Banana Fish by Akimi Yoshida, at the time of serialization, was once a contemporary story. It began in 1985 and ended in 1994, while the timeline of the main plot spanned from 1985 to 1987. So in a way, modernizing the anime adaptation of Banana Fish to be set in 2018 is appropriate. Rather than a near complete replication of a story set in the 1980s, there can be a parallel story that integrates the ideas and themes to be timely like the original was.
However, updating Banana Fish raises some clear issues. The original manga is deeply 1980s, from its aesthetics to its politics, and if handled without care, you wind up with a story that’s already dated from the very start. It’s one thing for a story to be old; we still have centuries old classics. Plus, our suspension of disbelief can be higher when we know a story was from a different time. However, with an adaptation you’re already setting up a compare and contrast situation, to mix in modernization too, it’s key to think through what needs to be changed, why it needs to be changed, and how that affects the original story. This is different for all kinds of adaptations and renditions, but ultimately it can be done in a lot of fun, unique, creative ways. In the case of Banana Fish though, it’s all about the lack of change. Though the style and technology is there, the story ultimately feels like a rerun in different clothes. This especially feels like a missed opportunity with the legacy that Banana Fish has as a classic manga that tackles heavy social issues.
This isn’t to disparage the work put into the anime or to imply it’s a complete waste. Translating a story to a new medium is difficult work and there are plenty of parts I enjoyed. It’s at least introduced the story to new audiences, including me, and opened up new avenues to discuss it. In this spirit, I want to talk about some of the missed opportunities that the anime passed over when modernizing the manga in the context of the social themes Yoshida touches on. There are some issues that are thoughtfully examined in the manga but would be reflected differently in a modern setting, and other issues that weren’t examined as deeply as they could have been in an adaptation.
Spoiler warning for the end of Banana Fish, including the side story Garden of Light.
Content warning for discussions of police brutality and sexual trauma (including child sex abuse).