REVIEW: Banana Fish (Episode 22)

Episode 22: As I Lay Dying | 死の床に横たわりて

It’s a mean title for a mean episode.

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Would I watch an entire anime comprised of Ash’s facial expressions whenever Eiji effectively confesses his love to him? I’d fucking fund an entire anime comprised of Ash’s facial expressions whenever Eiji effectively confesses his love to him.

Stop me if this sounds familiar: Ash has been captured after surrendering himself to save the lives of humans for whom he has some modicum of affection. The difference is that this time he’s saving his gang and Max (there’s a little bit of  irony there, since Max had made such a big deal about Eiji being Ash’s Achilles heel. My, how the tables have turned.) Ash simply cannot be kidnapped by any normal means, it’s a scientific impossibility, so the baddies resort to the usual hacks.

But the deal didn’t include Colonel Edward Eduardo Eduoard Foxx actually releasing the captives – so Max and Co. are loaded up and sent to the National Mental Health Institute, aka Dr. Mannerheim’s brain-farm, where they will receive psychiatric counseling, aka tortured for information on where they stashed the damning pornographic evidence of Dino’s sex slave ring and the White House officials who patronize it.

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This asshole has the audacity to stroll in the series three episodes before the finale and instantly become the fucking worst.

On that point, Foxx is also curious, and he doesn’t plan to return Ash to Dino until he finds out what the mafia don has that’s making the White House take a knee. (The answer, of course, is drugs and porn.) Foxx beats and chokes Ash, tries to sell him on aspirations of co-ruling a global criminal empire in equal partnership, and in a predictable but horrifying conclusion, rapes him.

The moment Foxx’s back is turned, however, Ash burns through his binds with a discarded cigarette and machine guns his way out of the building. Foxx escapes, but Ash intercepts his own would-be rescue party of Eiji, Jessica, Sing, and Cain before they get their asses captured and the cycle repeats itself again.

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The squad came to save Ash. Thanks, fam.

They reunite with the surviving gangsters back at the hideout, but mutiny looms when several Chinese gangsters, including Sing’s right-hand man Lao, try to stir shit with Ash. Yut-Lung put them up to it last episode on threat of death, but Lao’s frustration at Sing bowing to Ash’s authority is genuine enough. Still, Lao rejects Yut-Lung’s command to assassinate Eiji on principle. Blanca, who is still hanging around that little shit, questions Yut-Lung’s obsession with murdering Eiji. If you’re curious, the answer isn’t because he wants to take down Ash. It’s because he wants to empower Ash by blotting out his weakness, thus advancing Ash’s ascension to full-fledged demon.

In other words, Yut-Lung is clinically suicidal.

Before Dino can get to the hard drive of compromising photos, Ash and Jessica nab it from the safe where it had been stashed by Max and Robert (who, by the way, was not left to die last episode after all. What a relief.) Jessica, also a journalist, is going to take over the indictment in Max’s absence. She’s a solid ally and a welcome presence in The Resistance(TM), not only because she’s a woman in an overwhelmingly male cast, but she’s 110% awesome.

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Yut-Lung’s hobbies include being an asshole and crying alone.

Yut-Lung conscripts two more of Sing’s gangsters to go after Eiji, this time advising them not to bother waiting until Eiji’s alone, but to attack when Eiji and Ash are together, since Ash lowers his guard when he’s around Eiji. Blanca decides he’s had enough of babysitting a nasty, impulsive and maximum angst 16-year-old. (Yes, we should feel a little bad for Yut-Lung’s life of hardship, but c’mon. Kid’s a bitch.)

In a brutal scene splice, Blanca commits to protect Eiji on behalf of Ash. Yut-Lung is stricken, but acquiesces, giving Blanca the location of their hideout. Meanwhile, Eiji tries again to convince Ash to return to Japan with him and escape this life. Ash seems to relent, joking that he would have to learn Japanese, which Eiji enthusiastically offers to teach.

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But as Eiji teaches Ash the harrowing word “Sayounara”, Yut-Lung’s assassins explode into their room and open fire. Diving forward to protect Ash, Eiji takes a bullet, and Ash goes berserk as he destroys the killers. A bleeding-out Eiji whispers that he’s grateful Ash is safe before closing his eyes.

Goddammit, Banana Fish. You’re such a dick.

ON SAVIORS: EIJI OKUMURA

Whether or not Eiji’s death scene is a bigger shock than Ash’s rape depends entirely on whether or not he is actually dead. The possibility of Eiji’s death has been stark from the onset. As Ash’s foil who heals him through trauma and loves him unconditionally, Eiji has safeguarded Ash’s humanity as Ash safeguards his life. The conflict of Ash not wanting to force Eiji to use a gun is subverted this episode when Eiji spins the phrase back at Ash, and again invites him to Japan. The fact that Eiji is so precious to Ash has always been a death flag on its own, and uttering the word “Sayounara” is nothing if not prophetic.

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If Eiji is dead, the scene is beautifully cruel, and the impact of a brilliant twist is curtailed if he survives. But the narrative price of losing Eiji before the finale is heavy: the series will take a irreparably dark turn, not only because we will have lost our Best Boy, but it means there is no chance that this series will have a happy ending. Of course, a happy ending was always a shot in the dark, but if Eiji’s out, the series might as well already be over. All that’s left is witnessing Ash’s psychological combustion.

Even so, I can’t quite bring myself to believe Eiji is really gone. It might be the denial phase of grief processing. At any rate, whether or not Eiji is dead, what matters from here on is whether or not Ash thinks he’s dead.

Please, Banana Fish. Listen to Blanca.

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Thanks, dude, but we could’ve really used your conscience about six episodes ago.

ON DEMONS: RAPE, FOXX, AND ASH LYNX

Sexual assault is a contentious plot point in fiction: it can come across as gratuitous, in poor taste, or worse, sexy and intending to titillate. It elicits two questions: was the rape handled respectfully? and was it necessary to advance the narrative?

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On the first point, Banana Fish has always handled Ash’s sexual abuse with caution. It is decidedly not yaoi, where rape is used as a sexual-romantic fantasy: here, rape is always portrayed as horrifying, and always called out for what it is. Though, on several occasions, it toes the line of fetishizing Ash’s victimization via voyeuristic camera lingering over his bound and battered body, those moments are brief and Ash’s rapes are consistently implied instead of shown. Foxx’s assault instead revels in the build-up: he goads Ash about his past as Dino’s sex slave to sharpen the psychological impact, and though most of Ash’s enemies dehumanize him with comparisons to wild cats, Foxx takes the metaphor a step further by literally leashing him with rope like an animal and choking him. Still, the scene cuts before we see anything else, and when it returns, Ash is mostly clothed.

The series has delved seriously into the traumatic aftermath of rape. After escaping the enemy complex, the episode goes so far as to dedicate screen time to Ash processing the assault. He is visibly shaken, and slaps Cain’s hand away when Cain reaches for him. Eiji silently embraces Ash until his trembling stops. Later, Jessica, who recognizes the signs in Ash’s body language as she herself is a rape survivor, brings up the event privately to Ash. It is worth noting that the anime commendably equates female and male victims of rape: Jessica, who was raped by the Chinese syndicate earlier in the series, speaks frankly about how it took her months to recover, and is concerned that Ash is acting so calm.

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Ash responds that if it were to take him that long, he would be dead already. Yet it’s clear that Ash doesn’t recover from the trauma of rape. He compartmentalizes the horror and moves on; even so, the pain emerges unbidden. Despite the fact that Ash has used sex and seduction as a weapon on a number of occasions, Ash will lash out at unwanted touches, has frequent nightmares, and has even had several episodes of implied PTSD. Ash is a survivalist and doesn’t allow himself or others to dwell on his wounds, but Banana Fish crafts a detailed and nuanced portrait of an assault victim.

The second question of is it necessary is less overt. It’s difficult to see what Foxx brings to a plot that’s already over-saturated with bad and abusive men. In terms of characterization, Foxx is redundant, and he has yet to advance the plot in any way that demanded his presence. On an interpersonal level, that Foxx but not Dino himself was chosen for such a scene is unclear. Both Foxx’s fascination with Ash and Ash’s visceral repulsion of Foxx’s alleged sadism don’t seem to correlate with the battle of episode 21: Ash performed no superhuman feats that would convert Foxx to the usual but tedious fetishized Lynx-worship, and Ash’s accusation that Foxx carved out a living human’s eyeballs was baffling.

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But the question of necessity leans more heavily into the psychological development of the story rather than the superficial plot. Beneath the surface, Banana Fish isn’t telling a story about gang wars: it’s pointedly telling a story about sexual assault. Ash’s quest for liberation against Dino isn’t only literal, he is trying to escape a past that explicitly concerns rape. If the scene with Foxx represents anything, it’s a penultimate conflict resulting in the degradation of Ash’s mental state. Even if Max burns his photos, he can’t escape his past, because it’s still in front of him. Ash carries on after Foxx’s assault, but is visually worn, and after Eiji’s alleged death, he snaps. The narrative seems to be intending to attack Ash with his own trauma in order to not only unleash his inner demons, but so that Ash will become the demon he has so long feared he might be.

Necessary or gratuitous, the assault scene does have thematic cohesion, and serves as ignition for Ash’s point of no return.

FINAL THOUGHTS

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With only two episodes left, Banana Fish is taking a sharp dive toward inevitable tragedy. If Eiji survives (please, 8 million gods of Izumo, please), there is a chance Ash can be saved, but we are officially past the point of Ash and Eiji running away to Japan for the quintessential hot springs filler episode.

WHERE TO WATCH IT (LEGALLY): Amazon Prime

Next: Episode 23
Previous: Episode 21

 

5 thoughts on “REVIEW: Banana Fish (Episode 22)”

  1. That ending still makes me want to cry. Really should not have tried to watch the episode before work, I was a mess. Whether Eiji survives or not, it might be a matter of too little, too late. Ash is definitely losing what little calm he had and I cannot see this ending well at this point. I’d love it too, but I’m definitely emotionally preparing myself for tragedy.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I really, really do want it to have a happy ending, because it’s like, Ash has already been through so much! Is he really too far gone to not be able to catch a break? I don’t necessarily mind tragedies, because sometimes (even a lot of the time) stories are more powerful if they end in a sad way. But in this case, I think it will be more unfulfilling to have it end tragically because it’ll just be more of the same. But I guess it depends on how everything plays out. I dread the next two episodes, but I can’t wait to find out, either.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I agree, I don’t think we’re getting a happy ending. :-/ I just feel that at this point, a happy ending would be so much stronger. And I’m honestly someone who loves mean endings, it’s just that this show is all about Ash striving for freedom and suffering constantly for it, it’ll be so bleak if he doesn’t get his victory.

        Liked by 1 person

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