REVIEW: Banana Fish (Episode 23)

Episode 23: For Whom the Bell Tolls | 誰がために鐘は鳴る

We’ve reached the penultimate episode, which means this is the final chance to watch the unlucky romance of Ash Lynx and Eiji Okumura and assume everything will work out exactly the way you want it to next episode.

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Join me in a collective sigh of relief: Eiji’s not (quite) dead, and as for Ash’s own bullet to the abdomen, he literally couldn’t give a shit, so neither should you. Bleeding profusely, Ash tries to follow when Eiji’s strapped into an ambulance, but is stopped by Blanca, who knocks him out and performs a little back-alley bullet extraction surgery on him.

Ash wakes up a snarling, unstable mess, and threatens Blanca with his own gun while Blanca chastises him for keeping Eiji with him when hanging around Ash is a verified death sentence. Furthermore, Blanca admonishes, visiting Eiji in the hospital would officially make him an accomplice to Ash’s well-documented crimes. (We sort of forget that at this point, Eiji’s already been arrested himself once and, oh yeah, led a gunfight massacring unarmed aristocratic elites and mafia moguls at Dino’s hotel reception, not to mention that I’m pretty sure he’s overstayed his visa.) Ash, psychologically crumbling and always up for a little emotional self-flagellation, guiltily relinquishes him at Blanca’s behest.

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Ash isn’t the only one not doing great: Sing is feeling pretty rotten over the fact that two of his dudes attempted to assassinate Eiji and Ash, and though the guys in question are currently bullet-ridden corpses, Ash will probably enact lethal revenge on the entire Chinese squad. When Ash emerges from his makeshift surgery/psychotic breakdown, Sing offers to duel him one-on-one after the rescue mission is complete. Lao makes a scene, again, and this time Sing punches him in the face and fires him from the gang.

After that ruckus, the only one left to try to pull Ash away from his demons is Cain Blood. Who – bless him – does give it an earnest effort, but he just isn’t Eiji.

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Blanca returns to Yut Lung, who is drunk off his own ass – and who can even blame him. Yut Lung tells Blanca the story of how he became such a dick: namely, his mom was a sex slave of an elderly syndicate leader in Hong Kong, and when the old man died, his older brothers raped and murdered her before his eyes. In return, Blanca tells Yut-Lung the story of how he became such a dick: he was an agent in Russia’s Spetsnaz, and fell in love with the daughter of a Soviet, who, after a short romance, was killed in an attack Blanca suspects was arranged by the government itself. Blanca declares he’s done with being a dick, so tells Yut-Lung he quits, and recommends Yut-Lung also try learning to not be a dick. Blanca runs off to join Team Ash in the name of love and justice.

Ash reluctantly accepts Blanca’s employment, and Blanca drives him to the hospital to see Eiji. Wearing the clever disguise of a single white lab coat, Ash creeps through the corridors to find a doped up Eiji. Ash tries to say that dreaded word “Sayonara” over his bedside, but Eiji wakes up and stumbles after him when he leaves. A romantic reunion is cut short by Ibe and our cop friend Charlie, whom Ash runs away from.

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Enough about love and angst, we’re nearing the end of the episode and literally not one person has been shot yet, so onward to the rescue mission we’ve been planning in the peripheral for the past twenty minutes. Max and the other gangsters who haven’t yet been lobotomized/straight up murdered are currently being held at the National Mental Health Institute. The bad guys text Ash nasty photos of his friends being tortured, demanding that he turn himself in to them along with the pornographic blackmail photos.

Ash has a better plan: he and Jessica instead publish the photos, incriminating not only Dino but probably half the White House. Then, when Dino drives to the Institute in a rage for blood, the gang opens fire and intercepts Dino from his own car at gunpoint. Ash himself leads Dino into the Institute, demanding that Foxx release the hostages.

Foxx also has a better plan: he shoots Dino.

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Fuuuuck!

ON DINO: SO LONG, ASSHOLE

Well fuck, unless Dino is half as impervious to bullets as Ash or has half of Eiji’s plot armor, dude just clocked out. What nasty delight to see him go: a clever little penultimate twist that’s satisfyingly shocking but robs the protagonist the opportunity to KO his villain himself. Ash has been striving this entire series to free himself from Dino’s grimy grasp, but the money shot goes to not him, not even our developed antagonist Yut Lung, but the three-episode-old cardboard monstrosity Foxx.

True, Dino’s violent and random end is apropos a mafia don, and there’s a certain poetic austerity to keeping his blood off of Ash’s hands. But short the final episode, what villains are left in his demise? Foxx, though repulsive, lacks narrative or character development and can never truly ascend to the role of antagonist. At this point, that leaves Yut Lung, but with his relative ineptitude next to Ash and his floundering emotional state, it’s doubtful he can rise to the task unless he goes after Eiji – and, after all of this nonsense, it’ll be annoying as fuck if he does that. Again.

Dino may (or may not) be gone, but ultimately, he’s not really the point, because he, as a man, was never really Ash’s true antagonist. Dino, and Marvin, and the first man who raped Ash as a child all represent a dehumanizing oppression from which he strives to liberate himself. But even as he does, the lasting trauma of their abuse and the violent acts he is compelled to commit cause him to dehumanize himself.

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The real antagonist isn’t a person; it’s Ash’s own inner demons.

ON BEING A MONSTER

For Whom the Bell Tolls is a penultimate study on three alleged monsters: Ash Lynx, Yut Lung Lee, and Blanca.

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Yut Lung’s recollection of his sordid past isn’t a revelation, since we’ve had this information almost since his introduction. But its magnification via flashback drives home the point: Yut Lung became a monster when his mother, presumably the only person who loved him, was brutalized and murdered by the very brothers who took him in and crafted him into their tool. Unable to love or be loved, the lonely Yut Lung thinks he sees a like-mind in Ash – only to be enraged to find that Ash has someone he loves and might be able to escape something he cannot.

It doesn’t make his hatred of Eiji or antagonism of Ash less petty, but textures it with character study. Yut Lung’s angry, miserable denial at Blanca’s suggestion that anyone might love him one day tugs at the heartstrings, even if Yut Lung has done absolutely everything in his power this entire series to ensure that everyone else hates his guts.

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Blanca shares his own heartbreak from back when his name was Sergei Varishkov. There’s nothing revolutionary about his ill-fated romance. It’s also a little difficult to reconcile Blanca’s claim that her death had hardened him into following orders, even as a mercenary assassin – retired, to boot – especially since we haven’t seen Blanca be anything but cordial and his sinful transactions, like selling out Ash back to Dino, are evidently done with good intentions. Even his contract with Yut Lung seems to represent a genuine fatherly concern for Yut Lung’s well-being.

But Blanca’s romance does, of course, is framed specifically as a prototype of Ash’s romance. Again, blunter than subtext, especially when Blanca frankly beseeches Yut Lung to let Ash have his love so he won’t become as void as they themselves are.

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Exactly! ..I mean… wait. The fuck are you implying here, buddy?

ON ASH AND EIJI: SAYONARA

Ash has tried time and time again throughout the series to ditch Eiji for his own well-being, but Eiji continuously manages to follow Ash into danger – sometimes it’s not following so much as shoving Ash aside and leaping headfirst into the firefight (metaphorically, and literally. Very literally.) At some point, Ash gave in to love and greed and opted to keep Eiji at his side. Blanca’s reprimand that Eiji’s injury or even death was bound to happen, considering Ash’s particular lifestyle, is hardly unfair.

It’s difficult to describe exhaustively what Eiji must mean to Ash: in camaraderie, in love, and perhaps most importantly, as a reminder of his own humanity. Eiji keeps Ash’s demons at bay and teases the dream of escaping New York’s criminal underbelly and leading a normal life. To Ash, Eiji represents the ability to fly.

Which is why Blanca’s reproof that Eiji does not exist for Ash’s salvation is particularly brutal. Blanca must know, as Ash knows, that anyone close to him is doomed to die, especially an innocent outsider. Just as Ash’s almost-girlfriend was killed several years prior.

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Blanca later offers Ash an olive branch: like Cinderella (another deliberately romantic innuendo), Ash has until midnight to visit Eiji in the hospital, and after that, the magic will be gone. Ash obediently goes to say his final farewells.

But what neither Blanca nor Ash give Eiji full credit for is his own agency, or that Eiji has already made the choice to stay at Ash’s side. A wounded Eiji follows Ash down the hospital corridors, and they reach for each other. But before their hands meet, Eiji, like Ash might have done, cuts him free to necessitate his escape from the cops.

With one episode left, it really is painful to imagine that there’s a possibility this really might be their final sayonara.

FINAL THOUGHTS

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We’ve finally reached the finale, and there’s only two ways this can go: either Ash catches a break or he doesn’t. I like the poignancy of tragedy, because tragedy usually has something interesting to say. But Ash has suffered enough. It make take some legal and logistical hand-waving to get him to Japan for his happily-ever-after with Eiji, but it’s nothing the 8 million gods of Izumo can’t handle.

Even so, the final episode of any action series guarantees a few casualties. Considering the insane speed with which we’ve barrelled through the plot over the past few episodes, frankly, I’ll be glad if the larger secondary cast even makes more than an obligatory appearance (anyone remember Ibe? Me neither.)

WHERE TO WATCH IT (LEGALLY): Amazon Prime

Next: Episode 24 (FINAL)
Previous: Episode 22

 

 

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