oyceter: man*ga [mahng' guh] n. Japanese comics. synonym: CRACK (manga is crack)
[personal profile] oyceter
I swear Minekura was trying to redo Banana Fish in her own style with Wild Adapter.

In Vietnam, a soldier suddenly goes crazy and shoots down his friends, saying only "banana fish." Eighteen years later, teenage gang leader Ash Lynx* finds himself in possession of a mysterious drug and the words "banana fish." Soon, he's tangled in a complicated plot that involves rival gangs, mysterious drugs, and one teenage Japanese reporter, with whom I am guessing is the signature yaoi love interest.

This is a classic shounen ai manga that supposedly addresses issues like AIDS and homosexuality in a very real manner, and Matt Thorn has pimped it constantly. I held off reading it for so long because the art is very 1980s.

I am going to stop reading it because I am nowhere near as enamoured with Ash as all his enemies, friends, acquaintances, and, clearly, the mangaka are. Also, the fact that it's set in New York and is attempting to be a serious thriller are very off-putting, given the assorted cracktastic elements (why is everyone so obsessed with Ash? Also, Ash Lynx?!). The real-world setting also meant that the politics squicked me out even more.

I do give Yoshida props for actually having POC, but I am rather annoyed by all of them being drawn with afros and thick lips. It verges on caricature. I also nearly threw the book across the room when I came across one plot point that has to do with Ash's black friend (make a wild guess...). The treatment of the Chinese characters is a little better; they get more to do. But they're still overshadowed by Ash (white) and Eiji (Japanese).

I think this series falls right in between the boundaries of realistic and cracktastic, and as such, it's not good enough for either.

* His real name is "Aslan." I could not make this up if I tried!


Thu, Jul. 12th, 2007 09:59 am (UTC)
Posted by (Anonymous)
Matt Thorn here. I appreciate and share a lot of your criticisms of _Banana Fish_. As for the portrayal of POC, keep in mind that this work was done in the 1980s, and by Japanese standards of the day, it was quite progressive. You may not have noticed, but American comic artists to this day draw Asians in stereotyped ways. Portrayals of people of African descent in U.S. media (particularly drawn images) used to be far worse than anything in _Banana Fish_, but they changed because of political pressure. Portrayals of Asians, on the other hand, progress at a glacial pace because Asian Americans haven't created the kind of political networks African Americans have, so stereotyped portrayals slip by without much sound and fury. (And, BTW, these days you are as likely to find manga in which people of European descent are stereotyped as "bad guys" while Asians and Africans are portrayed as "good guys". I think we have George W. and his War to thank for this.)
But of course the real reason I'm replying is because I couldn't ignore the statement that "Matt Thorn has pimped it constantly." If you can find some specific references, I'd be curious to see them, because I don't recall ever "pimping" _Banana Fish_, even when I was translating it. Maybe I wrote something about it in _Animerica_ or the Viz newsletter years ago, but I don't recall. I think BF is a basically good but flawed manga, and some of the flaws I see in it are the ones you pointed out. The fact that men of all sexual orientations seem overwhelmed by a desire to have sex with Ash is downright goofy, but that's part and parcel of the whole yaoi/slash fantasy, right? I actually don't think BF portrays homosexuality realistically, even homosexuality as it was in 1980s New York. I can't remember any references to AIDS at all. Was there any mention of AIDS in BF? If I were to make a list of my 100 favorite manga, or even a pseudo-objective list of 100 manga "everyone should read," I doubt BF would be on there. But I might put it on a list of 100 must-read shoujo manga.
For what it's worth, I have little motivation to "pimp" anything I ever translated for Viz, since I was paid a flat page rate on a work-for-hire basis and never made a cent in royalties.

Re: Howdy

Thu, Jul. 12th, 2007 06:51 pm (UTC)
Posted by (Anonymous)
I agree with basically everything in your response. I should have said that Asian American political networks have not yet developed the level of leverage that African American networks have, but I was too lazy to be more precise. I'm certainly aware of Asian American political networking. The sad fact is, though, that publishers or TV networks are less likely to be frightened into changing something if the complaint comes from one or all of the groups you mentioned than they are if the complaint comes from, say, the N.A.A.C.P.

I agree that "mitigating circumstances" don't excuse stereotyping in media. And I am also annoyed by people who try to tell other people to not be annoyed by racism or sexism in media "because there are more important things to be upset about." Sure, having kids (or even adults) speak in a fake foreign accent when I walk by (I'm a European American who's lived in Japan for about 14 years) is far less "important" than, say, what's going on in Darfur, but that doesn't mean I'm not going to be annoyed by it. The Heroes for Hire cover was weird and disturbing. The recent bondage-and-tenctacle-sex cover of whatever comic that was was startlingly offensive. Hell, 80% of portrayals of women in superhero comics is annoying at best and horrific at worst.

And of course, stereotypes of Asians in American comics do not excuse or mitigate Yoshida's stereotypes of African Americans. I was just pointing out (unnecessarily) that stereotyping is not a sin unique to Yoshida or to manga.

I'd also argue that the Asians-as-heroes, white-people-as-villains stereotyping is nowhere near the same in scope, given that on a global level, white people still have most of the political, social, and financial power in the world. As such, they are millions of times more likely to see positive portrayals of themselves in media, as opposed to black people. It also doesn't help that American media is globally known and that American media's representation of black people is pretty awful. As such, I encountered a ton of negative ideas and attitudes about black people when I was living in Taiwan, and I'm pretty sure these ideas and attitudes were based largely on pop-culture images.


Re: Howdy

Fri, Jul. 13th, 2007 12:48 am (UTC)
Posted by (Anonymous)
Wow! Thanks for the kind words. Now I'll have to buy you lunch or dinner if you ever find yourself in Kyoto. (^_^) Seriously, if you ever come to the Kansai area, please drop me a line. My e-mail address is on my site.

Nice Journal, BTW.

Insightful analysis!

Mon, Sep. 3rd, 2007 02:34 am (UTC)
Posted by [identity profile] sarasusa.livejournal.com
Happened across this thread through a Google search on "Matt Thorn" and "Akimi Yoshida."

Though I'm fonder of Banana Fish than you are, I appreciate the caveats both you and Matt make in this thread. They spurred some thoughts of my own:

On the subject of sameness in Yoshida's visual depiction of certain groups: I've got to say I frequently had a hard time distinguishing between the ones of European descent--sometimes it seemed like half the characters had blond wavy hair!

Regarding African American characters in Banana Fish: Though there's a fair amount of stereotyping throughout, the character of Harlem gang leader Cain Blood (he appears in later volumes) is appealingly fair-minded; he, together with an up-and-coming young Chinese gang leader, often stole the stage for me in the latter part of the series.

If I hadn't read the first volume of FAKE (also set in New York) prior to picking up Banana Fish, BF might have struck me as cracktastic. In comparison to FAKE, though, Banana Fish seems like gritty realism. >_>

Another thing which made the series work for me was the fact that I grew up in the 1980s. To me, the references made to the political climate rang at least partly true--there was even some indirect tying-in of the Central American conflict and the Cold War, both of which dominated my liberal-Quaker consciousness at the time.

Anyway, I've taken the liberty of friending you, as I'm interested in reading your commentary on other series. I espy a fair amount of overlap between the titles you list and those I've tangled with!

(no subject)

Wed, Sep. 19th, 2007 01:20 am (UTC)
ext_150: (Default)
Posted by [identity profile] kyuuketsukirui.livejournal.com
I've never read Banana Fish, mainly because like you, I find the old art rather off-putting. However, I did really like her Yasha series, if you feel like giving some of her other work a go (I don't think it's available in English, but I don't really keep track of that sort of thing other than occasionally wandering through the aisles in Borders and boggling at how *much* of it there is). It's sci-fi and a bit cracky (it's about clones and stuff), but I really enjoyed it. There was a drama of it, too, which was not as good, but has Itou Hideaki in the main roles and Iwaki Kouichi, whom I absolutely love, as the dad.

(I'm in a procrastinatey mood and going back through your manga reviews, so uh...if you get a bunch of comments on old posts, that's why!)


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