Because it is set in the Big Apple, this Japanese BL – Banana Fish – anime differs from Japan’s usual slice-of-life boy’s love animation. There are no cicadas humming from the background or the bluest of blue waters on the Japanese shoreline. Instead, it’s a concrete jungle with a blossoming friendship between our two lead characters.
Banana Fish is a Japanese manga series written and illustrated by Akimi Yoshida. Set primarily in New York City in the 1980s, the series follows street gang leader Ash Lynx as he uncovers a criminal conspiracy involving “banana fish”, a mysterious drug that brainwashes its users. During his investigation, he encounters Eiji Okumura, a Japanese photographer’s assistant with whom he forms a close bond.
Nature made Ash Lynx beautiful; nurture made him a cold ruthless killer. A runaway brought up as the adopted heir and sex toy of “Papa” Dino Golzine, Ash, now at the rebellious age of seventeen, forsakes the kingdom held out by the devil who raised him. But the hideous secret that drove Ash’s older brother mad in Vietnam has suddenly fallen into Papa’s insatiably ambitious hands–and it’s exactly the wrong time for Eiji Okamura, a pure-hearted young photographer from Japan, to make Ash Lynx’s acquaintance… | Plot from Anime News Network
Banana Fish is one of the most interesting BL anime out there. Just the background alone is worth talking about. Here are some interesting tidbits:
- The physical appearance of many of the characters in Banana Fish is based on real-life public figures: Ash’s appearance is based on tennis player Stefan Edberg (blond hair, uber-cute tennis player with a slim body) in the earliest chapters of the series before shifting to a design based on actor River Phoenix (great actor and good looking too!), while Eiji is based on actor Hironobu Nomura. Yoshida likened this process of selecting real-life figures to depict as characters to casting a “B-grade action movie”;
- River Phoenix did a gay movie. It’s directed by award-winning filmmaker Gus van Sant and entitled My Own Private Idaho, with Keanu Reeves. Generally regarded as one of the films which catapulted Phoenix into stardom. He died from a drug overdose, another relative dimension to Banana Fish;
- On drugs: The conceit of the mind-controlling banana fish drug originated from Yoshida’s interest in CIA research into mind control, such as MKUltra and Project ARTICHOKE, and her research into similar programs in the Soviet Union led her to consider drugs as a tool for warfare.
Heavy stuff for starters. Both Ash Lynx and Eiji Okamura – obviously – have different characters and it’s their unique individuality that made them endearing. Their comedic and intense interaction made this such an entertaining and absorbing anime. There are plenty of supporting and side characters. But instead of confusing the audience, it added multi-layers of stories, entertainment, insights, and rationale.
The drug issue gives this BL series sinister vibes and dread. Plenty of action comes from many of the supporting characters. The issue of homosexuality and yes, homoeroticism gave this series its point of attraction across a diverse list of readers (and viewers).
You need to be prepared if you’re interested in watching Banana Fish – because it’s a roller-coaster ride for most viewers!
Banana Fish, Doukyusei, and Given are my top 3 Japanese BL anime, so far. I’ve seen plenty through the years – sentimental favorite remains Junjou Romantica.
An old-timer BL fan way back in 2007. I started out loving BL after watching the Takumi-kun series from Japan, went on collecting BL manga, and watched old BL anime such as Junjou Romantica and the likes. Love of Siam allow me to transition into Thai, while Amphetamine gave me glimpses of Taiwanese BL magic. I love to write reviews and I’m one of the administrators of Psycho Weird.