Posted by Lenlo on 23 December 2018 with categories: Anime Reviews, Banana Fish, Finished Series: Slice of Life/Drama, Reviews by Lenlo

Some days, I wonder what it is with America and anime about organized crime. Baccano!, 91 Days, Blood Blockade Battlefront, all set in America, all involving criminal underworlds. Today, I get to add another to that list in the form of Banana Fish. Much more grounded than the others, it’s story dates all the way back to the 80’s. The Vietnam war has recently come to a close, and Organized Crime is being forced to adapt to new times. Banana Fish takes this story and adapts it for the modern age, with smartphones and the Middle East. It attempts to touch on all these weighty subjects and conflicts, but in the end, can only manage a story about two young men, in over their heads.

Welcome to Banana Fish. Lets jump in.

Art/Animation

Let’s start with the art and animation of Banana Fish. Art wise, I quite like it. The thin lines and bright colors really work. There are places where the lines seem to disappear entirely, taking on an almost Samurai Jack esque style, which I always enjoy. It looks almost ethereal in some scenes. The designs are also simple, and every character is memorable by the silhouette, for the most part. In particular, Banana Fish looks good in any well lit or sunny scene. The colors pop and the outlines are just visible enough to separate objects. The problem is that in any darker scene, with lower light, it becomes hard to tell what’s going on half the time. The line’s disappear and the shading and tendency for blueish darkness really make things bleed together. In general though, Banana Fish is a very picturesque anime, which is right up my alley.

The problem with picturesque anime though, is they often don’t look good in motion. Just look at Steins;Gate 0 from last season for another example of this. Luckily, Banana Fish is far better than Steins;Gate 0 when it comes to action, and considering Action takes up a good portion of the series, its for the best. The problem for me is, the farther into the series we got, the more the animation started to fall by the wayside. In the beginning there were a couple of good sequences, like Ash on the truck and such, which had real oomph. As we move forward though Banana Fish starts to sacrifice this kinetic action for more clever camera angles and showy compositions. Were the series not so action focused, it would have worked great. As it is, Banana Fish isn’t bad, but the animation leaves a lot to be desired.

 

Direction

That leads us into the direction of Banana Fish. Simply put, look at some of these images I have setup in this post. I love so many of these. Going along with my comments on Banana Fish trying to be a picturesque anime, that means every shot has wallpaper potential. Banana Fish isn’t that far into it, but they do look good. And a number of them are due to interesting camera angles or framing. Take the shot above for example. This could have, and actually was at one point, a simple shot of the characters talking in an empty room. Deciding that was boring for the conversation though, Banana Fish instead frames them from outside the window. Ash looking out into the sunny world from behind glass. Meanwhile Cain and he are trapped in the darker room, looking out. This is a much more engaging scene for the viewer.

The problem is, though Banana Fish has good direction and tries to be picturesque, it does so at a cost. A number of the shots are done to cut down on or hide problematic animation. Allowing for minimal or obscured character movement. This is bleeding back into animation a bit, but it really is one of the big detractors of Banana Fish. It is an action/suspense focused series that forgoes well animated action for good looking shots. I personally find this to be a poor decision. Banana Fish has to much going on, to many moving parts in both the number of characters and its story, to sit still like this. It looks great, but often jostles the tone of an episode to fit in these sombre or beautiful cuts. It’s a shame, one I can still appreciate, but a shame nonetheless.

Story

Now onto the story, the main meat, the simultaneous biggest success and failure of Banana Fish. Half of it, arguably the main half since it has the title card, is largely irrelevant. While the other half, the part focusing on character relationships, is where the real meat lies. The “central” plot involving our villain Dino, the drug Banana Fish, and the government conspiracy seems to exist purely to keep characters interacting. It is never satisfactorily resolved, ending up done in a single 30 second scene at the end, and only exists to kill off a single character. The same goes for the Mafia story arc, which only disadvantages our villain for maybe a single episode at most. Considering the show is named after this drug, one would think it more important. When in fact, the Banana Fish is the side story in a series named after it.

The story of our characters and their relationships though? Oh boy, this was some good stuff. The central relationship between our two leads carried Banana Fish. Had this personal story of love and fate been anything less than engaging, the entire series would have failed. No question. But Banana Fish seemingly knows this and focuses on it, giving them and other characters multiple quite moments of interaction. Letting them build up this connection so we know exactly what the stakes are later on. The willingness to kill of characters and keep the happy ending in question up until the end was also well done. Long story short, Banana Fish successfully surprised multiple times as the story went along. Not always in good ways, sometimes in fantastic ways, and it often re-tread the same kidnapping ground, but it was never boring. And there is something to be said for that.

Characters

Having mentioned character relationships, it’s time to dive into the character’s themselves. Like I said when discussing story, the characters are easily the best part of Banana Fish. Ash and Eiji are the core, the heart, of everything going on. So the fact that they are distinct and interesting in their own right is a big plus. They both have character flaws, though in Ash’s case they rarely matter and are purely emotional. They both act predictably based on their characteristics. And perhaps most important of all, there were legitimate reasons for the characters to connect as they did. They weren’t the only well done characters either, with Shorter and Yut both have their own tragic stories that fit in well with the rest of the cast. Simply put, the characters were the best part of Banana Fish. Which makes what happened to the villains all the more disappointing.

You see the villains are largely disappointing. They range from credible, but barely around in Dino, to threatening but stereotypical and out of left field in Foxx. For all that they drove the story forward, by brute for more than anything else, they were never compelling. The only screen time we got of them was them being complete monsters, rarely getting to see behind the mask. They never felt like anything more than comical villains, in contrast to the better crafted heroes. This isn’t true for all antagonists though. Yut and Arthur were both well crafted, with personal motivations and their own relationships with our protagonists. But for the most part, they are side villains in a greater conflict. Pushed to the side in favor of Dino’s pedohilia and Foxx’s… comical villainous. A damn shame really.

Music/Sound Design

Last up, just because the topic has become a recent obsession of mine, the music of Banana Fish. Sadly, the best thing I can say is that Banana Fish has a few standout tracks, but not much else. The OP/ED and a few other themes cause me to perk up every time I hear them. But I won’t be buying the OST or searching for the full thing on youtube. Not like Megalo Box or Steins;Gate previously, both of which had a lot more focus on their soundtrack. As far as sound design goes, the only standout part that I noticed was the Voice Acting. There are a couple high emotion scenes where they really went all out and it shows. What I can’t wait for, and really want though, is an English dub with New York accents, and Eiji and Shorter speaking their own languages.

Conclusion

So, all in all, how do I feel about Banana Fish. Net, I am glad it exists. Content and ending wise, it is a breath of fresh air. A tragedy where no one wins, heroes and villains alike, all the way to the end. What it needed more than anything else was to trim the fat. Adapting a 19 volume manga into a 24 episode series was a nigh impossible task from the get go. That Banana Fish managed to finish up as well as it did is, quite honestly, a miracle. The material was longer than Monster, got less episodes, and still managed to tell a coherent if rushed story. It’s no masterpiece, but still something to be celebrated and enjoyed.

So, if you’re looking for a crime thriller along the lines of 91 Days or a softcore romance, you could do a lot worse than Banana Fish. And with the series done, I am sure the pacing will feel a lot better on a binge than it did week by week.

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