When I first saw that an anime adaptation of Banana Fish had been announced, I was really confused. “Did someone adapt that short story from The Catcher In The Rye guy?” Of course, I soon realized the answer was – “no, you big dummy, why would someone make an anime version of ‘A Perfect Day For Bananafish?'”
This season’s Banana Fish is actually a modern update of Akimi Yoshida’s manga series that ran from 1985 to 1994. Upon researching the title, I found that the series was somewhat of a cult hit, and that the anime was highly anticipated. Knowing that it was apparently very popular and that it referenced one of my favorite short stories from my pretentious, angsty literature loving days was enough to get me interested. (Yes, I was an emo kid who was super into The Catcher in the Rye in high school…)
I watched episode one, and came away with many, many questions – not just questions about where the story will go, but questions about why Akimi Yoshida chose to reference this particular story in her manga. This post will be an attempt to explore and semi-answer that question.
Now, before I talk about Banana Fish‘s plot, let me give a summary of that short story. “A Perfect Day For Banana Fish” was written by J.D. Salinger for The New Yorker back in 1948. It’s actually available on their website, but only if you have a subscription. The story is about Seymour Glass, who has just been discharged from a U.S. Army hospital. He is on vacation with his snobby, self-absorbed wife, and wanders away from her to spend some time at the beach. While he’s there, a young girl named Sybil approaches him, and he tells her a story about the “tragic” bananafish – a species of fish that eats bananas all day, every day, until they get so big that they can’t leave their homes, and then they die. Then, after talking with Sybil some more, he kisses her foot, walks back up to his hotel room, and shoots himself in the head.
Pretty crazy story, right? It has a touch of surrealism to it, thanks to the story of the mystical bananafish, and while not much literally happens in terms of action, there’s a lot of thematic weight to the tale. The bananafish is thought to serve as a symbol for greed, the story addresses PTSD and the tragedy of war, Sybil represents innocence that Seymour feels he has lost, blah blah blah. I don’t want to re-hash the entire story and analyze every bit of it because, well, this is an anime blog and you don’t want to hear about that, but I do want to touch upon them so I can talk about what the story means in relation to Banana Fish.
Banana Fish is about Ash Lynx, a teenage gang leader. His older brother, Griffin, was an American soldier in the Vietnam War, but was discharged after having a breakdown and shooting his fellow soldiers. Right after his breakdown, he spoke the word, “banana fish.” Now severely mentally handicapped and unable to take care of himself, Griffin still mumbles the word to himself. Ash serves as his caretaker, and wonders what the words could possibly mean. Then, he runs into a wounded man who hands him a capsule of powder and whispers, “banana fish,” before he dies.
The most obvious parallel here is that of war and PTSD. In “A Perfect Day For Bananafish,” Seymour has clearly become unstable because of the war. Though it is implied that something else caused Griffin’s deteriorated mental state other than the trauma of war, it seems safe to say that war-related PTSD plays a part. After all, he does have to live with the fact that he shot and killed his fellow comrades. It’s also not uncommon for soldiers to come back from war and be “shell-shocked,” a form of PTSD that manifests itself as being unable to physically take care of one self or mentally comprehend their surroundings.
In Seymour’s case, he hasn’t become catatonic like Griffin has, but he has become very anxious and constantly worries that people are looking at him. He accosts a lady in an elevator for allegedly trying to examine his feet, and he refuses to go down to the beach without his bathrobe on because he doesn’t want anyone looking at his tattoo.
So what does the word “bananafish” mean in the world of Banana Fish? Is it a shady organization? Is it just the mutterings of madmen who have been abused by the greedy nature of mankind? Or is it linked to something else entirely? I know the manga has been out for quite some time, but I’m not interested in spoiling myself (or any of you) to find out the answers to those questions. Instead, though, I’d like to use what I know about the J.D. Salinger story to help figure out what this word may mean and what influence it may hold on the story’s themes.
My interpretation of “A Perfect Day For Bananafish” is that Seymour is acutely aware that greedy politicians are the ones who have caused him and his fellow soldiers so much pain, and that his bananafish story reflects how consumerist society has made so many Americans suffer. I’m wondering how much the theme of greed will come up in Banana Fish, and whether or not the word holds any of those same meanings in its universe. From what I’ve gleaned from the manga’s storyline, there will be a bit of American political drama and apparently stock manipulation coming into play, so I wonder if that will go hand in hand with some of the themes presented in Salinger’s story.
Another interesting thing is that Banana Fish takes place in New York City, which is also where J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye takes place. Surely, it’s not coincidence that a story based on the works of an American author would be set in America. I don’t think I know enough of the story to make any big calls about how this setting will affect the themes of Banana Fish, but I’m really excited to see what other parallels between Salinger’s work and this will pop up as the story progresses. I’m always excited to see an anime take place in a real world country that isn’t Japan, especially when it’s my home country and has a connection to my favorite American author.
Of course, Banana Fish isn’t just an adaptation of “A Perfect Day For Bananafish” or anything. It’ll have themes and ideas of its own, and has apparently tackled a lot of issues that many manga (or even fiction in general) don’t usually tackle, so there’s plenty of non-Salinger stuff to talk about when it comes to the series. Still, I’m really surprised that I don’t see a lot of people talking about Salinger’s story when they talk about Banana Fish. I mean, the first episode of the anime was called, “A Perfect Day For Bananafish,” Salinger is referenced by name, and it’s literally called Banana Fish, so I’m assuming there’s going to be some overlap here. Since only one episode is available (at the time of me writing this, anyways), and I haven’t read the manga, there are only so many things that I can compare right now. But I’m really looking forward to being able to dissect the two stories further, and hopefully, by the end of the show’s run, I can come back to this little cross-analysis and flesh it out a little more.
I was really hoping to find some interviews with Akimi Yoshida that talked about how Salinger may have influenced her, but I didn’t find much in English… Anyways, I hoped you enjoyed this post. I realize it’s probably a little stuffy, but hopefully it’ll give you a little insight about what the Salinger reference means, if you didn’t already know. If you’re familiar with the story at all, please share any thoughts or theories you have about the two! And if you don’t know the story, let me know if this little summary helped you pull anything new from the series!