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Shaenon K. Garrity
This is where I write stuff.
New Smithson! 
7th-Feb-2007 11:32 pm
Atagoul
That's right: it's another page of The Number One Superhero Comic on the Internet©!

http://www.webcomicsnation.com/shaenongarrity/smithson

Smithson's been having technical difficulties this week, so please be patient if you can't get to the archives.

Meanwhile, Andrew's posted another thrilling installment of William Bazillion, also The Number One Superhero Comic on the Internet©. Mine has more superheroes. This week, anyway.

http://www.webcomicsnation.com/andrew/bazillion/series.php

By the way, if you're planning to vote in the Web Cartoonists' Choice Awards and you haven't received a ballot yet, I suggest you email Trbinth@aol.com and ask for one. They seem to have lost some in the mail.

What else? Oh, right. Overlooked Manga Festival!



Way back when, in a previous Overlooked Manga Festival, I posted a list of the ten all-time most popular manga in Japan, according to a 1998 poll in Comic Link magazine. Because female fans turned out in droves for that poll, a lot of the top Comic Link manga are classic shojo (girls') manga, and most of them haven't been published in English yet. As it happens, the #1 manga in the poll is available in translation, and has been for many years, but no one here pays much attention to it. Maybe no one knows what to make of it. There's nothing else exactly like it.



Viz has been publishing Banana Fish in one form or another since the dawn of time (okay, 1999), but is only now reaching the end: Volume 18 of the 19-volume series just came out. It was a feature in the late, lamented PULP, Viz's magazine for alternative and "adult" manga. But Banana Fish is neither alternative nor aimed at adults. It's a shojo manga, and during its original run in the late '80s and early '90s it was wildly popular with scores of teenage girls.

Because if there's one thing teenage girls like, it's gritty 1980s inner-city gang warfare.



Ash Lynx is a teen gang leader in New York City trying to get out from under the thumb of crimelord "Papa" Dino Golzine. He's also secretly caring for his older brother, who has been catatonic ever since he cracked in 'Nam and blew away most of his platoon. But a chance meeting with a dying man clues him in to a connection between his brother and something--a person, an organization, a drug--called "Banana Fish." Yes, English majors, like the Salinger story.

To understand why this story hit it big with girls, it might help to know that Ash is physically modeled after River Phoenix.



In another previous Overlooked Manga Festival, I noted the talent many manga artists possess for coming up with unintentionally hilarious Causasian character names, like "Leopard Solid." You may think that "Ash Lynx" falls into the same category. What you don't realize is that Ash's name is just a pseudonym. He has a down-to-earth, honest-to-goodness real name, okay?



ASLAN CALLENREESE. YES.

Ahem.

While the aforementioned shit is going down, two guileless Japanese reporters embed themselves in Ash's gang and get tangled up in the whole mess.



The younger reporter, Eiji, connects with Ash in a deep and unexpected way, and readers of shojo manga know what that means. Not that anything happens, per se. There's just subtext. Very, very generous subtext. Actually, the development of their relationship is gradual, subtle and unusually touching.




But in Banana Fish, unlike in 99.99% of shojo manga, not all of the gay sex is titillating good fun. Much of the plot hinges on Ash's past as the sex toy and personal pet of Dino Golzine, who has a taste for young boys. Eiji has fallen into a hard, cold world, as all the other characters are happy to explain to him.



Aside from the homosexuality, Banana Fish barely resembles a shojo manga. Or any manga at all, for that matter. I'm going to go out on a limb and declare that no other shojo manga in the history of shojo manga has ever featured dialogue like this:



Hell, it's possible that no other shojo manga has so much as included the line, "He's got a grenade launcher!"



You don't see that in Fruits Basket. I'm sorry, you just don't.

But Banana Fish isn't much like any manga, shojo or otherwise. It's densely plotted, dialogue-heavy, focused on gritty, earthy action: an American comic book channeling an American TV cop drama. The first volume is on the clunky side, and the early artwork is, frankly, pretty bad. But it picks up steam quickly, and soon the characters and their grim, pulpy world become absorbing. The plot builds slowly but pays off huge in the later volumes. I think about Banana Fish after I've read it, much more than I usually think about a manga.



The Viz edition is helped immensely in the early volumes by the script rewrites of editor Carl Horn. Carl works for Dark Horse now, and he's an auteur among manga editors; he leaves an unmistakable stamp on his work, whether it's Neon Genesis Evangelion, Flowers and Bees, or Golgo 13. In Banana Fish, he clearly gets a kick out of punching up the 1980s street-smart dialogue:



Yes, that's Akimi Yoshida's idea of Harlem (and, I'm afraid, some of the less insulting drawings of black people you're likely to see in manga). She also thinks the oyster bar in Grand Central Station has white tablecloths and tuxedoed waiters. And that this is a New York street gang:



But the America of Banana Fish is hardly meant to be a real place, anyway. It's a fantasy world of violence and lawlessness, Never-Never Land crossed with the Wild West. A place where boys can be men, girls can wallow vicariously in testosterone, and sexually ambiguous Japanese youths can play with handguns they'd never even get to see in Japan.




Like Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind (no, really), Banana Fish is one of the great milestones of manga, yet so totally idiosyncratic that it almost doesn't resemble manga at all. It's second to nothing.



Previous Overlooked Manga Festivities:
Basara
Please Save My Earth
From Eroica with Love
Even a Monkey Can Draw Manga
Dr. Slump
Your and My Secret
Phoenix
Kekkaishi
Wild Act
Knights of the Zodiac
The Drifting Classroom
OMF Special Event: Manga Editors Recommend Manga, Part 1
OMF Special Event: Manga Editors Recommend Manga, Part 2
OMF Special Event: Manga Editors Recommend Manga, Part 3
OMF Special Event: Great Moments in Manga Baking
Shout Out Loud
Monster
Swan
Warren Buffett: An Illustrated Biography of the World's Most Successful Investor
Sexy Voice and Robo
OMF Special Event: 2006 Overlooked Manga Update
The Four Immigrants Manga
Gerard and Jacques
Ode To Kirihito
Bringing Home the Sushi

Comments 
(Deleted comment)
16th-Jul-2008 06:13 am (UTC)
I enjoy after the conventions, the parties, karaoke, etc. . . . But sitting behind a table is kind of uncomfortable.
9th-Oct-2008 02:31 pm (UTC)
I enjoy after the conventions, the parties, karaoke, etc. . . . But sitting behind a table is kind of uncomfortable.
9th-Oct-2008 02:48 pm (UTC)
I enjoy after the conventions, the parties, karaoke, etc. . . . But sitting behind a table is kind of uncomfortable.
8th-Feb-2007 03:51 pm (UTC)
Are those action lines in their mouths when they scream? (Or are they baleen whales? That's the only other explanation I can muster.)
8th-Feb-2007 06:37 pm (UTC)

Yoshida likes to shade things in with skinny little lines. I actually quite like her inking style--again, it's not very manga-like, but it's unusual and distinctive.
8th-Feb-2007 07:58 pm (UTC)
I was going to say that Carl leaves an unmistakeable mark on everything, but then I realized that came out all wrong.

I wish I hadn't left his doujinshi behind during the move.
(Deleted comment)
8th-Feb-2007 10:20 pm (UTC)

The categories aren't really set in stone in Japan; it basically comes down to which magazine serialized the manga. But I like that the general category of "girls' manga" can include work as diverse as Banana Fish and...well, everything other than Banana Fish.
17th-Apr-2007 11:26 am (UTC) - What a finale
Is anyone else near heartbroken by the finale of Banana Fish? *no spoilers* Here the second last volume kinda was turning me off with all the big cliches etc and then we get to the last 30 pages of the story in vol 19 and... Wow. *cries* Just taken as a whole an awesome ride and a very powerful shoujo manga that reminded me in many ways--story wise not art-wise--of classic 70s shoujo more than recent ones--in overall devestating style alone.

I wish to God that Viz would publish the side story volume Private Opinion or at least someone would scanlate it (though I did like that vol 19 finished, as it does in Japan with two side stories that nicely bring one out, slightly, of the shock of the actual finale)

And almost as frustrating is there is SO little talk about this title on English manga and anime forums that I have no one to discuss the ending with

E

16th-Jul-2008 04:23 pm (UTC)
After all we've seen and all we've learned, Ellis ends on one last bit of business that is both profanity and information all tied up in one unforgettable visual punchline.
18th-Jul-2008 07:58 am (UTC)
Who's Ellis? :(
8th-Feb-2007 10:33 pm (UTC)
*squee* Banana Fish!

BF needs so, so, so much more love than it gets, it really does. It's hands-down my favorite manga, because there's just so much substance in it. I used to get Pulp to read "Strain," and it quickly turned into me getting Pulp to read BF.

What always got to me was the relationship between Ash and Eiji--yes, yes, there was much slashing material with them, but it always seemed like that would have been throughly cheapening one of the purest relationships I've ever seen in print. A boy prostitute-cum gang leader and an innocent photographer's assistant? They two of them never should have ever had any connection to each other at all, but Eiji was the only person in the world that Ash could be a boy with--their banter and teasing was pure fun for both of them. And Eiji would kill for Ash, and Ash would kill so Eiji wouldn't have to.

...and I'm going to start now before I keep going, because ye gods, do I ever love BF.
9th-Feb-2007 10:53 pm (UTC)
Thank you for bringing more attention to Banana Fish, the awesomest of awesome. By the way, you are also the awesomest of awesome. And I work on B't X for Tokyopop, so I'm going to second your very old point that Masami Kurumada is cracktastic.
12th-Feb-2007 05:29 am (UTC)
My current manga addictions include Versus and whatever the correct name for the Cain saga thingy is. I've also gobbled up Sanctuary and Tokyo Babylon.
14th-Feb-2007 08:03 am (UTC)
I love this manga! I've only read the first 8 or so books though (I ran out >_< have to buy more). I'm really glad you're pimping it in this feature; I said a lot of the same things when I blogged about it, namely that I could not figure out who the American audience was supposed to be (along with Eroica and Jojo in the same comment, as it happens). I figured I'd wait till it finished before I bought the rest. XD Hate those cliffhangers.
26th-Mar-2007 08:20 am (UTC)
It frustrates me to no end that this manga hasn't become huge. I think maybe it's the very Otomo-ish and non shoujo art that turns people off (I admit it's not what I susually expect/want from classic shoujo art). I suppose I should be happy that it's finally almost complete (though I wish Viz would consider doing the one volume spin off)--since I started reading the translations ten years ago when still in High School (jesus) You're right --i it *is* totally weird in so many ways yet when your ead it it *doesn't* feel weird--I can visualize it in my head as really taking place more than most manga.

I'd love to read more of Akimi's work--I have some Japanese volumes of a later series she did (Lover's Kiss? Something like that) that looks like really great slice of life manga and I know her horror series about an angel, pre Banana Fish was a huge cult hit too. But I sorta lump her together with her "49ers" forebearers as someone whose work we'll never see in English again. Kudos to Viz for sticking with the whole series--I don't imagine it's ever sold well.
24th-Oct-2007 11:15 pm (UTC) - [deleted]
Anonymous
Oups...
17th-Nov-2007 03:59 am (UTC)
I've never read Banana Fish, but I love Yasha, a later series by the same author. It's about cloning. :D It's sci-fi/action and definitely has a lot of guns (and homoerotic subtext, too).
30th-Jan-2008 06:13 pm (UTC)
I love Yasha! I have the live-action TV series of Yasha, and several of the manga that I came across in Japanese, but I was never able to find a scanlation. Does one exist?
30th-Jan-2008 09:28 pm (UTC)
I have no idea, sorry! I read it in Japanese... On the one hand, it's a pretty unknown series outside of Japan, but on the other hand, Banana Fish is well-known in the US, so someone might have thought to scanlate her other series.
1st-Feb-2008 02:11 am (UTC)
Anonymous
Shoujo-Magic scanlated the first 3 volumes but then gave up cuz of lack of interest *cries*
1st-Feb-2008 02:12 am (UTC)
Shoujo-Magic scanlated the first 3 volumes but then gave up cuz of lack of interest *cries*
14th-Apr-2008 11:58 am (UTC)
I just finished the series and I read the ending about five times over and over again. It really breaks my heart. BF is such a powerful story.
3rd-Aug-2008 10:12 pm (UTC)
This is easily one of the best comics I've ever read. Thanks for turning me on to it. I can't thank you enough. I just finished volume 19 and am still crying.

-Isaac
11th-Jul-2009 09:00 pm (UTC)
Anonymous
BF is wonderful!!! I've read Private Opinion too : it's so sad, but young Ash is adorable!
14th-Nov-2009 06:10 am (UTC)
OMG!!!! i love this manga!!!! i don't have any volumen because in where i live, none editorial sell Banana Fish....is a pity....i hope read this great manga in the future, ¡¡¡thanks for the images!!! *O*

pd. sorry, mi english isn't very good >-
26th-Dec-2009 03:05 pm (UTC) - hey
Anonymous
I love Banana Fish, and River Phoenix! I am so sad the manga is over. Wow that one blew my mind. I loved it.
6th-May-2010 02:03 pm (UTC)
Litte review about Banana Fish:
New York City, 1985. A dying man leaves gay gang leader Ash Lynx a strange drug, the key to something called "Banana Fish." The mysterious potion will lead Ash to a disturbed Vietnam vet who remembers a massacre - and into brutal battle with the mafia over control of the drug.

you can buy Banana Fish at manga astore

Regards
Andy Landers

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18th-Apr-2013 04:53 pm (UTC) - Spin-Offs
Thanks so much for this review! I have been enjoying all of your reviews, and this one inspired me to go out and actually buy the manga. I can't tell you how happy I am that I did. This is absolutely the best manga I have ever read. I don't think I'm ever going to get over the ending, though. I swear, I have never been so affected by fictional characters before.

Shaenon, do you know if there are any plans for Viz to translate the remaining spin-off/prequel stories? I am dying to read "Fly Boy, In the Sky," "Private Opinion" and "X men."
20th-Apr-2014 11:22 pm (UTC)
I love people loving Banana Fish.
This has literally been my favorite manga for 10+ years now and there are so few people who even know about it!
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