Banana Fish Ep. 3: Prison is no picnic

One particular scene in this week’s episode leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Just moments ago, Ash was tied up and forcibly raped by three prison inmates. Luckily for us, we are only shown the aftermath. We don’t have to sit through anything explicit and thus gratuitous. Afterwards, when Max brings Ash his meal in the infirmary, he jokes about how our hero probably wouldn’t want to eat a banana right now (see above). Get it? ‘Cause a banana is like a penis. So what does the kid do? He stabs the banana with a fork and glares at the guy. I know what you’re probably thinking. You think I’m offended by the joke because Ash had just gotten raped. Nah, that’s not it. I actually don’t really care about that. For better or worse, black humor is one of the many ways to deal with a traumatic experience. What I actually don’t care for is the anime’s sudden shift in tone. Look at how this scene is presented:

This doesn’t look like black humor. It just looks juvenile. It practically screams, “Don’t take me seriously.” In a show about deadly drugs, creepy pedophiles, corrupt cops, violent rapes, so on and so forth, this scene takes me out of the moment. It completely ruins what little immersion that the episode had managed to cobble together up until that point. More than anything, it reminds me that I am watching a silly cartoon and not an unsettling story about how crime and corruption have dug their claws deep into the bedrock of American society. Remember when Ash pretended like he was going to perform sexual favors in exchange for safety? This happened just last week. Eiji turned around and started blushing like a schoolchild. A potentially harrowing moment was instead made silly. Well, Banana Fish has done this twice now. It has taken something serious and rendered it childish. Anyways…

Misc. notes & observations:

— Basically, Charlie and the guys want Max to keep an eye on Ash. Dino is out to get him, and prison is full of Dino’s men. At first, Max balks at the idea, but nobody can say no to this face.

— Afterwards, Max quickly tries to befriend Ash in prison, but he doesn’t mention anything about Charlie or Eiji. I wonder why. I guess maybe they think Ash wouldn’t appreciate their help?

32 is ancient by anime standards.

— For a 17-year-old, Ash is really well read. He’s almost too perfect at this point. Super smart, super talented, super good-looking. Is there anything he’s bad at? Hm. Maybe walking away. I mean, a guy this smart and talented can and should leave the criminal underworld. But for some reason, Ash sticks around and I don’t know why yet.

— He can also be a real dick sometimes, but eh… teenagers.

— The next day, all of the other inmates are looking at Ash like fresh meat. In the cafeteria, more men openly talk about how they want to ambush our hero later at night. You know where this is going. He can try to fight back, but eh… he’s got no friends here besides Max.

— Naturally, Ash is suspicious of Max’s motives as well. This is why I don’t think he should keep it a secret that he knows Charlie and Eiji.

— By the way, the drug that Ash got his hands on is definitely bad news. Dr. Meredith is puzzled, because it chemically resembles LSD, but it doesn’t share LSD’s effects at all. In fact, it sounds incredibly dangerous. More importantly, the drug doesn’t seem like something that would sell very well on the streets. But if you’ve got a generically evil military, they might want to get their hands on this drug. Maybe that’s why Dino wants it back so badly. He can sell it to some very important buyers.

— Ash tells us that he’s been victimized since he was 11. He also lost Griffin, his only family, to some bizarre incident that is now connected to Dino. And now, you can add Skip’s death to the laundry list of suffering that the kid has had to endure. As a result, he swears that he’ll never lose to Dino. He’ll get his revenge no matter what. He’ll get to the bottom of this Banana Fish incident no matter what. And y’know, I think that this is the kid’s one big, fatal flaw. He’s full of unbridled rage, and at his age, he can’t help but want to lash back in anger. He has no outlet. Who can he talk to? Who can he confide in? There’s nowhere for that anger to go but back at his enemies with twice the venom that they dealt him.

— Maybe this is why he’s taken such an interest in Eiji. The Japanese kid seems to represent purity — the only source of purity in Ash’s life. Eiji is older than Ash and yet so much younger mentally. This young, untainted soul has never even step foot in America before the start of this series, so of course he hasn’t been corrupted. Unlike Ash, Eiji’s just like this uncaged bird that can fly wherever he wants to fly. As such, he can trust Eiji. He can depend on Eiji. He can open up to Eiji. The problem, however, is that the more Ash leans on Eiji, the more he’ll weigh his friend down. For now, however, Ash doesn’t love Eiji. Not yet, anyways. He simply trusts the guy. He has a bigger fish to fry, so he’s going to use the Japanese kid towards that end. But once feelings start to run deeper, I suspect Ash will deeply regret having gotten Eiji involved in the first place.

— As an aside, there’s more than one way to win against Dino. For instance, Ash could just walk away. You might think it’s not that easy. Dino has connections, and he would just find Ash somehow. I agree it’s not easy, but neither are the kid’s current plans. I mean, what exactly does he intend to do? Expose Dino for his crimes? Dino has connections in both the police force and the judicial branch. Lead a gang that can somehow stand up against the mafia? Good luck with that. All I’m saying is that Ash wants to fight a war, but wars ain’t easy. But again, he’s young. He’s brash. He’s full of confidence. He thinks he can do it.

— Sometimes, Ash can be such an edgy tryhard, but then I remember that he’s a teenager.

— So… did Ash allow himself to be cornered by the rapists just so he could end up in the infirmary? He makes a point of requesting a pill capsule, which he of course doesn’t take. It’s hard to imagine, but it’s possible that he took all that heinous punishment just to find a way to sneak a message into a tiny pill capsule.

— This doesn’t look half bad for prison food.

— Ash and Max eventually share what they know about Banana Fish. They’re not sure if it’s a person or an organization. This kinda confuses me a bit, because I had just assumed that Banana Fish was the drug itself. But hey, maybe it’s a shadowy organization! Either way, the guy who put together all this information is unfortunately the same one that died at the start of the series. So that’s a dead end…

— Max learns that Ash and Griffin are related. On the other hand, Ash learns that Max was the one who had to shoot Griffin in the leg when the latter went nuts and nearly massacred his platoon.

— Max is understandably guilty over the incident. He and Griffin were friends, but he had no choice. He had to stop his friend from killing more people. Unfortunately, Ash is so full of anger that he can’t help but lash out at anyone around him. He blames Max for Griffin’s paralysis. He also thinks Max had abandoned his brother. I think he’s being childish, but again, he’s technically still just a kid.

— I doubt he kills Max, though. I bet these two eventually become friends.

— I’m surprised they can make all this noise without drawing the guard’s ire. This guy comes by and tells them to pipe down, but that’s about it.

— The next day, Max tells Charlie that he wants to quit. He can’t keep hanging out with Ash. Conflict of interest. How can he protect a guy who wants to kill him? How can he protect a guy who hates his guts? Later in the episode, his guilt gets to him and he nearly chokes Ash. Welp, that’s not going to help. It’ll just look as though yet another grown man is attacking him.

— On the other side of the room, Eiji has come to visit Ash. Just as visitation is about to end, Ash suddenly plants a big, juicy kiss on Eiji’s lips — his first kiss, in fact. There’s likely attraction here, but Ash’s main goal is to slip a secret message to Eiji. Okay, sure, but how long did he have that pill capsule in his mouth? Don’t those things dissolve relatively quickly?

— Basically, Ash wants Eiji to deliver a message to Shorter Wong, who will then get the drug from Dr. Meredith and hide it somewhere safe. But this is exactly what I was getting at earlier. By depending on Eiji, Ash just planted a big, fat target on the Japanese kid’s back. Dino’s men are after him now, and of course, they always have to sound creepy and rapey about it.

— Is this how you blend in with America’s delinquents? Wear a hot pink jacket and expose one shoulder to the world?

— Shorter Wong has gone into hiding and for good reason too. Unfortunately, Eiji is determined to help Ash no matter what. He feels strangely compelled to do so. He doesn’t want to let the guy down. I mean, sure, Ash saved his life, but at the same time, he’s in way over his head. He doesn’t even know anything about Dino or Banana Fish.

— And just like that, Eiji gets caught. Ash is stuck in prison, so he can’t come and save the day. But maybe Shorter Wong will come out of hiding to lend a hand. We’ll have to wait and see, though.

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