So what we are going to talk about is the famous tragic ending of Banana Fish. Specifically, the last minute of the series and what lead up to it.
WARNING: If you haven’t seen the full series, I highly suggest watching it before you read this.
Sigh…so Banana Fish, my absolute favorite show, filled with action, twists, turns, love, devotion, heartbreak, HEARTBREAK, and plenty of themes. This anime takes place in New York City and follows the story of a 17-year-old gang leader, Ash Lynx, who was bought as a sex slave by the wealthy mafia boss, Dino Golzine. Obviously, this kind of life doesn’t leave room for Ash to feel unconditional love, that is until he meets 19-year-old, Eiji Okumura, from Japan who came to New York to report on the City’s gang activities. Throughout the series, you find Eiji constantly reminding Ash that he is not the monster everyone makes him out to be and that is worth self-redemption and love. These powerful moments in the show are what allows their friendship to grow into something more than romance…it’s unconditional love. And this definitely plays a role in Ash’s tragic death in the end.
His death is indeed difficult to process. It does hurt. I’m not gonna lie I cried two days in a row and bought $80 of BF merchandise after watching the show. And it really does hit close to home for a lot of reasons I will discuss later. However, his death has more depth than what the surface reveals because of all the events that lead up to it. Here are a few of my interpretations of the ending and a few reasons why the ending was so impacting.
Yes. I honestly do believe his death was partially sacrificial. Think back to episode 18 when he Yut Lung guarantees Eiji’s safety as long as Ash pulls the trigger on himself. Without hesitation, Ash pulls the triggers. Thankfully the gun was empty, but that shows he would choose to die in a heartbeat if it meant protecting Eiji, and the ending is no different. He even prayed in Episode 23, “Please God. Let him live. Take me instead.” This ties to the short story that inspired the name for the series and manga, “”A Perfect Day for Banana Fish” by J.D. Sallinger and the novel that inspired the final episode, “A Catcher in the Rye”. A thing to remember about A Perfect Day for Banana Fish is that the protagonist, Seymour, sacrifices his life so that an innocent child named Sybil can lead an innocent life without him. Sound familiar yet? And The Catcher in the Rye also goes over the same themes of sacrifice and protecting the innocent. That being said, when Ash is stabbed by Lao, after all his known enemies have died or are put in jail, he quickly realized, “Shit, I still have enemies out there.” Think, if Eiji were to come back to America to look for Ash, he would yet again be in danger. Ash saw this as an opportunity to guarantee Eiji’s safety, so he got rid of the product of everyone’s “hatred” so no one would have a reason to hurt Eiji again. What was that product of hatred? Himself.
So remember that pivotal story Ash told Eiji about entitled The Snows of Kilimanjaro? This story was as a metaphor to Ash’s journey. With each step he takes to defeating Dino and ending this whole Banana Fish ordeal, the higher he climbs up the mountain. And now that he has succeeded, like the snow leopard, his actions have consequences that prohibit him from coming down. What this means is, Ash saw himself as a monster who stopped at nothing to get to his goal and killed all who stood in his way, so he felt he was not worth redemption or worth coming down from the summit to lead a normal life.
Ash knew he had enemies. He knew he had hurt lots of people. That burden was unbearable for him even though he rarely showed it in the series, however, the one person that reminded him that he was not the monster he thinks he is that, that even though he has hurt these people, he was worth a second chance…was Eiji. Which makes it all the more heartbreaking because when Ash was stabbed by Lao, Eiji was no longer with him. So Ash reverted back to his self-destructive perspective. “Damn, here’s another person who I have hurt and intimidated so bad they are willing to go this far.”Lao stabbing ash was a quick reminder that there are still people out there who see him as a monster. That undoubtedly dropped his self-worth and self-esteem. And Eiji, his rock, his tether, his nurturer, was not there to remind him he was worth living. Let’s also keep in mind, Eiji had just recently gotten shot, he still felt guilty for Shorter’s death, and also for getting Shorter involved in this whole ordeal. Ash blamed himself for it all. He felt he deserved death, that it was karma for his actions.
Throughout the series, the other characters bring up that they see two sides of Ash. The side of Ash that slowly decayed from the guilt he carried and the side that was almost like an innocent child who wanted happiness. This childlike side is what I like to call, Aslan. The innocent and playful child Ash was before he was taken in by Dino and became Ash. As I said earlier, Eiji was the one who brought out Aslan and reminded Ash he was worth living, but without Eiji by his side, Lao was the test to see if Ash could remember Aslan and remember that he was worth that joy. Was Ash able to hold onto Aslan and uplift himself? No. He decided he wasn’t worth a second chance.
The fact that Ash had been stabbed many times, shot, beaten, drugged, raped, and probably infected… you’re gonna tell me that what ended his life was a stab wound in a non-vital area. He could have easily taken himself to the hospital or had someone patched him up, but no, he went back into the library (a symbolic place where said he goes to be alone) to read the remainder of Eiji’s letter. Yes, he felt dying like this was karma, but he knew he couldn’t rest peacefully without knowing how the person he truly loved felt. He dies smiling simply because he was content knowing that Eiji will be safe and with his spirit. And he does so without thinking of going after his own happiness because he consistently blamed himself for everything bad that has happened. He believed he did not deserve a happy ending. Honestly, if you had someone say you were just a man whore, just a prostitute, just a slut, a killing machine, a monster to you every day as they pin you down and rape you, your self-motivation would be shit, too. Which is why it’s so painful to see someone who undoubtedly deserves love torture themselves because of their abusive childhood and living conditions. It’s hard to see that people who do love you when you have been told all your life you are no one. When you never experienced unconditional love. That you could only be given something or loved back as long as you get on your knees for me. It’s disgusting and I’ll honestly be here for twenty more pages if I keep talking about it because it hits so close to home for me.
But in the end, Ash did lose to himself. He let his self-destructive and martyr-like mindset dictate his future when it didn’t have to end that way if he just kept that vision of joy in reach and overcome his flaws.
I guess you could say Banana Fish is about love: the warmth we feel when we experience unconditional love, the fire that burns in our hearts when we try to protect our loved ones, the helplessness we feel when we want to be there for them but physically can’t, the sacrifices we make for those we love, and the healing abilities love can have on a broken soul. It’s about those who never expected love to come and those who unexpectedly found it. And most importantly, it’s about self-love! It’s about how we need to love ourselves. Like RuPaul said, “If you can’t love yourself, how the hell you gonna love anybody else! (Yeah I went there!)
Knowing you are loved. You are loved. You are loved and there is someone who loves you despite your flaws. Despite your history. So please love yourself. If Ash had learned love himself, to value himself, and live for himself…then the series wouldn’t have ended the way it did.
If you have any interpretations on the ending or want to comment on my interpretation, please comment below and I’ll be more than happy to hear what you have to say. Look forward to talking to you all, again!