From the back cover:
When Dino arranges Ash’s frame-up for the murder of a man he had motive to kill twenty times over, an “accident” behind bars is on the agenda. But in the same prison is Max Lobo, a journalist himself on the trail of the enigma code-named Banana Fish…
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 and leading to his imprisonment for a homicide he didn’t commit but totally would have if someone else didn’t beat him to it.
Some cops who believe in Ash’s innocence conspire to get him a protective cellmate, journalist Max Lobo, rather than a sleazy one, but this doesn’t prevent Ash from falling victim to a gang rape (thankfully off-camera). Ash and Max seem to get on well at first, but a mention of Banana Fish (whom Max reveals to be a person) leads to the revelation that Max served in Vietnam with Ash’s older brother, Griff. Rather than be heartened by this news, Ash blames Max for what happened to Griff and promises to kill him.
We learn a lot more about Ash in this volume. Much is made of his intelligence, either derisively—like when Dino and his lackeys remark that if he were really smart, he’d care about his men less—or with surprise that becomes respect, like when Max notes that Ash is not only keenly perceptive, but also reads “obscure books and alternative newspapers.” It takes a few more days of Ash’s acquaintance for Max to also realize that Ash is incredibly calculating and that, when harm seems to befall him, it just might be part of his master plan. “Unpredictable” also describes him well.
Plot-wise, Banana Fish feels a lot like a seinen series. The concept of a lone protagonist fighting against something larger than himself is certainly common to works for that demographic. This makes me wonder how exactly this series shows its shojo origins. Besides the proliferation of gay characters, who are typically of the predatory older man variety, I think the main difference is in the presentation of Ash. There are definitely moments when one thinks, “He’s so cool!”—like his chilly dismissal of Max after learning of his connection to Griff—but there are also moments when one thinks, “He’s so broken!” We don’t know a lot of what he endured at Dino’s hands as a child, but it was undoubtedly awful and has everything to do with his present-day distrust of adults and pursuit of self-reliance.
This makes it all the more remarkable, then, that he seems to form an immediate bond with Eiji. Eiji’s not seen a lot in this volume, but he’s the one to whom Ash entrusts an important errand, and his failure to complete it successfully upsets him greatly. In only a short acquaintance, Ash’s goals have become Eiji’s goals, even though they’ve never been fully explained. There’s the sense that Eiji has the potential to help heal Ash, too, but I worry he might get hurt by occupying Ash’s violent world for too long.
I was reading Matt Thorn’s interview with Moto Hagio yesterday (hosted at The Comics Journal), and they talked about the theme of synchronicity that often crops up in Hagio’s works. To quote Thorn, “Also related is the notion of synchronicity, in this case meaning a powerful resonance between two or more characters who often seem to be extremely different from one another.” I think that is exactly what’s going on here.