Season aired: Summer 2018
Number of episodes: 24
Genres: Action, Drama
Thoughts: I think it comes to no surprise that my review of this anime will be highly rated just because of the articles I’ve written previously, particularly about its portrayal of Ash and Eji’s relationship. However, that is not to say that Banana Fish is a perfect story either. But before I go further, allow me to provide a synopsis in case you haven’t actually started the anime yet.
Japanese college student, Eiji Okumura, accompanies a friend to the United States to cover the story of a young teenage gang leader named Ash Lynx. Ash has survived a harsh life with the mafia and is equipped with a number of surviving skills as well as natural intelligence. Things get slippery quickly when Ash discovers the truth behind the phrase “banana fish”, something his dear vegetative older brother continuously murmurs, from another stranger, and Eiji is inexplicably drawn into the intrigue as violence quickly ensues.
The biggest spotlight this anime gets is the relationship between Ash and Eiji, something the anime did not shy away from unlike certain other anime adaptions when it comes to homosexual relationships that aren’t blatantly yaoi or shounen-ai. I think some of the biggest steps MAPPA took was not only prescribing an ending theme song that literally says, “through all the madness of falling in love” as it highlights Ash affectionately watching Eiji relax but also for Ash himself to say, “I will always feel for him”. But I already have another whole article exploring why this was so well done, so I won’t go into any more details.
That being said, one of the flaws I find with Banana Fish as a whole (including the source material that MAPPA did as best of an adaption as they could’ve done), is the lack of three-dimensional antagonists. While Ash, Eiji, Shorter, Sing, and a whole list of protagonists are not only likeable, complicated, and relatable, the antagonists absolutely pale in comparison. Aside from one antagonist whose identity I will not spoil, the others have been extremely archetypical evil characters with no real motivation aside to just dominate Ash, seek power, and enjoy violence.
While I am not against archetypical antagonists (I’m personally a huge fan of Maleficent from the animated Sleeping Beauty Disney movie), in a case where the story takes special care in the craft of its protagonists, these stereotypical mean men stick out like sore thumbs. They almost do not belong in the story that was written, and it’s unfortunate that we weren’t able to receive anything more from Team Bad.
But badly written antagonists aside, one cannot help but admire the seiyuu cast. From Blanca’s smooth, quiet undertone to Shorter’s more enthusiastic voice, all the seiyuus did an absolutely incredible job on their characters, and there’s nothing I can personally pick on. I think every single one was well casted for the role they were chosen to present. Hands down, my favorite is Yuuma Uchida who shows his incredible skill in bringing Ash Lynx to life. From soft undertones to teasing jabs to anguished screams, his range is absolutely incredible for a three-dimensional character such as Ash, and I can’t think of a single other voice actor who would be capable of bringing such life into this character.
I’m also a huge fan of Jun Fukuyama’s Yut Lung. Jun Fukuyama is a seasoned seiyuu whose acting range has surprised many in the anime world for years. But yet again, I find myself surprised as he takes over a delicate character’s role with a tone that is pitch perfect to the atmosphere of Yut Lung.
Many have wondered why this anime seemed to be more successful than Yuri on Ice in regards to reaching audiences, as it is undoubtedly fact that more male audiences enjoy Banana Fish than Yuri on Ice. I think relationships and characters aside, it has to do with the plot. Sports anime tends to get a bad reputation as a whole where it appeals largely to female audiences, especially when it’s focused on boy athletes. Banana Fish has the upper hand with a story that’s centered on mafias and gunfights and drugs rather than a sport, much less a sport that appeals more to women already in the real world.
That being said, the plot is incredibly complex and well done. You really have no idea how the conflicts will get resolved, and it’s hard to discuss particular high and low points of the story without giving it away. As a result, my main qualm with it is still the handling of its antagonists. There’s a lack of satisfaction, in my personal opinion, to how it wrapped up with Golzine, and I think more could’ve been done when he had been the hovering threat over the protagonists the entire time.
MAPPA did a good job assisting the plot with its animation, particularly its stellar choreography when it came to gun fights. There were, unfortunately, a few times that the scenes can be wonky, but it delivers on the fights that actually matter. However, the real beauty in its animation is the sceneries and visuals of USA. From the picturesque sunsets, to the expansive countryside, and to the realistic scenery of Los Angeles, I just really love Banana Fish’s depiction of how beautiful America can be even in such harsh conditions, and for that, I thank MAPPA.
All in all, I really do like this anime. I can find critiques with its ending, and I know people will be upset towards it whether through a writing standpoint or a personal standpoint (as it is hard to write my own critiques without spoiling it). But this anime is the adaption of a story written more than a decade ago, and sadly, many of the politics that goes on still continues to ring true today. That shows the strength of this story more than anything else, so for the sake of watching an anime that will inexplicably become a classic in the future, please give Banana Fish a try.
I am planning to rate all my anime based on the anime rating system that Japanese anime critics use. I will have 5 categories, each with the top score of 10, and then a final multiplier of 2.
Voice acting: 9
FINAL SCORE: 79