By Victoria Garcia
If you’re an anime fan, you might have heard of Banana Fish. Banana Fish is a popular series that stands out for being LGBTQ+ positive, featuring diverse characters, spreading awareness of sexual assault crimes, ending tragically, and overflowing with literary gems.
This anime went viral on anime TikTok for its heart-wrenchingly sad story. TikToks of people reacting before and after watching Banana Fish—going from happily oblivious to sobbing and in denial—went viral. Whether you were one of those people or are not yet aware of the variety of anime treasures, Banana Fish has yet another treasure for literature lovers: the titles of each episode are named after pieces of literature.
These stories are also in the manga itself as Ash Lynx, the protagonist of Banana Fish, reads some of them. Here are a few of the hidden book gems in the anime Banana Fish.
Table of Contents
What is Banana Fish Anime?
First and foremost, I would strongly advise you to read this article only if you have finished Banana Fish or if you don’t mind spoilers, because this article is not spoiler-free. Trigger warnings for mentions of child sexual assault, grooming, suicide, and PTSD.
For those who don’t know about Banana Fish, Banana Fish is an anime by Akimi Yoshida following Ash Lynx, a notorious young gang leader in New York City. After a Japanese photographer named Eiji Okumara gets caught up in gang trouble, he feels too involved to leave his new friend, Ash, in trouble. Ash prevails after fighting to be freed from his forced gang life, despite the loss of his close friends and allies. Now that they are safe, Eiji gives Ash a chance at a new life—a ticket to Japan to be with Eiji—but just as Ash makes his decision to travel to Japan, he is stabbed and dies in the New York City library.
The anime follows the manga up until Ash’s death, whereas the manga continues after his death and shows Eiji living in grief, never able to truly heal from the loss of his companion.
As an avid anime watcher and book lover, I will say that Banana Fish broke me. Even months after finishing the anime, thinking about it stresses me out. If anyone says they didn’t get sad or cry at least once during or after finishing Banana Fish, then run away from that person because they are evil.
As a book lover, I’ve been wanting to read many of the hidden book gems in the anime Banana Fish, as these books inspired the author, Akimi Yoshida, and are important to the anime itself. For example, Blanca leaves the novel Islands in the Stream by Ernest Hemingway in the warehouse for Ash to find, which is also the title of episode 18 of the anime. Another example is The Garden of Eden by Ernest Hemingway, which is the title of episode 15 of the anime and is similar to the name of one of the volumes of the Banana Fish manga, Garden of Light.
While there are a total of 24 book references in the series, getting so many new books just because of an anime might be a struggle for most people. So, in this article, I will highlight and discuss four hidden book gems in the anime Banana Fish.
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Episode 1: “A Perfect Day for Bananafish” by J.D. Salinger
To start us off, let’s dive into the inspiration for Banana Fish and the title of the first episode of the anime.
The short story “A Perfect Day for Bananafish” by J.D. Salinger starts with a back-and-forth dialogue between a mother and daughter where neither party really listens to what the other is saying. The daughter, Muriel, tells her mother about her current trip to Florida, while the mother attempts to convince Muriel to come home due to the unstable mental state of Muriel’s husband, Seymore, who just returned from war. The dialogue then changes to a young girl named Sybil Carpenter who is driving her mother insane by repeating the phrase “See More Glass.” Sybil’s mother releases her and she runs to see Seymore Glass.
Seymore begins a conversation with the young girl and tells her how banana fish swim into holes to get bananas and after eating too many cannot escape the hole. He calls this Banana Fever. Seymore and Sybil part ways and he returns to his shared room with Muriel where he loads a gun and shoots himself in the head.
As readers, we can see how Seymore Glass cannot handle society after returning from war, which causes him to kill himself. This is relevant to the plot of Banana Fish where we see Ash’s brother going insane from “Banana Fish,” a drug he came into contact with during his time at war. While the anime never directly mentions Salinger’s book, you can see the title among some books in the first episode.
Episode 13: “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” by Ernest Hemingway
In this short story, a husband and wife are stranded in the African countryside. The man, Harry, is a novelist who has traded writing for a luxurious lifestyle, where he begins relationships with rich women who spoil him. The woman, Helen, is one of these middle-aged rich women. Their marriage is unstable and they often hate each other, but understand the faults of the other person.
Harry is suffering from gangrene. After falling into depression due to the lack of inspiration and motivation in his craft, Harry waits for death to consume him. At first, he does not fear death, but the realization that he will die soon hits him. He becomes afraid and wishes to scream for help, but is unable to. Just as he is about to die, a rescue plane with room for only one comes to save him. But instead of flying toward him, it flies away towards Mount Kilimanjaro.
In the story, Harry dreams and sees a frozen leopard on Mount Kilimanjaro, and the narrator wonders why he came to that altitude. This foreshadows Harry’s end, as he chose the African safari instead of the usual luxurious vacation and perishes because he wandered from his normal domain.
The leopard is a symbol of what Harry wanted to be. He wanted to reach the other side of the mountains, to overcome his struggles. But like the leopard, he ventured too far. When he flies over the mountain in a dream, he believes he and the leopard will go to heaven after he witnesses the white snow, as he believes the snow is heaven.
Ash has read this book and it is the only story he directly references in the anime. He explains how he relates to the leopard due to his feeling of death drawing near. But despite Ash’s fear, Eiji’s reassuring promises of “Forever” strengthen his resolve to keep fighting.
Episode 18: Islands in the Stream by Ernest Hemingway
Islands in the Stream carries fears and fantasies of Ernest Hemingway and is divided into three separate parts starring the main character Thomas Hudson. In the first part, we meet “Bimini” Hudson, a painter whose three sons arrive for summer vacation. This part is very descriptive and showcases Hudson’s love for his sons. The sons leave the island with an old family friend, and the first part ends when Hudson receives news that two of his sons have died with their mother in a motor accident.
The second part, “Cuba,” is set on a farm where Hudson is living during World War II. The reader learns Hudson’s son Tom has been killed in air action. Grief overwhelms Hudson, and he spends his time visiting bars until an ecstatic reunion with Tom’s mother. But just as Hudson finds happiness, the Navy summons him and he must go back to sea as a soldier. In the third part, “At Sea,” Hudson searches for Germans on the islands while plunging deeper into alcoholism.
As viewers of the anime, we can assume that Ash has also read Islands in the Stream as it is the book Blanca leaves behind for Ash to find. After he finds and (we can assume) reads the novel, Ash connects the dots that these “accidental deaths” are actually assassinations that Blanca has caused. This novel’s setting also parallels the Banana Fish manga, when Ash and Eiji spend time in Cape Cod, naming it “the summer we were boys for the very last time.”
Episode 24: The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
The main character of this book is Holden Caulfield, who has been kicked out of yet another boarding school. Holden is happy to leave the boarding school due to his intense hatred for people he deems “phonies,” but he does not want to go home to his wealthy family and instead goes to New York.
But in New York, Holden finds himself surrounded by more “phonies.” He eventually goes home, where he visits his younger sister. He also visits an old teacher, who makes him a bed and offers Holden life advice. When Holden goes to sleep, he wakes to find the teacher patting his head. This startles Holden and he remembers when similar things have happened to him.
Holden thinks of running away again, but wants to see his sister once more. After spending the day with her, Holden decides not to run away. Holden muses that when he grows up, he wants to watch children play in a field of rye, and hopes to catch them if they fall out of the field
Banana Fish anime watchers might not know this fact, but the official manga art for Banana Fish depicts Ash reading The Catcher in the Rye. Many fans say the novel is on Ash’s table in his room and in the end credits of Banana Fish. Ash and Eiji also visit golden fields, which connects to Holden’s description of the field of rye.
After reading this novel, Banana Fish viewers can make a connection between Holden and Ash as both characters are victims of child sexual assault, have PTSD, and struggle to deal with the death of their brothers. Ash bases much of his personality off of Holden, even wearing red shoes in inspiration of Holden’s red hat. Both boys are similar in the sense that they long to belong and to have companionship.
Final Thoughts about the Anime Banana Fish
After researching these hidden book gems in the anime Banana Fish, I feel more sad about Banana Fish. (The pain really is never ending). The themes of innocence and loss of innocence are central themes in Banana Fish and each of these stories. Like several characters, Ash has been hurt by the world he lives in, and is only able to be young when he is with Eiji.
These books give anime watchers a deeper understanding of Ash’s character and story, and provide an interesting look at what inspired Banana Fish. The parallels between these works of literature and Banana Fish are so interesting and will intrigue all Banana Fish fans and book lovers.