Banana Fish #9: Save Me the Waltz

Instead of writing this post, I contemplated posting a ten-hour loop of that screaming meme and calling it a day. However, I do have some things to say about this episode that doesn’t involve screaming. Well, not too much anyway–so let’s stick to the usual format!

“Save Me the Waltz” is a novel by Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald, published in 1932. It’s the first and only novel she ever published, and it’s often examined for its historical value and the things its autobiographical nature reveal. In this case, I’m inclined to believe this work was chosen for the context in which it was written, rather than by the content itself.

Zelda wrote the first manuscript of her novel while hospitalized. She was diagnosed as schizophrenic and spent the last few years of her life in and out of hospitals–she passed away in a one after a fire broke out when she was waiting for therapy.

last scene

After everything that happened to Shorter in this episode, it’s certainly a somber connection. I’ll confess that I’m put off by the thought of connecting a mental illness–and a real person’s life and death–to the effects of banana fish. I trust that this is enough information to get an idea of what I suspect is the reference, though.

This is also an episode that goes out of its way to make characters like Ash and Arthur wear tuxedos, so hearing the soundtrack and seeing such a title drop after the last scene definitely makes the whole thing grimmer.

The objectification of Ash

Dino’s very existence is upsetting, but this episode makes a strong case for why everything is worse every time he opens his mouth.

dino and arthur separation.jpg

We already know the kind of abuse Ash is a victim of. Unfortunately, with that also comes objectification and dehumanization. Dino casually introduces himself to Eiji as Ash’s “owner,” which is something he later elaborates on in a scene with Arthur.

In a moment where Arthur and Dino discuss how Ash’s gang choose him over them, we see the window used to convey the separation and tension between Dino and Arthur. It tells us how they don’t entirely see eye to eye–even if Dino is currently giving Arthur his support. After this, Arthur asks if he still regrets “losing Ash” and Dino outright tell us how he sees Ash as “his creation that he now has to kill.”

Dino’s disgusting entitlement comes from the fact that he’s the one who gave Ash the resources to nurture his talents–ignoring, of course, everything he took away, like Ash’s freedom. For Dino, Ash is something he built; he’s a merchandise to be purchased and possessed, a fearsome beast to be admired and tamed.

dino says ash was an expensive merchandise

During the dinner scene, we have more of Dino reminding us how filthy and filthy rich he is. The purpose of comparing Ash to the beautiful jewel on his ear is to highlight that this is not just a simple comparison. Ash is the precious jewel, which gets disturbing when you consider how much this is dehumanizing him.

Max curses Dino in his head while the latter says this. Ash remains silent and seemingly impassive, but the titled angle conveys uneasiness (to say the least) or suggest the possibility of disturbed emotions on the inside.

Dino’s surprise at Ash turning against him after “everything he gave” Ash just tells us what kind of disturbing bubble the bastard’s living in. It’s needless to say that Dino fails to understand or care about how horrible and disgusting his crimes are, otherwise we wouldn’t be here.

max calls dino filthy bastard

There have been some notable parallels (and differences) between Yau-si and Ash in previous episodes, so it’s notable that Yau-si also has a shot that objectifies him. When Yau-si is telling Shorter that he’s being given to Dino as “a gift” the luxurious vases behind him take most of the shot, and we only see part of Yau-si’s head.

Two worlds

At this point, we’ve have been told that Ash and Eiji come from different worlds several times. A few weeks ago, Ash used this to push Eiji away.

Interestingly enough, Yau-si notices this difference and brings this up, but it’s not to push Eiji away. On the contrary, Yau-si tells Eiji that he needs to “toughen up and face” Ash’s world.

this is the world ash lives in

Yau-si’s a mysterious figure in the sense that he’s not on anybody’s side. He actively worked against Ash from the moment he was introduced, but he’s also plotting the destruction of his elder brothers–who are working with Dino, the main antagonist.

When Dino tells Yau-si that they’ll be seeing Ash again, we get a close up of his eyes. It’s often said that the eyes are “the windows to our souls” and Yau-si’s look notably purple. It’s a look that doesn’t reveal much while the purple, in this case, adds to the air of mystery.

Right now, Yau-si’s the closest thing we have to a “neutral” figure. What isn’t said is that Eiji is already in Ash’s world and won’t be getting out of it anytime soon, and what Yau-si does say is that he needs to change his attitude to face it. Yau-si’s words during this scene and the casual way he describes Ash’s abuse and survival reaffirms his own unsettling “whatever it takes” attitude, even if it goes to the point of self-destruction.

The effects of banana fish

shorter and eiji.jpg

Considering the way everything ends, the last conversations Shorter has with Ash and Eiji respectively are cruel. We have seen Shorter showing both eyes only in vulnerable moments, and we briefly see them behind his glasses when Eiji begs him to say that Arthur is lying. He hides them again, ashamed of himself and unable to face Eiji.

After this, Shorter is stripped of all the clothes and accessories that gave him personality. We see Shorter’s hair laying flat and lifeless on the top of his head, and he’s half-naked– exposed and vulnerable–before getting injected.

shorter says (ash) will destroy you, for sure
he better, I want revenge! 

That’s also how we see the Shorter that’s under banana fish’s influence. He gets brainwashed and ordered to kill Eiji, who wears an emotionless gray for the fight. In retrospect, it’s a color that our boys wear during distressing moments where they’re forced to do things they don’t want, like when Ash visits his hometown against his will and Shorter’s forced to “betray” Ash. Eiji doesn’t want to fight Shorter, but he doesn’t have a choice.

Eiji and Shorter’s fight–like every scene involving Shorter and banana fish–it’s heartwrenching. As banana fish takes control of Shorter, we see every single emotion manifest on his face with a lot of detail. Low angles frame him as a large and strong figure while Eiji’s bloody and hesitant, which strongly emphasize the danger Eiji’s facing.

dino says ash will watch his friend hurt eiji.jpg

It’s not an exaggeration to say that this fight is literally a form of torture. Our villains needed to test banana fish, which means someone was going to be injected anyway. However, Dino sees a chance to kill two birds with one stone and uses Shorter and Eiji precisely because he knows how much it would hurt Ash–he makes a goddamn show out of it, all while inviting the senator and the colonel to watch. Notably, there’s not a detail here that’s escaping Yau-si’s notice.

Angel Eyes

There’s a moment where Shorter stops fighting and looks at the statue of an angel. The statue is an anime original detail, but it borrows from the source material.

shorter's eyes with the angel light

The manga has a spin-off called Angel Eyes. It tells how Ash and Shorter met for the first time from the latter’s point of view, which culminates in both becoming friends and in Shorter realizing how much Ash looked like “an angel.”

In this scene, it’s Ash’s voice what gets through to Shorter, and he looks up at the angel in what becomes his last moment of lucidity. In one of the saddest parts of the episode, Shorter begs Ash to liberate him.

The angel adds a chilling extra layer to an already disturbing situation. Ash is forced to take a horrible decision, but in doing so, he becomes “Shorter’s savior.”

As Ash’s looks at his hands–horrified at what he has done, to say the least–we see that the floor is toxic and saturated yellow. The color’s most likely there probably to heighten our anxiety.

shorter says i'm in so much pain.jpg
A MOOD

Speaking of colors and anime original details, this Shorter never goes bald. Perhaps this was mostly an aesthetical choice, but I can’t help but notice that out of all possible colors, his hair was dyed purple.

Purple can foreshadow death–literal or metaphorical–and well, that’s the color Skip was wearing when he got kidnapped–it’s practically the same bright purple. At this point, we know that both Skip and Shorter were very close to Ash–and we’ve seen how this ended–so I trust I don’t need to say the connection this color choice makes.

In one of Shorter’s last shots–the last when he’s alive–we see his purple hair surrounding his eye. A single tear falls and he’s gone. Goddammit, Banana Fish, goddammit. Purple is one of my favorite colors, but this show is really challenging that.

max and ibe in pain while ash screams shorter's name
also A Mood 

I don’t really have it in me to write more about the episode, even if there are more things to talk about–like how the show goes out of its way to make the crazy bastards look even crazier, or Abraham’s brand of fragility. I’ll owe you all this one.

On one hand, it’s a solid and visually dynamic episode, full of expressive performances and character animation. The direction and storyboarding choices are more than interesting; they really sell the frantic madness and all the pain in these situations. On the other hand, I’m sad.

It’s a frantic and distressing episode that mostly speaks for itself; it doesn’t require much “extra analysis.” It’ll punish you and won’t let you breathe for the entire thing just to leave you with a chilling last scene, where even Arthur’s cliché Evil Laugh makes an impact.

alex says fine let's hear you out.jpg

We have a short scene that introduces new characters and has two gangs meeting to plot the rescue of their bosses, though. Let’s look forward to the action…. Be strong.

 

Episode #8: Banal Story

Episode #10: Babylon Revisited

 


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6 thoughts on “Banana Fish #9: Save Me the Waltz

  1. As always I love your analysis. Banana fish is an amazing story, so deep, raw and cruel and at the same time we have a main cast of characters that are incredibly good, “human” and strong, and I can’t help loving them. Last episode was heartbreaking on so many levels I couldn’t sleep at all after I saw it T.T

    I didn’t know Banana Fish before the anime started and I’m reading the manga slowly after I watch every episode (I couldn’t avoid a few spoilers but I didn’t know what was going to happen in this episode). I think studio Mappa is doing an amazing job and I appreciated the little changes they made until now; especially in this episode where we were able to see Shorter’s eyes (in the manga he was wearing his sunglasses all the time) and literally see his world breaking apart because of Banana Fish.

    Like

  2. I read this instead of watching the whole episode, since I stopped at some point. When Shorter got injected with Banana Fish, I couldn’t take it anymore, and I’m glad I turned it off because from what I gather here, it’s a sad and gruesome story. I’m afraid that’s it for Banana Fish and me. But thank you for writing these wonderful analysis, which once again was very insightful to read!

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  3. Great analysis! I hadn’t thought about connecting Zelda Fitzgerald’s work to this, and since I haven’t read the manga and am going into the anime fresh, I didn’t know about the Angel Eyes spin-off, either. That certainly adds an extra layer of meaning to what happened. The episode was brutal, but really beautifully done.

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