「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.