How do you get guys to read a yaoi manga? Just mix in some drugs, blood, and violence. I don’t think there’s any doubt that Ash and Eiji will eventually share an intimate bond. After all, no one else is allowed to touch Ash’s gun, but our Japanese photographer gets to put his hands on it in their first encounter. If that isn’t heavy foreshadowing, then I don’t know what it is. Unfortunately, these two young men are destined to run into trouble as they investigate the criminal underbelly of Los Angeles. And no, I haven’t really read the manga. I only read enough to get a feel for the story. Most of what we see in this opening episode is actually new to me. Nevertheless, I couldn’t help but notice that the story has almost no female presence. For now, anyways. I think the waitress in Ash’s hangout is the only woman we see all episode. At the moment, there are only men and the relationships between them. Some relationships are brotherly and loving like the one between Ash and Skipper. But there are also predatory relationships — relationships we don’t really want to think or talk about, but they no doubt exist. Papa Dino mentions how Ash used to always cry whenever he would give the kid tasks. Our hero can only reply that he no longer remembers, but you know he does. Nobody forgets. This exchange sends chills down your spine when you pause to consider what Dino is talking about. Apparently, there are videos of Ash out there. Videos of what exactly? Well, you can imagine. Even the way Dino breaks his yolk makes me think he’s a creep.
I think the first episode is alright. I like the art direction, and the myriad ways that MAPPA has taken to update the show from its original time period in the 80s. But along with that, we also miss out on some crucial context (like the widespread AIDS scare). I think if there’s anything that I have a problem with, it’s the episode’s overall narrative flow. It’s almost too light and breezy right now in its setup. I feel like the first episode is moving too quickly through the plot. I know MAPPA wants to end on a dramatic note (Skipper and Eiji has been kidnapped by Marvin and Arthur). This way, we open with a tense encounter in next week’s episode. You’ll be dying to know if the sadistic Marvin will get his hands on Ash or not. Nevertheless, in order to get to this point, I feel rushed. I am dragged through a bevy of scenes that demand more care and attention from the narrative. A soldier going nuts and shooting his brothers-in-arms. A dying man in an alleyway giving Ash the first clue into what had truly happened to his brother. Ash’s uncomfortable encounter with Papa Dino. Ash disciplining his guys for obeying Dino. Eiji’s wide-eyed introduction. A series of mysterious suicides that are no doubt linked to the mysterious white powder in Ash’s possession. It just goes on and on and on like this. There is never time to pause and just take stock of the story in the first episode. Let the mystery seep in. Let our heroes just stop and reflect on the whirlwind of events around them. Let us feel the emotions that our heroes must be going through.
In the long run, Banana Fish is a two-cour series, so I’m sure it’ll slow down at some point and let the characters breathe. Ash and Eiji will get to know each other better and eventually grow to trust each other. But this is where their burgeoning relationship will ruin them. Right from the get-go, Ash is portrayed as this nearly invincible kid. He’s charismatic, super intelligent, and also a crack shot with his Smith & Wesson revolver. What can’t this guy do? Close his heart to others, apparently. He’s going to march himself right into a trap just to save Skipper. And sure, we’d do the same in his position. We would all try and save our loved ones if they are in danger. But that’s why we’re not running a gang. Someone in Ash’s position can’t really have a heart. There are always people gunning for him, whether it’s a sadistic pervert like Marvin or just someone out for revenge (for his fingers) like Arthur. Plus, Papa Dino preyed on his own “son” for profit. As soon as he realized that he no longer had a tight leash on Ash, he lets Marvin loose. The deeper we get into this mystery, the more desperate Dino will get. What won’t he ensnare Ash once more? Maybe the kid will be able to save Skipper in next week’s episode. But can he keep this up? When his relationship with Eiji deepens into something more, the bad guys will go after the Japanese photographer as well. We want to have it all, but we can’t. For Ash, he can’t be a gang leader with a heart of gold. It just doesn’t work that way. Something will have to give. We’ll just have to wait and see what breaks first: his heart or his ideals.