In these two volumes, Ash largely leaves the follow-up concerning Banana Fish to reporter Max Lobo and his colleague, Steve, and instead sets his sights on exacting bloody vengeance against Arthur, a former member of Ash’s gang who betrayed him. At first, it seems like two major events are going to complicate things for Ash—namely, that he’s the prime suspect in the arson at Dino Golzine’s mansion and that Dino has traded a sizable contribution to a politician’s campaign in exchange for legal custody of Ash.
Ash, however, neatly sidesteps both threats, executing a two-pronged financial attack against Dino and fooling the cops into thinking he’s the privileged son of a banker. This leaves Ash free to order a massacre, culminating in a riveting one-on-one (at least, it was supposed to be) fight between Ash and Arthur in a deserted subway station. Meanwhile, Ash attempts once again to get Eiji to return to Japan, though not before revealing some of his pain and vulnerability to him.
We see so many different sides of Ash in these volumes. When he’s alone with Eiji he allows himself to cry over what he’s become, sharing memories both painful and amusing (the pumpkin story!), and reveals that he never once wanted to be “exceptional.” Ash is too pragmatic to indulge in wishes, but one gets the sense that if he would let himself dream, he would want a quiet life where he’s free to be a kid, which is exactly what he gets by being with Eiji. There’s an extraordinarily touching scene where he simply needs Eiji’s presence so much that he asks him to stay with him a while, and Eiji, with a look of profound peace upon his face, replies, “Forever.”
Things can’t stay so calm, however. Eiji, confused by how Ash can sob into Eiji’s lap one moment and kill someone the next, takes issue with Ash’s cold-blooded vengeance. “Which is the real one? Or do they both exist side by side in you, without contradiction?” he thinks at one point, and he’s not even privy to the third side of Ash—the absolutely brilliant one who not only orchestrates the attack on Dino but is able to analyze the political situation prompting some high-ranking officials in the US government to employ Banana Fish for their own ends.
Simply describing some of these scenes is not doing them justice. What emerges is a fascinating portrait of an intelligent and wounded young man who is absolutely determined to survive the hand he’s been dealt, and conceals his hurt and insecurities under a veneer of coldness. Ash is prepared to send Eiji away because his friendship is dangerous to him, but if he succeeds he would also be sending away his one outlet, the one person in front of whom he doesn’t need to pretend to be okay. Ash is a broken badass and man, who would have thought I could love him more now than I did after volume six? And yet I do.
I only wish the art were better. It might just be me, but I do think that Ash is drawn much more handsomely now than in early volumes, and looks especially snazzy in his glasses and designer duds while posing as the rich kid. Unfortunately, black characters still look pretty awful, though one new black character—Cain, the leader of a neutral gang—is a great new addition to the cast. I hope he sticks around. Too, a lot of times characters shown in profile look like they have pillows shoved up under their shirts. What is up with that?
It’s always hard not to continue to the next volume when I get to the end of an installment of Banana Fish, but this was harder than most. Still, I don’t want to get too far ahead of the roundable discussion, which you should keep an eye out for at Manga Bookshelf.