When last we left off, Ash was attempting to escape from a mental institution where the plan is to make him a Banana Fish test subject. Pages of escapey goodness ensue, and Ash has just gotten outside when he realizes that Max and Ibe have been caught trying to help him and has to go back in to save their troublesome butts (awesomely, the background in one panel during this scene is pumpkins, referring to Ash’s fear of same). This plan involves dressing as a nurse.
The escape is ultimately successful. While Ash and Eiji reunite and share a hug after some initial prickliness from our hero, Ash’s foes, Papa Dino and Yut-Lung, make an arrangement by which they will take care of each other’s obstacles. This involves bringing in Blanca, an expert assassin and virtuoso marksman who trained Ash in the past. Ash senses instantly that he’s being followed, but this doesn’t stop him trying to get information from Kippard, the corrupt senator largely responsible for sending him to the institution. While Ash attempts to blackmail the skeevy fellow with compromising photographs, Kippard is suddenly shot before he can talk. The circumstances of the shot are so impressive that Ash begins to suspect who he’s dealing with.
I find Blanca a little problematic as a character. On the one hand, it’s good to have someone around who Ash can’t easily best—“I’m just dust against him,” Ash angsts at one point—but on the other, if he’s so important a figure in Ash’s past and such a formidable adversary, why haven’t we had so much as a tiny hint about him before? It feels like Yoshida needed to create a character like this to make Ash do what the story dictates he must do. Perhaps I wouldn’t mind so much if he came with a package of ambitions and vulnerabilities, like Yut-Lung, but he’s fairly impersonal about his job so far.
And who exactly is his target? It’s Eiji, of course. It seems like Eiji is forever in this position and Ash always having to protect him, but this time, because it’s Blanca, Ash is more worried than ever and actually goes along with Papa Dino’s plans. It’s fairly shocking to see this happen. At one point, Yut-Lung promises Eiji will be left alone if Ash kills himself right then, and he actually puts a gun to his head and shoots without a second thought. Later, he even begs for Eiji’s life. He begs! This stunned me more than anything else that goes on, because it shows how he’s truly willing to give up everything he has and is to save the one person who he feels genuinely cares about him.
Ash can’t earn Eiji’s safety with his mere death, however, and must comply with some other demands, including handing over all of the Banana Fish research so far, before taking up his position as Papa Dion’s right-hand man and heir apparent. While Ash begins to waste away in that situation, Eiji—and I swear he’s lost that innocent look in his eyes—vows to rescue him. “Give me a gun,” he tells Alex, who Ash left in charge of the gang. “I want you to teach me how to shoot.”
As much as it feels like we’ve been here before, and as random as Blanca’s arrival seems, if this is the point in the story where Eiji finally, finally gets to become a competent badass, then I can’t complain. I’m a little sad that he’s on the verge of becoming a criminal in his own right, but at the same time, I am eager to witness such a fascinating transformation.
For more on these volumes, check out the latest installment of Breaking Down Banana Fish over at Manga Bookshelf!