REVIEW: Banana Fish (Episode 18)

Episode 18: Islands in the Stream | 海流のなかの島々

This episode has everything you’ve grown to love about Banana Fish – Ash/Eiji romantic insinuation, gunfights, literal and figurative explosions. But you might hate it anyway.

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Pictured: my actual internal monologue

The episode opens with a bang, and you already know I mean that as literally as possible. Colonel Holstock, the military dude buying Banana Fish from Golzine along with the now-dead Senator Kippard, tells his driver to “keep his loins in check” before the driver is sniped in the head and the car crashes into a truck, and boom, explosions, cue theme song.

Shifting into more important things – namely, Ash and Eiji’s domestic bliss – Eiji, bless his heart, tries to wake up Ash, get him dressed, showered, and fed, but alas, Ash is not a morning person. When Ash finally rouses, they bicker, exchanging zingers (“You take too long to read the paper, Onii-chan. Why don’t you go learn English with Sesame Street first?”) and flirt (“You’d make a good wife.”) If this series were nothing but Ash and Eiji ribbing each other and acting gay, we’d still have a solid show.

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Then put a fucking ring on it, dude!

Ibe and Max come to visit, and Max and Ash leave to talk shop. Max reports he handed Ash’s post-doc level Banana Fish research over to an expert, and Ash rankles when he hears Colonel Holstock died in a “freak accident” – that’s mafia for “Definitely Got His Ass Whacked For Defying The Don”. They investigate the room where he suspects the sniper shot Kippard from, and finds a familiar novel left behind: Ernest Hemingway’s Islands in the Streams, a book left conspicuously as a calling card by his old mentor, Blanca.

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This ~12-year-old gangster can probably already kick my ass. You can tell by the hairstyle.

Ash’s suspicion is violently confirmed when opening the window shades for a few seconds in their “secret” luxury apartment hideout leads to Eiji immediately getting sniped in the arm. Ash covers Eiji from further gunfire and they douse the lights, but the message is clear: Eiji’s life is ransom. Ash happens to still have Blanca’s phone number, so dials it in a rage. Blanca brushes off his venom with teasing endearments, before handing the phone to Yut-Lung, who sets the time and place of negotiations.

At a loss, Ash deliberates on what to do after caring for Eiji. Eiji, more cheerful than one really has the right to be after being shot, invites Ash to come back to Japan with him. Ash is still frantic, but can’t not be warmed by Best Boy as Eiji tells him about his countryside hometown and the 8 million gods of Japan. When Eiji is finally asleep, Ash kneels at his bed and vows to protect Eiji from harm. The next morning, Eiji catches fever from his gunshot wound. Ash leaves, though Eiji senses he is hiding something. This time, it’s Eiji who prays for Ash to be safe.

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Since I guess hauling ass across an ocean with Eiji over his shoulder is not feasible, Ash proceeds to an abandoned warehouse for the meeting where everything is about to go wrong. The current trifecta of villains is there: Blanca, Yut-Lung, and Dino Golzine himself, as well as a bunch of Dino’s armed goons. But they can’t snag Ash right there and then, they still need (what’s left of) Professor Dawson and Ash’s Banana Fish documentation, both of which Ash stashed around New York City.

Yut-Lung tries to shake Ash’s resolve by handing him a gun and telling him to shoot himself in the head if he wants Eiji to live. Ash takes it and shoots without hesitation, though the gun isn’t loaded. This leaves a nasty crack in Yut-Lung’s facade. After some coaxing from Blanca, Yut-Lung spits out the real terms: Ash will bring them Dawson and his Banana Fish evidence, then turn himself in to Dino, who plans to enslave Ash as a prostitute again.

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Ash accepts, but demands the chance to punch Blanca in the face. Everyone agrees that’s reasonable. With Dino’s permission, Blanca proceeds to utterly destroy Ash – not even Ash’s glorious roundhouse kicks can nick his HP. When Ash is beaten on the ground, Blanca asks for a moment to speak to him privately, so the rest of the nefarious entourage exits. Blanca encourages Ash to just give in to Dino, where one day he could have power again. Ash tells him to go fuck himself and begs Blanca not to hurt Eiji. Blanca realizes Ash took the beating just to buy this moment of desperate humility, but refuses to make that vow.

Throwing in the towel, Ash re-abducts Professor Dawson (murdering a few security guards along the way) and even points a gun at Max in order to get his Banana Fish research back. Eiji, sensing something amiss, runs out to find Ash, but is too late to stop Ash from surrendering himself to Dino.

VILLAINS: ON BLANCA

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Fuck you, Blanca!

Moving on.

VILLAINS: ON YUT-LUNG

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Yut-Lung is being a little bitch. There, I said it. Fuck you, Yut-Lung, for exposing Eiji as Ash’s weak point to Dino and being an all around brat this episode. I’ve been your fan this whole time, I’ve forgiven your moping and whinging. I actually like you best when you’re being a vicious cutthroat asshole. But after everything, Yut-Lung is just a hormonal 16-year-old with a nice vocabulary and abandonment issues.

Here’s something I’ve noticed about the majority of the cast: it consists of people who either want to possess Ash, or look up to him – however begrudgingly, and Yut-Lung falls neatly into the second category. Yut-Lung really isn’t Ash’s equal by any stretch, and he seems even less in control the tighter he seizes power. I get the sense I’ve been fundamentally misreading Yut-Lung as a character by waiting for him to rock the game board. Despite his lofty introduction, he’s immature and anxious, not a cool-headed Prince of Darkness.

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It falls down to his motivation for siding against Ash, with whom he should have held no personal quarrel: the reason he resents Ash truly is nothing more than the special relationship he shares with Eiji. Yut-Lung’s an outsider, and can’t understand Ash on any level that isn’t among the survivalist traits they share. But at the same time, he’s drawn to Ash, both helplessly concerned for him and determined to discredit his feelings for Eiji, thereby validating himself.

Of course, Yut-Lung’s most noteworthy attribute is that he isn’t irredeemable. When approached with cruelty, he feels empathy – which he has demonstrated several times for Ash. Perhaps it isn’t Yut-Lung’s evil traits that will change the story, but his empathy. He’s a smart kid, at least by the books, so if nothing else, he really should know better than to trust Dino.

VILLAINS: OKAY, A LITTLE MORE ON BLANCA

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I’ll acquiesce, he has charm and is immediately a solid presence in this series. It was fucking awesome in the most masochistic way to see him pummel Ash, who has been overpowered and virtually unbeatable for 17 episodes. Ash is on edge the moment Blanca’s presence is suggested, and once confirmed, Ash clocks out for his own game over: even though Eiji is, for once, not in any way kidnapped, the knowledge that Blanca is simply targeting him precipitates Ash’s immediate surrender. Blanca is fascinating and frightening, and immediately filled a gap within the show’s already full cast of villains.

But there’s a disturbing disconnect between his level-headed, even amicable personality and the content of his actions. His mentorship to Ash is sublimely twisted, even though the narrative seems to portray him as a force of rationality stemming from feelings of genuine affection for Ash. Sure, Blanca is a killer – they’re all killers. But it feels fundamentally different to reconcile a “mere” assassin of the criminal underworld and one who keeps child sex slaves under the whip of his employer. Blanca furthermore, for no discernible reason beyond a whim of interest in Ash, agrees to pause his Caribbean retirement solely to force him back into bondage and prostitution under a sadistic mafia warlord.

Blanca may believe that Dino will ultimately forgive Ash as his prodigal son, and embrace him again as an heir. But it’s pretty clear what awaits Ash in the short run.

VILLAINS: ON PAPA DINO

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Dino has few lines of dialogue this episode and is content to sit back and let his pawns take the spotlight, just as before when Arthur tortured Ash. That doesn’t mean he isn’t in control. Blanca maintains his role as a subservient, a martial consultant at best. Yut-Lung sure as fuck isn’t the criminal mastermind here, either. There is something horrid and ominous about Dino’s presence even when he isn’t speaking.

What he does say is enough: both he and Blanca seem to confirm that he never planned to kill Ash. A few knee-jerk threats aside, Dino has been pretty consistent and explicit that he views Ash as his prized possession. Whether that means keeping him as a sex slave, or remodeling him back into his heir, Dino wants more of Ash than a corpse.

THE RABBIT AND THE LYNX

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“A rabbit and a lynx can never be friends,” Blanca warns Ash, advising him to give up his infatuation with Eiji and embrace the gilded cage of Dino Golzine. But that doesn’t matter to Ash, because he has finally found someone who cares for him while wanting nothing in return.

Ash and Eiji’s raw mutual devotion emotionally drives the series, and it doesn’t hit harder or more painfully than episode 18. Backed into a corner, Ash is willing to give up everything in an instant to shield Eiji, whether submitting himself to death, torture, or slavery. It’s one thing to be a badass. We see badass protagonists talk big and withstand hardship for their ideals all the time. But it takes a battered Ash crumpled on the floor, relinquishing everything he had fought for up until this point and murmuring that he’s happy because Eiji cares for him to truly demonstrate the veracity of the transaction. Ash’s love for Eiji is nothing short of heart-breaking.

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Ash would move the rearrange the stars for Eiji if he could, and his own life and freedom seem cheap by comparison. But what about Eiji? Is he truly the proverbial rabbit? And what will it mean to Ash if he morphs into something else entirely?

FINAL THOUGHTS

Episode 18 was as magnetic as it was distressing. We aren’t quite near the climax of the series yet, but after Ash falls from the climbing stakes, it feels that way anyhow.

Ash is back in Dino’s hands, for whatever that will mean, and so too is all evidence of Banana Fish (assuming all evidence is contained in the manila folder Max handed him – again, there’s some janky transition with the change of setting from the 1980s to the 2010s, where all this stuff would certainly be both digital and viral). Eiji may or may not be safe for the time being, as well as Max and Ibe, but who can say what Dino will choose to do next, especially if it’s polishing off the last remaining witnesses of Banana Fish.

WHERE TO WATCH IT (LEGALLY): Amazon Prime

Next: Episode 19
Previous: Episode 17

 

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