Episode 21: The Undefeated | 敗れざる者
“Undefeated” is a pretty lofty title when you’re reaching the finale of an action epic. I’m already wincing, but that might just be whiplash from the fact that episode 21 has a fuck ton of ground to cover and only twenty minutes to do it.
Team Ash and Team Cain are hiding out together, though Team Sing is still MIA after the confrontation with Yut-Lung’s syndicate. Ash and Eiji find a few moments to talk while everyone else is sleeping. Eiji contemplates a good luck charm he received from his sister before coming to America. The reason it sucks ass at preserving Eiji’s life and dignity is because it is specifically a good luck charm for love, which Eiji pretends to gripe about to Ash, but his blush tells us in this regard the charm is working overtime.
Now take a breath, because things are about to get busy.
An injured Sing stumbles toward the hideout before beseeching Ash to save his dudes, who are still being held captive by Yut-Lung (Sing was hilariously kicked into the sewer by a lackey last episode, so was spared capture). Ash decides that the fact that Sing has technically saved his life several times merits no longer being such a bitch to the kid, so promises to go after them. Meanwhile, Yut-Lung executes one or a few of the prisoners before singling out Sing’s right-hand/step-brother, Lao, who incidentally still resents Ash for murdering Shorter (because remember, Ash forbade Sing from being transparent about the whole misunderstanding). Lao hates Yut-Lung’s punk ass, too, but he’s got a few guns to his head and so probably agrees to be Yut-Lung’s mole. Afterwards, Blanca ironically tries to talk Yut-Lung down the path of peace, and Yut-Lung tells him to shove his fucking condescension up his well-toned ass (paraphrasing, possibly projecting.)
Ash, Sing, and Cain infiltrate an enemy stronghold to rescue Sing’s dudes. They KO the handful of guards on duty and liberate the lot, and even for Ash, it’s a little too easy. Yut-Lung, Dino, and a new baddie named Colonel Fox are casually observing on the video cameras, and Foxx agrees to take on the tedious job of re-kidnapping Ash.
Next, Max reunites with Ash and brings him to a gay bar. Chill, it’s just for business – the dude running the joint worked with Dino to collect photographic blackmail of all the clients that used his child sex workers, including Ash, and Max and his (former?) boss Robert want evidence to shut that shit down and indict Dino. Ash’s photos are in there, too, but rather than using them, Max burns them before Ash’s eyes. As for the rapist dude, Ash manages not to kill the piece of shit, but he gets what’s coming when he’s dismembered anyway by Foxx – who was tailing Ash and tried to buy him a drink at the bar.
We’re only halfway done with the episode, and if you thought things were rocky, get ready for the biggest two-sided gunfight of the series so far (Ash’s one vs. one-hundred massacres don’t count). This time, Team Ash, Team Cain, and, until their inevitable betrayal, Team Sing are up against Colonel Foxx and his small army of sociopathic war veterans, all conveniently officially reported dead but inconveniently aren’t.
It starts when the Black Sabbath guys start getting picked off (RIP Harlem Chicken, your sacrifice won’t be forgotten). Ash knocks off a few and scans the fingerprint of one of the assailants, only to discover the man served in the army under the command of a Colonel Edward Foxx. Ash recognizes Fox as the guy who hit on him at the bar, so rushes to find Max, whom he figures Foxx is after next. Luckily, Ash correctly discerns that Max was going to visit Robert’s apartment (a scenario that would’ve been way more believable if Ash had only called Max’s cellphone) and saves Max from a pack of hit-men, but Robert’s already got a bullet in the gut. He isn’t dead, but in a hilariously abrupt scene transition, Ash and Max discuss the threat of Foxx outside the apartment. Presumably the pair left a still-alive Robert to slowly bleed to death. Oh well, I wasn’t emotionally attached to him. Were you?
Welcome back to the stage, Jessica! In case you’ve forgotten, Jessica is the best female character in this series (in a competition of three.) Max sent word to her in California to go into hiding, but she deposits their little son Michael at a relative’s and comes to New York because she didn’t start this shit, but she’s sure as fuck going to finish it. Jessica has iron balls, vitriol for days, and also, guns.
The street gangs regroup and devise a plan of attack as Foxx’s troops surround them. Said plan of attack is that Team Ash and Team Cain, along with Max, will kill everyone while Team Sing, along with Jessica and Eiji, run away. As Lao and the Chinese gangsters mutter about launching their betrayal, Jessica decides she doesn’t want to be in the bitch group and rushes out to go fight with Max. Eiji follows Jessica, and Sing follows Eiji.
But in a non-shocking turn of events, Max and a few of Ash’s lackeys get rounded up and captured (further evidence that Jessica and Max should’ve swapped places). Fox yells to a lurking Ash to surrender if he wants them to live.
So Ash strategically dispatches them all with a fully loaded arsenal of intellect and explosions.
Just kidding. He surrenders.
ON LOVE AND SEX
It isn’t beyond my realm of understanding that Ash and Eiji aren’t, on any graded evidence-based system of evaluation, canon – per se. That is, the series has not articulated in any verbal sense that Ash and Eiji share a sexual relationship. But at this point, can we even call their romantic dynamic ambiguous? It’s one thing for Ash and Eiji to look at one another like they are gazing upon the most precious thing in the world. And sure, Ash and Eiji risking and sacrificing everything to rescue one another doesn’t automatically necessitate romance. But there’s no reason to include a line about Eiji carrying around a good luck charm for love unless it is deliberately suggesting Eiji’s feelings toward Ash. It isn’t subtextual: the narrative is making conclusions without any help from the audience.
But Ash’s past looms ominously over any discussion about Ash’s own sexuality. Banana Fish is sticking to its guns with Ash’s horrific history as a victim of child sexual abuse, which still materializes in very real trauma. It doesn’t hold back or loosen the revelation as a throwaway backstory to shove emotional depth onto its protagonist: Ash’s past is a tangible antagonist. The series toes dangerously toward gratuity in an already delicate theme to tackle, accentuated by the fact that Ash continues to be victimized by abusers, whether in the periphery (Ash casual comments about sexual assault in the bar with Max) or directly (Ash has already been raped over the course of the series). But Banana Fish is committing to seeing the horror through to the end, which means somehow, the antagonist must be confronted.
Ash and Eiji’s relationship is most obviously contrasted as selfless and caring against Ash’s violent sexual experiences. But this is a series with relatively little established romance at all, so the only other point of comparison is Max and Jessica, who also share a contentious relationship but have real feelings for each other buried under their dysfunction. An initial intention to divorce might be subverted by Jessica’s recent revelation that she really does still care about Max, and is willing to endanger herself to protect him.
A FEW TECHNICAL OBJECTIONS
Anime-only viewers (like myself) should keep in mind that the manga was set in the 1980s. For the most part, the setting’s modernization isn’t a big deal – it spares us the worst of 80’s fashions, mercifully euthanizing a ton of mustaches and turning down the anti-gravity on Ash and Eiji’s hair. What feels like an untranslatable remnant of the original setting is the disparity of technology use. Ash uses smartphones a number of times in a way that feels useful and appropriate, but on the other hand, it makes several plot lines redundant. Furthermore, carrying “evidence” around in manila envelopes seems antiquated in the age of the internet. Max burning Ash’s photographs is a nice gesture, but perhaps only symbolic when a 21st century Frog probably keeps these photos stored electronically.
A few other textual goofs: the dossier of the soldier whose fingerprint Ash scanned reveals his date of birth as 1983, but the poor guy was deployed to Rwanda in 1994 at the tender age of 11. Unless Foxx employs a team of ex-child soldiers, which makes the story line just a bit more somber. Amazon’s subtitles also spell our new bad guy’s name as “Eduardo Foxx”, but the on-screen dossier says “Edward Fox”, adding yet another layer of mystery to the fellow.
Banana Fish seems to have realized it only has four episodes left and still several volumes of manga left to cover, so stuffed this episode full, tossed a hard one back, and stuffed it more. If anything meaningful was sacrificed in the process, I’m not one to mourn its loss – especially since it still reserved time for those precious Ash and Eiji moments. Even so, the drama was explosive, and occasionally whiplash-inducing.
It’s also interesting that the titular Banana Fish drug itself has taken a back seat as a weapon of indictment against Dino. With the tax evasion investigation closed as well, Max and Ash have veered focus into Dino’s prostitution ring, which could not only bring down Dino, but a huge number of top ranking government officials and other people of note. Of course, Banana Fish isn’t really about Banana Fish – the drug is simply a catalyst for Ash’s war for liberation against Dino Golzine as a man, and Dino as a personification of Ash’s demons: violence, corruption, and sexual abuse.
Colonel Foxx’s introduction itself is a little baffling this late in the game. Between Dino, Yut-Lung, and Blanca, as well as players in the political sector and Dr. Mannerheim, we already have plenty of villains on the game board. While conceptually, the idea of a rogue mercenary ex-military group has some appeal in an action epic, it’s only necessary because Dino’s mafia syndicate lacks any named players of any clout.
Ash getting captured again also has turned the plot into a game of ping-pong. Dino can hire as many outside badass baddies as he wants to haul Ash back to him, but since he doesn’t keep them in permanent employ, Ash is free to escape again the moment their backs are turned. For that matter, while Dino’s personal obsession with Ash is obvious enough, surely his goons are getting a bit tired of dealing with Ash, and being forced to keep him alive when he has a nasty habit of slaughtering them – all while being told this bellicose teenager is the one who’s been tapped to inherit Dino’s global empire.
Still, the stakes are higher when we consider that there are only three episodes left, which means at this point, none of the main characters are safe. Ash, at least, has surely got immunity via protagonist plot armor until the final episode, but at this point, it seems everyone else – including Eiji – is up for grabs, which churns the plot into something far more sadistic and frightening than we have seen prior.
WHERE TO WATCH IT (LEGALLY): Amazon Prime