Ash Lynx is a young man in New York City who was forced into prostitution as a child by a mob boss named Dino Golzine, but nevertheless has achieved status, of sorts, with Golzine, and manages street gangs for him. But another of Golzine's lieutenants, named Frederick Arthur, attempts to eliminate his competition with Ash- by eliminating Ash. While trying to escape, Ash finds an unexpected new supporter- one Eiji Okumura, a slightly older youngster who was originally the assistant to a Japanese journalist, but who winds up in a close personal relationship with Ash. Complicating the whole thing is Banana Fish; we may not find out what it is for a while, but it's clear from the beginning that it must be something bad...
A crime show that references both J. D. Salinger and Ernest Hemingway is surely at least unusual- as is the fact that the individual in this show with the most sophisticated ethical philosophy is a Russian hitman. (He's the Hemingway fan, while the show's title is a reference from Salinger's work.)
Banana Fish in fact has a lot of things going on. Besides the literary reference, the title subject is also the show's McGuffin. (For those who are unfamiliar with the term, it was coined by director Alfred Hitchcock for some person or thing that is the central motivation for a movie's characters.) I will say no more about THAT.
The show is, most of all, centered on the relationship between Ash and Eiji. They become quite a bit closer than mere friends, though their relationship may not get all that physical- perhaps not surprising, when you consider that Ash by now probably associates actual sexuality with being raped. (Ash's torment at the hands of pedophiles is a recurring theme here, and at one point he describes Dino's personal abuse of him extremely graphically. This is NOT a show for kids.) Basically, when Ash is alone with Eiji he can afford to drop the tough-guy persona he's had to adopt to survive, and share with Eiji his inmost thoughts and vulnerabilities.
A major problem that arises out of Ash and Eiji's relationship is that once their closeness becomes known, Eiji himself becomes a vulnerability to Ash; time and again the bad guys try to use Eiji as leverage to force Ash to submit to their will. Eiji's insistence on being near Ash ALL THE TIME exacerbates this hazard, and he's a distraction even when he isn't in danger of being caught or killed by Ash's opponents; at one point this causes Ash to be seriously injured- and may have prevented him from making a timely escape. Sure Eiji's emotional support for Ash, but as a character in the show comments, he's also Ash's Achilles' Heel. (In my notes I made this comment: "If Eiji had any common sense, he'd stop acting like a target.") Given Ash's IQ of 180 (elsewhere given as "over 200"; I guess those tests really AREN'T that precise), I would think that Ash would know better, especially since Eiji isn't the first companion Ash has had, nor is he the first to face peril due to Ash's "occupation". It raised the interesting question of whether Ash is being selfish just by allowing himself to be loved.
I suppose I should mention some absurdities of plot. Eiji's action that impresses Ash early on is one; the tool he uses is NOT designed for the use he put it to, and I'm pretty sure it would have failed in that application in real life. The method Ash uses to pass a message to Eiji is unexpected, but there's no way a prisoner in a U.S. prison (especially a maximum-security prison) would be allowed that close to a visitor. Several of the villains- and, most of all, Ash himself- seem implausibly durable. And of course no one wants to simply KILL Ash, despite several perfect opportunities to do so; oh,no, they must conquer him- which inevitably gives him opportunities to escape.
The show certainly has a large cast of interesting secondary characters. My favorite is Max Lobo, a journalist with an unexpected connection to Ash. Max has an ex-wife named Jessica, who SEEMS to utterly hate Max, but maybe there's still some affection deeply hidden under all that bile. I do wish the show had given us more background on these two- especially HER, since she later shows a surprising talent for street warfare. An intriguingly complex character is named Yut Lung. He's the youngest brother of a family of Chinese mobsters, and he has quite a lot of personal ambition to indulge (and personal grudges to settle, though he doesn't really have all that much insight into his own motivations- which have to be explained to him by someone else later.)
I thought Ash was too often in reactive mode rather than taking the initiative; it seems to me a better idea to keep a dangerous opponent off-balance rather than simply wait and defend yourself against what they casually plan to throw at you. The show also seemed overlong, mostly stretched out with repeated captures of (and escapes by) Ash; with Eiji as, effectively, the damsel-in-distress (he does become a LITTLE better at self-defense later); and with numerous melees involving knives, automatic weapons, AND that title McGuffin- about which I'm STILL staying mum, though I WILL say that actual bananas (and fishes) are NOT involved.
A dark, extremely violent, and often disturbing show, the Ash-Eiji relationship being by intention its brightest spot, the only place where, as someone says, Ash can let himself be just another teenager. Some of the supporting cast has its own torments- though there's some humor there at times; and while there are some plot inanities, overall I found it interesting- if more than a bit sad, and again, NOT for children. — Allen Moody
Recommended Audience: The backstory about pedophilia - and Ash's graphic description of what he suffered- combined with the violence, makes this a definite R (16+) show.
Version(s) Viewed: Streaming on Amazon Prime
Review Status: Full (24/24)
Banana Fish © 2018 Mappa.
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