Banana Fish 19

May 25, 2009

WHAT?!  That… that didn’t tie up any loose ends at all!  The fangirl inside of me died a little and went into shock, but the part of me that likes stories like this approves.  I mean… when was the last time I saw a series brave enough to do something like this?  It’s been a long time.

Actually, I was really surprised by this volume for more reasons than just the end of the story.  I was under the impression that the short stories that were published after the series ended weren’t collected in America, but here’s two of them.  The main story ends kind of abruptly (but well), but the short stories answer a number of questions, along with leaving the reader with some good memories.  I was wondering how on earth the loose ends were going to fill an entire volume, but the actual end of the story only takes up about 35 pages.

Right up until the very last page of the main story, Banana Fish is just an amazing read.  The entire series was much different than I had imagined, even knowing it was an action-driven story about gangs, the mob, and drugs.  Eiji and Ash’s relationship was unlike the usual shoujo manga relationship, but to say that it’s the driving force behind the series would be misleading, because I think someone reading the story for Ash and Eiji would be disappointed (I say that, but it still caused me to rush through some parts looking to find out when they would be together next).  Though the story sort of changes direction a couple times (something I can see more now that my roommate is reading from the beginning and complaining about some of the early volumes), it managed to stay extremely exciting and interesting all the way through, and some of those action scenes from volume 7 onward were just… incredible.  It probably somehow fails as a shoujo manga, and has a bit too emotional a touch to really fit in with shounen action series, but… it’s out there, doing its own thing, and it succeeds as an extremely worthwhile series to read.  Ibe, Max, Shorter, Dino… all of these people are characters that will probably stay with me for some time, too, and they weren’t even really the focus of the story.

Congratulations, Banana Fish.  I wanted to hate you, but you turned out to be one of the best manga series I ever read.

The rest of what I’m going to say would spoil the end of the series, so let me mark this out clearly.  Do yourself the favor of not being spoiled, because I promise the shock at the end is totally worth it.

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Holy crap, ASH.  I’m so used to shoujo series with happy endings that Ash’s death was totally off the radar for me.  One last time, Banana Fish proves that it is unlike any other series out there.  I really do admire authors who have the strength to kill their main characters at the end of the story.  It’s a powerful gesture, and perhaps for Ash, it was… well, there was no way to leave him in peace unless it happened, because people like Lao would come after him for the rest of his life.  And in all honesty, I probably would have been a little disappointed if he’d have made it to the airport and gone back to Japan with Eiji.  That’s just not Ash.  His death in the New York Library, holding Eiji’s blood-stained letter, was one of the best ways this series could have possibly ended.  It’s probably one of the few times I’ve been 100% satisfied with the end of a series.  It was just so perfect and so sad.

Following that ending up with the Angel Eyes short story was really great, since now both Shorter and Ash are gone.  Showing how the two of them met was an interesting gesture, and it was a great story to boot.  Shorter seems to have had much the same reactions and experiences with Ash in prison as Max Lobo did, but Shorter’s simultaneous caution and… well, attraction to Ash’s personality was interesting.  I liked Shorter too, and it’s been so long since he’s been in the story that it was nice to see him one last time before the end.

The other short story, Garden of Light, I probably could have done without.  It was a “ten years later”-type story, showing Eiji’s life without Ash.  While the relationship between Ash and Eiji in the main series was great because it was never questioned by anyone and was born out of a strange need on the part of both boys, setting Eiji up with Sing seems somewhat forced.  It reeks of generic BL plots, and Banana Fish is better than that.  I also didn’t need Garden of Light to tell me that Eiji was not going to be over Ash’s death ten years later, and I wasn’t all that fond of Ibe’s niece.  But the indepth look at Eiji’s emotions in this period was much appreciated, and I liked the way everyone avoided the subject of Ash when talking to young Akira, and how he came up anyway by the end of the story.  I also liked the way everyone dealt with his memory in their own way.  The photo in the gallery was a good way to end the story.

I have to say, though, that the emotional moment where Sing cried when looking at that photo of Ash was ruined a little by the fact he was wearing a t-shirt with a cartoon shark that said “Killer of the Sea” on it.

One final anecdote: I forced my roommate to read the series from the beginning.  After I finished the final volume, I was dying to talk about it with someone.  He’s all I have in real life, and I didn’t want to spoil the end for him, so I just told him that the ending “probably broke every fangirl’s heart that ever read it.”

He asked me if Ash married a girl in the end.

It’s always nice to keep someone around that can put things into perspective.

Banana Fish 18

May 22, 2009

Despite the fact I follow every volume up with a review here and I should be perfectly aware of what volume I’m on, I was kind of surprised when I grabbed this one and realized that it was second-to-last.  Other than the fact Eiji was gunned down last time, nothing particularly “final” was happening in the story.  Freeing people from impossible situations has happened a lot in this series, and I was hoping for a slightly more epic finale.

Well… I should have learned never to underestimate Banana Fish.  I was impressed with how much more epic this foray into the Mental Health Facility was.  I know I should have seen it coming, but… I just didn’t.  Blanca joined in the fight fairly early on after dissolving his contract with Yut-Lung, and strangely, Yut-Lung didn’t try to stop him.  I was worried that there was going to be another trade-off, because as the gangs are circling the facility, Dino Golzine reveals that he’s told Ash to meet him at exactly the same time to negotiate for the hostages.

But Ash has a trick up his sleeve.  A good one.  Dino falls into his hands, which is something that should have happened a long, long time ago but didn’t.  Yet again, I was struck by how unlikely the situation was when Ash called for Dr. Mannerheim and accepted negotiation with Foxx instead.  I didn’t understand why, when Foxx appeared, he didn’t just shoot that bastard in the head.  I mean, I guess that all his subordinates were standing around with SMGs, but it seems like holding Dino hostage would be enough to keep them from firing, and a group like that wouldn’t hold very long without a leader anyway.  But maybe they really would have just killed him and it was better Ash’s way.  Funny enough, Foxx took my advice on the very next page in what was probably one of the best scenes in the series.

Then the entire sequence in the Mental Health Facility was beyond great.  Ash was captured and freed himself, Sing and Blanca teamed up (and Blanca got some totally awesome Duke Togo moments), the rest of the gangs freed the prisoners, Foxx’s mercenaries torched the building, Dino Golzine turns up at the end for an epic finish… oh yeah.  It was everything I could have asked for and more.

Notably, I was surprised Dr. Mannerheim actually lasted this far into the series.  His death was something else that should have happened a long time ago.

There’s some really, really great – dare I say it, shoujo-y – scenes between Ash and Eiji.  Now, Banana Fish was never what one would call “romantic,” but the two of them do have quite a touching relationship.  Since there hadn’t been a lot of romance, I wasn’t expecting to be as affected by scenes like this, but they are in here, and just as romantic as they would have been if we’d had them all along.  Or maybe they’re way better here because we haven’t had them all along.

There are also a couple other touching relationship moments.  We get to see a nice chat between Blanca and Ash at the very end of the volume… so nice, in fact, I could actually see the series ending right after their chat (with various loose ends, yes, but it would have been a nice scene to end on).  There’s a weird but nice chat between Yut-Lung and Sing.  Sing actually shows up to tease Yut-Lung mercilessly, and Yut-Lung takes it for some reason, perhaps because Sing is the only person who has the guts to call him out on his “wine-soaked tantrums.”  There’s even some goofy scenes between Max and his wife.  One of my favorites was the last scene between Dino and Ash, though.  As horrible a person as Dino Golzine was, he really did love Ash in his way.  Of course, his way included violating him horribly when he was young, but the last scene was touching all the same, and wordless.

Ah, Banana Fish, what could fill an entire volume more?  I can think of several things that would make me very happy.

Banana Fish 17

May 20, 2009

Thankfully, the events last volume did not end with a loop like most of the other hostage situations have, where someone is captured and a bunch of other people go in after them, only to be captured and/or ambushed and captured later.  Again, that’s probably the only problem with the series I have at this point, and… while yes, there are hostages, things didn’t exactly play out like they always have.  In fact, things went down much differently than I expected.

Ash is kept as a prisoner by the mercenaries, and the leader treats him quite horribly.  He eventually gets his revenge on other members of the squad and escapes.  This part is quite brief, but pretty powerful.  The abuse stuff hasn’t come up in a long time (or at least, hasn’t been done in awhile, he and Max were talking about it a volume or two ago), so seeing it happen while the man begs him to be one of his lieutenants is kind of surreal and disturbing.

Later, we get some dissension between all the gangs that have come together to help Ash.  Ash has control of the situation, but Sing’s brother Lao doesn’t like being led by Ash, the murderer of Shorter, even after Sing admits that he can never be half the leader Ash is.  Yut-Lung’s plan for the Chinatown gang is revealed, and we find out that part of Lao’s problem is that he doesn’t want to do the thing Yut-Lung asks of him.  So Yut-Lung has two other people do it.  Two other people that are stupid enough to believe that they can shoot Eiji right in front of Ash and not be totally slaughtered.

It happens, and the aftermath is totally intense and insane.  Ash completely flies off the handle.  Blanca realizes what Yut-Lung is up to, and amazingly shows up to intervene, but can only stop Ash from rampaging with a bullet wound to the abdomen.  This was easily up there with Shorter’s death and Yut-Lung’s hostage scene in the museum as one of the best scenes in the series.  There’s also a really great follow-up scene where Ash, all alone in a room, begs God to take his life instead of Eiji’s.  Powerful stuff.

Yut-Lung tries to justify himself later by saying that he’s got just as many problems as Ash, and it’s not fair that Ash has Eiji to calm him down.  This is kind of a poor motive, but I guess you just can’t have everything.

Next volume: saving Max Lobo & Co from the mental institution!  Hopefully they won’t be dosed with Banana Fish in the meantime!

Banana Fish 16

May 19, 2009

Of all the crazy, insane things that have been going on since volume one of this series, for some reason I found the guerrilla war between youth street gangs and mercenaries from the Democratic Republic of the Congo was what it finally took to give me pause.  I mean… they’re fighting using guerrilla tactics in what I assume is downtown New York City.  Really?

I have no problem swallowing government conspiracies, communist suppression, mind control techniques, child prostitution rings, Russian assassins, and Ash Lynx in general, but apparently my brain rejects Belgian/French/African mercenaries storming New York.  I have no idea why.

Not to say that the entire sequence isn’t really cool.  It is.  I got a big kick, once again, out of the back and forth between Ash and the man running the show.  To see both characters guess and second guess each other, and see the small gains and losses each of them suffer in the prolonged conflict is really, really compelling.  There’s not a lot of character dynamics in play here, but there are still one or two good moments.  It really is quite touching how much Ash cares for Max Lobo.

While there was a lot of action and a lot of stuff going on in this volume (mostly lengthy explanations of the tactical maneuvers both parties were using), the last volume had a bit more tension.  Don’t get me wrong though, I’d take a dozen volumes like this one.  It doesn’t leave off in a good place, so I have a feeling the next volume might be another quiet one.  About the only criticism I can level at it right now is that… well, how many times is Ash going to be captured and freed?  I hope the climax plays out a little differently.

Banana Fish 15

May 18, 2009

Wow.  Again, I thought it couldn’t get any better than the chase through the sewers in the second half of last volume.  I was totally wrong, and this series once again surpasses my highest expectations.

To give you an idea, the chase through the sewer is still going on, but that was actually the most boring part of this book.  I have no idea how that works, but there you go.

So Ash is causing a diversion on the streets in order to draw attention away from everyone still caught in the sewer.  I was pretty confident this would just get him busted by Yut-Lung really fast, but then he ran into the Museum of Natural History.  And stayed in there.  The totally creepy atmosphere as person after person got sent in and just mercilessly and silently slain by Ash in the dark was just… it was beyond words.  Ash also had another plan going, which resulted in a hostage situation.  An AMAZING hostage situation.  I did not see that coming at all, and it’s unfortunate that it didn’t work more to his advantage.  Of course, maybe it did.  Maybe he planned that all along thinking that the guys in the sewer would get caught.

Literally, this series just gets more and more tense and action-packed in every volume.  This description is somewhat weak and inadequate compared to what was going on in this book.  I don’t know how to properly tell you how good it is.  Just believe me.  Most seinen action series can’t pull off these levels of unbelievable tension.

The end of the book was less interesting, though.  A new character was introduced that appears to be a slightly more evil version of Blanca, but he seems slightly unnecessary since Blanca hasn’t really been around long and still hasn’t shown his true colors yet.  But we’ll see what happens with him.

Also, it was totally bogus the way Yut-Lung bosses Blanca around and blamed him for almost failing his contract.  Yut-Lung repeatedly went against Blanca’s advice both in the last volume and in this one.  How can he then blame Blanca for what happened?  Bah.

There are a couple scenes at the very end with Max and Ash.  These two always manage to be hilarious as well as touching when they appear together, and this was no exception.  I love the really strange father/son relationship the two seem to have worked out.

The cover of this book relates to the Museum of Natural History part, but it’s intrigued me ever since I first saw it a few years ago.  I mean, what’s a dinosaur skeleton doing on the cover of a shoujo manga?  I guess I missed the subtle clue that let me know just how awesome this volume really is.

Banana Fish 14

May 17, 2009

Aah, Banana Fish does not disappoint.  Here’s all the action that the pause in the last volume was leading up to.  As expected, Eiji and Ash’s boys storm the party Dino Golzine is throwing.  They are assisted by Sing and Cain Blood and their respective gangs.  The mechanics of how this work are actually pretty impressive, but more due to the protective measures Dino takes with Ash in bringing him to the party (administering drugs to keep him blind) and what exactly was going on with Yut-Lung and Blanca.  Blanca is pretty devious, and his intentions are very interesting.  He’s still something of a wildcard though, since every small kindness is followed with a really devious plan/action/thought process.  I’m extremely curious to see where his story is headed.

Storming a party full of members of the Corsican mafia is a pretty bold move even for the big crowd that Eiji, Sing, and Cain have assembled, and I was surprised that the getaway was way more colorful and interesting than actually getting into the party.  In a totally unexpected move, most of the second half of the volume takes place inside the New York sewer system, with the gang members being hunted down like rats.  Ash can stay one step ahead of Dino and Yut-Lung’s men, but those two have Blanca, who can apparently read Ash like a book.  The back and forth between what Blanca expects Ash to do and what actually happens is incredibly suspenseful, and I absolutely flew through these parts.

This book also leaves off on a fairly evil cliffhanger that would have made me curse heavily had I been reading the books as they were coming out.  Luckily, I’ve got the next volume right here, and I think I will indulge myself right now.

Banana Fish 13

May 15, 2009

This volume sort of slows the pace down a bit as Ash goes through with everything that was laid out last time.  Later, a few things set the stage for the action next volume, mostly Eiji and Ash’s boys designing a plan to help Ash escape.  Not much happens outside of conversation as far as that is concerned, but I didn’t mind the slowness.  It’s a good chance for the story to pause and catch its breath.

There are a lot of interesting side characters at this point in the story.  Certainly one of the biggest mysteries is Blanca, who seems to care a great deal about Ash, and yet takes Dino Golzine’s job anyway.  He puts a damper on things since Ash can’t make a move while Blanca’s got a contract against him.  Blanca is just far too skilled to even begin to mess with.  It’s hard to tell what he’s got up his sleeve.  Yut-Lung also reveals some interesting background information about him, but one wonders if that will go anywhere.

At one point, Ibe compared Blanca to Golgo 13.  After the feats from last volume, he just said what we were all thinking.  I liked that Max had no idea what he was talking about.

Aside from Blanca, there’s also Sing.  Now, Sing and the Chinatown gangs have a grudge against Ash and his boys over killing Shorter.  Sing is a bit of a wildcard, but he’s a wildcard with a lot of decent connections that has a self-proclaimed interest in Ash.  He begins to play both sides of the field here, and the results are kind of interesting.

There’s also Yut-Lung.  Even though he wants to kill Eiji, and even when he takes sides with Dino Golzine, it’s hard for me to believe he’s actually a bad guy.  I mean, he is.  That fact will probably never change.  But I have to wonder about some of his motives.  Interestingly, he tries to hire Blanca again in order to completely destroy Ash.  Perhaps he was insulted after Ash was so willing to pull the trigger last volume.

Seeing Ash playing his role with Dino here is most heartbreaking.  Dino is pretty devious, and Ash is good at what he does (which is nothing perverse here, so not to worry), so seeing the two of them interact and watching it slowly kill Ash is very interesting indeed.

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