Tragic Homosexuality and Banana Fish by Jasmin Davis
Content warning: mentions of sexual assault and rape
It’s weird to think that at the heart of a story about gangs, violence, masculinity, and drug conspiracies would be the relationship between a young American kingpin with his finger on the trigger of nearly every gang in New York City and an, at least the beginning, upstanding, Japanese college student. That amidst a convoluted and violently executed plot, there would be enough room to care and root for unlikely couple Ash Lynx and Eiji Okumura. Or perhaps not; the standard gang and/or mafia genre of media is, in my experience, often centered around themes of brotherhood. Banana Fish takes this concept to the next level through the romantic implications implied through the relationship of Eiji and Ash, Unfortunately and unsurprisingly, their relationship is left wholly ambiguous. This decision is ever more disappointing considering the fact that Banana Fish doesn’t shy away from having openly gay characters, and that their representation is left solely for antagonists.
To its credit, Banana Fish is explicitly and uniquely forthcoming about its negative stance on sexual assault. Rather than go by the typical BL anime trope of relying on encounters that border on, or even cross into, sexual harassment to create romantic tension between leads, Banana Fish builds Ash and Eiji’s relationship on trust and unending support. Uniquer still, is the focus on male victims and both validation and realities of being one. Ash Lynx had been sold into sex slavery when he was young, and the main antagonist, Papa Dino, is Ash’s abuser and actively despised by the majority of the cast. Combine this with the abundance of representation of racial groups, albeit all in a rather stereotypical gang setting, and Banana Fish sets itself apart for the better.
Don’t get your hopes up too much since this probably isn’t going to end well for anyone involved, including and especially Eiji and Ash. But it’s been an angst-ridden, well-written and decently animated joyride so far, and I intend to see this train to its tragically not-so-homosexual end.