Welcome to the third installment of the Banana Fish roundtable!
This month, we tackle volumes five and six. With Yut-Lung conniving behind the scenes and Shorter’s loyalties stretched to the limit, everyone ends up in Papa Dino’s hands over the course of these volumes, and not all can survive. Ash orchestrates an elaborate escape, but his allegiance with the Chinatown gang may be lost forever.
I’m joined this round by Michelle Smith (Soliloquy in Blue), Khursten Santos (Otaku Champloo), Connie C. (Slightly Biased Manga), Eva Volin (Good Comics For Kids), and Robin Brenner (No Flying, No Tights).
Read our roundtable on volumes one and two here, and volumes three and four here.
On to part three!
MJ: There’s so much going on in these volumes, I hardly know where to begin.
Some of the most intriguing stuff for me here is what’s going on in Chinatown. Shorter does his duty, but regrets it almost immediately. His sister, Nadia, seems to feel compromised as well, by her affair with the cop, Charlie. Yut-Lung, who first seemed so dangerous and powerful, is revealed to be just as much a pawn as anyone else. And finally, there’s Sing Soo-Ling, the Chinatown gang’s new, young boss, who isn’t so thrilled with the orders being handed down by his elders.
This is the first time in the story so far that I found myself just as interested in what was going on with the series’ supporting characters as I was in what was happening with Ash and Eiji. Did anything shift for you during these volumes?
MICHELLE: I really enjoyed the fleshing out of Yut-Lung as a character, as well as the introduction of Sing Soo-Ling. I think, though, that the main difference for me with these two volumes is that learning so much about the origins, effects, and possible ramifications of Banana Fish imbues the series with an immensely wider scope than I was expecting. With the White House and the military lending their support to the development efforts, one really begins to get a sense of exactly what Ash is up against here. With the big picture suddenly expanded in this way, folding in more supporting characters feels quite natural.
MJ: Michelle, that’s a great point. It brings to mind a moment that really struck me, too, when Arthur is being introduced around and realizes suddenly that he’s talking to the White House Chief of Staff. It’s obviously a shock to him, which makes clear just how much we’ve been reading from the perspective of the gang kids and how little they really are privy too in terms of what their elders are involved in.
CONNIE: Amid all the political intrigue and Chinatown politics in these two volumes, I was most taken by Shorter’s role in the story here. He’s put in an extraordinarily difficult situation and does the best he can, but he’s being pulled very hard in two different directions. I felt terrible for him after the scene in volume five with Yut-Lung and Ibe, and I couldn’t believe how much further downhill things went for him from there.
To have that section of story finish the way it did in volume six was very shocking. I know on one hand Shorter’s role is kind of like a sacrifice, but you don’t often see series deal with presumably well-liked secondary characters so harshly.
ROBIN: While I definitely appreciated the wider scope and the complex layering of the Chinatown gang, I found myself less enthralled with this installment. I am reading the series in two-volume chunks a few months apart, which kills momentum, but I was nonetheless having trouble keeping the tension high while reading.
Part of my problem is this plot point:
“You have killed my gang member/mentor/friend! I will now wreak my revenge!”
Action picks up. Different bad guys become the priority of the moment.
“OK, forget it! Too much is going on! I will wreak my revenge….later!”
I started wondering how many vendettas we’re going to launch. We’ve got Ash’s beef with Papa Dino and now Sing Soo-Ling’s declaration of revenge against Ash. It’s not that I don’t think vendettas like this exist, especially among the younger set of organized crime, but the lack of follow-through gets on my nerves. If you’re going to take a guy out, take him out. Stop playing games unless you’re deep into the politics of the gang (which neither Ash nor Sing Soo-Ling seem to be) or you’re truly a sadist. Yut-Lung is a different case — he IS involved in the larger politics, and I prefer his pragmatism to other character’s emotion-fueled outbursts. Maybe I’m just a cold bastard. The delay is a device to extend the plot, and it feels like a device instead of a natural progression.
MICHELLE: I must agree about the revenge declarations, but I’m also reading the series in two-volume chunks a few months apart, and I found volume six in particular—the entirety of Ash’s escape, especially —to be positively riveting. I think I finally fell in love with Ash in a big way here, as he’s able to be such a badass but yet isn’t so hardened that he can’t cry.
ROBIN: I too am a sucker for the tough guy who will still weep over the loss of a friend. That whole sequence was very well paced, and the action was compelling.
MJ: I don’t think you’re a cold bastard, Robin, though I know I’m a more emotionally-driven reader than some. I do think, though, that in the specific instances you’ve cited, Ash’s vendetta against Papa Dino and Sing Soo-Ling’s against Ash, the reason for the delay in exacting revenge has more to do with accepting reality than anything else. Ash isn’t yet in a strong enough position to take out Papa Dino, and Sing Soo-Ling is clearly no match for Ash (after all, he actually *tried* to fight him and lost badly).
ROBIN: I do see your point, MJ. I think it’s the part of me that always wonders in crime stories why someone doesn’t just shoot him (or get a sniper to shoot him) and be done with it. I know, it’s more complex than that, and I know whoever comes after him may be even worse. It’s the devil you know. But it still bugs me sometimes that fairly hardened characters don’t just do that.
Ash would be different as a character if he just got out a gun and shot Papa Dino, but it would be immensely satisfying if he did! And then you could have a whole plot about dealing with the aftermath…
MJ: I definitely understand where you’re coming from, Robin, and I think that’s why it was so personally satisfying for *me* to see Ash pretty brutally shoot the hell out of the scientist who tortured and killed his brother (among others).
MICHELLE: The sequence where Ash empties his gun into Dawson is simply amazing. It really brings home the notion that, if not for the actions of some too-clever college kids, none of this would be happening.
CONNIE: I like the numerous vendettas on the back burner, since it’s something to keep in the back of your mind while other things are going on. It seems like there are always more significant plot points overtaking them, but even while all that is going on, I like keeping those needs for revenge in mind as the true motives for several of the characters. But this could be because it’s my second time through the series, too. I can’t remember how I felt about that the first time (probably pretty frustrated, especially in the case of Sing against Ash), but I’ll admit that my perspective is colored by later events.
I do remember being very frustrated with Sing’s position against Ash. Not only because it felt like the loss of a valuable set of potential allies, but because it was a miscommunication issue, and those always frustrate me, regardless of intent. “Miscommunication” is a bit mild for that situation, but all the same, it was a problem that would have been resolved had Sing not jumped in with his guns blazing, so to speak. On one hand, the rashness does make for an interesting character, but on the other hand, this series is already full of tough guys doing stupid things.
MJ: Connie, I remember feeling very frustrated with Sing’s vendetta as well, especially since Ash was able to be so thoughtful about Shorter’s betrayal of *him* and understanding of his position. Though interestingly, on a second time around I am able to feel more compassion for Sing, taking into account how much he respects and admires Shorter, and how deeply that motivates his actions. I mean, when you think about it, we’ve already seen how powerful the will of the Lee family is in Chinatown. Shorter’s actions are evidence of that. So for Sing to lead his gang into battle against the wishes of the Lees… that’s some pretty powerful loyalty in play. He’s putting his life and the lives of his whole gang on the line. So I guess I can understand why he’d be a little shortsighted when it comes to Shorter, as frustrating as it is for us.
MICHELLE: I think it’s important, too, that Ash makes no effort to clear up this “miscommunication.” Revealing the extenuating circumstances to Sing might enable Sing to forgive him, as Ash was able to instantly understand why Shorter did what he did and forgive him, but Ash doesn’t want to be forgiven. Extenuating circumstances or not, he’s taken responsibility for Shorter’s death upon himself and is not going to offer up any excuses regarding it.
MJ: Oh, great point, Michelle. You’re absolutely right.
EVA: I also found volume six to be a fun ride (although I share some of Robin’s frustrations), but you nearly lost me on volume five. The story took a wild turn into WTFville. The conversation between Max Lobo and his ex-wife (“I’ve been raped!” “Oh, no! Let’s kiss, before I run off to save a bunch of people I’ve just met!”), Alexis Dawson showing up just in time to act as the exposition fairy, and the lack of foresight shown by the aloha-shirt wearing Chinatown gang as they burn all of Dr. Dawson’s research are all the sort of things that drive me crazy in films, let alone in manga.
This is one of those times where reading manga in huge chunks, rather than in short monthly installments, works against the story. I don’t know that I would have minded the action/thriller/mafioso cliches as much if they’d come in shorter bursts.
MJ: Eva, I had a similar reaction to Max Lobo’s conversation with his ex-wife. Even though we hadn’t seen all that much of her earlier on, I felt it was out of character for her to fall into his arms so easily after a traumatic experience.
MICHELLE: That struck me as a false note, too. I definitely thought volume six was the better of the two. While I still liked volume five on the whole, I certainly noticed the convenient arrival of Alexis Dawson, though there was at least a slightly plausible explanation given for his appearance. I guess I was just happy to be getting more information about Banana Fish and didn’t think too hard about the story mechanics that enabled the reveal.
ROBIN: Just to chime in, I was also thrown out of the story by Max and his ex-wife — it was another plot point that felt like a device and was given very little realism. The rape was there to make you feel the threat and give Max a very personal consequence, but it then it was abruptly dismissed, which lessened the impact.
Another comment for everyone: I found myself once again feeling a bit mystified as to just why everyone is ok with Papa Dino’s pedophilia (and apparently many other members of his gang are allowed that indulgence as well). When you add in the comment from Yut-Lung’s brother about how gorgeous he is, which smacks of incestuous interest, I was struck by how Japanese the quirks of this series are despite the New York setting. The strain between the two outlooks is showing a bit: I can’t imagine that the mafia, given how family based they are, would be quite so laissez-faire about a group of pedophiles in their midst. Is this something that bothered any of you? Or is it just par for the manga course and I should let it go?
CONNIE: I’m with MJand Michelle, I was completely swept up in the action in these volumes. I’ll admit that my first time through, I took a pretty significant break after volume five, but when I jumped back in with volume six, I really tore through the rest of the volumes. As utterly unlikely and ridiculous as the situations get (the fact this entire epic action sequence happens with most of the characters wearing tuxes still makes me smile), I’m right there with most of the characters and their reasons for doing things. Emotional resonance is also what I look for in a story the most, and with all the admittedly over-the-top extreme things happening to the characters here, it was great for me seeing them play things out in such an extreme way.
I was also bothered by pedophilia as Papa Dino’s main motivation for things, though. Perhaps it was the ugliness of that act that pulled me out of the logic of the story, but I agree that it struck me as extremely unlikely, even in the context of Banana Fish. It’s one thing that it happened to Ash and some of what’s going on is Ash’s revenge, but the fact Dino’s still indulging his vice and it’s still such a big plot point really bothers me.
KHURSTEN: Reading these volumes of Banana Fish makes me feel like my gangster story has switched from primetime to daytime with its hardlined manly action suddenly switched to people screaming for revenge left and right. Or maybe it was the image of Ash in a tux as fixed by his hairdresser and stylist. It’s crazy and melodramatic, although I somehow feel that this was possibly the middle ground of Yoshida as a shoujo writer trying to capture a hardcore gangster tale. She’s letting emotions get the better of her characters which may be odd for us but in her world it works. And if we let her emotions sway us as readers, it would be quite a shock to see all the revelations in this chapter. They were quite a lot and A LOT MORE has happened in such a short time. With so many things happening, I doubt Ash or any of the people would have the clarity of mind to react appropriately, I think. I was amused that Ash even had the train of thought to make that jump over the beams and find a way out. I… wouldn’t have thought of that after all the crap that’s happened.
Personally, I am more engaged in this set and it was partly of what was happening in vol. 5 which volume 6 kind of dragged into action. There were lots of information being exchanged in that volume and FINALLY the mystery of Banana Fish has been revealed! It ain’t that smart of an explanation but finding that missing link and finally realizing something larger is involved makes it worthwhile for me. It’s like “YAY! THERE SHE BLOWS WITH HER BRAND OF MOBY DICK!” Would it be crazy for me to say I find her imagination completely crazy and almost hilarious for this one? I think her whole mafia/gang/triad connection was already crazy. Add the government to the equation, it’s like this campy Hong Kong movie. It’s awesome.
MICHELLE: I must admit that I loved Ash in that tux with the stylish hair, but much more so after it was all dirty and bloody and ripped to shreds. :)
MJ: So, Michelle said earlier that she finally fell in love with Ash during his escape sequence, which brings me handily to my next point of discussion. I know I’m wallowing in my emotional reactions a bit here, but *wow* I’d forgotten how out-and-out *romantic* Ash’s rescue of Eiji is in volume six. The panels where they are talking to each other from either side of the door? I think I may have actually swooned. And though I would consider myself an Eiji fan if I had to choose, I, too, fell in love with Ash as he stood there in the doorway after blasting it open, all rugged and torn up, holding a giant gun.
I was also really struck this time around by a panel a bit later on, after Eiji has proclaimed his devotion out of car window as he is sped away to safety, leaving Ash alone to ponder what the hell has just occurred between them as he faces his task ahead. There is a sense of wonder and awe in that frame of Ash standing alone that rings so true to me, like he’s caught for a split-second in the wake of that speeding car, momentarily frozen to the spot, until he’s left with just the night air hanging around him.
Now, I’m actually not making a case for BL here, however it might sound. I just found the whole thing incredibly romantic, in a way that pretty much reduced me to a helpless slave to my girliest instincts.
MICHELLE: I think MJhas hit upon some specific things that allowed my Ash love to bloom. I think it was his capacity to be a complete and total badass while hurting inside. Not only did I get verklempt at his appearance after blasting in the door, but I also really appreciated that small moment taken amongst all the confusion while he thinks over Eiji’s profession of eternal devotion. Definitely there is wonder and awe, but I think there’s also a little bit of bemusement there. Perhaps a little bit of “Why me? Why would such a good person like you want to devote yourself whole-heartedly to a life like this?” You know I take notes as I read, and at this point I wrote, “Pretty lovey, that…”
KHURSTEN: I will reveal a guilty pleasure but during that scene, I was playing Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance” in the background. I would agree and it was the oddest romantic connection, although I don’t exactly consider it romantic per se, but it was one of those hard ass hero saves the day and the ‘hero’ kind of moments, especially with all those machine guns and blood splatter. It’s a strange sight and moment for romance, but strangely it works. Like MJI like that door scene. I also like that little smug exchange when Ash asks Eiji if he was scared of him. It was cool. Really cool. I highly recommend reading it with “Bad Romance” in the background! XD It’s perfect, I say.
p.s. MJ, there’s nothing wrong being a helpless slave to our girliest instincts. I have a feeling, Yoshida might have intended that for us as well. XD
ROBIN: I think that these volumes just didn’t sell me on the revelations, or the revelations weren’t so surprising to me to merit the melodrama accompanying them.
What Banana Fish turns out to be is less interesting than I’d hoped. The gangster attitude feeling more and more unreal is disconnecting me from whatever emotional attachment I have to the characters. I feel the romantic aspect of Ash and Eiji’s reunion (romance in the more literary sense, not the let’s jump into bed sense), and the individual panels you all reference are striking for both the emotion and design, but those instances are not currently enough to make me love the series or the characters.
I’m just as likely to accept cracky plot for character schmoop (see Sanami Matoh’s FAKE for the guiltiest of ludicrous police plots glossed over in favor of enjoying romance), but when a series is walking a fine line between shojo emotions and seinen action, I want it to walk that line better.
MJ: Robin, I’ll be really interested to see if your feelings hold over the course of the next few volumes. I was thinking earlier how interesting it’s been to watch everyone’s varied reactions in light of who has already read the series in its entirety and who has not. Obviously I can’t guarantee what your experience will be, but when Connie mentioned that she took a long break at one point, I thought about the way I’d read the series originally.
For quite a while, I only owned volumes 1-7, so that’s where I had my long break, and I wonder, had my break been at volume five like Connie’s was, if I would have been as anxious to dig back into it. Volume seven was a game-changer for me (which I’ll discuss more when we get there) so I was ravenous for the next volume, but I was nowhere near as emotionally attached to the series at the end of volume five. Then, when I got the last 11 volumes (in bulk), I tore through them all in just a day or two. I’m curious to see whether the next few volumes will bring you back into the fold or push you further away.
ROBIN: One more note, and I’ll try to stop being the party pooper. Is anyone else annoyed by Eiji’s inability to, you know, DO anything? He offers to get a gun and fight, and Ash prevents him. He’s constantly being shuffled off for his own protection like a kept woman. While I certainly understand Ash’s wishes to protect the people he cares about, I get tired of Eiji’s doormat-like acceptance. Were I in his position, I’d want to learn how to protect myself, and I would at least show aggravation at being ordered off even if it was for my own protection. It’s not that it’s untrue to character, perhaps, but that I personally get very tired of that repeated acquiescence without any sense that Eiji is really working on becoming a more useful person to have around.
He doesn’t have to become a killer, but he could, you know, research. Or be a strategist. Or something. But right now he’s only there to be protected, and that gets on my nerves.
MJ: I think that assessment of Eiji is a *little* unfair, considering that he saved Ash way back in the early volumes with his back-alley high-jump, and he’s certainly protested being “protected” plenty of times since (his refusal to get out of the car back when Ash originally became a fugitive comes to mind) though I can see where you’re coming from at this point in the story. I think Yoshida’s point here, clumsy though it may be, is actually to demonstrate the growth in Ash’s feelings about Eiji since the early volumes.
Remember way back, when he gives Eiji a gun and pretty much says it’s up to him to protect himself? I think what we’re seeing here is that Ash has come to really value Eiji’s innocence as something worth protecting, perhaps because his own is so far gone. It’s the *way* he dismisses Eiji’s request for a gun here that is significant. It’s not so that he can protect him (though he promises to do so), but so that Eiji doesn’t have to become a killer like him. That’s something that’s become really important to Ash.
I do think it’s significant, though, that when I think about it, if Eiji was a female character, I’d be pretty pissed off about the way he’s rescued here and what happens afterwards. It’s only the fact that he’s male that makes it palatable (and even romantic) for me.
MICHELLE: I definitely got the sense that Ash was trying to protect Eiji’s innocence as well as Eiji himself. And I actually thought it was rather mature of Eiji to agree to absent himself from the fray. Too often, unqualified characters insist on tagging along with the hero and get into trouble and we are asked to have sympathy for their plight while the hero has to take time out of what he was trying to accomplish to save their incompetent butts. It’s a wise character who knows his limits and doesn’t even attempt to get into that situation.
That said, since Eiji is opting to be by Ash’s side, it would only be prudent for him to learn how to take care of himself. That’s just obviously not something he’s going to accomplish quickly enough to be of use here.
ROBIN: Oh, I see what she’s doing there in terms of Ash’s progression. It’s an more objective reaction of being tired of characters being protected for some ideal of innocence. They’re not real characters. In these circumstances no one would remain that lily-white innocent, no matter who tries to protect them.
I agree that this would be much MORE irritating if Eiji were female, as it would play into that many more stereotypes. I’m still miffed, though, even with Eiji is a guy — it doesn’t read as romantic or palatable to me. I don’t find characters who represent ideals (innocence, youth, goodness) interesting — I’d much rather have someone more complex and shaded with gray. We’ll see, though, in how the series goes on!
MJ: It’s so hard to respond without spoiling anything! We will have to wait and see. :) I admit, though, that I’m frequently drawn to characters like Eiji. Not as a representation of innocence (though I think he may represent that for Ash to some degree) but as someone who can begin so innocent and adapt to such a drastic change in circumstances without losing his sense of self. I think it takes more strength in extreme circumstances to maintain things like warmth, compassion, and a trusting nature than it does to let them go, and from my perspective, that’s who Eiji is and that’s what he offers to Ash, who has spent his whole life struggling to eradicate any personal or physical vulnerability.
On a personal note, having been raised Quaker, I recall very painfully what it was like to come from a household where “shut up” was considered unacceptably cruel language and feeling utterly at a loss as to how to defend myself against real-world cruelty from other kids. That’s an extreme example, perhaps, of what Eiji’s going through, but I can really appreciate his essentially trusting nature and on some level I’m rooting for him to retain as much of it as possible, because I value it too. He’s learning some really hard lessons in these volumes that resonate with me on a very personal level.
PS: I think you and Yut-Lung will get on very well. He’s irritated by Eiji too. :D
ROBIN: I see your point that holding on to innocence and goodness is definitely hardest — I think I wished there was more sense that Eiji was doing this actively, rather than passively. Again, I’m betting more will come up as we go ahead.
Oh indeed: Yut-Lung and I are not necessarily alike, but he’s the kind of character I really enjoy: smart, capable, multi-layered, and just a little amoral. He’s what I wish I might be like in this kind of situation (although I’m utterly resigned to the fact that I might well react like Eiji!).
Some of this is characters representing types — heroes are frequently more one-note because that’s who they have to be. The guy who rushes in without thinking too much about it is the hero as he takes the leap. The guy who sits there plotting is usually the side character, possibly an ally, but often ambiguous. I definitely prefer strategists to heroes in terms of personality. This is why, to use Harry Potter universe shorthand, I would totally be Ravenclaw.
MJ: And this is why I… am a Hufflepuff. *sigh* :)
EVA: OK, Ash may be all about protecting Eiji’s innocence (which is stupid, at this point, seeing as how much Eiji has already been an accomplice to), but what he’s doing is turning Eiji into Princess Buttercup. Oh, sure, he may be allowed to hold a dead branch in the Fire Swamp, but if he doesn’t actually hit the ROUS in the head with it, then he’s just a decorative tree stump. Yes, way back in whatever early volume that was, Eiji jumped over a fence. And that’s when we all fell in love with Eiji. But ever since then it’s been all tree stump, all the time. At this point, I’d even support him going off and trying something stupid if it meant he actually DID something.
I agree with Robin’s point that the scenes between Ash and Eiji are romantic in a literary sense. Ash is full of heroic isolation and all that good stuff. It’s what makes a hero relatable, after all. I see where you all are coming from, but I still don’t get BL vibes from this story at all.
CONNIE: The distinction in Eiji’s gender is an interesting point (in that his situation would be far less acceptable if he were female), although I’m not sure how to constructively comment on it further than that. Gender is a funny thing.
Robin, based only on the volumes I’ve re-read, I would also agree with you about Eiji’s role as the damsel in distress, so to speak. He does serve as important emotional support for Ash, and has more action-oriented roles early on and is all sorts of necessary to the story, but my gut reaction to that was that you’re right. Eiji gets stolen an awful lot, and there’s plenty of protection and rescuing going on.
When I thought about how to expand on that point though, my reading of the later storylines got in the way. Protection and rescue are pretty prominent themes in the series, and it’ll be interesting to see if this discussion comes up again later on.
MJ: So I have one last question, though it’s different depending on whether you’re a re-reader or reading the series for the first time.
For participants new to the series, what are you hoping to see over the next few volumes? And for re-readers, assuming that your perspective on the volumes we’ve already discussed has been shaped somewhat by having already read the series, is there a particular aspect of your reading experience this time around in which you’ve most noticed a shift in your point of view?
CONNIE: For my second time through the series, I think what I’m noticing more are the small pauses and the silence at key moments, which Michelle has mentioned already. I have a tendency to read manga very fast, so those nuances were lost on me the first time through. The best so far was the scene Michelle mentioned earlier when Ash guns down Dawson with little fanfare or commentary, but there are lots of instances of Ash and others taking a panel or two to consider something before saying or doing it, or sitting in silence rather than giving a blow-by-blow of whatever just happened. I think I’m used to characters talking over almost anything, and having a silence hanging around is refreshing and very humanizing.
It might be more of a point of pacing rather than characterization, maybe, but either way it is very refreshing.
MICHELLE: Hmm, that’s a toughie. I want to see Eiji begin learning to take care of himself, particularly if he can do so without changing his essential personality. I feel like a lot of the questions have been answered now, so I expect to see Ash getting his bearings now that he’s back in New York and, possibly, having to hide out from a government that now wants him dead. I’d like to see Ash and Eiji have an opportunity to talk more, and maybe for more of Ash’s gang members to become fleshed out characters. Now that both Skip and Shorter are gone, Ash doesn’t have an accomplished street fighter on his side anymore, and volume six suffered a little for the lack of connection with these characters when they arrived at Golzine’s place to bust Ash out.
KHURSTEN: Re-reading Banana Fish, even until now, has always been an emotional rollercoster for me. I don’t think much of that has changed but I do realize in these exchanges over the past few months that some of us tend to build expectations based on how it was advertised to us and in a way how the author mildly presents herself to the audience. And that could change one’s reading experience of it. I tried ascribing to some perspectives mentioned here and it’s quite fascinating to have a different reading, perhaps a new dimension to Banana Fish. So perhaps that may be something I’m looking forward to in the next few readings. <3 EVA: What I hope to see in upcoming volumes is a gelling of the team, whatever team that turns out to be. Everyone who matters at this point is back in New York. Ash has been reunited with his gang. Shorter is dead, there’s tension between the different factions of “good guys,” Dino is working with the Feds, and the Feds are squeezing our pals over at the police department. I want the good guys to get their acts together the way Dino and his men have, so that they can stop reacting and start responding. As the man said, a little less conversation, a little more action, please. (All this aggravation ain’t satisfactionin’ me.)
MICHELLE: I, too, would love to see a formation of a competent team to “stop reacting and start responding.” I didn’t know I wanted this until Eva mentioned it, but now it sounds so awesome that I would love it if the story took a turn in that direction.
ROBIN: Michelle and Eva, I was thinking the same thing! I’m having a hard time keeping track of all the characters (and more importantly why I should CARE about all these characters) so I think seeing them become a cohesive team of some sort would give me a group to get behind.
Part of that for me would also mean seeing more of these characters interact in such a way that shows me why they’re loyal to each other and why they like each other. I’m feeling a bit of a lack of interconnections to hang on to, and while I have a general impression of who the good guy is and who the bad guy is, I’m not getting caught up in why I want the good guys to win except the most basic sense of justice. Manga is often slow to build such things, and that’s why I like manga — the slower character development is a big draw. But I want more than just Ash and Eiji — I want to see more, as we did with Shorter’s sister, and I’m glad they’re all back in NYC now. Having everyone back in one place will hopefully bring more character goodness.
Also, Eva, I was giggling over the Buttercup reference, but you’re so right! Ha!
MJ: I think it was “all tree stump, all the time” that really got *me* giggling. :)
In the back of my mind, I’m always sort of pushing this roundtable ahead toward volumes 7 & 8 like some kind of helpless backseat driver, since that is where I really fell in love with the series when I first read it. Last night, in fact, I finally gave in and reread those volumes, just to see if it would be the same for me a second time. It was. But I didn’t quite realize until now just how much my feelings about the series’ later volumes may be influencing how I’m reading the earlier ones this time around. I think this has perhaps affected most my opinion of Eiji (who is my favorite character) and my overall patience with the plot (which, believe me, has just barely begun).
I’m really enjoying reading everyone else’s impressions and frustrations, though, especially those coming from a first-timer’s perspective. I actually went back and read some of Connie’s original reviews in her blog last night as well, and I really wished I’d written more about the series’ early volumes in my own blog so that I could more clearly recall how I felt about them at the time.
It will be interesting, too, to see if the next couple of volumes are able to ease anyone’s frustrations. I hesitate to even speculate! Needless to say, I’m really looking forward to the next installment.
CONNIE: MJ, I have to admit, I go back to my old blog entries every time I finish a volume, trying to see if something stood out more or less clearly this time through. It hasn’t been too helpful yet, but it’s still pretty fun to see what stuck in my memory strongly enough to write about (even though it’s only been a year, I have a terrible memory for detail, so those entries are almost new to me).
That’s all for this month’s installment! Once more, many, many thanks to the wonderful women who have joined me here! Catch up with us again in September when we’ll dig into volumes seven and eight. And please, share your thoughts with us in comments!
Sara saysJuly 12, 2010 at 10:45 pm
I’m really enjoying the back-and-forth between you all. I’m a fan of Banana Fish since early in its Viz release in the States. I don’t quite recall how I first got wind of it, though I think that its homoeroticism (which the first two cover images really play up IMO) played a part in my seeking it out (I’m a fan of GLBTQ themes in manga and elsewhere).
What prompted me to comment, is Melinda’s noting she was raised Quaker. I was raised in and still belong to the Society of Friends. For me, the ratcheting-up of the violence in the series with volume 6, caused me to question whether I could stomach reading on. (I did, however!) I’m a fan of shoujo, shounen, josei and BL, but generally don’t read seinen manga (REAL and Yotsuba& being an exception). Even Naruto’s occasional bloodbaths don’t seem to compare to what shows up in Banana Fish. So far, has the violence portrayed been a sticking point for any of you? Or is it low-key compared to a lot of seinen?
On a separate topic: I’ll be interested in seeing folks’ reaction to Yoshida’s evolving character designs/drawing style over the course of the series. (Not too much of a spoiler, I hope!)
Sara saysJuly 12, 2010 at 10:47 pm
Sorry for the misplaced commas in my second paragraph—should have proofread again before posting, argh!
Melinda Beasi saysJuly 12, 2010 at 10:59 pm
I’ve actually become pretty desensitized to violence as a genre nerd, but I can certainly understand your feelings. Though both my parents and I have drifted away from organized religion in recent years (well, religion as a whole, really), we each still share many ideals and sensibilities with the Friends. This isn’t a series I would recommend to my mother, by any means. And while I’ve read seinen series with more violence (and certainly more gore), I wouldn’t characterize the violence in Banana Fish as low-key. I think you’re pretty hearty for making it through. :)
I’m so pleased that you’ve commented here. Please feel free to add anything you like! With or without typos. :)
Sara saysJuly 12, 2010 at 11:26 pm
BTW, I’ve posted about this roundtable to the ash_lynx community on LiveJournal—I hope it’ll lure more BF readers to the conversation.
Melinda Beasi saysJuly 13, 2010 at 6:48 am
Oh, lovely! Thank you! I used to post to that community back in the day. I hope some of them will drop by!
Cait saysJuly 12, 2010 at 11:18 pm
You know, I’m not generally bothered by violence in fiction (gore on occasion, but usually not violence), but I can see how the violence in this series might cause someone to pause. It is far more “real” than the violence or blood or gore you see in the shonen and seinen genres. Naruto and Bleach are almost “fantasy” in their depictions of supernatural powers and inhuman looking characters, but everything and everyone in Banana Fish is realistic: characters, relationships and the consequences of violence. A single bullet really can kill someone. The pain is real and the reader can see it that way (whereas Ichigo gets run through and then he stands back up again a few panels later, bloody, but pulling out an even stronger counterattack that… sort of hurts his opponent). In a series like this it ratchets up the tension in a way that someone not used to, or put off by, such things might very well be uncomfortable with.
Sara saysJuly 12, 2010 at 11:24 pm
“an even stronger counterattack that… sort of hurts his opponent”—LOL!
I feel Naruto does a slightly better job than Bleach of making violence “stick,” as it were—beloved characters die and *stay* dead. But you’re right, Banana Fish really does sock it to us with the believability of its violence.
Michelle Smith saysJuly 13, 2010 at 6:14 pm
I’m so used to characters surviving horrible injuries that I was a little surprised Shorter was really dead.
Sara saysJuly 13, 2010 at 9:16 pm
Whoops—my initial comment mentions homoeroticism in the “first two” cover images, but in fact I meant vol. 1 and vol. 18 (said images are interesting to compare, incidentally). Of course, I didn’t see the #18 cover until later, but I guess #1 was powerful enough to draw me in!
Cait saysJuly 12, 2010 at 11:26 pm
Anyway, I just got through the Roundtable tonight (I was attending a Con this weekend), and I am just so excited that now everyone has seen Ash’s transformation from street-urchin-gang-badass to tuxedo-clad-bishonen, and then back again in bloody aftermath. It’s one of the images that has stood out in my memory of this series since I read it the first time.
And as much as things might change for everyone in another couple of volumes, the events of Shorter’s death are very much a turning point in the story. They are a serious transition, not just of power in the Chinese gangs, but also a turning point within Ash, having had to take the life of his friend (one who betrayed him, but still very much a friend). I almost see this fact as very telling in relation to his need in his relationship with Eiji. Eiji is a person that won’t betray Ash (ever), that has nothing to hide from him and who can support him emotionally by just being who he is. Ash has clearly become very attached to Eiji, even though he recognizes (or, rather, believes) that nothing good can come to Eiji from his relationship to Ash.
What I’m most looking forward to is actually the evolving opinions of all of the Roundtable participants as the reading moves forward. I’ve already worked my way through the entire series once, and generally my opinions of things rarely change, but new perspective from different people is always fascinating, especially as it is rare to get to see it as the other people read along (rather than getting a final opinion after a whole series is read). Can’t wait!
Melinda Beasi saysJuly 13, 2010 at 7:07 am
Yeah, I’m enjoying that as well. The slow pace can be a bit frustrating (I want them all to read the next two volumes NOW! Hee.) But it’s been really interesting to see how people’s opinions have evolved, volume-to-volume.
It’s been interesting, in particular, to observe people’s reactions to Eiji. He’s my favorite character, and has been from the start. I’m having some difficulty relating to the frustrations others are having about him, but it’s very interesting, nonetheless. I suppose in my eyes, being someone trustworthy and (perhaps even more importantly) trusting is what makes Eiji special, and my awareness of how rare that is overwhelms the need for him to be something else. Those are qualities I value so highly, and have had difficulty finding (perhaps even within myself, as I become a more and more damaged by life) as an adult.
Angela saysJuly 13, 2010 at 1:43 pm
I just discovered this discussion and, being a hardcore BF fan, I scurried over to read everything you’ve said so far. Thanks so much for doing this! I’m glad to see Banana Fish getting this kind of attention, especially this late in the game. This series is kind of a hard-sell as a recommended read because it doesn’t fit into any genre well, and sometimes I fear my enthusiasm turns people off of it. >_<
It's fascinating to read everyone's opinions, especially as some of them end up vastly different from my own but are based only on a different nuance of the same emotion. It's neat to see you guys coming from the same point as me but drawing a different conclusion.
Unlike a lot of you here (it seems) I'm completely drawn to Ash; Eiji is wonderful, but Ash is the reason I still binge-read this series, even after the third and fourth time through. It's really great to read the evolving impressions of him (as well as everyone else) as a lot of you read through for the first time and I'm eager to see how your feelings change as you read more.
I barely remember my first read through, except that it was frantic. I discovered BF when it came to Animerica Extra and after a couple of chapters, I promptly ordered volumes 1-7 (all that was out at that time) and read them all within a few days. I then had to wait something like two years for volume eight (as they had just decided to re-release it from the start rather than continuing). That wait colored my later reading because I had a lot of time to muse over those first seven volumes until I knew them inside and out, even to the point of writing quite a lot of fanfiction (which, I'm sure, colored my view of the characters and their motivations even more). I wonder what it would be like to read this series without a two-year gap in the middle. Or even without then waiting two months for each subsequent volume. Nowadays when I re-read, it's all nineteen volumes in a matter of days. I can't imagine doing it any other way.
Anyway, I've strayed ridiculously far from my original point – it's fantastic to read this round-table. I'm thrilled to see such well-thought, articulate analysis of my favorite manga. Thanks so much – I'll definitely be around to read more as you continue.
Melinda Beasi saysJuly 13, 2010 at 2:05 pm
Angela, I’m so happy to see you commenting here!
For everyone else to know, just in case you’re looking for some Banana Fish fanfiction (*after* you’ve finished the series—it’s waaaaay too dangerous to read any before), Angela has written some of the best. Definitely check it out! (I’ll point you there privately when the time comes, in case she’d like to keep her fannish identity under her hat.)
Ruby_Alexandrine saysJuly 16, 2010 at 6:09 pm
I’m glad that there is at least one blog that is talking in depth about Banana Fish. Its one of my favorite manga of all time and its sorely under-appreciated. I own the Angel Fish artbook which shows Ash and Eiji being a bit more affectionate to each other.
I truly love this series because there is no other like it.
Melinda Beasi saysJuly 18, 2010 at 12:20 pm
Ruby, thank you so much for stopping by! I love this series too. :)