The action ramps up in these two volumes of Banana Fish as Ash and his allies follow the trail of the drug known as “Banana Fish” from New York to Los Angeles and more details about its nature, as well as Ash’s background, come to light.
There’s a lot going on here, including prison power struggles, an incredibly badass assassination attempt in a Chinatown fish market, a cross-country road trip, conflicting loyalties and military conspiracies. This is an intricately plotted story—an epic quest that has become absolutely fascinating and causes actual pangs of remorse when one must tell oneself, “No, you can’t go on to volume five. What about that library book that was due yesterday?”
Ash is a highly compelling lead, and a few of his layers are peeled back in these two volumes, giving readers a little more insight into what makes him tick. For instance, a lot of the time when he comes across as harsh, he’s just sparing others the need to voice unpleasant truths. This comes to light in a scene where he convinces Eiji to return to Japan by informing him he’ll be a hindrance—afterwards we see that it really bothered Ash to have to hurt Eiji in this way, though he pretends otherwise, but that he’s willing to do it in order to protect the one person who has ever helped him without expecting anything in return. Ash was betrayed at a young age by the negligence of his parents, but still has the ability to protect those he cares about, even though he might pretend he’s too tough to feel such tender emotions.
Eiji’s motivations are also explored in these volumes. Though his comfortable life has enabled him to live without a gun in his hand—“You can do something I can’t,” Ash remarks. “We’re even.”—he nonetheless has had his share of problems. Once a promising athlete, an injury shook his confidence and left him feeling adrift. He might not be invested in finding out the truth about Banana Fish, but he is invested in Ash, and staying by his side could be just what he needs to feel like he is accomplishing something in his life. “I want to quit quitting,” he remarks, and even though he is exposed to quite a lot of horrible things through his association with Ash, his convictions do not waver until Ash flat-out tells him he’ll do more harm than good.
I love the bond that’s developing between these two characters—bolstered by a couple of really awesome scenes between them—and also enjoy the dynamic amongst the older members of Ash’s retinue, a pair of journalists (one Japanese, one American) with their own reasons for tagging along and who occasionally offer insights onto the feelings and perspectives of their younger counterparts. It’s a very well-rounded cast, and a few ladies even show up in this volume, though all seem poised to be victims of one kind or another.
The only thing that still bugs me about Banana Fish is the art. A lot of the time it’s quite good and I can actually see what the back cover means when it says, “Nature made Ash Lynx beautiful.” Sometimes, though, the anatomy is rather weird—there’s one high kick from Ash that only a Barbie could achieve—and the depiction of African-Americans continues to be problematic. Seriously, please quit drawing their lips so they look like Mr. Bill, Yoshida-sensei. It makes me sad.
Minor complaints aside, Banana Fish is a masterpiece of plot and characterization, and should really be read by anyone who considers themselves a manga fan.