I was commissioned via my patreonto watch and write a piece on My Brilliant Friend. Below are my thoughts.
My Brilliant Friend is an eight episode HBO series based off the novel of the same name by Elena Ferrante. The series is set mainly in a poor neighborhood in 1950’s Naples, Italy. It centers around the bond between two women- Elena Greco and Raffaella (‘Lila’) Cerulo. It follows Elena and Lila’s relationship from childhood to young adulthood, showing the tumultuous changes their lives go through and the many trials they face.
The story is dense and thematically rich, but at its core it’s about two young women struggling to live their lives and be there for each other in a society that wants to break them down and tear them apart. Gender-based and class-based oppression is shown to shape every aspect of the girls lives. It dictates their interactions with their families, friendships, romantic relationships and life paths. The show does an excellent and heartbreaking job of showing how omnipresent these rigid systems are and how utterly impossible it is not to be complicit in the systems.
It’s a depressing watch in many ways, but the audience is forewarned. We know from the beginning this story- or at least a large part of it- will not have a happy ending. The beginning of the story shows us Elena in her early sixties, apparently living alone. She gets a panicked call from Lila’s son telling her Lila has disappeared. Elena sharply tells him Lila made this choice and he’ll have to look after himself now and then, with some anger, decides to write down the story of her and Lila’s relationship.
I enjoyed every single one of the five anime I watched this season: Dororo, My Roommate is a Cat, Mob Psycho 100 II, The Promised Neverlandand Kaguya-sama: Love is War.
So here are my reviews! I’ve cut back on the anime overview a lot, so these are shorter reviews than usual (though not quite as short at I’d like. someday I’ll be able to restrain myself)
Since I liked all of the shows, these aren’t in a strict worst-to-best order or anything, but the ones I found most impressive ARE nearer to the bottom. So let’s dig into last season’s anime.
My Roommate is a Cat
Premise: An antisocial writer in his early 20s adopts a cat and they both get their worlds expanded as they bond.
My take: Much like the kitty it centers on, this show is super cute, sweet and fluffy. If you’re a cat-lover and want to bask in some kitty adorableness, I encourage you to check it out. At first, I was afraid the main character Subaru’s grumpy misanthropy might be too much- I could certainly empathize with being socially isolated and avoiding people, but the way he was just rude toward others was grating. Fortunately, his character development is swift, so he quickly went from misanthrope to anxious-introverted-mess-who-awkwardly-muddles-through-social-interaction-for-the-sake-of-his-kitty, which I found EXTREMELY relatable. Subaru is coping with the loss of his parents and the fact he took them for granted while they were alive as well, so there are quite a few heart-string tugging moments.
The show’s central gimmick is that events will be told from Subaru’s point of view and then we’ll get his kitty Haru’s side of things. Yep, the cat narrates part of the show, which is how I knew I was in it for good. And Haru’s a very good cat! She’s adorable without being cloying, and at least realistic in how most of her thoughts revolve around food. Seeing her warm up to her hopeless human is just as sweet as seeing Subaru warm up to her. As a former stray cat, she has a rough backstory, so if even a restrained depiction of kitty death is too much for you, look out for that part. This show isn’t afraid to bring the feels, but it keeps things positive overall. Subaru’s friends are supportive and help a new pet owner out, and we even get a cute doggie in the mix. Overall, if you want a relaxing, nice watch with a simple, sweet story, you could do a lot worse than My Roommate is a Cat.
Dororo (Episodes 1-12)
Premise: Thanks to his father making a deal with demons, Hyakkimaru has to wander Japan and fight monsters to get his body parts back. He meets up with a young thief named Dororo.
My take: Dororo is a very loose adaptation of the 1960′s manga by Osamu Tezuka, who’s known as the godfather of manga. I was familiar with Dororo thanks to watching the live action movie for an article when I worked at epicstream (it must not have left an impression bc I remember very little) so I was curious to check this out. I ended up reading the manga too, and overall, I find it pretty impressive as an adaptation. It does a lot to make a really dated and incomplete-feeling manga more palatable and cohesive for a modern audience. Maybe I’ll do a full post expanding on those thoughts sometime, because the changes really are worth examining.
Dororo is definitely not for everyone- it’s a grim, dark show with lots of death and destruction.The story is especially not kind to women, who tend to die or be demons. The exceptions to this (such as a lady demon actually being presented as sympathetic) are mainly anime-original. Actually, while the anime eschews the original manga’s cartoon-y, jokey tone to be more serious, it actually has a much lower body count and more hopeful tone than the original, a contrast I find pretty interesting. But “more hopeful” is still not very hopeful. The story has pretty strong anti-war undertones and criticism of how authority exploits people, and there’s a lot of “these are the horrors of war” scenes and even a scene where Dororo witnesses a woman engaging in unhappy, reluctant sex work.
I watched eight anime during the Fall 2018 anime season (why did I watch so much I am filled with regret) and I’ve now written full length reviews for each of them (except one)! So here my personal rankings of what I watched from weakest to strongest. Each anime title links to my in-depth review of said series, so feel free to click! For all the reviews at once, please see my anime overview tag here.
And remember, this is just my personal take, your mileage may vary.
The story of a special police force that deals with cases involving a dangerous drug that grants superpowers. It starts out promising as a fun buddy-cop romp with a colorful cast, but the series’ clumsy, half-hearted attempts at engaging with social issues and completely nonsense plot paired with a lack of attention and care towards its characters bring it down. It just began to drag at the end, and was a bit of a chore to finish.
The story of mild-mannered Eiji forming a close bond with dangerous gangster Ash while vicious enemies hound them concludes. I reallydebated whether to rate this the weakest just because there are SO many poorly done elements, so much yikes, and ending is so dumb, cruel and meaningless, but I have to admit it did a better job keeping me engaged than Double Decker did- I was never bored watching it and I wanted to see what was going to happen next. There are a couple resonant moments, but this is not a story that has aged well in a lot of ways, and the half-hearted modern paint job just rendered it a complete mess.
The adventures of a mild-mannered vampire, the human girl in love with her and friends. This show is pure cutesy fluff and not much more. It’s definitely nothing remarkable or even all that funny, but it was something to relax and turn my brain off to. There’s occasional light fanservice and a couple jokes that cross a line, but it mostly remains sweet and chill.
(Adaptation of the third wacky lawyer game. This wasn’t so much an in-depth review as a short post from my perspective as someone who’s a big fan of the games, I’m just including it because I’m a completist. Basically, it’s been fine, the flashback episode is good, I haven’t caught up with the current arc because it was boring).
Pretty much exactly what the title says, a series of shorts about the trials of working in the manga section of a bookstore, narrated by a talking skeleton trying his best. A fun look at the inner workings of a bookstore and retail hell in general, deals a lot with international customers, fully shows the ridiculous things booksellers have to deal with but is always gentle and affectionate in its humor.
The story of a Japanese war veteran and young Ainu girl encountering a lot of weirdos as they hunt for lost Ainu treasure continues. Golden Kamuy remains as wacky and compelling as ever. Though this season was very rushed and you could tell huge chunks of the manga were cut out, it does still manage to be entertaining and has a pretty explosive finale. Its far from perfect, but it’ll do during the interminable wait for the licensed manga volumes to drop.
An anime where a girl wakes up one day to discover she’s died and become a zombie. Even weirder, a mysterious man wants her and other zombie girls to form an idol group.
This is a wacky comedy with a lot of (rotting, half-exposed) heart that celebrates the weirdness and individuality of its loveable cast of characters. It’s a ton of fun and I look forward to seeing more of these good zomnbie gals. The show is uneven at times, with the final arc in particularly having some holes in it, and I do have some concerns about directions it could take in the future. But it was a very nice time overall.
This anime focuses on Yuu, a girl troubled by how she fails to feel the romantic passion that seems to come so easily to others. When another girl suddenly confesses love to her, she ends up being pulled into a very complicated relationship.
A gorgeous and heartfelt drama that explores identity, relationships and the trials and triumphs of being a teenager, especially a queer teenager. It takes an honest look at the messiness and insecurities of young wlw without objectifying or fetishizing, and also includes adult wlw. Just a top notch production all around and easily one of the best anime of the year.
Double Decker! Doug and Kirill follows a special police force devoted to dealing with cases involving “Anthem”, a highly dangerous super-drug that can be both fatal and grant uncontrollable superpowers. The squad is divided into three pairs of partners. The eponymous Kirill is a enthusiastic newbie who partners with a deadpan, “kind of an asshole” veteran named Doug.
It’s hard to say when a show crosses the line from “dumb in a fun way” to “just mind numbingly dumb” but I’d say Double Decker crossed that threshold around about the midpoint of the series. Which is a shame, because I was rooting for it. It seemed like an anime with a lot of potential- it was humorous, irreverent and bombastic, it seemed fun and colorful with a varied cast, it had a nice variety of ladies in the squad, and two of the ladies, Max and Yuri, were heavily coded as a couple right off the bat-
-with Max (on the left) in particular going putting off some Impressive Lesbian Energy with her aesthetic…and early on Doug announced that his life goal was to “eliminate poverty and class”, indicating the series intended to deal with social issues.
It IS possible to be a cheesy, fun show that is also inclusive and deals with social ills, but Double Decker’s clumsy, simplistic attempts to balance this with the larger goofy plot ultimately meant it fell short of being an truly entertaining romp AND was utterly disastrous at being socially aware.
Double Decker acts like it wants to say something about tolerance at points, but is ultimately gutless, toothless and halfhearted, sometimes verging on offensive. It became apparent the show wasn’t going to be truly LGBT inclusive with a character’s uh, “gender reveal” scene midseries that is a just…a mess. Some characters reactions to the “revelation” are just blatantly transphobic (thinking its hilarious, saying the character in question should “tell the truth” about their sex, etc) and this was never called out or challenged. It’s finally explained (baffllngly late in the series) that rather than actually being trans, this character is a cis man who just disguised himself as a woman for flimsy plot reasons, it doesn’t make how the reveal scene was handled and how it was painted as being “funny” any better. It’s not my lane so I won’t really go into it, but this article at Anime Heraldcovers the whole mess in detail. The whole thing is SO stupid and honestly there was no reason for it to be a plot at all.
If that “reveal” episode had me feeling wary about the show, the episode following sunk any hopes I had for it. Double Decker didn’t even have the guts to have Max and Yuri be explicitly romantically involved, instead just giving vague, baity hints. What’s worse, the episode focusing on Max was boring as sin. It was painfully bland and on the nose “critique” of high school proms SO rote it even had the girl who wanted to be popular transform into a literal “queen bee” (GET IT). The only thing we actually learn about Max in her supposed focus episode is that she hates proms because a bunch of kids rejected her trans friend at one which caused her friend to turn to drugs and disappear forever. Yep, not only can the show not bother to give us actual lesbians, trans people are just tragic props (and the attempt to say a thing about how trans people are treated badly would have felt a LOT more sincere if transness hadn’t been treated as a joke in THE EPISODE JUST BEFORE THIS ONE).
Doug also only became aware of poverty existing because of a tragic prop- his backstory amounts to a dead little shoe-shining street girl so one dimensional and cliche I’m surprised she wasn’t found frozen in an alley clutching a book of matches, and that one incident made him realize Poor People Shouldn’t Be a Thing so now he’s, uh….well, he’s not really doing anything about it, but he says he wants to, and that’s good enough right?
Yeah, that’s about the level of nuance we’re dealing with here. It’s nice that Double Deckertried, I guess, but if this was going to be the level of its effort, I wish it had just stuck to being a goofy sci-fi show. As it was, even the “goofy buddy cop” aspect felt really hollow because the show didn’t give us a reason to be invested in these partnerships or these characters.
I wanted to be invested! I was SO ready to appreciate the punk butch and her robot girlfriend, but instead we barely learn anything about them or see them interact. I was READY to be tremendously invested in the straightlaced office girl and her vulgar pink haired partner, but we didn’t learn anything beyond their surface personalities- nothing substantial about what drives them or where they come from or anything. Doug had his eye-rolly dead-little-girl backstory and admittedly sometimes amusing snarky asshole personality, but he spends so much time being insincere there wasn’t much to latch onto with him.
Kirill was pretty much the only one in this show who felt like an Actual Character, and I did find him extremely likable- he was utterly sincere in everything he did, full of heart, dumb and enthusiastic in a fun way, and incredibly sweet and supportive to his friends and loved ones (he was also the only one who was chill and accepting about the not-really-trans character too so that earned him some points) but all the stuff going around him was so empty it didn’t matter.
(ending spoilers here)
The show didn’t put the work into making you connect with these characters, but it DID still expect you to be invested in them. One of the kinda-lesbians appears to have died at one point in the show, but it makes zero impact because you knew basically nothing about that character anyway- it instead just feels annoying, like “wow, you’re just gonna kill that gay without bothering to develop her huh” but the show clearly expects you to be devastated. Then when it’s revealed at the end “PSYCH she’s alive for this ridiculous jokey contrived reason haha really pranked you huh” it’s just even more annoying. Just because I’m relieved you didn’t actually bury the gay doesn’t mean you pretending to bury her wasn’t insulting and pointless. All you did was bring my attention to how little you bothered to develop this character and how willing you are to use her and her kinda-girlfriend’s pain as a plot device, so thanks?
The humor of the show basically followed “you thought THIS thing was gonna happen but instead WACKY TWIST haha now the narrator makes a snarky comment about it” and while that was fun at first it just got old without anything going on besides that. And as for the plot, it’s…generous… to call it a plot. At the end it jumps straight to “AND SUDDENLY THERE WERE ALIENS” with almost zero foreshadowing and it just gets stupider from there. Such a ridiculous development would work on a show that was either a) a pure farce or b) something super wacky but with enough heart, drama and character to keep you invested, but DD was neither of those things. It was an anime that wanted you to care, but gave no fucks itself.
(Also this show is supposed to be related to Tiger and Bunny but I honestly have no idea how these two anime are connected in-universe. Is this a prequel? sequel? Are they happening at the same time? WHO KNOWS, THE CREATORS SURE DON’T)
The animation was also nothing to write home about, with a lot of awkward CGI shots and pretty ugly clothing designs- it was colorful enough to distract from it a lot of the time, but definitely not winning any aesthetics awards.
So yeah, Double Decker is far from the worst anime I’ve ever watched, and I like the concept I think it was GOING for- but what we ended up with was something completely mediocre. The first couple episodes were fun, but by the end it was a chore to watch. I finished it because “well I’ve come this far might as well” rather than any real investment in the show. It wasn’t painful (except for the clumsy attempts at dealing with trans issues), but it was so completely stupid and forgettable, which is sad, because it seemed like it had so much potential at the start.
Banana Fish (13-24)
Again, if you read my review for the first half of the show, you can basically expect more of the same, both with the good and especially the bad parts. We do get more downtime with Ash and Eiji’s relationship, and they continued to make me think this show would be so much better if it focused more on these quiet scenes rather than on piling as much trauma on Ash as it possibly can.
2018 was a big year for me, anime-wise. I really started keeping up with the anime reviewing community, particularly Anifem and ANN, and that meant I jumped on a bunch of series and had a lot of great finds.
I figured that a top 8 list would be fitting. I ruled out continuing series and kept it to stuff that debuted in 2018, but Golden Kamuy and My Hero Academia are still good. Also March Comes Like a Lion is the BEST, I don’t care if I haven’t finished it, it’s a fantastic, breathtaking drama with amazing characters everyone should watch and would totally be number one on this list if it was eligible.
These aren’t exactly ranked, since I have a hard time doing that with stuff I like, but the anime I found most impressive is nearer to the bottom.
Honorary mentions for Skull faced Bookseller Honda-san which was a thoroughly good time and Violet Evergarden which was pretty and had some episodes that made me cry.
How to Keep a Mummy
Let all easily-offended anime fans choke over the fact I choose this cheap-looking fluffy show over daring artsy stuff like Devilman Crybaby and the like. This adorable series about a boy and his friends adopting miniature fantasy animals is charming as heck
This show just really clicked with me, and its honestly my go-to when I really need to calm down from my anxiety. The characters are so sweet and likable, the atmosphere is so pleasant and the cute fantasy animal shenanigans hit my sweet spot. It’s a thoroughly soothing experience, but it also has enough of an “edge” to keep me from getting bored, since it gently touches on stuff like anxiety over losing pets you love and so on. Full reviewhere.
Part idol show, part killer comedy, Zombieland Saga has a loveable cast of quirky undead girls to enjoy. It goes all out with its body horror gags and outrageous slapstick, but still manages to have a lot of heart underneath it all- and that’s not just referring to one that routinely bursts out of girl’s chest cavity.
The show is about a group of misfits bonding together to find a life after death- and though they become a team of idols, they’re idols who ultimately celebrate weirdness and individuality. There’s even a ridiculous delinquent girl, which is one of my weaknesses. And shoutout to the show for having a trans character in the group, who is treated with empathy rather than derision and ultimately accepted.
I do feel the arc that wrapped up the show was kind of “meh”, and I have some trepidation about what was revealed about the girls’ manager but the stronger episodes and fun characters make up for it. I’m also intrigued to see bits of a larger plot start to form- I’m genuinely curious to see where the show goes and looking forward to more. Full review incoming!
Planet With follows an amnesiac boy who lives with a cat monster and quirky maid-looking girl, who task him with fighting the local superheroes in a cat robot. This anime goes full-speed-ahead, balls-to-the-wall and never lets up, packing in more story, twists and climactic battles in its 12 episodes than a lot of anime do in 50. Yet the entire thing remains cohesive, engaging and fun while taking the time to explore cycles of violence and the power of empathy and forgiveness. It has solid characters, a strong story and is just a good time overall. I feel like this anime was really overlooked by many this year, so I only hope more people will discover this hidden gem as time goes on. Full review here.
This comedy about a yakuza thug who is dragged into being the guardian of a psychic girl is all the wacky found family shenanigans you could ever want. The characters are entertaining, the twists are unexpected and it is full of great girls. It can also be surprisingly touching and empathetic in how it deals with things like homelessness. It avoids the skeezy and uncomfortable aspects a lot of anime comedies has an remains a fun time throughout. The animation is also wonderfully expressive. Full reviewhere.
I watched six anime during the Summer 2018 anime season and I’ve now written full length reviews on tumblr for each of them! So here my personal rankings of what I watched from weakest to strongest. Each anime title links to my in-depth review of said series, so feel free to click! For all the reviews at once, please see my anime overview tag here.
I wouldn’t call any of the anime on this list bad, nor would I give any a blanket anti-recommendation for any of them. It’s just some of these series were weaker than others in my opinion and there’s ups and downs and things to warn for. Hope you enjoy and find it useful!
Eiji meets a seventeen-year-old gangster named Ash Lynx on a trip to New York and is quickly pulled into a world of violence and conspiracies.
When we judge this series as an adaptation, its definitely the weakest thing I watched, because the modern update of this 80s manga is almost entirely superficial and that can be quite jarring. We’re supposed to believe this is set today, but the narrative is extremely 80s and some of the conversations the characters have don’t make much sense in a modern setting. Though the story is something that’s fascinating and valuable taken in the context of its place in the history of shoujo manga, removing it from that context doesn’t do it any favors.
There’s charm to both the characters and the sweetness of the romantic relationship between Ash and Eiji, but a lot of the content is both endlessly and melodramatically tragic and also potentially triggering. Definitely be prepared for a TON of rape, csa, abuse, violence and murder if you watch this.
Bailieu Ton arrives in London expecting an exciting college life, but instead ends up on a quest to rescue her best friend who has been kidnapped by demons. She finds allies in a gang of supernatural young men who were acquainted with her magically powerful great-grandmother.
While the plot is mediocre and the animation even moreso, this series shows its value in being an otome story that has a truly awesome leading lady. Ton is dynamic, self-possessed, has a strong friendship with another girl and she kicks a TON of ass. She has a fun relationship with her squad of boy-toys and is always on equal footing with them and the few times any of them try to act controlling they are called out hard.. So if you want a reverse-harem story/paranormal romance that features a more active heroine and jettisons the more toxic tropes that pervade the genre, this is a good choice, even if the narrative itself is nothing to write home about.
Izuku Midoriya continues his quest to become the greatest superhero and takes his hero provisional license exams.
This is probably among the weakest arcs MHA has had so far, though it still has its fair share of entertaining and worthwhile moments, not to mention one truly excellent episode. The characters introduced at the very end of the season have potential too. Mostly it was an enjoyable enough watch, but definitely didn’t live up to the high-stakes thrills of the arc before it.
Anthropomorphized cells do their best to keep the body they inhabit alive and well.
This is an extremely cute edutainment show. It’s nothing mindblowing, and the narration can be a bit much, but if you want an adorable, fun time that teaches you a little something about the human body, this is a good choice. Also I want to marry NK Cell.
Soya Kuroi is an amnesiac boy living with with a weird cat monster and a cheerful but mysterious girl dressed like a maid and his life gets even stranger when he’s told to jump in a giant robot and fight the local superheroes.
These 12 episodes contained more plot and climatic moments than a lot of anime has in 50 episodes and despite the breakneck pace and huge amount of events packed in, it was extremely cohesive and solid story throughout. The characters were lovable and varied, there was a loft of thematic heft to the series exploration of pacifism and freedom vs justice and security, it was goofy and weird while also being emotional heartbreaking at times…I definitely recommend this show. It’s the full Wacky Space Mecha Anime experience in a compact package. Also, it has cool ladies.
Karen Aijou is doing her best at her Takarazuka theatre school, only for everything to change when her childhood friend Hikari suddenly transfers in. She follows Hikari down a mysterious elevator and discovers her friend is engaged in a bizarre swordfight competition to become the “Top Star”, preceded over by a talking giraffe.
If you love Takarazuka, theatre, sword fights,lesbians, weird metaphors, Revolutionary Girl Utena and other Ikuhara work or all of the above, I definitely recommend this show.. The series surreally and smartly explores Takarazuka, show biz and adolescence with lots of creative, beautifully animated musical fight scenes and contains a lot of twists and turns along the way. While I think it could have stood to be a bit longer, more in-depth and bit stronger with its characters, it’s definitely a series that’s fun to analyze and I’ve enjoyed a lot of the discussion that’s come out of it (see some linked in my review). Strap in for a wild ride and enjoy one of the Top Stars of the season.
Once again, the season has ended and it’s time to take an in-depth look at the six anime that I’ve watched. I enjoyed all of them, but some were stronger than others, so they’re in order of weakest to strongest.
Banana Fish (Episodes 1-12)
(I’ve witnessed some drama on twitter, so I tried to be careful with my wording here- but I do express my discomfort and mixed feelings, so, up front, it anyone wants to start a fight about that I’m not interested. I tried to be fair but honest, so I want people to respect that. Also, this is LONG. My mixed feelings took a lot of explaining, it turns out. Warning for a lot of discussion of how fiction engages with csa and rape in general.)
Y’know, when I was thinking about how to approach reviewing Banana Fish, I had a weird realization. My experience watching it was similar to the one I had watching Devilman Crybaby of all things. For both shows, there were a lot of times I didn’t really enjoy watching it in the traditional sense and I often felt pretty uncomfortable with it…but still found it really interesting from a media analysis standpoint, and found the conversation about it really interesting, so I kept watching. (Also I came to kinda care about the characters, even though the narrative seemed almost ludicrously hellbent on torturing them so it felt kinda pointless to have any emotions about ‘em.)
And oddly, there are a lot of other similarities between the shows too? Both are adaptations of manga that was made around the 80s that have been updated so they’re set in the modern day, both seem to try really hard to be “shocking” but it’s just sort of exhausting at times and both have queer content that draws in the fandom, though that content is a mixed bag.
*(Also, both have issues with female characters. Banana Fish is no hellhole of titty monsters and sexual hang-ups, but it should be noted it barely has any women and when they do show up they get victimized to cause men angst).
Don’t get me wrong, though, Banana Fish is its own distinct thing. In fact the tone and construction of the narrative is very different, namely because unlike Crybaby, its aimed at women. The anime comes from a work that is fairly significant in shoujo manga history and its content falls well outside of how Western fandom think of “shoujo manga”.It’s a gritty, violent crime drama set in New York. The intense relationship between the leads was and is important to a lot of LGBT fans, as well as influential to many later works, BL and otherwise. So whether you like it or not, it has a deserved place in manga history.
The basic plot is Ash Lynx (not actually his real name, but the real one is even more ridic) is a 17 year old gangster trying to take down the man who indoctrinated him into gang life and also sexually abused him. On top of that, he has to protect his comatose brother, who somehow got in contact with a strange drug while in Iraq, one that caused him to go beserk and shoot his fellow soldiers. The only thing he said was “Banana Fish”, so Ash wants to know what the heck that means.
Ash runs into Eiji, a nineteen-year-old who came to New York from Japan. Despite the fact Eiji is fairly innocent and sheltered where Ash isn’t (or maybe because of it) he and Ash hit it off pretty quickly. But Eiji won’t remain innocent for long, because he’s quickly dragged into the gang drama.
So yep, that’s the summary. Hey, did you note that “Ash was sexually abused” part? Well, if you’re going to watch the show, prepare for an ENDLESS BARRAGE of that. The amount of horrible abuse and sexual trauma Ash has been through and goes through is honestly SO MUCH that you become numb to it very quickly- sometimes it almost feels like a parody. In addition to having the most tragic of tragic backstories, he’s threatened with rape at the rate of one or rmore times an episode- though this finally calms down around episode 11 (this is probably just a lull).
He’s not the only one though, Eiji and others get their fair share of sexual menace too, and one female character is implied to be raped…To its credit, the show does not show rape onscreen- it’s talked about a ton and we see both the aftermath and some “it’s about to happen, he’s been stripped” but not the act itself. The show also always takes it seriously and touched a bit on the culture of victim-blaming and whatnot-there’s discussion of how messed up it is to see the police asking a seven year old if he led his rapist on and Ash’s lasting trauma is taken very seriously.
And that’s fine and all but I cannot emphasize that there is. so much. It feels icky and a bit exploitative- but the whole issue is pretty hard for me to parse. It’s kind of interesting to see rape being discussed so frankly and seriously in anime. And considering the manga was from the 80s, I think the fact it DOES discuss it so frankly, and focuses on male victims, was probably eye-opening for a lot of people.
Anifem has a really good article talking with two Japanese LGBT fans about the series, and one says their eyes were opened to the fact boys could be raped and feel trauma from it by reading these series. The rape is never romanticized, it’s treated as truly despicable and I’ve seen pages from the manga on twitter where Ash point blank discusses how in his experience, rape is about wanting to have power over someone and hurt them, and not simple sexual attraction.
This was written by a woman and aimed at women, and Ash’s tragic life seems to be kind of a way to explore the a lot of the anxieties women grow up with regarding rape and sexual assault. It’s a way for women to engage with the horrors while also being a little bit distanced in it, since Ash is a different gender. I think that has value. It actually weirdly reminds me of a lot of fanfic I’ve read. It’s common to see young female authors pile ridiculous amount of trauma on pretty male characters in them, and it often feels like a young girl’s (often somewhat clumsy) way of engaging with the fears that occupy her mind.
I did it myself- I wrote a lot of stories about REALLY gratuitous sexual violence when I was around nine, where I took the worst possible sexual abuse that could happen to a girl and dumped it on my character, because READING about that kind of abuse had both fascinated me and given me a lot of anxiety, knowing this is a thing that could happen, that it had happened to a lot of kids. So I wrote a story that luridly described all kinds of sexual torture, in a pretty gross way, but also had the girl ultimately fight back and be saved. I kind of doubt Banana Fish will have a happy ending, but there is a similar catharsis in the fact that Ash fights back and takes revenge against his rapist and finds someone who will support him in Eiji.
Speaking of which, note that my character was a girl, whereas most young girls do this with boys. I wonder if it has to do with the fact there IS a romanticized aspect to these narratives, and I’m a lesbian, even if i didn’t know it back then. Because lets face it, it isn’t JUST about exploring trauma and issues that haunt us. There’s also this fantasy part of it- piling such gratuitous amounts trauma on these characters because the more tragic they are, the more tantalizing the fantasy of being the one to “comfort them” or even “heal them” is. The idea of an oasis in someone’s tragic horrible life, of BEING that oasis, is a fantasy of many women.
And I definitely feel that in Banana Fish- Eiji is definitely the audience stand-in, as the naive outsider, and he’s definitely like, Ash’s wonderful oasis in his ludicrously shitty life who can bring out his softer side. Banana Fish is a smart enough narrative to know Eiji can’t “fix” Ash, but I can definitely feel like the audience is supposed to swoon at the idea of being the one to caress Ash’s wounded soul.
Is there a exploitative aspect to this whole “piling on ridic trauma because it gets you excited to think about being the one good thing in this tragic hot person’s life?” That really depends on perspective , I guess. it does get uncomfortable for me with the emphasis on how hot Ash is all the time- even when he’s suffering. It’s YMMV I guess.