REVIEW: Banana Fish (Episode 6)

Episode 6: My Lost City | マイ・ロスト・シティー

Pack up, boys and girls, we’re road tripping! Banana Fish pretends to chill out for a filler episode, kicking the audience out of the vehicle in the middle of fucking nowhere (officially known as Cape Cod) for some backstory and character development. Ensue the usual hilarity of unleashing city folk into the boonies – murder, knife fights, horrifying recollections of child abuse. Weirdly, the guns don’t seem out of place, though. This is America.

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What’s the point in living if all guns aren’t dick jokes?

The team of misfits head to Ash’s hamlet hometown, a grassy wasteland populated solely by his dad and the mistresses and kids who haven’t left him yet (presently, just the one). Daddy “Jim” Callenreese tells Ash to go get literally fucked by way of greeting, but Mistress #3, Jennifer, is just trying to be a cool step-mom so makes everyone sandwiches. We head over to the house that Ash and Griffin shared to hunt for Banana Fish clues. After briefly flipping through some photos, we identify Griffin’s killer as another Iraq veteran, Abraham, whom we can find more clues about if we pop over to California.

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When you bring your liberal friends home for Thanksgiving

But first, the truck needs a tune-up. You know that feeling when you’re a grown-up and have been living in the big city, and when you get roped into visiting the fam back home you are overwhelmed to the point of tearful hysteria at how fucking country everything is? Yeah, it’s not like that. Ash’s dad Jim continues to be a dickstain to Ash, and when prodded about it, confesses that a 7-year-old Ash was repeatedly raped by the town’s Little League baseball coach. When the police didn’t do jack about it, Ash steals his dad’s gun and murders the guy (who, after police investigation, is also revealed to be a murderer who keeps the bodies of children in his basement). Ash is sent away to live with an aunt because small towns like to gossip. So anyway, that’s why Dad’s an asshole who calls his son a whore.

Wait. What?

Pause a second.

Or don’t, because the Papa Dino’s mafia squadron, call sign “Expendable”, has infiltrated Cape Cod, and are holding Dad and Jennifer hostage. Ash, who absolutely cannot resist throwing down his gun and surrendering immediately in a hostage situation under any circumstances, throws down his gun and surrenders immediately. Luckily, we have good friends: Max and Ibe cause a distraction by pretending to be cops, Shorter fucking Wong slits a man’s throat, and Eiji does a really good job not puking at the sight of dead people.

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Yeah, as if Ash Lynx really needs an anti-KO buff…

Lucky for Ash, Papa Dino’s goons are required to bring Ash back alive, which makes Ash impervious to further bullet infestations. Ash, contractually required to perform at least one roundhouse kick per episode, executes perfectly. But not even a D20 roll on luck can stop stop the inevitable: female human in a sausage comic (“Jennifer”) getting fridged in the gunfight. Jim gets shot, but is probably fine and also who gives a shit. Ash and Jim have a brief heart-to-heart, in which they call each other ass-wipes, and the party peaces out before the cops arrive.

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Ash’s roundhouse kicks are the true deuteragonist of this series

No time for an end-credit song again, bitches, we have like three thousand miles to choke. Time skip one week later, we’ve crossed the continent for destination Los Angeles, hilariously getting lost right outside the city despite having access to GPS via their smartphones (scene probably worked better in the manga, when the series was set in the 1980s and not the late 2010s). But the drama escalates when Papa Dino meets with the Chinese mafia’s boss, Wang-Lung Lee. Lee, who has associates in LA, agrees to assist Dino in apprehending Ash and whacking those pesky journalists who know too much about Banana Fish. Not that those alleged journalists have done jack shit in terms of journalism. You’re telling me they drove across the barren American Midwest and no one even tweeted about Banana Fish? What did they even do, play the alphabet billboard game the whole time?

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That moment when you’ve been assigned Google Maps duty but you have no fucking idea where Los Angeles is because you’ve actually just been on Tinder for three hours

Whew. Technically speaking, this was the slowest episode so far. But not to be labelled some prissy anime about the nostalgic joy of country life and adolescent-parent head-butting, Banana Fish is committed to keeping things dark, disturbing, and awash with blood fountains.

Does it border on gratuitous? Maybe. The gangster fight scene wasn’t strictly necessary for the plot to progress, and Jennifer getting fridged is undeniable. But Banana Fish is moving too quickly to run strictly on narrative. The action gives a visual aesthetic and whiplash consistency to the drama that a few snappy conversations and old photographs can’t cover. Exploding into action at the end gives some emotional fuel to an introspective episode, and ensures the audience that even if we’re 500 kilometers out of New York City (according to Shorter Wong, who doesn’t speak in miles like a true American), we’re not safe from Dino’s reach. Though it is yet unclear how Dino’s dudes knew to look for them there, or how they know to follow them to Los Angeles.

Unless we’ve got a spy on this ship. If there is, it’s definitely fucking Shorter. I can’t tell if that asshole is a bitch or a bro. He wears sunglasses indoors, so there’s no way to know for sure.

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If you’re slitting throats to save your bro, are you definitely not a traitor? Fuck you, Shorter. It’s nighttime. Take off those goddamn sunglasses, you creepy fuck.

Action aside, the real thematic reach of this episode is the juxtaposition between childhood and growing up. Hard to avoid in a hometown episode, but Banana Fish accepts the trope and takes the opportunity to offer more insight into Ash, as well as contrast and develop Eiji.

GROWING UP: ASH

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“Seeing you pout like that reminds me you’re just a kid,” Max quips to Ash in the episode’s opening. Ash is only 17, but if not wise beyond his years, he’s hardened beyond them. We knew that already, but we’re about to know it even more.

Earlier episodes have already revealed that Ash was molested as a kid, and this episode digs the case further by suggesting it wasn’t crime syndicates that initiated the ongoing cycle of sexual abuse toward Ash, but rather a Little League coach. We didn’t really need more explanation as to why Ash is mean or distrustful toward others, so nothing truly new was uncovered when we rummaged through the skeletons in the Callenreese family’s closet. But as before, the flashbacks are tasteful enough: still snapshots of a battered child that disturb but stay away from showing anything the audience can’t already discern. Gratuitous and unnecessary or not, I found the blank expression’s of young Ash to be so raw and powerful that the emotional gut-punch was worth the price. I reckon the coach was also Ash’s first kill, which makes sense to revisit in a story about killers.

What is harder to make sense of is Jim – who, by the way, calls his son “Ash”, instead of what is presumably his birth name, “Aslan”. I get that Ash’s dad is a deadbeat, but there was a major disconnect between his actions and the backstory reveal. Despite everything, he is strongly implied to care about his son, and reports that he immediately brought Ash to the police after the incident. But when the police refused to believe that the town’s beloved coach/military veteran was guilty (even allegedly suggesting that 7-year-old Ash was the one to seduce him), Jim’s response is to tell Ash if it happens again, make the guy pay for it. Ash takes this nugget of advice literally for a year, and makes his rapist pay him money after the rapes, before finally collecting the real debt and shooting his brains out.

It’s hard to resist the tough questions: why didn’t Jim commit the murder, or do anything else to protect his son? And why does he use this sexual abuse as fodder to taunt him? Is it out of sadism, or does it stem from his own shame at his failure as a parent? The dynamic of a parent feeling helpless against stopping a predator from hurting his kid might still haunt today, but probably hit closer in the manga’s setting – which would have put the incident in the 1970’s instead of ~2008, when pressures to sweep aside the taboo would have been even more vicious in rural America.

Small towns can be scary; sometimes scarier than the infamous crime-ridden streets of New York City.

GROWING UP: EIJI

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Eiji is two years older than Ash, the anime stresses again, but if Ash was forced to grow up a long time ago, Eiji has been babied for too long. It’s a little harsh, considering Eiji has been a perfectly adjusted young adult who has already shown several acts of notable bravery – and fuck 19-year-olds, anyway, who says those little bastards are adults?

Eiji, who had the audacity to grow up reasonably privileged in a first-world country, was once a star pole-vaulter with a bright future as an athlete. But, as we already know, after he sustained an injury, he lost both the physical and emotional grit necessary to continue competing. Eiji is gentle, and his confidence is fragile. He gets spooked easily (yelping and jumping into Shorter’s arms when he sees a rat in Ash’s childhood home) and takes childish delight in admiring Ash’s coolness (relatable).

If not his literal father, Ibe serves Eiji as the paternal answer to Ash’s Jim. This isn’t a sudden contrast; Eiji was mistaken for Ibe’s son in the first episode. Unlike Jim, who failed to protect Ash from the worst threat imaginable, Ibe is accused of coddling Eiji and enabling his childishness. First by Ash, when Ibe spots him teaching Eiji how to shoot a gun and tries to dissuade him from getting too close to Eiji, lest his bad influence rubs off and puts Eiji at risk of getting a tattoo or something. Then again by Max, who accuses Ibe of making Eiji his “Amadeus” when Ibe admits he brought Eiji to America to save him from his depression. Eiji is special to Ibe: it was Ibe’s photograph of Eiji pole-vaulting that launched his photography career, and so, like a precious work of art, Ibe wants to protect him from deterioration. Ibe muses on how to keep Eiji safe, and Max – who, though good-natured and friendly, is still an active-duty war veteran who has had to live with the guilt of shooting his best friend – suggests he let Eiji grow up.

I can tell I’m old now, because if I were Ibe, I would drag that child kicking and screaming back to Tokyo. Unfortunately, I regret to report – not for the first time – that this anime is not about me.

So far, Eiji has done little to impact the wider game, except fumble and fail to protect Ash or anyone else, including himself. This episode, it’s Eiji cheerfully yelling across the field for Ash that alerts the mafia of Ash’s presence, which bungles the attempt to save Jennifer. But it’s the micro-actions that illustrate that Eiji is stronger than his comrades give him credit for. Eiji stands up to Jim and berates him for insulting Ash, and when Shorter tells Eiji to look away from the carnage of the fight scene, Eiji doesn’t.

ASH AND EIJI

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Eiji’s infatuation with Ash is obvious by this point, and Ash seems to enjoy letting his guard down around Eiji. In episode one, Ash let Eiji hold his gun – which Skip (RIP) divulges is something Ash never permits. Now things go a step further: Ash invites Eiji to shoot it, and with one hand at his waist and one hand at the gun, physically guides him through the lesson. It doesn’t need to be phallic symbolism to suggest that the relationship is getting closer

But just to be clear, it’s also phallic symbolism.

Literary law requires that any gun in a story must, at some point, go off. Obviously, that piece has already seen a lot of action, but none yet from Eiji. I both look forward to and dread the first time he uses it to kill. Because what is growing up, anyway? Is it really, as Banana Fish cruelly ponders, cultivating the resolve to end another human’s life?

WHERE TO WATCH IT (LEGALLY): Amazon Prime

Next: Episode 7
Previous: Episode 5

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