Random Curiosity

Banana Fish – 01

「第一話 バナナ・フィッシュにうってつけの日」 (Daiichiwa Banana Fisshu ni Uttetsuke no Hi)
“A Perfect Day for Bananafish””

It obviously didn’t take any genius to figure out Banana Fish was going to be the best premiere so far in this young season, and by a wide margin.  Island was generic as hell, Yuragi-sou no Yuuna-san was literally unwatchable, nothing else much has held my interest.  The real question is where this show will stack up when the season’s serious contenders make their bows, but for now I’m quite pleased with the results after one episode.  This wasn’t a masterpiece, but it was certainly a substantial and well-produced effort.

A little background seems in order.  Banana Fish is based on a manga of the same name by Yoshida Akimi – a series that ended in 1994.  Adaptations of long-finished manga seem, oddly, to have become a thing, and MAPPA (who are something of a specialist in this area) seems a good choice to shepherd this well-respected one.  They’ve updated the setting to the present (which has irked some manga fans, I hear), and given the big chair to Utsumi Hiroko – a director whose previous boss work is limited to the two Free series for Kyoto Animation.  That’s not a glowing recommendation in my book, but we’ll see – screenwriter Seko Hiroshi is a considerably more reassuring choice.

The title comes from “A Perfect Day for Bananafish”, a short story by a young J.D. Salinger that heavily concerns itself with PTSD, pedophilia and suicide.  As such there are obvious links to the manga and now anime, which represents NoitaminA doing what it was created to do – present challenging material that would otherwise likely never be produced as anime.  I haven’t read the source material but I know it by reputation, and this is a dark ride.  I saw nothing in the premiere to make me think that MAPPA would be pulling any punches in adapting it.

Uchida Yuuma is >Ash Lynx, the central figure in the story.  He’s a 17 year-old gang kingpin in New York (the local cops make note of how remarkable it is that a while boy has gangs of every ethnicity under his sway).  Ash was “plucked off the street” by mafioso “Papa” Dino Golzine (the always superb Ishizuka Unshou), who apparently sexually abused Ash and used him as the subject for black market child pornography.  His flunky Marvin was a part of this and still lusts after the boy, and makes a suitable partner for Frederick Arthur (Hosoya Yoshimasa) a rival member of Dino’s crime family looking for a way to take Ash down.

Mixed into this plot soup is the matter of a strange drug that was apparently used on Ash’s soldier older brother (it was Vietnam in the original – seemingly Gulf War or Afghanistan here) and broke him mentally.  Those subjected to this drug mutter the phrase “banana fish” over and over for mysterious reasons.  A dying fugitive has given Ash a sample, which he’s taken to the local underground doctor to analyze.  The drug is possibly the reason Japanese journalist Ibe Shuunichi (Kawada Shinji) and his assistant Okamura Eiji (Nojima Kenji)  have come to New York to investigate gang life – though that may be a coincidence.

It may be that things move a bit too fast to be ideal in this premiere (whether the manga starts out at the same breakneck pace I don’t know), because all of these threads become messily entangled when Eiji (who’s 19 but looks 14) and Ash’s young protege Skip (Murase Ayumu, as ever anime’s shota-in-residence) become entangled in Arthur’s attempt to take out Ash after Dino realizes he’s come into possession of a sample of the drug.  This is a lot for one episode, probably too much, but that being said the last five minutes are the best part of the premiere so that bodes well for the future.

I’m guessing this is going to be the rare 24-episode NoitaminA run, based on the early premiere date.  That’s a good thing as it’s going to need every second it can get, given that the anime is 19 volumes (why this can get two cours and Sakamichi no Apollon – in the hands of Watanabe Shinchirou no less – only one is lost on me).  It seems pretty obvious that Eiji is going to fall in love with Ash (he’s started to already), and there are going to be some serious plot entanglements as the drug conspiracy unspools.  It all works pretty well – the series looks good, the casting is excellent, and the dialogue is generally pretty smart. I especially liked the way the Japanese visitors were awed and terrified by the brutal nature of New York street life.  In short, so far all systems seem to be “go”, even if Banana Fish hasn’t quite soared into the stratosphere yet.

July 6, 2018 at 8:52 pm
20 comments »
  • July 6, 2018 at 9:59 pmzztop

    Banana is the first Yoshida Akimi manga to get an anime.
    However, there have been some live action adaptations of her works. The most recent one was a live movie version of Yoshida’s josei title, Umimachi Diary, about 3 sisters who take in and raise their recently discovered younger half-sister following the funeral of their estranged father.
    Directed by Koreeda Hirokazu, it got rave reviews at the 2016 Cannes Film Fest.

  • July 6, 2018 at 10:17 pmAardvark

    Christ, will the Japanese draw black folks like racist minstrel characters forever and ever? Skip’s design in the anime is actually slightly less offensive than in the manga, but not by much. Why is he wearing hideous overalls now, anyway?

    Yes, the manga does move at this breakneck speed. Actually, this episode doesn’t even finish covering the 1st volume (out of 19).

    • July 6, 2018 at 10:34 pmKurisu Vi Britannia

      When you don’t see many black people you just go with what you’ve seen in media.

    • July 6, 2018 at 11:17 pmGuardian Enzo

      AFAIC Uchuu Kyoudai is the standard-setter in that respect with “Buddy the Gorilla”.

      I didn’t find Skip to be especially racist in design, and I didn’t take the overalls to be a racial thing so much as a stereotype of American children. But you’re definitely not going to find a lot of sensitivity in anime where this subject is concerned.

    • July 7, 2018 at 9:41 pmSaburau

      Skip looks more like “a black kid from 80′s” since he actually is. The original manga started to be published in 1985, although the anime seems to get adjusted to more modern environment, like Vietnamese War in original to U.S. forces stationed in Iraq.

  • July 7, 2018 at 3:48 amAngelus

    This is one of those series that takes me back to my basic views on animation. In short, if the animation adds nothing, why bother to use animation? There wasn’t a single scene that couldn’t have been done at least as well, if not better, with live action. Which is not to say it wasn’t very well made and that I won’t watch it, but I really do think it’s a bit pointless all the same.

    Yuragi-sou no Yuuna-san was literally unwatchable

    It was maybe an odd decision to release that fanservice OVA episode before the actual series starts next week rather than after it finished because you got no background for what was going on. So I’m going to reserve judgement until the series has got going properly, but then probably still watch it anyway just for the service even if it’s a trainwreck.

    • July 7, 2018 at 4:09 amGuardian Enzo

      No disrespect intended, but I hear that argument a lot – often from a friend of mine in the movie business who likes animation but isn’t an anime fan, per se. And to me, it’s like saying “what’s the point in painting a landscape when a photographer could capture it even more accurately?”

      • July 7, 2018 at 8:48 amAngelus

        what’s the point in painting a landscape when a photographer could capture it even more accurately

        Yes, exactly, if all you are going to do is create a photo-realistic representation.

        There should be a reason for everything, including a reason for animating something instead of using live action. Banana Fish has what looks to be a very good story, but the animation is adding nothing to it. It’s being used entirely passively and as such is not being played to its strengths. I just sat there all the way through wishing Yuasa Masaaki was in charge because I think this is the kind of story he could do a lot with.

      • July 7, 2018 at 5:56 pmGuardian Enzo

        Well I disagree based on the premiere, but either way I think 1 episode is pretty quick to make the kind of sweeping judgment you’re making.

    • July 7, 2018 at 6:32 pmMatti

      Seeing how unsuited many live-action Japanese TV actors are even when portraying typical Japanese shoujo manga characters, I’d say giving voice actors the freedom to act behind animated characters would be reason enough for having this in anime medium.

      • July 7, 2018 at 8:20 pmGuardian Enzo

        Agreed.

  • July 7, 2018 at 5:03 amWorldwidedepp

    My first Impression is that an “Brat” of some powerful Daddy can do as he please in the City, because no Police and Justice will harm him or any others.

    thats an no go for me

  • July 7, 2018 at 5:56 amstarss

    I can totally feel the late 80′s tone already!

    • July 7, 2018 at 6:42 amzztop

      How so? Is it the dialogue, character designs, etc.?

      I’m aware the most major change is a settings update to the present day from the manga’s 1980s setting.
      So now you get smartphones, laptops and the war prologue changed to the Middle East.

  • July 20, 2018 at 1:05 pmBlue

    I’m sad to see the lack of hype around this. I think the series is absolutely fantastic so far, though some elements do make me feel rather queasy.

  • August 3, 2018 at 2:54 pmWinnie

    this is not going to be covered on a weekly basis? :(

    • August 3, 2018 at 5:03 pmLyfe

      You can follow it on Guardian Enzos blog which is linked on this page under “anime blogs”.

      • August 3, 2018 at 11:05 pmGuardian Enzo

        Indeed you can! Thanks for the plug.

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