Banana Fish is the modern rendition of a timeless manga by the same name, penned by author Akimi Yoshida. This adaptation is speared by Studio Mappa, with Hiroko Utsumi at the directorial head. The name of this series reveals little about its premise. In short, the story follows prodigious gang youth Ash Lynx, who wears the skills and temperament of somebody in possession of a history which no seventeen-year-old boy should know. Leader of a small gang now, we get a taste in Ash’s life of criminal management—including how he navigates the shark-invested waters of gang brotherhood and authorities, the latter of whom includes his “Papa,” a kingpin with murky interest in the young man’s journey. Banana Fish promises a dark underbelly of a narrative, set in mid-80’s New York, and I suspect it only has increasingly grimmer secrets to unfold the deeper we go down the throat of the beast.
I have not read the source material for the original series, but the first episode of this adaptation leaves me with mixed criticisms. For the good, the bad, and the ugly, we look no further than the character models. On the one hand, it perfectly captures the sort of facial structure which was popular in 80’s manga, so if that’s your thing then there’s a lot to appreciate. The anime remains true to the original art style, while providing a much-needed quality of life boost to the art execution (I saw pictures of the manga. The art wasn’t especially noteworthy). This is, however, not my cup of tea in terms of art style. That said, I still had plenty to appreciate with the aesthetic when it was animated as well as it was. The action scene near the end of the episode had choreography which was a couple notches above serviceable, with production values working to impress on most other fronts, as well. My favorite shot in the episode was early on, when we followed behind a man walking down the cold alleys of a New York in negative colors. It was a solid artistic decision, so kudos to whichever director decided to go that route.
Overall, the episode was pretty good, enough that I will continue watching throughout this season. But it was a far cry from amazing, being mostly setup and character introductions. The most glaring fault was the massive need for suspension of disbelief when it came to the Japanese dialogue of a couple characters. It’s hard to explain with brevity, but just expect there to be some parts where the logic in language doesn’t line up. This is expected when you have Japanese actors playing American characters in New York, but there’s some established expectations which are thrown out the window almost immediately, only to scramble back into some sense of consistency. It could have been done better.
Also, the contemporary American screamo band was hilarious. I still can’t decide if it lent to the intended tone or not.
Spiritual Content: No concerning material
Violence: Chiefly, there is a lot of gunplay. A soldier goes berserk and starts tearing up his comrades with an automatic weapon. Bullet impacts are shown, resulting in frequent and realistic amounts of blood. One character knocks away food in anger. At least three people are shot to death on screen, with guns being pulled as a threat several other times. The sound of gunfire is basically part of the soundtrack with how often it occurs. Aside from guns, there’s some combat involving knives, baseball bats, and hand-to-hand combat, though only the latter of these ever actually made impact, at least in the foreground of a scene. Artificial fingers imply one character had his fingers either cut off or blown off long ago.
Language/Crude Humor: I watched the official english subs on Amazon Prime. In this translation, there was no shortage of profanities. The derogatory “fag” is used twice, in close proximity to a character who is also labelled “vindictive and gay.” “Hell,” is used as a profanity twice, “dumb**s,” once. Outside of this, people are just generally mean and condescending towards one another through most of the episode.
Sexual Content: One male character cups another male character’s face and says “you know I love you, sweetheart.” It is shortly explained thereafter he’s not only gay, but said this phrase kind of like a threat.
Drug/Alcohol Use: Nearly every other character is smoking something. Hard liquor shows up in a couple different scenes. A later scene shows a child drinking a rum coke. A major plot element revolves around a mysterious drug of undetermined nature, though it’s stated not to be heroin.
Other Negative Themes: When a character solicits help from a back-alley doctor/surgeon, the doctor says “Oh, what? Did you get a girl pregnant?” Within the context of the scene, this could have implied a couple of things, but I suspect it was meant to be received as a half-joke that he could perform an abortion, if requested. Aside from this, there is a string of alleged suicides some detectives are trying to figure out, with suspicions being that they were staged. By way of the story premise and setting, there’s also just a lot of gang life.
Positive Content: The series gives an overall warm impression. Hirotaka’s blatant disregard for public shame at what he loves makes him an admirable character. I suspect both he and Narume could be relatable to much of this series’ intended audience, and it’s going to be interesting to watch their relationship over time, considering it had such a strange beginning.