Banana Fish 1 by Akimi Yoshida: B+

From the back cover:
Nature made Ash Lynx beautiful; nurture made him a cold ruthless killer. A runaway brought up as the adopted heir and sex toy of crime lord “Papa” Dino Golzine, Ash, now at the rebellious age of seventeen, forsakes the kingdom held out by the devil who raised him. But the hideous secret that drove Ash’s older brother mad in Vietnam has suddenly fallen into Papa’s insatiably ambitious hands—and it’s exactly the wrong time for Eiji Okumura, a pure-hearted young photographer from Japan, to make Ash Lynx’s acquaintance…

After frequently hearing about how good this series is, I decided to check it out. Unfortunately, the volume gets off to a start so slow that I twice fell asleep while reading it. The backstory is important—Ash’s brother had some kind of involvement with something called “Banana Fish” while he was serving in Vietnam and ended up opening fire on some fellow soldiers—but not exactly riveting.

The second half of the volume is far more exciting. A pair of Japanese journalists researching youth gangs is introduced, as is a plan by a disgruntled gang member to lure Ash (the gang leader) out and kill him. Brawling, capture, sharpshooting, and daring escapes ensue. In addition to this, there are plot threads involving the deaths Ash’s former benefactor seems to be ordering as well as the police investigation into same. A lot is going on, but it is well-balanced and easy to follow.

The characters are okay so far. I like Eiji, because he’s naive but brave, and Ash is still quite the enigma, which I’m sure is the point. The dialogue is good, with plenty of smart-alecky remarks from Ash, and I also like how the Japanese characters’ imperfect English is rendered. I do have to snicker at some of these names, though. There’s one hulking male bodyguard named Angie and also a black teen gang member named… wait for it… Skip. How intimidating.

I’m not a big fan of the art. Looking dated is one thing, but many of these guys look similar, particularly the soldiers in the opening scene. After that, I kept thinking every blond-haired white dude I saw was the lone caucasian survivor of Ash’s brother’s shooting spree, but I was wrong each time. Black characters are shaded with lines rather than tone, which looks a little odd, and I don’t like the way their mouths are drawn; it would probably be offensive to some.

Now that the story has picked up the pace, I am interested to see how it develops. Even now, I get the sense that Yoshida knows exactly where the tale is going. I shall place myself in her capable hands.

Banana Fish is complete in 19 volumes and has been published in its entirety by Viz. The second, unflipped edition is still in print and qualifies for the 4-for-3 promotion at Amazon, which is how I gradually acquired the series for myself.

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  1. BF definitely starts off slowly, but it all pays off later on. I got pretty bored with the initial backstory, and ended up having to go back and read it again later on when I realized it was important. Heh. The art improves as the series goes on, but is never beautiful by any means. I’ll be interested to see how you feel around, say, volume 7.

  2. That’s good to hear, both about story pay-off and art improvement. And really, this kind of story doesn’t need pretty art, just more distinction between characters. I do, however, like reading about people that aren’t bishounen (like the mob fellows), so there’s already that in its favor.

  3. Of course I’ll feel terribly guilty if you end up disliking this series, after pushing it so hard! 😀

  4. Oh, I doubt that’ll happen. And even if I somehow did end up disliking it, I’d still be happy that I’d read a shoujo classic. So don’t fret.

  5. I almost bought this during the last Right Stuf sale, then hesitated because it just doesn’t sound like something I’d enjoy. Those who read it seem to be really into it, though, so I’ve always been curious. I’m glad you’re reading it, I can find out just how addictive it really is ^_^

  6. A basic plot description—gang warfare in New York relating to drugs somehow!—doesn’t much sound like something I’d enjoy, either, to be honest. But it sounds like some great drama is in store for the characters, too, which is what I’m really tuning in for.


  1. […] out the untranslated title Holiday at Emily’s Random Shoujo Manga Page. Michelle Smith reads vol. 1 of Banana Fish at Soliloquy in Blue. Dave Ferraro has good things to say about Solanin! at Comics-and-More. And at […]

  2. […] After reading more of Banana Fish, I wonder why I ever thought it was slow. The second volume is positively action-packed, starting with the murder of Ash’s right-hand man […]

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