REVIEW: Banana Fish (Episode 24 – FINALE)

Episode 24: The Catcher in the Rye | ライ麦畑でつかまえて [FINALE]

The finale is here, under the banner of J.D. Salinger’s most famous work – and Salinger, of course, is also the author of A Perfect Day for Bananafish, the series’ namesake. The Catcher in the Rye’s famous imagery has already been used for the second ending’s visuals, in which Ash watches over Eiji in a field. This innocuous metaphor turning titular screams an ominous literary device as the curtains part for the final time.

bf-24.14
Since it’s the last episode, let’s play a drinking game: drink every time you want things to be okay, and every time things aren’t actually okay.

In a stunning display of character development, Ash’s plan to free the hostages for once did not involve immediately surrendering. But it all goes to hell anyway when Foxx shoots his meat-shield Dino and Ash gets captured all the same. Luckily for Ash, Foxx wants him alive: beyond the gross, sexually-charged fascination with Ash that Foxx is harboring, Ash was legally declared the heir of the Corsican Foundation so is en route to become its next president, and Foxx wants to cash in on that.

bf-24.1.PNG
Starting the KO countdown for this smug shitstain in 3, 2…

Dino, by the way, is not dead – just in an expedited state of dying – so Foxx soliloquizes his evil plans while Dino bleeds out on the ground, before dragging Ash away for an intended helicopter getaway while he prepares to blow up the Institute (yay!) and everyone inside (aw..).

Meanwhile, the gang factions, barricaded outside, get pounded with bullets by Foxx’s army of mercenaries. Fortunately, they have a secret weapon, and that’s Blanca, and Blanca has a secret weapon, and that’s grenades. Cain and Alex lead the charge to the underground prison where the hostages are being kept, while the adorable odd-couple of Blanca and Sing head upstairs to both find Ash and make a valiant last-ditch effort at stealing the title of Best Boy(s) while Eiji is out of commission.

bf-24.2
That moment when you feel like you should level up all your characters but you have that one massively OP character and it’s the final battle so fuck it

Foxx’s team anesthetizes Ash and straps him in the helicopter, but one of Ash’s lesser-explored powers is apparently a 100% sleep resist, because he opens his eyes the moment they aren’t looking, wrangles out of his binds and starts killing people. As an added wrench in Foxx’s plans, the Institute’s security system experiences a sudden lockdown. No, it’s not Ash, this time, it’s Dino “Gonna Fuck You Shit Up” Golzine, and it’s the weirdest fucking thing that I feel a modicum of delight upon seeing him.

Cain’s team is nearly overwhelmed by gunfire, when who runs in to smash the patriarchy: our badass bitch Jessica! Jessica has superior combat prowess and she also has grenades, so single-handedly wipes out the opposition and frees the prisoners. Max instantly proposes marriage again. It’s not really the time or place, but you also can’t fucking blame him, can you?

bf-24.4
And I was going to ask Jessica, if you didn’t.

Ash intercepts Dr. Mannerheim and, more importantly, the briefcase he’s carrying containing all the information on the Banana Fish drug. But before they get far, Foxx shoots Mannerheim in the face. With Sing on the field and Blanca sniping Foxx’s men from a distance, Foxx and Ash face off – which after a bit of maneuvering and roundhouse kicks ends with Ash jamming a power drill into Foxx’s kidney. Ash rushes to save Sing, choosing to abandon the suitcase of Banana Fish in the process, but forgot to double-tap Foxx. Foxx emerges for a final attack, only to be shot dead by Dino.

Goddammit, I’m happy to see Dino, again. He points his gun at Ash, but instead of shooting, he suicides off the building. So basically, he personally kills off the most despicable character in the series (read: himself) so that’s neat and worth a few karma points, at least.

bf-24.6

The Banana Fish conspiracy itself may have literally gone up in flames, but at least the scandal about White House officials engaging in a teen prostitution ring has broke, so there is some justice and anyway, most of the villains have already clocked out.

Presumably the only real offender left alive is Yut Lung, who has just been boozing up at home this whole episode (Hey, no judgment. So have I.) Remember that Yut Lung did murder not only his brothers, but their wives and children, plus he tried really hard to murder Eiji. But he’s only 16, and everyone goes through rough phases like that in their teens. Sing storms in and points a gun at his face, but then feels bad, and settles for bitch-slapping him, making Sing the real hero of this series.

bf-24.7

Eiji is finally, for real this time, returning to Japan, after being completely ghosted by Ash while recovering in the hospital. Ever since Eiji had a little incident with almost-dying, Ash has doubled down on cutting contact with him so that Eiji can be free, safe, and other bullshit. Eiji writes a letter and asks Sing to deliver it to Ash in the library, where Ash can usually be found when he’s being morose.

Sing delivers the letter and unsuccessfully tries to convince Ash to at least see Eiji off at the airport. But when Ash opens the letter, he finds enclosed a plane ticket to Japan along with Eiji’s loving composition expressing certainty in Ash’s ability to change his fate. Convinced, Ash begins to run down the street toward the airport.

And the episode ends right there.

Kidding.

Sing’s ex-right-hand man Lao jumps out and stabs Ash, as he still believes Ash is going to take revenge on Sing (he didn’t get the memo that they’re friends again). Ash shoots Lao dead quick, but is bleeding pretty badly.

bf-24.9
nope nope NOPE

So he goes to the hospital.

Kidding again.

He returns to the library to finish reading Eiji’s letter, while Eiji narrates how he won’t say good-bye to Ash because he has faith they will meet again, and that their souls will always be together.

With that, the series slips to a finish with Ash taking a nap at his desk. Just sleeping. Completely okay. Everything’s fine, goddammit!

ON SAYONARA: THE VILLAINS

bf-24.5

Foxx takes center stage, which is only aggravating when you stop to remember he’s a one-dimensional late-game introduction whose only defining feature is that he’s the biggest fucking dickhole. Luckily, you won’t have time to stop to remember, since the action is so ferocious. Foxx doesn’t mean much in terms of characterization, but is a narrative response to Ash’s inner demons: Foxx mirrors his own fears and insecurities, weaponizing the shame and trauma of sexual assault, and stripping him of his humanity by threatening to use him as a tool for his own sordid means.

But even if Foxx makes for a good action sequence on account of his caricatural presence, Dino Golzine still looms darker and more intriguing for his long role in devising Ash Lynx from the boy Aslan Jade Callenreese. Yet he shifts into an inadvertent alliance against a common enemy, and though he gets his revenge against Foxx, he cannot bring himself to pull the trigger despite long declaring this right. He opts for death instead of destroying his precious creation. Dino calls Foxx a “Faust”, but it’s him who can’t control his Mephistopheles.

For both Foxx and Dino, Ash is well-served by their obsessive desire to capture him alive. And though both men understand how frighteningly capable Ash is, they both repeatedly fail to properly incapacitate him, and pay for this mistake in blood. Ash is dangerous, and he isn’t lulled by their promises of power and fortune. What either Dino or Foxx really thinks will happen is a mystery: even if Ash acquiesces to their desires to make him the next president of the Corsican Foundation, they’ll only succeed in making someone who hates their fucking guts virtually unstoppable. Assuming, of course, that the Corsican lackeys even want to work under him, considering his penchant for massacring them.

Yut-Lung has already retired as a villain and becomes a rather disappointing afterthought: apparently, the crux of his character arc was almost assassinating Eiji and despite that, winning the pity of Blanca and Sing. Though I don’t begrudge his potential for redemption, he felt underused in the finale. As a side-note, though I don’t think anyone cares, Yut-Lung still has a case of Banana Fish.

Of course, the bad guy who ends up getting Ash is small-time gangster Lao. Lao is a result of the fractured politics in Chinatown, culminating between the downfall of the Lee family and Shorter’s death. Much of this was exacerbated by Ash himself, who disallowed Sing to tell the truth about why he killed Shorter, and again by agreeing publicly to Sing’s request for a duel. Lao attacked Ash as a result of bad communication and misunderstandings, and on that page, at least, Ash had it coming.

ON SAYONARA: ASH LYNX

bf-24.11

Optimism falls to horror in a snap. Ash, seemingly giving in to Eiji’s warm beckoning, goes toward him – either to say a proper goodbye or go with him to Japan – and is stopped by a random, low-tier enemy. More than that, Ash, who has survived countless attacks, chooses not to seek medical attention, but to slink away to die alone with only Eiji’s heartfelt words to accompany him.

It’s brutal and frustrating. On one hand, there’s both a poetic sadism and stark realism to Ash dying suddenly from a random act of gang violence. He’s made a lot of enemies, and he’s still entrenched in New York City’s criminal underbelly regardless of his character growth. That Ash should fall from an amateur assassination attempt after overcoming powerful armies of enemies is cruel irony that suits a cruel story. Senseless tragedy confounds a hopeful ending for heavier impact. The scenes were mean, and for that reason, well-done.

But it still felt wrong. The juxtaposition of Eiji’s hopeful words against Ash’s demise wasn’t only savage, it was baffling. The narration recalls Ash’s story of the leopard found frozen to death on the mountain. At some point, Ash had wondered, perhaps the leopard knew he had gone too far to ever come back down. Yet Eiji’s certainty that they will meet again demonstrates Eiji’s faith in Ash against his concern about protecting Ash from his fate. Eiji advocates for Ash’s humanity against the rest of the cast – including Ash himself – who dehumanize Ash as an animal or a demon. With Eiji as the moral directive of the series, this means that if Ash chooses to live, his humanity wins. If he chooses death, he is a leopard, and couldn’t change his fate after all.

The problem with Ash choosing death isn’t that it’s necessarily out-of-character. Ash has a long streak of self-sacrifice, especially when Eiji is endangered, and Eiji’s near-death shattered whatever selfish resolve he had to stay at Eiji’s side. The problem is that if this is the case, it’s in-character because Ash has not grown or developed. Ash demonstrated a willingness to die for Eiji as early as episode 2. Eiji’s role in the story is to teach Ash to value his own life, and to value Eiji’s own agency and willingness to likewise endanger himself for Ash.

bf-24.13

Furthermore, after watching Ash’s endless suffering for twenty-four episodes, a happy ending would have been a more satisfying twist. Ash’s lonely death – even if he dies with a smile on his face, basking in Eiji’s love – is a tragic end to a tragic life.

But let’s indulge a little, because after this long, we deserve it. Is Ash really dead? The implication is clear but ambiguously concluded. Certainly, the manga does confirm his death: Ash dies the same way in volume 19, with any hope for resurrection gutted during follow-up side stories clarifying his death. But the anime creators surely can’t begrudge us if we interpret the anime’s ending allowing us, as Eiji, to have faith in Ash’s survival.

FINAL IS IT GAY SCORE: 10*/10

*It’s gay, but read the fine print.

There’s no doubt that there’s a lot of same-sex sex in this anime, with the caveat that every single case is rape or coerced sex (including scenarios deliberately crafted by Ash). Banana Fish delves heavily into rape and sexual assault, but it is just as invested in exploring the trauma and psychological damage resulting. Though it occasionally inches toward gratuity, the series allows its rape victims expression and agency, and offers a rare platform for a male rape victim.

bf-24.12

If the series paints a grim picture of homosexual sex, it’s with the understanding that Ash and Eiji share an intimacy so encompassing that it drives the entire narrative. This intimacy is implicitly romantic and built on a foundation of idyllic language. The impassioned longing for one another is expressed visually (through imagery of Ash and Eiji embracing or reaching out for one another) and verbally (through vows of staying together). When either Ash or Eiji is endangered, the other commits everything to their liberation. Their relationship ascends to spirituality in their frequent prayers for the safety of the other, also represented by a Promised Land in Izumo. It’s strung together in blatant romantic innuendo, from good luck charms for love to Cinderella metaphors, and sometimes starker discussion, such as when Ash compares Eiji to a girl he liked at age 14 whom was murdered for associating with him, and Blanca’s plea to Yut-Lung that he allow Ash to love.

But if Ash and Eiji clearly share a homoromantic relationship, it’s less clear that it is homosexual. While Ash and Eiji have a graphic on-screen kiss, it’s only an act in Ash’s plan to deliver a message. The camera lingers on every intimate touch and embrace Ash and Eiji share, but they never kiss again. It’s certainly fair to speculate the details, and fair to point out that Ash and Eiji’s emotional connection isn’t any less intimate even if they don’t share a sexual relationship. But if Ash and Eiji’s chaste relationship is the counterpoint to the homosexual rape Ash experiences, it invites the criticism that Banana Fish exclusively represents gay sex as traumatizing, intentional or not.

bf-24.3

Still, the veracity of Ash and Eiji’s love for one another is too magnetic to pick fights over. Their relationship is the emotional heart of the story, fragmenting the deeper layers of Ash’s character and evolving the simpler facets of Eiji. They are better people with one another: Eiji draws out Ash’s lost youth and alleviates his insecurities, whereas Ash leads Eiji to take responsibility and initiative against his own self-doubts. There’s the tender suggestion that Ash and Eiji’s connection is transcendental, even when they cannot be together.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Banana Fish manages to be both clunky and brilliant, and not somewhere in between.

Its plot was strongest during the first half, when it was actually focused on uncovering the Banana Fish conspiracy, with Shorter’s demise being the narrative peak. The second half remains compelling, but it begins to have pacing and storytelling issues that are not only a matter of cramming too much plot content into a limited number of episodes, but also because it seems likely the original manga itself floundered a bit about where to go. In terms of story, it becomes one ping-pong hostage situation, with few revelations, twists, or irreparable setbacks.

Still, the drama continuously escalates, and new characters and scenarios carry the drama well enough, especially Sing and Blanca. Unfortunately, there isn’t enough time to flesh them out as fully as they deserve, especially since the plot sticks so tightly to Ash himself and the supporting cast rarely gets the opportunity to behave in isolation of his actions. It’s a wasted opportunity to explore an interesting conflict in the oversimplification of the street gangsters as “good guys” against the evil of the syndicates as soon as Arthur is out of the way. Yut Lung was unceremoniously dropped after so many episodes of development. Even Eiji was benched for the finale, despite his development into learning to fight for what’s important even at the sacrifice of his own principles. Rather than participating in the final showdown and using Chekhov’s gun, he waits for Ash in the sidelines.

bf-24.10

Banana Fish shines in its artistic and emotive elements. MAPPA use of color and angles magnify the impact of its scenes, and the designs of most of the leads are sleek and memorable. True, there’s some janky and rushed art, too, though most of this should be cleaned up in the Blu-ray release.

But the real jewel of Banana Fish is Ash Lynx himself. As a protagonist, he’s complex and captivating. Even when he’s overpowered, his opposition is so encompassing that he fails along the way – making it a joy to see him win his battles, whether through intellectual strategizing or sheer power. And though the action of the series occupies a tenuous space between realism and fantastical, the sheer authenticity of Ash’s emotions keep the stakes high. With Eiji at his side, Banana Fish is touching, sentimental, and powerful in a way that overcomes its flaws.

WHERE TO WATCH IT (LEGALLY): Amazon Prime

Previous: Episode 23

 

 

2 thoughts on “REVIEW: Banana Fish (Episode 24 – FINALE)”

  1. Pingback: Banana Fish

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s