REVIEW: Banana Fish (Episode 11)

Episode 10: The Beautiful and the Damned | 美しく呪われし者

“Beautiful” and “damned” don’t even begin to describe Ash “Fucking Up Your Shit” Lynx. If last episode was Rambo explosions and machine guns, Ash has gone full Light Yagami now, and you’d better believe he’s fully armed with military-grade cleverness, and baby, he’s gonna make it hurt.

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Just according to keikaku

A bloodied and vengeance-drenched Ash makes it to his gang’s hideout, where the lads have safely stashed Eiji. He barks out orders for more guns, patrols, and full-scale mafia usurping, and then sleeps a little. Takes a shower. Eats sushi. Illegally purchases an arsenal of home-delivered firearms a la that expensive jade earring Dino thought it funny and ironic to gift him in the murder dungeon. (Dino was belatedly right. It’s sure funny and ironic now.)

Ash and Eiji lay low for a bit. Eiji, with risk of becoming a mafia sex slave and drug tester for homicide-LSD at an all-week low, is in high spirits. Ash and Eiji riff one another, laugh, and make dick jokes.

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Meanwhile, “Papa” Dino kind of takes it personally that his house has been reduced to rubble and bullet holes. Plus, the press are privy to the whole mess – thanks to the diligent journalists Max and Shunichi, who tipped off the media before slinking off to hide in detective Charlie’s apartment. (Remember him? Eh, whatever.) Having nothing better to do for the time being, Max and Shunichi drink whiskey and talk about Ash and Eiji. Kind of like what I’m doing now.

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What the shit did you just say about Best Boy, Max? Just because some people’s life struggle is a failed career in collegiate pole-vaulting instead of fracturing the political-criminal web suffocating the very dredges of society through a series of dangerous violent gestures against a mafia kingpin doesn’t mean.. just what the shit, Max!

Okay, back to Ash and Eiji. They sleep more, but Ash startles awake with what looks like a PTSD-induced panic attack. Eiji gets up to sit with him, and a tearful Ash opens up to him about how he killed his first man at eight years old after the unspeakably terrifying experience of being raped. Ash recounts how he’s killed lots of people, including Shorter, and breaks down at the thought of how much blood is on his hands. Eiji comforts him and tells him no matter what, he’s with him forever. Ash says it doesn’t have to be forever, but begs him to just stay with him for now.

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Best Boy reigns supreme

Ash sleeps a little longer (thank fuck). When he wakes again, he puts on his smartass glasses and pulls out another weapon in his arsenal: passwords to Dino’s financial investments. (While Dino had brought Ash, his favorite “pet”, to his bedroom to molest him, Ash took the opportunity to install a bunch of spyware in his personal computer.) Thanks to Ash’s economy-hacks, stocks in Dino’s companies have plummeted. Dino’s fake overseas companies in tax-free countries have had their money wired away, and Ash knocks him out of a casual $90 million.

Dino is gloriously fucked and now needs to go apologize to the other Corsican dons around the globe who kept investments in his black money conglomerate. He inexplicably leaves in charge – you guessed it – that walking ass-wrinkle Arthur, whom Dino previously blamed for Ash’s escape. Apparently Dino has no one more competent to entrust his mafia army to than Mr. Torture Boner, though in all fairness, Ash may have murdered Dino’s top fifty next-in-lines last episode. Anyway, Arthur is charged with exterminating Ash’s gang and bringing Ash alive to Dino, so he can personally snap his neck. Seems like running a quick cost-benefit analysis on this scenario would suggest that keeping Ash alive for any period of time is not in your best interest if you’re his sworn enemy, but what do I know. I, like Eiji, have a boring personality.

Ash and Max meet up wearing disguises (with Max literally role-playing Ash’s dad, if the paternal symbolism hasn’t gotten through to you yet), and Ash asks him to buy him an $8 million condo. In cash. Ash is sure as fuck good for it now, but there’s just that whole problem of Ash not being, you know, a legal adult. (I expect that puts to rest the question of whether or not Ash is overpowered. As you see, even he has weaknesses.) So anyway, now Ash has got a nest to deposit Eiji into, which also happens to overlook a Corsican mafia-owned building, but I’m sure that’s just coincidence.

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No ending credits again, instead we get a sick scene of Ash and his gang smoothly picking off one of Arthur’s men in the New York City subway.

And that’s it, ladies and gentlemen. Ash not only survived the horror of the past few episodes, he really is back in the game, and kid knows all the cheat codes. Whilst licking his own wounds, he basically dismantles Dino Golzine’s empire before the cuts even scabbed over.

He probably could have pulled that market crash maneuver a bit earlier in the series, though.

A VISUAL MOTIF: DARK AND LIGHT (BUT SERIOUSLY)

The relationship between Ash and Eiji takes center focus this episode, first by accounting the distinctive differences between the two characters, then building each up individually before churning their divergences into intimate camaraderie.

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Ash and Eiji are first contrasted on a visual level. That is, Ash is light-haired and Eiji is dark-haired. While Eiji gets close enough to marvel at Ash’s blonde eyelashes, Ash notes Eiji’s dark features and recounts that he used to be afraid of dark things. The connection between Eiji and things that frighten Ash (in this case, Halloween pumpkins) is extraordinary, because Eiji is the number one non-threatening presence in this story. Likewise, traditional dichotomies of light vs. darkness would surely not cast gangster Ash Lynx as a force of purity. Subverted or not, the point is put forth. Ash watches dawn break from the apartment window, and the animation takes a moment to linger on the shadows melting from his face as the sun rises.

Ash and Eiji’s national differences are highlighted as well. Eiji refers to himself as Japanese in contrast to Ash being American at several points while they joked around together, and tells Ash, who is adept at using chopsticks, that he could come to Japan, which prompts Ash to ask about Eiji’s family across the pond. Beyond physical appearance, the show stresses again that the pair are the products of different backgrounds, and the distance is both literal and metaphorical.

Max and Shunichi also discuss the differences between the two: that compared to Ash, Eiji has few points of interest beyond being a nice boy. Somehow, though, Eiji has a power to heal others. Eiji can save Ash, Max denotes, but is also the Achilles Heel that will be Ash’s downfall.

ASH AND THE MONSTERS

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When verbalizing his observations of Eiji’s black hair and eyes, Ash comments that he used to hate dark things. He cites a childhood memory of Halloween, where little-Ash once dressed up as a pumpkin and went into the woods to surprise his big brother, but saw a scary pumpkin face in the distance and ran away. Later, he realized the monster was his own reflection in a car’s windshield.

This parable plays into Ash’s deepest fear: that he himself is a monster. Ash has previously made several disparaging comments about being a murderer, and that he admired that Eiji lived in a world where he didn’t have to use a gun. Last episode, Ash chose to safeguard Eiji’s purity by denying him a gun while they broke out of Dino’s mansion, taking it upon himself to kill the opposition. The words weren’t empty braggadocio: Ash articulates his insecurities more clearly this episode. First, when The Fly is selling Ash guns, Ash refuses to upgrade from old-fashioned revolvers to newer models that shoot more easily because he “won’t be able to stop”. Then again when he mourns to Eiji that his hands are bloodstained and he has killed so many people but doesn’t feel anything (all while sobbing).

Ash is able to reveal to Eiji his most wounded and vulnerable self, and Eiji is able to ward away his demons by validating his feelings, acknowledging his very real pain, and vowing to stay by his side.

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BUT TOGETHER

We aren’t witnessing a change – Ash and Eiji got along from the start, after all – but rather an evolution of their relationship.

Eiji’s confidence makes a stunning debut this episode. Though he teases Ash and goofs around, his mature and nurturing side encompassing his interactions. He wakes Ash up when the gang is too afraid to approach him. He gives Ash space about uncovering the fate of Shorter’s body rather than pressing him for details. He wonders at the different faces of Ash – the one who laughs and is at ease, or the one who is a hardened killer. And when Ash lays broken at his feet, Eiji reaches down to gently pick up the pieces. In turn, we feel – for perhaps the first time – that Eiji really is two years’ Ash’s senior.

Likewise, we see that Ash-at-ease is invoked by Eiji’s harmless amicability. Shunichi recalls watching Ash teach Eiji to shoot a gun back in Cape Cod, and how the pair looked like normal teenage boys playing around until Ash caught sight of Shunichi watching. In a moment, Ash attunes Shunichi’s fears that Ash is digging Eiji deeper into his mess, and his face shifts from carefree to serious.

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FINAL THOUGHTS

Episode 11 was probably the best so far. Ash, Eiji, and the audience all needed a breather after episodes 9 and 10. Episode 11 gave us a chance to process without overindulging in sentimentality.

For a series so frequently criticized for its gratuitous use of rape as a threat, punishment, or plot development, Banana Fish deserves quite a lot of credit for delving into the raw response the aftermath such trauma evokes from its own characters. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a male character opening up about the horror of being raped in an anime outside the context of erotica-tinged yaoi.

But the real highlight, of course, was seeing Ash in glasses financially disembowel Dino. Dino’s “NANI?!?!?!” horror to losing all his money was pure schadenfreude. Bye, bitch!

WHERE TO WATCH IT (LEGALLY): Amazon Prime

Next: Episode 12
Previous: Episode 10

4 thoughts on “REVIEW: Banana Fish (Episode 11)”

  1. This really was an excellent episode and a great follow up after episodes 9 and 10. It gave the characters and the audience time to process what had happened, but the plot definitely wasn’t sleeping with Ash pressing on with his attack even while recovering and playing around with Eiji. It all just worked really well.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree! We definitely needed a little bit of down time, but the show didn’t get lazy, either, with Ash’s shenanigans at the end. Honestly, I felt just as invested in seeing Ash and Eiji get a few well-earned minutes to relax as I was in any kind of action scene.

      Like

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