Banana Fish is a Japanese manga series written and illustrated by Akimi Yoshida. Serialized in Shōjo Comic from 1985 to 1994 and adapted into an anime television series in July 2018, the series follows Ash Lynx, a teenage gang leader in New York City. It takes its name from the J.D. Salinger short story “A Perfect Day for Bananafish.
Banana Fish was first published in May 1985 in a supplementary issue of Shōjo Comic, and ran until April 1994. The series was collected in Japan as nineteen tankōbon and eleven bunkobon published by Shogakukan, who also published an official art book titled Angel Eyes, as well as Rebirth: The Banana Fish Official Guidebook.
North American publisher VIZ Media licensed two editions of an English-language translation. The first, published from 1999 to 2002 and spanning the first seven volumes, features flipped artwork and censors some expletives. The second, published from 2004 to 2007 and spanning the full 19 volumes, is printed in the original right-to-left format and includes a re-translated script. The series was additionally printed in both of Viz’s now defunct manga magazines, Pulp and Animerica Extra. In 2018, shortly after the release of the anime adaption of Banana Fish, Viz announced plans to reprint the series.
A total of five side stories were published. In Japan, these stories were collected in a single bunkobon titled Another Story, while the 19th volume of the VIZ Media English-language translation includes Angel Eyes and Garden of Light.
Fly Boy in the Sky
Originally published in 1984 — a year before Banana Fish was first published — Fly Boy in the Sky tells the story of how Ibe and Eiji met. During a high jump competition, Eiji attempts and fails a complicated jump. Ibe, watching a televised broadcast, is impressed by the performance but notices that Eiji appears to be depressed. Ibe seeks out Eiji to interview him, and to photograph his jumps for an exhibit.
During the interview, Eiji opens up about how he has fallen into a professional slump. When Ibe asks Eiji about why he looks sad when he competes, he responds that it is because he feels nothing when he jumps. Upon viewing the photos Ibe has taken of Eiji’s jump, both men observe that what Eiji is really feeling is a sense of weightlessness; Ibe remarks that the bliss on Eiji’s face looks like a “home run ball up in the sky.”
A comedic fourth wall-breaking story, where Ash and Eiji discuss fan mail the series has received with creator Akimi Yoshida.
A prequel that tells the story of how Blanca and Ash met. Golzine, seeking a private tutor to break Ash’s rebellious streak, blackmails Blanca into taking Ash under his tutelage. Initially, Blanca is convinced that Ash is too violent and unruly to be trained. When he encounters Ash after he has been beaten and sexually assaulted by one of Golzine’s men, Blanca decides that he will protect Ash by teaching him how to fight. Blanca concludes that Ash’s ruthless streak stems from having been deprived of love and that only through finding love will his true potential be unlocked.
A prequel that tells the story of how Ash and Shorter Wong met. Ash is admitted to juvenile prison when Golzine refuses to post his bail, where he is made cellmates with Shorter. Shortly after Ash’s arrival, rumors begin to circulate that Arthur has placed an assassin in the prison. Shorter suspects the assassin to be Ash, after observing him single-handedly fighting off Ricardo and Frankie, two prisoners seemingly targeting Ash for prison rape. Ash tells Shorter that he knew Frankie was an assassin sent by Arthur to kill him; knowing that being under the protection of another inmate would complicate any attempt on his life, Ash had sex with Ricardo to force Frankie to make a move. When Shorter tells Ash that his manipulation makes him no better than the people he hates, Ash lashes out, though the incident prompts him to open up to Shorter. When Shorter is released from prison several months later, Ash happily bids him goodbye as a friend; Shorter notes that it was the first time that he ever saw Ash laugh and that Ash’s face when he smiled was “angelic.”
Garden of Light
A postscript set seven years the events of Banana Fish, Garden of Light follows Akira Ibe, the niece of Shunichi Ibe, as she visits New York City. She stays with Eiji, now an accomplished photographer living in Greenwich Village, as he prepares for a major gallery show. Eiji has remained close friends with Sing, now a student at CUNY who continues to run the Chinese mafia with Yut-Lung. While viewing Eiji’s photo albums, Akira notes that there are multiple missing pictures marked with the letter “A”. Akira learns that these are photos of Ash, and is told the story of Ash’s death and his relationship with Eiji. Eiji takes his photographs of Ash out of storage and places a portrait of Ash in his gallery show.
The main story of Banana Fish consists of six parts, published across 19 volumes:
- “Prologue” (volume 1)
- “The Mystery of Banana Fish” (volumes 1–6)
- “Ash’s Counterattack” (volumes 7–11)
- “The Return of Golzine” (volumes 12–14)
- “The Final Battle” (volumes 15–18)
- “Epilogue” (volumes 18–19)
Part 1: Prologue
During the Vietnam War in 1973, American soldier Griffin Callenreese fires on his own squadron in a dazed frenzy. He is subdued when Max Glenreed, a friend and fellow soldier, shoots him in the legs; as Griffin collapses, he speaks the words “banana fish.”
Part 2: The Mystery of Banana Fish
12 years later, Griffin — now severely mentally handicapped — is cared for by his younger brother Ash, the leader of a gang of street kids in New York City. One night, Ash encounters a mortally wounded man who gives him a vial of an unknown substance and an address in California; the man utters the words “banana fish” before dying.
Ash begins to investigate “banana fish,” though he is impeded by Dino Golzine, a Corsican mob boss who had groomed Ash as a sex slave and heir to his criminal empire. In the course of his investigation, Ash acquires several allies: Eiji Okumura and Shunichi Ibe, who have traveled from Japan to report on street gangs; Shorter Wong, a gang leader who controls Chinatown; and Max Glenreed, who Ash encounters in prison while detained on a false murder charge. When Griffin is shot and killed in a fight with Golzine’s men, the group sets out to solve the mystery of “banana fish” together.
Ash and his allies travel to the address in California, finding a mansion occupied by a man revealed to be Yut-Lung Lee, the youngest son of China’s largest crime family. They later encounter the home’s true occupant: a doctor who informs them that “banana fish” is an untraceable drug that brainwashes its users. Golzine intends to sell the drug to the United States government, which seeks to use it to overthrow communist governments in South America. The group is subsequently captured by Golzine’s men, who inject Shorter with banana fish and instruct him to kill Eiji. When Shorter begs Ash to kill him in a moment of lucidity, Ash fatally shoots him.
Part 3: Ash’s Counterattack
The group, with assistance from Ash’s and Shorter’s gangs, escape Golzine’s compound. Ash uses stock manipulation to destroy the value Golzine’s legitimate businesses and withdraws $50 million from their accounts, making it appear as though Golzine has embezzled the money. Golzine is forced to leave the United States to answer to his superiors in France.
In the power vacuum created by Golzine’s absence, Ash secures promises of neutrality from Cain Blood, the boss of Harlem’s street gangs, and Sing Soo-Ling, who has taken over the Chinatown gang. He begins to methodically take out the Corsican-affiliated street gangs, emerging victorious but gravely wounded in a final battle. He is placed in a psychiatric facility for treatment, which is revealed to be funded by the Unione Corse, who fake Ash’s death so they may use him as a test subject to observe the effects of banana fish on a live brain. Ash is able to escape from the facility, just as Golzine returns from Europe to reassert control of the Corsican mob.
Part 4: The Return of Golzine
Yut-Lung, having used banana fish to put his older brother in a vegetative state, enters into an alliance with Golzine. Yut-Lung eliminates Golzine’s co-conspirators in the banana fish project, while Golzine eliminates the other members of the Lee family syndicate, making the two men the de facto leaders of the Corsican and Chinese mobs.
Golzine and Yut-Lung contract Blanca, a retired assassin who trained Ash, and threaten to kill Eiji unless Ash returns to Golzine and ends his investigation of banana fish. Ash agrees to their terms, accepting that he cannot defeat Blanca, and is reunited with Golzine as his advisor and legally-adopted son. At a party thrown by Golzine, Ash is rescued by Eiji, with the support of Sing’s, Cain’s, and Ash’s gangs.
Part 5: The Final Battle
Ash retreats to the American Museum of Natural History, though Eiji and multiple members of Ash’s gang are captured in the ensuing chase. Ash captures Yut-Lung and releases him in return for the freedom of the hostages.
Ash and his allies later repel an assault by Eduardo Foxx, a mercenary hired by Golzine, though multiple members of their gang are captured. The group tracks the prisoners to the psychiatric facility where Ash was previously imprisoned. In a climactic battle, Foxx and Golzine are killed, and all evidence of the banana fish project is destroyed.
Part 6: Epilogue
Max publishes an investigation of Golzine’s child sex ring in Newsweek, prompting a massive scandal in Washington that implicates multiple politicians.
Sing convinces Yut-Lung to end his pursuit of Eiji and Ash. The two agree to work together to reassert control of Chinatown.
Ash, wracked with guilt over the violence he has exposed Eiji to, ceases contact with him. Eiji and Ibe return to Japan, though just before his departure, Eiji entrusts a letter for Ash to Sing. In the letter, Eiji says that while he understands why they can no longer see each other, “my soul is always with you.” While distracted by the letter, Ash is stabbed by Lao Yen-Thai, Sing’s lieutenant who never forgave Ash for killing Shorter Wong. Ash dies, smiling and clutching Eiji’s letter.