REVIEW: Banana Fish (Episode 19)

Episode 19: Ice Palace | 氷の宮殿

Banana Fish is at its best when I hate it the most. It’s mean, it’s hard to watch, and it’s so cruelly poignant that it transcends its own brutality into art. Even when the plot is at its most far-fetched, the raw emotion is authentic and meaningful.

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Ash is back in Dino’s hands, but instead of “selling his body” by enslaving him as a prostitute, Dino is forcing him to “sell his soul” by grooming him into the family business through an unpaid internship in Government Affairs. Soul-crushing, indeed – at my most diabolical, I make my interns get me coffee. Dino makes Ash convince military generals to stage violent coups in the Middle East by injecting the opposition with Banana Fish and install pro-American governments in order to seize control over the global heroin market.

And no, that’s not the extent of it. You know it isn’t. Banana Fish doesn’t need to resort to being gratuitous to sicken the atmosphere at Dino’s mansion, but it also has no intention of playing coy or subtle – Dino forcing a kiss on Ash is visually blocked, and the camera is only invited back in to see the bloody aftermath. Ash complies as Dino’s living doll initially as a condition of not being made to work as a prostitute again, but as he mentally unravels at the horror of condemning innocent people to slaughter, he begs Dino to let him sell his body again after all. It isn’t happening, not when Dino finally has him back in his possession.

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But never give up hope, because whether he knows it or not, Ash has a secret weapon: Eiji Okumura. What, you protest. Eiji can’t use guns, can’t kill people, doesn’t know anything about the mafia underworld, and his skill set is limited to being adorable, pole-vaulting, and the power of friendship. Listen, Eiji has got this. And, lucky for him and us and Ash and everyone, Eiji’s maxed-out friendship power has earned him assists from higher-level players – namely, the Team Ash and Team Sing street gangs.

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If Eiji could only believe in himself enough, I’m confident he could single-handedly storm into Dino’s mansion, scold everyone there for being mean, and steal back Ash – along with everyone’s hearts.

Eiji enlists Sing’s help to score a visitation with Yut-Lung – who tried to hire Blanca to snuff Eiji within the first five minutes of this episode. He doesn’t murder Eiji (I’m 80% but not 100% convinced he’s all talk on this point), but he does taunt him about Ash sacrificing everything to save Eiji, and invites Eiji to commit suicide. Eiji calls him out on being a bitch and vows to rescue Ash.

Yut-Lung is feeling a little dejected about the fact that everyone hates him now, so tries again to hire Blanca by getting his attention in the most scientifically effective way possible: by interrupting his naked bathtime maid-seduction attempt by storming in and dramatically pretending to be a jilted lover.

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It’s funny. Sure, it’s a joke about a grown man having sex with a 16-year-old boy, but that’s about as light-hearted as this episode gets.

Blanca is a weirdly jovial guy and takes the cockblock in stride, especially when Yut-Lung reveals he knows Blanca’s true identity and name. Blanca agrees to hear Yut-Lung out. It’s a weirdly cute scene. Take it, because that’s pretty much all you’re going to get this episode, and it wraps up with an ominous transition of Blanca telling Yut-Lung he doesn’t regret selling Ash out to a sadistic rapist mafia don.

Dino lords over a now bedridden Ash, threatening to kill Eiji if Ash is trying to escape him by starving himself to death. Ash denies that he’s trying to kill himself, though you get the sense that he’s not trying his hardest not to die, either. Dino then drops another bombshell: he intends to officially adopt Ash as his son, leading Ash to completely crack. In an unhinged monologue replete with mad laughter, Ash recollects the man Dino sent to round up and rape children. When he likens himself to a toilet for the perverse desires of men, Dino explodes and and beats Ash until his guards pull him off.

Back at Yut-Lung’s own lonely mansion, Yut-Lung is dealing with a new infestation of pests, i.e. his own staff trying to assassinate him, because again, everyone really hates Yut-Lung. A murder attempt is thwarted by a convenient and coincidentally simultaneous visit from Sing and Blanca. Treating Yut-Lung’s wound, Blanca notes that Yut-Lung has an awful lot of enemies for a teenager (he is way more surprised about this than I am.) Blanca officially agrees to be Yut-Lung’s bodyguard.

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Sing returns to the Team Ash/Team Sing gang hideout, where they plan to infiltrate Dino’s upcoming party and steal Ash Lynx back. Guys, don’t worry. They have Eiji. If that still leaves you skeptical, don’t worry. The party is joined last minute by Team Cain (you’ll remember Cain Blood as the only street gang leader in New York City who has finished going through puberty.)

But just when you’re cautiously starting to feel optimistic, the episode gut-punches you the moment Eiji leaves the screen for a transition back to Dino and Ash. Ash is dead-eyed and wheelchair-bound, conjuring a painful parallel to Griffin, his deceased older brother.

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ON ASH: MENTAL HEALTH AND SEXUAL ABUSE

Ash’s raw and vulgar expression of his experiences being raped are shocking and uncomfortable, and represents one of Banana Fish‘s most distressing scenes yet. Ash recalls with incredulity that a rapist asked him if the sex hurt, as though unable to comprehend the feelings of his victim, and Ash crudely counts himself a receptacle for men to have sex with, deriding Dino for trying to classify their relationship in any other way.

Ash’s vulnerabilities have not been held in confidence throughout the series, but even so, he has consistently been portrayed as well-fortified with both physical and mental endurance. Ash is a one-man army, possessing vicious ambition and stunning capability to tear down his enemies while protecting the people important to him. Ash’s history as a victim of sexual abuse and violence is documented without indulging. It is easier to think of Ash as someone who can endure anything, because he has already endured everything.

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Ash’s sexual abuse is informed to the audience throughout the series, though most of the time Ash bars the audience from his own feelings, which can be misleading. Whether it’s casually negotiating his own rape to Marvin, strategically allowing attackers to gang-rape him in prison, or propositioning Senator Kippard for sex, Ash’s pragmatism extends to the bartering of his body. But the further into his past is delved, the more traumatic the effects. The memories of being raped as a child remain raw and overwhelming, and you would only know if you were Eiji, the only person to whom he is able to show his wounds.

Though not the first man to rape him, the totality of Ash’s sexual abuse is manifested in Dino Golzine, the most twisted of his father figures – now about to bring legal merit to the symbolism. Ash must have withstood Dino’s abuse for years, but Ash’s defenses have been dismantled. Eiji’s life is on the line. His mental health has plummeted, presumably an overwhelming amalgamation of trauma-induced stress and depression have taken an immense physical toll on his body. He is forced to become an active agent in global-scale corruption. But the ultimate trigger is Dino’s declaration that he will make Ash his son, fracturing Ash’s already corrupted perception of family and binding him permanently to his abuser.

In the final scene, it’s unclear if Ash has been drugged or blinded again, or if he is too despondent and malnourished to move or react.

ON EIJI: FINDING YOUR FIGHT

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In classic Eiji profanity, he verbally slaps Yut-Lung with a savage “baka!”

Eiji, once a bystander – or collateral – in the chaos of Ash’s world is taking a more aggressive role in the story. That isn’t to say he’s passive: though Eiji’s actions are certainly overshadowed by Ash, whose magnetism dominates the story, Eiji has made impulsive and goal-driven decisions from early on. But though he still doesn’t belong, we see Eiji acclimate to the game board, and take more agency as he moves on from self-doubt and fear. That Eiji doesn’t fall to despair when Yut-Lung reveals Ash’s fate shows his growth, so too his declaration that he won’t waste time blaming himself. Eiji is going to go save Ash, without stopping to overthink it. He even requests a gun, and resolves himself to use it.

But Eiji’s real capability isn’t in saving Ash from Golzine – it’s saving Ash from himself. I cannot envision Eiji being much use in a gunfight, but after this episode’s psychological destruction, if Ash is rescued, there is no one who he will need at his side more than Eiji.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Dino has rebuilt his empire, dismantled investigations into his crimes, and has Ash back in his possession. As a villain, he’s paradoxically at his most evil when he is “taking care of Ash” by arranging his medical care and positioning him to succeed him as his heir. He’s a single-track villain with no redeemable traits, but he is so frightening, he works as the show’s Final Boss – especially knowing what he represents to Ash.

Blanca gets more spotlight this episode, as his background as a KGB-esque operative is revealed, as well as his real name of Sergio. New information or not, it’s obvious and uninspired, but it’s somewhat more intriguing that Dino tells Blanca to be sure to keep his emotions in check after Blanca tells him he is contracting with Yut-Lung. It seems there is something meaningful about this warning – after all, Dino is the only other person who knows Blanca’s mysterious background.

Finally, Yut-Lung had some cute moments this episode, which was good, because his character could use a little redemption. Yut-Lung seems younger and less in control than ever, with even Sing telling him off (to which Yut-Lung’s “hysterics” are made a joke). That he’s fending off assassination attempts after killing his brothers seems realistic enough; Yut-Lung may have overshot it and seems to lack the drive to run with his own momentum. Maybe it will be Yut-Lung – again – who saves Ash from Dino. Though it would have been Yut-Lung – again – who got him captured by him in the first place.

Overall, this was a powerful episode. Ash’s voice actor, Yuuma Uchida, has been consistently strong, but he deserves special recognition for his heartwrenching performance this episode. We’re only at five episodes left, which means from now on, we’re setting up for the endgame.

WHERE TO WATCH IT (LEGALLY): Amazon Prime

Next: Episode 20
Previous: Episode 18

 

 

 

5 thoughts on “REVIEW: Banana Fish (Episode 19)”

  1. I’m kind of devastated this is coming to an end. Okay, watching this episode was devastating and seeing Ash’s breakdown hurt so much, and yet despite all the plot holes you could easily pick in this story, it is nailing the emotions and I love it for that. Going to miss this one once it is done.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I know, I can’t believe there are only five episodes left! I dread it coming to a close, pretty sure it’ll wreck me. There are some plot holes for sure (biggest one I wondered about this episode was why an 18-year-old kid is being taken seriously by military generals, and how is Dino going to adopt Ash when he’s legally dead – and if he isn’t legally dead, shouldn’t he be charged with all the murder he was arrested for a few episodes back?) but I consider this more of an action fantasy anyway. The emotions are so spot-on even so, though.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Action fantasy is perhaps the best genre for this, and I hadn’t even thought about the fact that Ash was technically declared dead, because you are right in that it makes it really hard for him to now be legally adopted.
        Still, who needs logic when the story is this emotionally driven. I think the only problem will come is if the show doesn’t stick to its guns at this point because then a lot of the gusto that has managed to keep the audience onboard with this story will kind of fall apart on them and that wouldn’t be great this late in the season.

        Like

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