REVIEW: Banana Fish (Episode 5)

Episode 5: “From Death to Morning” |「死より朝へ」

Banana Fish continues to brutally launch itself through a hefty plot, no mercy and no prisoners. It’s clear we have a lot of plot to cruise through, and the ride is going be bumpy with minimal breaks for downtime. It’s a two-way pull: Ash and Eiji are simultaneously being pursued, and doing the pursuing. There’s a lot going on, but so far, the direction is smooth enough to not reduce viewers to motion sickness. For a gang drama with a growing cast, that’s no easy feat, but the main driver is Ash – though Eiji is ready to ball up and take the wheel.

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A sweet-spoken and seemingly cooperative Ash is released from prison on bail under the condition he doesn’t flee surveillance or commit any more crimes. Psych! Ash just found out that his brother Griffin was murdered by “Papa” Dino Golzine’s goons, and he is definitely going to do both of those things. He is escorted by detective Charlie, Japanese photojournalist Ibe, and Eiji – the latter two who really have no business getting involved in New York City’s crime syndicate battle royale, so Ibe tells Eiji they are peace-ing the fuck out back to Japan after they drop Ash off at the police station. Ash puts on a big show of pretending to just find out that Griffin is dead, only to twist a handgun out of the onslaught of sympathy and kick everyone else out of the car. Eiji, wracked with guilt over Griffin and Skip’s deaths – both of whom were killed in part due to his ineptitude – snags the wheel and vows to join Ash in uncovering the mystery of Banana Fish and avenging the dead.

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The face of an illegally-imprisoned gang leader who is definitely not going to kill anyone

We head over to the Chinese syndicate, where Ash’s buddy Shorter Wong hangs out (yes, mohawk dude is Chinese). We find out that the Chinese syndicate is interested in Ash for being a thorn in rival Dino Golzine’s side, but besides Shorter, they aren’t allies, either. Ash reveals his well-crafted plan of attack: find Dino at his favorite seafood restaurant/child sex slave joint and fill his rapist ass with bullets from on top of a motherfucking semi truck. Shorter and Eiji drive the truck close and Ash manages to drop a few bodies and get a shot at Dino, but takes a hit in the shoulder. A firefight ensues, and the three are rescued by Ibe and Max (now also out of prison). Outnumbered, they escape dramatically with a daring jump into the river, where poor Eiji passes out. Washed ashore, Ash spits venom and starts to leave for a second helping of murder, but Max does something that Ash has had coming for quite awhile – punches him in his punk face, knocking him out cold. The adults, now committed to the cause but also getting tired of these crazy kids, bring them to a safe house for some do-it-yourself bullet removal. The episode doesn’t even have time to play the ending sequence: we sign off with Ash staring off into the distance, finally crying for real at the loss of his brother.

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The English title seems to intentionally make use of a pun for “mourning”, though this is a literal translation of a the Japanese title is「死より朝へ」(shin yori asa e). Nonetheless, “mourning” is the pinnacle of this episode. First, opening with a battered Max, who had been the one to break the news of Ash’s brother Griffin’s death to him and endured Ash’s initial violent reaction. Then, an Ash pretending to mourn in order to put his entourage off guard to swindle a chance to escape. And finally, the episode closing with Ash finally having a chance to mourn his brother Griffin’s death.

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It’s difficult to not obsess over Ash, and I think if I review this show every episode, I’ll run out of synonyms to do so. Ash is magnetic. A troubled asshole with his fangs out for revenge, but decidedly not evil – he’s willing to dole out headshots in gun fights, but tells Shorter not to kill one of Dino’s goons they have apprehended, mumbling something about it causing more trouble. The establishment of Ash’s moral code is rocky, but it allows him to exist in the tenuous space of sympathetic jerk. On a narrative level, he squeaks by the pitfalls of seeming too whiny or faux-badass and undeserving of his protagonist-card by constantly taking initiative by mercilessly advancing the plot, and without wasting time asking for the audience’s sympathy – the show briefly acknowledges his misfortunes and promptly moves on. On a visual level, Ash is beautifully animated, resonating with emotion and elegantly whipping out moves in action sequences.

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On the other end of the string, naive-but-earnest Eiji refuses to let himself gather dust. Trying to articulate his motivations to Ash, he reveals that he had been a star pole vaulter who sustained an injury. The injury both smashed his shot at being a star athlete and shook his confidence, and he lost the will to make the jump. Now he wants to reject that feeling of helplessness. The anecdote must be practically alien to Ash, but Ash, who associates Eiji with the metaphorical/literal ability to fly, gives in to Eiji’s resolve to join him. He hands Eiji a gun, which Eiji definitely is not ready to use (the gun does go off, but only when Shorter grabs Eiji’s hands and pulls the trigger for him). Ash is the main character, but it’s difficult not to experience the story through Eiji – probably because he’s a more relatable avatar.

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Ash sticks his “gun” in Eiji’s face to wake him up. Every gun is always a dick metaphor in literature. I didn’t make the rules, deal with it.

Antagonist “Papa” Dino Golzine, who previously was more of a looming but indirect presence, also bares his fangs. He wants Ash alive, but gives his gang his blessing to beat and/or mutilate Ash as much as necessary to drag him back. Though they have had a few scenes together, the nature of their relationship has been implied more than directly illustrated. We know that Dino’s a pedophile who bought Ash as a child. At Ash’s own admission, most of the child sex slaves don’t live more than a few years, but somehow Ash not only endured but became a favorite, so that Dino groomed him to becoming a gang leader. But, as Dino says, “lynxes” don’t make great pets. It can’t be a shock that Ash, whom he has crafted into a veritable walking weapon of mass destruction, is biting back. Ash wants Dino dead, but not more than he wants to find and dismantle the titular Banana Fish.

The discovery that Banana Fish is a drug and not a person isn’t a particularly jaw-dropping reveal. Most likely it’s the drug that reduced Griffin to his suddenly violent and then catatonic state. Not much time to lick wounds; it looks like next we are headed for Cape Cod to do some amateur detective work.

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An obligatory shout-out to the series’ first female character who just might play a role in the story – Shorter’s older sister. She gets a whopping ten seconds of screen time. Who says BL ignores the ladies?

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This is a woman

WHERE TO WATCH IT (LEGALLY): Amazon Prime

Next: Episode 6
Previous: Episode 1-4

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