Banana Fish: First Impressions – A Creative Crime Series with Prosaic Yaoi Tropes (Summer Anime 2018)

Banana Fish (バナナフィッシュ) is a shōjo, crime, action, yaoi series that was originally a manga written by Akimi Yoshida. It is being adapted into an anime by studio MAPPA with direction from Hiroko Utsumi. The show was not one of the serials that I was planning on trying out for the season, however, after hearing many ani-bloggers raving about it, I figured why not? Unfortunately, upon finishing the pilot, I feel that my opinion about it is going to be a rather unpopular one.

BF 00Banana Fish revolves around a seventeen-year-old leader of a gang named Ash Lynx, who was adopted and raised as a protégé and sex toy for a mobster named Papa Dino. Now a ruthless killer and intense criminal who is working to get away from his guardian, Ash ends up forsaking Papa Dino to discover what happened to his older brother in Vietnam to drive him insane. When the secret behind this travesty falls into Papa Dino’s hands, Ash must choose a side to follow.

The episode begins in a violent spray of bullets and death, setting the tone for everything else that will follow: intense, melancholy, mysterious, and tight-knit with suspense. It was an excellent way to capture my attention fully for the twenty-two minutes that would follow. As someone who positively adores violent anime, I felt excited. Nevertheless, as I kept watching, I quickly came to realise that all of the great qualities for the series may just not be enough to hold me as a devoted watcher for the season.

Let’s start with the good stuff that many people seem to enjoy. The first is the premise. On the surface Banana Fish can feel a bit convoluted, yet it sets up the anime to unfold with plenty of intrigue, maintaining that air of anticipation (if written well) that keeps you wanting to know more and more. There is one plot component stacked upon another to build a multi-layered tale. This plays into the overarching motif that is taken from J.D. Salinger, who was an American author, and his allegory for banana fish and the human existence. I suspect that the main plot points are built around Salinger’s infamous “fish” notion, working as a duality for Ash’s personality as well as the distinct conflicts that he’s going to face in the future. The potential is there, so as long as it doesn’t get drowned out for the sake of romance, which is a common trait in the yaoi genre.

The action in Banana Fish is spread across the episode in perfectly timed intervals, kicking up sand just when the dust begins to settle into something slightly boring. The fight scenes are fluid and very well done, animation wise. It’s crisp and flows rather pleasantly. There is use of 3D graphics to enhance the fluidity of everything, but it never overwhelms the hand-drawn technical aspects. I saw this in the character designs as well, specifically when there were close-ups of the characters’ faces and expressions during an interaction or conversation. The great animation quality is not something that is entirely consistent, however. When it begins to slack, there will be emphasis on minor details within the scene to assist in making it feel more ironed-out than it truly was. Either way, the experience of watching is never disjointed or underwhelming, and you probably can’t notice it unless you’re actively searching for it. The best parts of the animation, however, are the cityscape shot as they are stunning.

BF 02

Speaking of the characters, I enjoyed the spot o’ diversity of the cast. We have a young black boy who seems to be an assistant of Ash’s and a kid he takes care of, who doesn’t follow any terrible or offensive stereotypes that is common in anime. Then we also Ash’s punk rock buddy with vibrant-as-fuck purple hair and an eyebrow piercing, which is infrequent to the medium. Most of the people are American (makes sense as the setting is in America) and the rest are Japanese (also makes sense as it’s a Japanese anime). A lot of the folks also don’t have a standard mould that they follow, helping to distinguish them from one another.

Lastly, anyone who has ever heard anything by the late Nujabes will appreciate the music composition for Banana Fish as it felt like an homage to his work, infusing some 90s hip-hop rhythm and melodies to compliment the inherent Western design of everything. It worked fantastically during the fight scenes and helped enhance a bit of the serious conversations that Ash has with Dino.

Regardless of all the amazing things going for it, Banana Fish is still pretty much a grade-A yaoi, with the telling of most common tropes utilised in essentially every yaoi serial (not all of them, but a good damn chunk of them). These include homophobic dialogue directed at minor or side characters, foundations for a strong and unhealthy seme/uke relationship (penetrative/receptive respectively), typical heteronormative roles of masculinity versus femininity that come with the seme/uke roles, essentially erasing any positive elements of proper LGBTQIA+ representations, implied upcoming sexual violence including rape, and a few others. All of these things, specifically the homophobic tendencies, making Queer relationships inherently “straight” in nature, and the acts of sex violence—whether in the relationship or outside of it—are reasons that I don’t enjoy yaoi. They tend to frustrate me and piss me off. Although the storyline feels original and different than many yaoi that I have read (which I admit is not much), everything else is so standard and boringly on-point that it’s off-putting for me.

BF 01

Additionally, I don’t care for damsel-in-distress type of characters, whether they are women, men, or gender non-conformers. Ash’s romantic interest for the series feels like he’s going to be just that: a weak, supremely uke, unrealistically feminised character that is going to get into some shit and need to be saved. Even with enjoying the other facets, I feel so strongly about these elements that I may end up dropping the series before it reaches the season’s midpoint.

All in all, if you are a fan of decent narratives that have wonderful potential to be rather remarkable, and if you don’t mind/are a fan of yaoi, then I think you will like Banana Fish very much. In this case, it is simply not my cup o’ chai. I do plan on watching the second episode before I make any official, final plans for it as I feel I owe my curiosity that much at the very least.

You can catch Banana Fish on Wednesdays on Amazon Prime.


Thank you for visiting me this evening. Your continued support is sincerely appreciated. Until next time, happy reading and happy otakuing! 💙


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13 thoughts on “Banana Fish: First Impressions – A Creative Crime Series with Prosaic Yaoi Tropes (Summer Anime 2018)

  1. As stated previously there is nothing quite as disappointing as a good premise drowning in bad writing. It’s a shame really as it seems something like Yaoi could really be used in a brilliant and helpful way. But if this just follows the same old line then it will be another great plot idea slowly asphyxiating as it sinks beneath the water.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Though I like the basic premise for this one (at least the way you describe it), it doesn’t seem this is an anime that I would quite enjoy watching. Honestyly I’m fine with that though as I have seen so many new animes these past few days that I really want to check out, that it’s great to have one that I don’t really want to add 😂😂 As you said: this really isn’t my cup of tea 😊

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, I definitely think that people who don’t typically like yaoi may wanna try it out because of the premise, but the other stuff that’s commonly off-putting for the same people, are there and may not be worth it in the long run.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. This was wonderfully written! I will give this one a shot, and it was interesting reading your thoughts on the first episode. I haven’t read the manga so I only know about this show from your post and a couple of other bloggers. The sex violence is a little off-putting to me as well so I’m a little put-off, but I suppose I will see for myself when I watch it.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. The art looked good, yet something about this just isn’t my cup of tea. You put it into words. I guess I’ve never been into crime shows much. It took forever for me to watch The Godfather. I do like a few like Leon. I will watch crimes shows with romance, but if that’s the weakest link then it’s not for me.

    Liked by 1 person

    • If you aren’t a fan of crime shows then you probably won’t enjoy this at all as it’s quite heavy, and the romance seems like it will be unbalanced, and focused on violence in one form or another.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I watched my first official yuri series (Citrus) last season, and I’m looking at Banana Fish as a first yaoi equalizer. I have a feeling, though, that I’ll be waiting the end of the season then bingeing this one. I just don’t think it’ll have enough draw for me to want to watch week to week. Is this a show you’ll be doing weekly/period reviews for (until possible droppage), or is it more of a first impressions/final thoughts kind of series for you?

    Liked by 1 person

    • If I decide to keep up with it, I’ll do a mid-season musings, and possibly a full series review for it afterwards.

      I haven’t done episode-to-episode musings on any simulcasts on my blog yet, but I do plan on choosing one or two serials this season to begin the E2E posts, so I can segue my way into doing more of that in future anime seasons. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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