“A Perfect Day For Bananafish” – The American Short Story That Inspired Banana Fish

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.

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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.

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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!

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21 thoughts on ““A Perfect Day For Bananafish” – The American Short Story That Inspired Banana Fish

  1. You’re very smart. I had no idea that was a Salinger reference. Wow that blows my mind.

    The only Salinger references I’ve seen come from the Laughing Man in Stand Alone Complex.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I REALLY need to rewatch Stand Alone Complex bc I watched it in passing on adult swim when I was about 12. I missed a lot, and completely forgot about The Laughing Man! Also thank you, I’m just a fool who read a lot of stuffy books in high school haha

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I have absolutely no context for either Banana Fish, but I appreciated this analysis a lot! It’s always interesting to see the exchange between literature into animation, especially when it’s cross cultural like this. I’m looking froward to reading more of your thoughts later!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you! Yeah, I’m really excited to see more, and especially to see more perspectives on America from outside America from this one! I wish Banana Fish was more widely available & not just on Amazon Prime because it’s really cool so far!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. You’re welcome! Ditto about the perspectives. Ugh, I was so excited for the series but I don’t have Amazon Prime so I’ll have to wait a bit for this one.

        Like

  3. That’s really interesting. Personally not a fan of Salinger’s works but this one seems like it may be an interesting read.
    Your reading of Banana Fish in light of the short story was interesting to say the least. I do agree with you since the greed that has been showcased so far in hunting it down definitely hints at the effects of greed and consumerism but also how powerful people can manoeuvre politics causing others suffering only for it to backfire when one gets too cosy in their “safe haven”.
    It will be interesting to see how this develops in further episodes. Would love to read your full comparison and analyses of this when the show is over. 😊

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I went through a Phase in high school with his stuff…though I think if I re-read some of it now I wouldn’t like it as much, haha. And thank you! Yeah, I’m waiting to watch the newest episode with my boyfriend, so I’m not totally caught up, but there were definitely some hints of it in what I saw. I’m excited to see more, and I’m glad you liked what I wrote so far 🙂 Thank you for reading!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I get what you mean! That’s me and everything teen romance lol.
        Yeah same here! I’m excited to see where this show takes us.
        It was really good! 😊

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  4. Very, very nice.
    I was looking all over for “Banana Fish” the book! I never thought to tackle it from the author’s side.
    God, everytime I read your stuff I feel more stupid…

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you, thank you haha. The story’s kinda hidden away in a compilation of short stories, so it’s not like it’s a super famous one or anything. It’s a really weird choice to include in an 80s gangster anime! Really, I’m just glad my pretentious lit phase from high school can finally get put to good use thru anime blogging lmao!

      Liked by 2 people

  5. Finally, someone else who actually enjoyed Catcher in the Rye!! Seriously, I was pretty much the only kid I knew back in high school who enjoyed that book and appreciated its themes and main protagonist. While I preferred To Kill a Mockingbird (that ending left me speechless) and The Great Gatsby during that year of High School, I still have a soft spot for the story of our favorite college tearaway. I really do have to commend Salinger for having such critical themes as he did in the story of Holden; and the parallels of greed and that banana fish story certainly strike me as well.

    As a comment pointed out, this is not the only anime/manga to make a reference Salinger, with Stand Alone Complex being another. I watched that series the summer after the high school year I read The Catcher in the Rye. Along with Haruhi Suzumiya, that series certainly got me thinking alot existentially.

    Anyways onto the article. It absolutely amazes and astounds me that out of all the things you wanted to approach about this one new anime series, you chose to gravitate towards something that was so obvious yet hidden. These days there are so many little nods and references to past works that we take for granted. So many works out there and we mainly just watch a show for what it is, hoping to see if it stands well on its own. Just see any review of a visual novel adapted anime where the writer tries to compare.

    And yet you took a look at this new series and found something deeper and more personal. You saw the one quick reference to Salinger. The title of the series is named after a rather obscure title from that author. Rather than just dismiss it as some simple fun little nod from something you liked in the past, you took it a step further. You appreciated the references and made a nostalgic and loving connection with something that meant a lot to you when you were younger. And from what I have seen from this article, that connection between not only your past but also your favorites has given you a sense of excitement for this series.

    I can relate to that some way myself. I have always loved looking into the background and behind the scenes parts of anime and games. Take my second favorite of all time for instance, K-On. I came to love that show waaaaaaaay more than I already did (and believe me I already loved it a lot) when I did my research and found out about the sources of many of its visual and audio quirks. Like how Sakuragaoka High is based off a closed elementary school. Just talking about that makes me want to watch the show for the fifth time and one day visit the real life locations!!

    Anyway, I have rambled enough. These were my three cents on this great write-up of yours. I certainly got some great flashbacks of my own reading through this nostalgia fest of an article. I really do hope this personal new title of yours lives up to the namesake and legacy of the stuff you love. You already seem down to watching through the series to its end, and I hope it does not disappoint you.

    I do hope I have not boring you with these long commentaries.

    But until next time, stay golden Jennifer.

    –??????

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you, O ???. I do know a lot of people who really hate on my man. I guess I get why other people wouldn’t like it, but I dunno, I still have a soft spot for it.

      Honestly, I just really think it’s fascinating to see how art influences each other. I think about stuff like that a lot, I guess. I think it sort of reflects how connected humans are or whatever. And it’s like, people’s art/writing/anime/etc. can kind of be like that butterfly that flaps it’s wings and causes a tsunami metaphor – you never know how far one thing someone puts out into the world can end up stretching and affecting people. Like, who woulda thought a 50s short story would inspire a manga decades later, right???

      And yeah, I’m like that too where I dive in deeeeep and research everything I enjoy and end up coming away with an even bigger appreciation. I dunno, I can’t just casually enjoy stuff sometimes, I have to really immerse myself in it, for better or for worse…

      You knowwwwwwwww as a side note, you have the passion and good writing skills, so I really think you’d be good at writing or doing videos, too. Just sayin’. I’d read all your words about K-On!!

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  6. What an awesome post, I had no idea that this is where Banana Fish originally came from (but then I’m hardly very well read when it comes to literature–the only literature I read is the kind with anime nipples). Thanks for bringing this to my attention!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. You can say the same for me as well about Salinger. I honestly understood a lot of what Holden’s situation was. Not only because I was a teenager myself at the time who observed a lot of the people my age being…the people my age…but also because I generally have a high tolerance for characters and their motivations. I do not resent characters like Ken Amada, Yukari Takeba, Teddie, Morgana like many Persona fans do.

    I always try to do my best to understand and empathize with a character’s situation before jumping to a conclusion. It goes back to what I always say, that the characters are the ones who make the story. When I am not fond of a character like Miki Kawai or 9s (Nier Automata), it really does leave a sour taste in my mouth for the series. I may not end up disliking the game or anime, but I certainly will be less likely to come back to it. I mean after all, why would I want to revisit something if there is something I already do not like that is guaranteed to be there? The point is that perhaps the people I knew from high school felt towards Holden how I felt when it came to characters like Miki and 9s. They did not like how angsty he was because it reminded them of each other and they took it out on the book as a result.

    And yes, that is a fantastic way of describing how connected almost all work is. It reminds me of Durarara with the thread of fate it constantly hammers of the viewer, especially during the Celty spider-web filled ED sequences. Now of course how well eferences are executed without making the work come off as a ripoff is always up for debate. But when that the makers can make a work that stand on its own and breathe new life into the ideas of their inspiration, it is truly a magical thing. I am sure you have seen a decent line up of anime that are heavily based off of works of fiction.

    What you say about being a real research buff with a show…Jennifer I wish I could be as restrained as that…you see I gotta confess, whenever I try to see if a show or game is for me, I try to look up its themes and characters to see if I can resonate with it. My priority with whatever I dedicate my watching or gaming time to has always been feeling immersed in the atmosphere and the people surrounded in it. And unfortunately that search to see if a series’s elements are right for me often lead to me researching the whole thing. The plot, the speculation, everything. Tv tropes must get a lot of revenue thanks to my frequent visits to that site…

    And come on Jennifer, thats ridiculous ;p If I made a blog, certainly people including you would get bored of reading it rather quickly. I mean just look at all the long and drawn-out responses I have made to your thoughtfully well-written entries. Sure, I love K-On so much. And sure I have a lot to say about how I feel most anime I have seen thus far have not nearly as amazing a cast dyanimic as K-on. but I do not have nearly the eye for detail you have. Heck, I recently finished the show for the fourth time (and cried for the fourth time :____/), and I still was discovering little details that I should have seen long ago. Like the prize that Hirasawa’s little sister Ui won in the batting cage appearing in her bed some episodes later.

    Thank you so much for your response to my response to your response to that anime. I always love reading your entries and I having these little conversations through the comments. You really do spark a passion I so rarely see both offline and in real life.

    And finally, I gotta ask here and now. Jennifer…

    How the actual heck have you known my identity this whole time???!!! I mean I was not even using my usual username. I mean what signs did you pick up to think “ooooh my goodness its that person!!!!”?

    …I was trying to remain anonymous 😦

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Ohhhh…..oh……. :p

        You were able to see who I was by the email. But then what incentivised you to check that part of the settings in the first place? Did you notice something about my responses?

        Like

  8. Didn’t know Banana Fish had such a strong connection with a J. D. Salinger book. To be honest, it’s pretty cool. I certainly wasn’t expecting you to make as many connections as you did. I got a lot more out of this post than I expected. You did very good on this!

    I haven’t read the J.D. Salinger book, or watched the anime yet. Waiting for the anime to be completed before I check it out. Only book I read from J.D. Salinger was The Laughing Man back in my freshman year in high school. Can’t recall much from that book besides liking it. Other than that, not to familiar with his work.

    Liked by 1 person

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