more sensible choice. There’s a brief focus on white orchids, which have prominently appeared in scenes that showcased Dino’s obsession to capture–or control–Ash. The orchids are telling us that Dino is to blame for what happened here. Sigh.
Ash & Mike
The way Ash behaves around Mike it’s definitely worth to mention. Always calculating, Ash makes just enough questions to understand what happened, but this doesn’t come without empathy.
We’ve already seen that Ash feels for the boy last week, when he “challenges” Jessica and calls out Max in his own particular way. In this scene, he talks to Mike with care.
We see them walking hand to hand–a reassuring gesture–and when Mike gets upset, Ash hugs him and apologizes for making him remember a traumatic situation. Ash has been through plenty of traumatic situations himself, and it’s not hard to imagine how he never really had someone to hug and reassure him in the same way. However, when he sees that another kid is distressed, he’s genuinely able to do that for him.
Just as Ash can be ruthless with his enemies, he’s also capable of kindness and empathy with what he perceives are good people. Outside of the main cast, we see that in the way he spoke to Jennifer at his hometown, and we see in the way he behaves with little Mike as well.
The gun: consent vs objectification
Near the end of the episode, the group of men sent by our antagonists find Ash, Max and Ibe in Dawson’s house. In short, they capture everyone in the house before setting it on fire, destroying all evidence except for a single case they take with them.
We have seen Ash, Eiji and a gun in scenes charged with double meaning over the past few weeks. In episode one, Eiji asked for permission to touch the gun first, and Ash accepted. In episode five, Ash gives Eiji a gun to protect himself and rainbows appear in the lighting, especially when Eiji accepts it. Episode six goes even further; Ash offers Eiji his gun–notably, Eiji asks if it’s okay before accepting–and teaches him how to shoot, all while touching and keeping his body close to Eiji.
This episode plays with the gun’s double meaning as well, but this time Eiji is absent and the scene is frankly uncomfortable to watch. Ash protest when he’s the only one who gets his hands tied behind his back, but his captor sees through him. He abruptly lifts Ash’s shirt, revealing the gun he has hidden.
The scene is pretty straightforward: the gun is literally in front of Ash’s penis. The bastard was one of the men who abused Jessica, so it’s already established that he’s a sexual offender. Framing that later situates Max’s entire body between the captor’s feet reaffirms that the bastard is the one in power here. He touches the gun and makes a suggestive comment before hitting and kicking Ash in front of the concerned Max–who asks him to stop–and Ibe.
The difference is clear: with Eiji, Ash is always willing. Eiji either asks for permission to touch the gun or accepts it after Ash offers it. In this case, Ash is helpless and objectified. It’s a short scene where Ash tries to play all innocent to outsmart the enemy, but it’s a “lame attempt” that didn’t have much chance of working anyway, and it’s framed as such. Still, the contrast is so striking that it’s worth to mention it.
A silent threat
Last week, we saw plenty of “cages,” with Ash, Shorter, and Yau-si. In Ash and Shorter case, the things that were trapping them were already clear, so the framing was mostly just reaffirming what we already knew. In Yau-si’s case, the “caging” frame he shared with Ash was actually giving new information, which is reaffirmed in this episode.
As we learn more about Yau-si’s dynamic with his elder brothers, it’s revealed that there’s another unfortunate thing he has in common with Ash: he’s considered a beauty, and creepy and abusive men want to control him. Like Ash, Yau-si too wants to fight the bastards and avenge the death of their loved ones.
Differences between the two are already apparent though. Ash is openly confronting Dino, and while he wants to avenge Griffin and Skip’s death, it has been established that Ash already wanted to fight Dino for his freedom.
On the other hand, Yau-si’s is secretly scheming, silently waiting for the right moment to strike. When Yau-si reveals his intentions to us, the emphasis is on “destroying” the enemy, whatever it takes. Ash is capable of being ruthless and has clearly said that he will never forgive Dino, but with him, the emphasis it’s still on surviving and gaining “freedom.”
It’s also worth noticing Yau-si’s hair. Hua-Lung touches his hair when he says that Yau-si already “looks like his mother.” In the brief flashback we have of Yau-si’s mother, the only things we see are blood, a hand, and long, long black hair. There’s considerable focus in Yau-si’s hair: when he’s playing with it, in the way it moves or how it takes a considerable space in some shots.
All of this gives importance to his hair and directly connect it to his mother. The length of our hair it’s one of the things in our physical appearance that we can more easily change. Yau-si can’t control his face resembling someone else, but letting his hair grow it’s a choice.
Yau-si’s long black hair embodies his intentions to avenge his mother, and it gives him an appearance that constantly reminds his elder brothers of her. I’m inclined to think that the last thing it’s also intentional.
Between a rock and a hard place
There’s certainly a lot of empathy in Ash, who trusts Shorter even when he realized what happened. Ash blames himself for not realizing the situation and “making things harder” for Shorter, never doubting him for a second. There’s a lot of empathy in Shorter as well.
In previous episodes, we only ever saw one of Shorter’s eyes whenever he “got serious.” Last week, we saw both eyes–we even saw them unshielded once–to convey distress, vulnerability, struggle. Shorter has been established as a reliable and trust-worthy friend plenty of times, both through symbolism and actions. He’s constantly seeing having Ash’s back or protecting Eiji.
Shorter is genuinely fond of the boys; he is Ash’s close friend and shares plenty of scenes with Eiji. We see Shorter’s eyes when he wants to tell Ash the truth–just before Yau-si silences him with his presence, reminding him of his predicament–and when promises a vulnerable, unconscious Eiji that he won’t let anything happen to him.
Shorter is caring, loyal and self-sacrificing. His sister safety is the one thing that forces him to go along with the antagonists’ plans, but he’s prepared to give up his own life to take responsibility for his role in cornering Ash and putting Eiji in a bad place. Shorter himself is cornered, but he could easily choose to save his own skin. Instead, his action and decisions are influenced by his desire to protect other people, even at the cost of his own life. He’s a good a boy, Brent, he’s a good boy.
This is a show with few female characters, but curiously enough, this episode gives Eiji a role that’s usually reserved for them.
Besides the scenes themselves, Eiji has been established as Ash’s love interest from the very beginning through symbolism and color choices. There’s a little scene at the beginning of the episode as well, where a concerned Eiji calls out to Ash and the latter actually changes his serious demeanor to gently reassure him.
Soon after this, Eiji gets kidnaped as part of a plan meant to trap Ash. I’ve compared Ash to superheroes before, and we all have seen the superhero’s love interest getting kidnaped once or twice. We also see this in the way Shorter protects Eiji; he literally princess-carries him practically the entire episode.
Although female characters usually have this role, Eiji is not “feminized” just to justify having it. Eiji is a sweet and trusting boy; unlike Shorter and Ash, he has a personality and upbringing unfit to deal with the dangers that surround them. While this can be a strength, in this case, it’s what puts him in a vulnerable position.
Shorter himself understands this–we have seen it in the way he has protected Eiji before, either with words or actions. Caring about Eiji, knowing the boy’s fish out of the water in this dangerous situation and unable to ignore his role in putting Eiji in that position are all feelings Shorter struggle with. Good boys indeed. Keep them in your thoughts.
A great conspiracy
Our antagonists have the upper hand now. Dino wears red, and when Shorter confronts Arthur, he dismisses the latter. With a confident smile, we see Arthur surrounded by red as he anticipates how he will overcome Ash. Red can be a dangerous color–it can bring bloodbaths to mind–and it can also represent power.
Also, we finally know what the heck does banana fish do! We go into Dawson’s secret room before this revelation, and it’s not a coincidence that everything turns yellow. Yellow can work as a warning; it indicates “caution” and put us on alert. Soon after that, the drug is described as the devil itself.
That literary reference in episode one makes a lot more sense now. Dr Meredith told Ash that encountering banana fish makes you wish for death, which is basically what this drug does. It makes you live a nightmare while turning you into a puppet. This is connected to drug hypnosis and compared to “experiments” the former USSR did to create spies (hello Cold War roots).
However, banana fish is 100% reliable and can be used as a weapon–explaining why the military would want it. Given that immigration it’s currently a very relevant subject, seeing it used as an example to explain this it’s certainly chilling.
We see Dino having a meeting on his extremely luxurious room with a Colonel and a Senator, easily confirming that he’s indeed trying to use the drug to gain power with the government itself. The other chilling and upsetting part comes with the fact that there was human experimentation involved to develop this drug. It’s pretty much confirmed that we will see more of that… Brace yourselves.
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