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A crime/shoujo/boys' love
manga by Akimi Yoshida, published from 1985 to 1994 in the magazine Shojo Comic
, Banana Fish
is about teenage gang leader Ash Lynx, his fight against mafia boss Dino Golzine, and the mysterious "banana fish" that is at the center of it all.
This series provides examples of:
- Absurdly Spacious Sewer: A couple times, Ash and allies escape into the sewers, subway tunnels, or storm drains, which are usually pretty massive and run all over the place. To be fair, it is in New York City, but even so ...
- Animal Motifs: Limited mostly to Ash, whose given last name is "Lynx" and who is often compared to a predatory cat, like a leopard or panther.
- Animal Theme Naming: Ash Lynx and Max Lobo are major characters. Subverted in that their real names are Aslan Callenreese and Max Glenreed, respectively; they're both using fake names for various reasons.
- Back-Alley Doctor: Dr. Meredith, who actually has a medical degree but is no longer licensed. He provides illegal abortions.
- Big Applesauce: The setting of much of the series, apart from jaunts to Los Angeles, Cape Cod, and a flashback or two to Vietnam.
- Big Bad Duumvirate: Initially, there's Dino Golzine, who works for Union Corse but is also connected to a cabal of politicians and military officers. The situation gets complicated: Dino is forced out of the Union, the Lee family (represented by Yau-si) wants in, Dino comes back after murdering most of the other Union members, followed by knocking off the lead senator and officer in the cabal. Eventually, Dino and Yau-si are the only major players left standing, so they enter into an alliance, and are the primary villains for the second half of the series.
- Bishōnen: Ash, most definitely. Eiji also qualifies. And Yau-Si. And Sing Soo-Ling. It's not quite a Cast Full of Pretty Boys, but there's several of them.
- Bittersweet Ending: Golzine is killed, the "banana fish" is destroyed, and the blackmail photos are leaked, causing the resignations of corrupt politicians and officials, but Eiji leaves for Japan, inviting Ash to come with him ... and then Ash is stabbed to death and dies in the New York Public Library with a smile on his face.
- Boom, Headshot: Ash's favorite method of killing. Blanca's, too.
- Brainwashed: The eponymous "banana fish" is actually a combination of LSD and a plant derivative that can be used to brainwash people into doing whatever you want. It's exactly as useful as it sounds, which is why everybody and their mother is trying to get their hands on it.
- Brainwashed and Crazy: The ultimate, unfortunate fate of Shorter Wong.
- Brooding Boy, Gentle Girl: Well, Eiji's not a girl, but that's not really an issue.
- Career-Ending Injury: Eiji used to be a talented pole vaulter, but an unspecified injury has left him looking for a new line of work.
- Chekhov's Skill: It comes in handy much earlier in the story than most examples of this trope, but Eiji's pole vaulting skills help him escape Marvin's men and contact the police.
- Combat by Champion: While Ash is in L.A., his untrustworthy second-in-command Arthur takes over Ash's gang and almost every other gang in New York City. Once Ash comes back, he declares war on Arthur, and quickly takes out most of Arthur's lieutenants. In desperation, Arthur challenges Ash to a one-on-one knife fight, refereed by the leader of one of the few unaffiliated gangs. Arthur tries to cheat by bringing a train full of his gun-toting henchmen, but ultimately the fight comes down to him and Ash anyway. Ash wins.
- Comic Book Fantasy Casting: Yoshida confirmed that several of the main characters were visually based on real-world celebrities. Ash was originally based on the tennis player Stephen Edberg, and later River Phoenix. Max Lobo was based on Harrison Ford.
- Complaining About Rescues They Don't Like: Ash does this a couple times. To be fair, on at least one occasion, he was already getting himself out, and the rescuers happened to show up at the same time, complicating the escape.
- Conflicting Loyalty: Shorter is loyal to Ash, but he's even more loyal to the Lee family—which makes it difficult when the Lees ask him to betray Ash. He does, but he's extremely unhappy about it.
- Create Your Own Villain: Inverted. Dino spent years raising and educating Ash, training him to be a perfect soldier. It comes back to bite Dino hard.
- Cruel Mercy: A defining trait of Dino Golzine, who almost always orders his men to take Ash alive. He's spent years raising and training Ash; he's not going to let his investment go to waste.
- Late in the series, he manages to adopt Ash and force him to work for him. Ash comes up with several brilliant but extremely ruthless plans to expand the cocaine trade, at the expense of potentially hundreds of lives. He's horrified at having to be so merciless, and begs Golzine to simply let him be a Sex Slave instead. Golzine replies that prostituting Ash's body is nothing new; he wants to utterly degrade and despoil his soul.
- Cultured Badass: Ash has been killing people since the age of eight, but he can also tell you the vineyard and vintage of a bottle of expensive wine from a single sip.
- Dark and Troubled Past: The more we find out about Ash's past, the more we wish we hadn't.
- Dude Looks Like a Lady: Yau-si. Ash pulls off a pretty convincing nurse at one point, too.
- The Eighties: The series is explicitly set in 1985, during the height (depth?) of New York City's gang problems.
- Enemy Civil War: The U.S. government wants to use "banana fish" to take down communist regimes in South America, and is willing to work with the Union Corse to achieve this. Dino Golzine is a major player in the Union and the primary point of contact between the two groups. Things start getting complicated when Ash steals millions from the Union, making it look like Dino is embezzling, leading to Dino's ouster from the Union. Things get even more complicated when the Lee family joins the fray. Every group wants to get its hands on "banana fish," or at least prevent the others from getting it. The only constant is Dino himself, who remains the Big Bad for the series as a whole.
- Establishing Character Moment: For both Ash and Eiji, at the same time. In the first chapter, sweet and innocent Eiji meets street-tough and world-weary Ash in the rough and run-down club that Ash's gang calls home. Eiji, who's never left Japan before, asks Ash if the revolver in Ash's waistband is a real gun, and if he can hold it. The entire club freezes and silently watches as Ash pauses—and hands over the gun. Eiji, looking like an excited kid, marvels at the gun for a moment, then hands it back. It establishes just how naive and childlike Eiji is, but also how he can sense the goodness in someone. For Ash, it establishes how dangerous and savage he must be, to be carrying a gun like that at seventeen years old, but also that, deep down, he's just a kid too, willing to put his faith in Eiji and give up his weapon.
- Face of an Angel, Mind of a Demon: Ash isn't a villain, but otherwise fits this perfectly. Many times over the course of the series, someone makes the mistake of underestimating the 17-year-old who looks like a Calvin Klein model—and they end up paying for it, because behind those looks is the mind of a Napoleon and the ruthlessness of a, well, lynx.
- Borrowing from a different religion, Ibe compares Ash to an asura, from Buddhist mythology. He even notes that, in Japanese, you would pronounce it Ashura.
Ibe: In Buddhist mythology, the asura are heathen deities that fought the devas, or good deities. The asuras are said to be fierce warriors, terrible demons. And yet they are always depicted as beautiful youths. Don't you think you fit the bill?
- Fantastic Drug: The "banana fish" that everyone is searching for is a variant of LSD that can be used to brainwash people into doing whatever you want.
- For Science!: Downplayed with Dr. Alexis Dawson, the man who accidentally created "banana fish", who doesn't want to destroy it because it's such an interesting substance—even though it can only really be used for evil purposes. Played straighter with Dr. Mannerheim, who does all sorts of fascinating and horrible brain experiments on living patients.
- Gang Bangers
- Gayngster: Ash, Dino, Marvin, and many others. The level of actual angst varies.
- Heroic Suicide: A particularly cruel weaponization of the trope. At one point, Dino has Ash totally cornered and with no hope of ever escaping Dino again. Dino offers Ash a deal: if Ash commits suicide right there, Dino will leave Eiji alone for the rest of his life. Ash immediately takes the offered gun, puts it to his temple, and pulls the trigger. It's empty. When he realizes this, he asks for bullets. Dino has no intention of letting Ash slip through his fingers again.
- I Have Your Wife: Happens a couple times, once with Max and his ex-wife and son, and, more significantly, with Ash and Eiji. Ash is forced to work for Golzine in order to keep Eiji safe. Even then, Golzine is careful to keep Ash closely guarded, even temporarily blinding him when they leave the mansion.
- Im Dying Please Take My Macguffin: One of the kick-offs for the main plot. Ash Lynx, out for a stroll, happens upon a well-dressed man who's been beaten within an inch of his life. The guy hands Ash a slip of paper with an L.A. address and a small vial filled with powder, says the words "banana fish," then dies.
- Improbable Aiming Skills: Actually quite probable, in that Ash is a talented marksman, but everything he does is within the range of possibility for a real-world gunslinger. The first time we see him shoot, he's using a shortened .357 revolver to injure (but not kill) two guys at ten yards. Blanca, Ash's mentor, is a similarly gifted shot.
- Keystone Army: In the final arc, Ash's forces are made up of well-armed Gang Bangers with some street-level experience, but they're up against highly-trained mercenaries with superior equipment and intel. Ash's tactical smarts are the only reason they don't get stamped into paste immediately, so Ash himself is the keystone, and Foxx's men go straight for him. Ash manages to turn this to his advantage: he and a few men hole up in a building and let Foxx besiege them, giving the rest of his forces time to escape and regroup. The only reason this works is because Golzine wants Ash to be taken alive, so Foxx can't just fire an RPG into the building.
- The Mafia: Golzine is a major figure in the Union Corse, or Corsican Syndicate—which is technically not part of The Mafia, being a separate (and competing) organization. But close enough.
- Master Poisoner: One of Yau-si's methods of assassination. He's said to be extremely talented at it, though we don't see him use it often.
- Minor Crime Reveals Major Plot: Several minor crimes, actually, all leading to the same plot. In 1973, a soldier in Vietnam goes crazy and attacks his own platoon, saying only the words "banana fish." In the present, Ash happens upon two of his own gang attacking a man in a suit, who hands Ash a mysterious vial and says "banana fish" before dying. And the police are investigating a string of mysterious suicides of fixers for various mafia groups.
- No Plans, No Prototype, No Backup: Averted. "Banana fish" was a complete accident, which is why they're trying to figure out how to make more. It's taken years of experiments, analysis, and autopsies to get this far.
- Poor Communication Kills: Minor example with major consequences. Sing Soo-Ling finds out that Ash killed Shorter Wong, but Ash never bothers to explain that Shorter was Brainwashed and Crazy at the time, begging Ash to kill him before he killed Eiji. Even after Sing learns the truth, his lieutenant doesn't—which ultimately drives him to kill Ash.
- Post-Climax Confrontation: After Golzine is killed and all the "banana fish" evidence destroyed, Eiji leaves for Japan. He sends a letter to Ash, asking him to come to Japan as well, and live out the rest of his days in peace. Ash agonizes over the decision, finally making up his mind to leave—and he's promptly stabbed by Sing's lieutenant, who never forgave Ash for killing Shorter Wong.
- Pressure Point: Yau-si's favored method of incapacitating his opponents involves jabbing them in very precise ways with acupuncture needles, paralyzing them or robbing them of their senses.
- Prison Rape: Referenced, and the aftermath of one is shown. Played for Drama.
- Professional Killer: Blanca, the man who taught Ash most of his killin' skills. He's a Retired Badass who gets hired by Golzine to help stop Ash. Interestingly, he's a combination of Friendly Sniper and Cold Sniper: he's personable, smiles often, and is overall quite affable, but he's also completely ruthless and seemingly has no qualms about killing the boy he once trained. In the end, though, he turns out to be a Hitman with a Heart, joining Ash's side for the final fight.
- Rape as Backstory: Yau-Si and Ash. In the case of Yau-Si, it's seeing his mother raped that gives him the motivation for revenge. In the case of Ash, he's been systematically abused since the age of eight.
- Sex Slave: Part of Ash's background. Dino has plenty more young boys in a private club on the docks, whom he whores out to various politicians and top-level executives.
- Shell-Shocked Veteran: Sort of. Ash's brother is indeed heavily damaged and barely functional, but it's due to the side effects of a heavy dose of "banana fish," not his actions in the war. Max is also shown to be scarred from the war, though he handles it pretty well.
- At one point, Eiji does a brief Kojak impression.
- The title comes from a short story by J. D. Salinger, which is explained in an early chapter.
- Ash quotes Ernest Hemingway's short story "The Snows of Kilimanjaro," comparing himself to the leopard found frozen near the summit. Islands in the Stream is also Blanca's favorite book; he leaves a copy in Ash's apartment as a coded signal that he's back in town.
- When Ash tries to pronounce the name of Eiji's hometown, Izumo, he says "Gizmo." Eiji says, "No, that's a Gremlin."
- After Ibe hears about Blanca's Improbable Aiming Skills, Ibe says, "My God, it's just like Golgo13."
- Sleight of Tongue: Ash uses an empty medicine capsule and a kiss to pass some important information to Eiji while in prison. It's implied to be Eiji's Sacred First Kiss, but he doesn't seem to mind ...
- Taking the Bullet: Ash's young friend Skip takes a fatal bullet for Ash early in the series. Later, so does Ash's stepmother.
- The Starscream: A couple examples. First, there's Arthur, Ash's nominal subordinate; when Golzine gets displeased with Ash, he uses Arthur to take over the gang. Later in the series, there's Colonel Foxx, who is hired by Golzine along with his mercenaries to take down Ash's gang, but who quickly realizes the potential of Ash and the "banana fish" and decides to take over.
- The Triads and the Tongs
- Truth in Television: During the Cold War, the U.S. (and probably Russia, too) did indeed try to use LSD as a method of brainwashing. It was ultimately unsuccessful. For more information, read up on Project MKUltra.
- Unknown Rival: Downplayed villainous example. Yau-Si considers himself to be the Evil Counterpart to Ash, as they were both horribly abused children who learned to kill in order to survive, and he vows to kill Ash personally. Ash doesn't consider him a threat, at least not on the same level as Dino. Yau-Si isn't, in the end, and once he completes his revenge against his own family, he's essentially out of the game.
- The Vietnam War: Forms part of the backstory, and two major characters are veterans of the war.