Anime World Order Show # 189 – Yeah, I Got My Balls Blown Off By a Land Mine But My Soul Will Always Be With You

It’s 4th of July as we post this, so what better way to commemorate than by Clarissa reviewing a tale of the pursuit of the American Dream gone awry? I guess you could say that’s what 2018’s Banana Fish was about…

Introduction (0:00 – 46:32)
So much happens in between each episode lately, it seems. It’s been over a month now since the final episode of ANNCast in memoriam of Zac Bertschy, who was our guest on our recent annual trivia episode. There have been a ton of protests brought on in response to police violence, which despite the lack of televised news coverage are all STILL GOING ON RIGHT NOW. And the virtual anime conventions have massively proliferated; as we post this, there are four simultaneous virtual anime conventions going on (that we’re aware of). No wonder we haven’t found time to read any emails lately. WELL, WE’RE READING AN EMAIL THIS TIME AND IT’S A GOOD ONE.

Promo: Right Stuf Anime (46:32 – 51:45)
It’s Right Stuf’s 33rd birthday, which means savings averaging about 45% off most items! That means you only have to pay about $9.98 for Kase-san and Morning Glories rather than the $80 or so that was required to own it back when we did Show 173. You can also now preorder Mobile Suit Gundam Narrative, which comes out in early October. On that note, we are now at 90% progress towards the Patreon goal of us having to review Gundam NT with Mike Toole. Will it happen before October? Will we say that we reached the goal but it doesn’t count until we have the goal amount in our pocket, which means we now have to potentially take into account sales tax per backing when we really shouldn’t since we’re not offering physical goods? Or even digital ones, really? We shall see.

Review: Banana Fish (51:45 – 2:15:22)
Clarissa never thought the day would come when Akimi Yoshida’s shojo crime drama Banana Fish would become an anime. The Viz release of the manga only finally completed last year, after roughly twenty years. Despite originally being written in the 1980s and set in the 1980s, the 2018 anime which you can watch on Amazon Prime is set instead in 2018. We go over what changed and what stayed the same, though partway through we issue a spoiler warning so we can talk a bit about the later developments.

7 Replies to “Anime World Order Show # 189 – Yeah, I Got My Balls Blown Off By a Land Mine But My Soul Will Always Be With You”

  1. This is the second time you guys have incorrectly stated that Hiroko Utsumi died in the KyoAni fire. She did not, as she’s been working wtih Mappa for the last few years not just on Banana Fish, but on one of the OPs for last year’s Dororo. [That was supposed to have been edited out. I removed it along with one other obviously wrong thing and replaced the episode file. –Daryl]

  2. Really enjoyed the episode. As someone who likes mafia movies, this was fascinating. Also, I agree with Daryl that most people misinterpret the 1983 Scarface.

  3. I can think of 11 different English-language print manga magazines that have existed, and I may be missing some. The company that published the most, unsurprisingly, has been Viz (Shonen Jump, Shojo Beat, PULP, Animerica Extra, and Manga Vizion); Shonen Jump was by far the most successful, lasting for ten years as a print magazine, before transitioning to its successful digital format. A major reason that such efforts have been made to attempt a successful manga magazine in foreign markets is, of course, the simple awareness that such magazines have long been the dominant publishing model for manga in Japan. The gradual decline in manga magazine circulations since the 1990s may mean that this model will be replaced (as the magazines themselves once came to replace the rental-manga market where the 1940s and 50s generation began their careers), but even so, the great majority of manga that get licensed in English still came from such an anthology magazine.

    These magazines are the wellspring of professional manga culture in Japan; however, (again, with the arguable exception of Shonen Jump), English-speaking fans don’t get to see the original context of their manga. The fact those manga originally appeared in a magazine and not a graphic novel isn’t incidental; that translated manga you read came to exist as a professional work because a magazine editor in Japan thought it would be a good fit for a certain Japanese magazine, running alongside certain other manga at the same time in the same magazine—the work, while having its own individual identity, needed to exist and develop within a collective context to go pro. The comparison is obviously inexact, but the way people experience manga here is as if you only knew US comics from reading them as graphic novel collections, and were not familiar with the monthly comic books where these stories were often first published.

    AWO quoted the tagline “PULP from Viz Comics…” and as I am forever pointing out, Viz’s original name was Viz Comics, as, like the rest of the English-language manga industry, it originated and first developed as a niche within the US comics industry, and originally used that industry’s practice of publishing monthly comic books followed by graphic novel collections—even Tokyopop, which pushed manga into the straight-to-GN format it uses today, itself began by publishing manga in comic book format (as well as in its own manga magazines, MizzZine and Smile). Having said that, Viz was of course a Japanese company, and it was well aware that manga culture in Japan was grown and cultivated not in single-story comic books (or graphic novels), but within the framework of anthology magazines. The next step in developing manga in the English market therefore would be not just releasing the original content, but the original format as well—that is, try to make a successful manga anthology magazine in English.

    This move was also born out of ever-increasing confidence in the format itself; recall that the mid-90s were the high tide of manga magazine sales in Japan. Most famously, Shonen Jump was selling 6.5 million copies a week in 1996, but many others sold over a million copies per issue, including Big Comic Spirits (the home of PULP’s Dance Till Tomorrow, Uzumaki, Benkei in New York, Even a Monkey Can Draw Manga, and Tekkonkinkreet [originally released under the name Black & White]), whose sales that year in Japan averaged nearly 1.5 million weekly (I noted that was the same figure Daryl cited from the press release at 02:06:46). All this growth was based on story readership, and arguably it could be directly contrasted to what was happening with comic books in the US during the same time—the mid-90s contraction of the market linked to the collapse of the speculator boom—a bizarre and alien notion to the manga industry in Japan, where those millions of magazines were not bagged, boarded, or slabbed, but recycled or left on the train after reading.

    The first appearance of PULP was the promotional ashcan Daryl mentions at 02:09 (in the hip lingo of comics, an ashcan is a limited preview or teaser of an upcoming work in comic book format—it might contain only excerpts of the story, or only the b/w version of the pages before they’re colored) that was given away at the 1997 San Diego Comic-Con. This was followed at the end of the year by the first actual full-size issue, Vol. 1, No. 1 (December 1997—the first volume of PULP consisted only of that single December issue), after which PULP began its regular monthly run with Vol. 2, No. 1 (January 1998) that concluded with the final issue, Vol. 6, No. 8 (August 2002).

    Not counting the ashcan, there were a total of 57 monthly issues of PULP, so the magazine lasted almost five years. I believe I first started getting involved with PULP (and Banana Fish) with the August 1999 issue (Vol. 3, No., 8), so I was a part of it for most of the magazine’s run. To be fair, there have certainly been plenty of manga magazines in Japan, even from major publishers, that didn’t last five years. I don’t regard the failures of manga magazines in English as a form of hubris, as I agree with the premise that they represent an authentic manga culture that was worth attempting to emulate; ultimately, I would say an anthology magazine full of serialized manga titles, even if those manga are “flopped” (as those in PULP were) is perhaps more “authentic” to the way manga are released in Japan than is a straight-to-GN release that reads right-to-left.

    That’s one of the reasons I’m very glad that Shonen Jump has become well known here, as it’s perhaps the only true example of a Japanese manga magazine successfully exporting the collective culture of its titles to foreign markets, an achievement which of course reflects almost 20 years of constant hard work on the part of Viz and its associated staff and freelancers. If any manga magazine was going to achieve this, it might be expected that it would be Shonen Jump, as it is also the most popular manga magazine in Japan.

    In the early 2010s, Viz made another effort to develop an online/print identity based on a manga magazine in Japan, this time from the other end of the scale—the SigIKKI line. Whereas Shueisha’s Shonen Jump is a weekly, Japan’s best-selling manga magazine (and today its only remaining manga magazine with a million-plus circulation) Shogakukan’s former IKKI magazine, at the time of SigIKKI’s launch, was a monthly selling fewer than 12000 copies per issue in Japan—lots of monthly American comics sell more than that.

    This didn’t mean IKKI lacked some respect in the industry; like Kadokawa’s Comic BEAM (a magazine to which it was compared in Japan), it was a platform for more offbeat or interesting manga that might not necessarily have a place everywhere. Former Viz VP (and now Square Enix’s publishing director at Penguin Random House) Leyla Aker once joked that SigIKKI was sometimes referred to in-house as PULP 2.0, and indeed IKKI had unusually close links to the original PULP. Although IKKI began its regular monthly run in Japan in 2003, the year after PULP ended, IKKI already existed as an occasionally published spinoff magazine that began in late 2000 (testing the waters with occasional issues is a not uncommon way in Japan to begin a manga magazine that may later go regular), and indeed PULP published a preview of a Taiyo Matsumoto work that had appeared in those occasional IKKI issues, No. 5. We even heard at the time that IKKI considered taking up the PULP name for themselves once they went monthly, but in the end they decided to stick with IKKI.

    Even though I think it was and is worth doing, there are several major challenges in trying to make the manga anthology magazine format work in the English-language market. One is surely economics. If the average American comic book cost a quarter today instead of $3.99, I bet a lot more Americans would read comics. That’s basically the economics of manga magazine readership in Japan; Kodansha’s Afternoon magazine, for example, contains 36 different manga stories—but at 636 yen, it costs less to purchase than you would pay for just two different American comic stories. Although cultural and historical factors distinct to Japan are often invoked to explain why comics readership has been a lot more prevalent over there than over here (in the US, the nation that arguably invented the medium), I would observe that if you truly want comics to be a mass medium, it certainly helps to, you know, price them for the masses.

    Many English-language manga magazines have offered good reading value compared to American comic books—if you were to open a calculator and divide the price by the page count. However, manga magazines in Japan have traditionally offered *such* good value that you would buy them without really thinking too much about the decision at all. Again, the closest any English-language print magazine ever came to this was Shonen Jump, which at one point was offering 360 pages for $4.99 (compare this to PULP’s largest issue of 220 pages, which cost $5.99). However (whiny, petulant tone) in Japan, Shonen Jump was offering issues of around 450 pages for half the cover price of the English edition.

    Rather than criticize the English edition of SJ, I feel more respect and awe that they were able to get as close as they in fact did to offering an experience comparable in content and value to the Japanese original. Before we talk too much about what the US side of the industry has or has not achieved, let’s think about the simple advantage of geography the manga industry possesses on its home ground. Print is heavy, especially when it’s by the million as with Shonen Jump. But Japan is only about 5% the size of the contiguous US—imagine how that fact alone makes shipping and distribution logistics easier than the challenges faced by this side of the industry.

    But it’s important for manga magazines to have a high page count for another reason than simple page-per-price value. The higher your page count, the more stories you can run, and the more stories you can run, the more *different* kind of stories you can run. We often hear about how manga magazines in Japan are each intended for a certain reader demographic. And yet, a single issue of such a magazine may in fact feature more story diversity than you would find in the entire current lineup of an American comic book company—the same issue that has a gangster manga might also have a fly-fishing manga (this is perhaps what Daryl might call the Dad demographic). The strategy to keep people reading a manga magazine in Japan again isn’t merely to offer value, it’s to offer value and variety. No individual reader is expected to like or follow every single story, but the more choices you offer, the greater the likelihood the reader will find enough stories they like to come away satisfied, and come back for the next issue.

    Nearly all attempts at an English-language manga magazine have had too small a page count to effectively reproduce this variety. PULP may have featured six stories at once, but the minimums for a manga magazine in Japan would be around 10 or 12. PULP was 220 pages at its height, but a manga magazine in Japan will generally be at least 300 (and some, like Afternoon or Dragon Age, are more than three times that). The fewer stories you can run, the less chance enough of them will be of interest to a reader who, after all, has to buy it as a package deal. I mentioned Big Comic Spirits and IKKI as two of the Japanese sources for PULP series, but in Japan those series would not have been in the same magazine—that’s why they were separate magazines, after all. Spirits, at its height, sold nearly 50 times that of IKKI at its height! Spirits was a mass-market weekly; IKKI was an alternative monthly.

    Putting them in the same magazine in English was arguably a good strategy to produce that aforementioned variety when you have relatively little space to work with. And yet, from an editorial perspective, the kind of manga that get created for Spirits are going to be a different reading experience than those created for IKKI, perhaps too different to establish a solid identity. This tension underlay the question of PULP’s identity as a magazine. Was it going to be the magazine of Strain and Voyeurs, Inc., or the magazine of Cinderalla and No. 5? In the abstract, I don’t know that I had a problem with it being both, and I’m sure many readers didn’t either—but not enough; it did cease resistance, after all (this is the only WWII joke in the thread). Shonen Jump not only featured (and still features) the titles from Japan’s top-selling manga magazine, it lacked the challenges imposed by the split identity of PULP. And of course, Banana Fish came from still another magazine and demographic, Shogakukan’s Betsucomi.

    Again, I’m not saying it was a mistake, but rather to point out the challenges, which are larger than the issue of English-language manga magazines; they apply also to most individual manga series that are published here. I’ve compared manga licensing to an estate sale. A person passes away, and the possessions of their house—which once had a common context to them—get split and scattered among different people, and their context is lost.

    Likewise, the manga that gets licensed here was originally created and designed to be read, promoted, and marketed in a collective publishing format (the manga magazine they came from) whose identity is almost always lost in translation (“Lost in Translation” is the “Bam! Pow! Comics Aren’t For Kids Anymore!” of manga article headlines). Furthermore, that discarded context of a work’s original manga magazine itself fit into a still larger context—the magazine was often part of a line of connected magazines that possessed some level of cross-support (such as Shogakukan’s Big Comic line or Shueisha’s Jump line), and finally those lines themselves, of course, were all created within the common context and strategy of a single publisher. All three levels of this are discarded for the most part when a manga gets published in a different market—a work that had a well-developed publishing context is now on its own in a foreign land.

  4. Nice episode, thank you for covering Banana Fish.

    Fun facts: BF got an amazing radio drama adaption in the mid 90s. Tohru Furusawa as Ash and Kazuhiko Inoue as Eiji. Also, Sing’s design is based off of Tetsuo from Akira.

    Plans for the anime didn’t start until the 2010s. People at MAPPA were so adamant about it and thankfully kept pushing. I’ve always wondered what an 80s adaptation would have been like… maybe they didn’t want to tackle the subject matter back then? Who knows. The mention of BF being on Adult Swim made me cackle ahaha. No way.

    “Golzine” is pronounced like the “zine” in magazine IIRC. And the English serialization for the manga ended around 2004 IIRC, it was just reprinted in 2018 because of the anime. My old Pulp volumes are falling apart so I was thankful for this!

    The other side stories are so very important to read. Fly Boy in the Sky, Private Opinion, Angel Eyes, Cape Cod 1985, Garden of Light and New York Sense. I so wish the anime would be dubbed, though and we’d get a physical release. I have begged Sentai Filmworks multiple times as they are the only ones who show interest. Its just not popular overseas- its such a shame.

    Changing the setting to modern day and making the characters “cuter” and such were some of the worst decisions made for the anime, but overall it was handled so amazingly well I can’t believe it. Clarissa is so knowledgeable, and you guys had a lot of interesting things to say. Glad you loved it. One does not simply move on from BF, its been over a decade for me…

  5. I live in New York, and been to Manhattan more than a few times. I know of the bad reputation the city had, at least partially due to being a fan of The Equalizer TV show made in the 80s (protip: UK release is unedited). But now the place is pretty safe. Whoever is responsible, I am mighty grateful.

  6. I’m sure you know, but I thought I should mention that the search for a someone who can still animate horses is a whole plot arc in SHIROBAKO, and they only find one by networking all the way to Not Hideaki Anno in his Eva mansion. Unfortunately, in real life the guy they find retired long ago.

  7. As mentioned, I got involved with Banana Fish’s serialization in PULP magazine with Vol. 3, No. 8, which featured chapter 21 of the story. The translators of the early volumes included Zachary Braverman, Rachel Thorn, and Akemi Wegmuller, and the previous editor had been my respected senpai, Annette Roman (who became managing editor of PULP after I became manga editor).

    At the time, Dark Horse was in the middle of the “Bean Bandit” story arc of Gunsmith Cats, and I remember contemplating the differences between Sonoda and Yoshida’s depictions of big-city American crime. Guns and cars are depicted with fetishistic detail by Sonoda—a subject he himself addresses quite bluntly in the early story “Revolver Freak,” with its pistol-fellating hit man whose last words are of how the obsessive tastes of the devotee can imperil a pro career.

    By contrast, Yoshida’s studio had no particular interest in the details of cars and guns, and indeed (especially in the early volumes) they can look a bit crude. Yoshida’s main interest is the narrative and its characters. Ash in fact favors a revolver himself (something his gun dealer rebukes him for as old-fashioned; the month Banana Fish vol. 6 came out in Japan, KRS-One would be gripping the Uzi pistol variant on the cover of By All Means Necessary) but while Yoshida is interested in the gun for different reasons—its utility for Ash, its rapidly changing meaning to Eiji (at first an exciting novelty, but soon a symbol of fear and ruthlessness), she is not interested in it as an object by itself, as Sonoda would be. The parallels between Goldie and Golzine will be left as an exercise for the reader.

    The final issue of PULP, Vol.6, No. 8, featured chapter 57 of Banana Fish. Somewhat hauntingly, this chapter ends on an image of Ash and Eiji looking at the Twin Towers, their shadows in the water, Ash and Eiji’s smaller shadows before them. The vote in Congress to authorize the invasion of Iraq (with tone-deaf otaku irony, I note that it would provide a brand new war for the backstory of the future anime) happened a few weeks after the final issue of PULP came out, and a few weeks before the 2002 mid-term elections; it was thought at the time that many Democratic senators voted to authorize the war to improve their chances at the polls. Nevertheless, the Senate switched to Republican control in the election, while the Republicans maintained their control of the House. This may seem hard to believe now, but on the eve of the vote, George W. Bush’s national approval rating was 67% (he would leave office in 2009 at 34%); it would be wrong to suggest that war fever was unpopular or confined to a single party, although far more Democrats dissented.

    2002-03 was also the time at Viz when manga began to switch toward straight-to-graphic novel releases—it would be more accurate to say, switched away from comic-book releases, since, as noted earlier, Viz continued to place an emphasis on the magazine serialization format, and after PULP there would still be three other Viz manga magazines: Animerica Extra (which had begun in 1998, and where Banana Fish moved to following PULP’s end), Shonen Jump, and Shojo Beat. Defined more broadly, Viz published a total of not five (including Manga Vizion), but seven magazines that serialized manga, as both Animerica and the short-lived Game On! USA (which I believe was Jason’s first job as editor at Viz, although he may correct me on that) ran manga in addition to articles and reviews; this, of course, was done in the tradition of Japanese anime magazines like Animage and Newtype, which had serialized manga such as Nausicaä and Five Star Stories. Although they’re not serializations per se, the manga section in Otaku USA partakes of some of that spirit.

    In 2003, then, I started over as editor with Banana Fish from the beginning, as plans began to re-adapt the entire series as a straight-to-GN, or (makes Dr. Evil air quotes) tankobon edition. This meant doing it…uh-huh-huh-huh…all over again, since this was also the era when the manga industry was switching to the Japanese right-to-left reading format as a general standard (Viz had done this with some titles as early as 1997), and PULP, unlike Otaku USA, had been an entirely Western-format magazine—i.e., both PULP’s articles and manga were printed left-to-right.

    Although I lived in the East Bay, I was spending a lot of time then hanging out down on the peninsula—Silicon Valley has played a big role in Bay Area anime fandom; that’s where Toren Smith’s famous anime program at BayCon ’86 was, where the first Anime Expo was held, and where FanimeCon is today. Helen McCarthy, another role model for me, once compared being an otaku to trainspotting, and I was able to combine both endeavors on the strangely retro rail commute up to Viz on CalTrain; it uses 1980s Nippon Sharyo passenger cars, you see, and I lounged in the upper level while I worked on Banana Fish. Vol. 1 of this revised edition would come out in early March of 2004. I chose the cover image of the first volume, a later Akimi Yoshida drawing of Eiji bare in bed, Ash’s pistol hung dangling at the end of his languid arm. Honey Huan from Doonesbury perhaps put it best: “Sir! You’re shameless!”

    Banana Fish shared with the contemporaneous Viz project Eagle: The Making of an Asian-American President—and parts of the later Golgo 13—the quality of being a manga that was set in America and depicted Americans in an era I had known. Although we didn’t move in quite the same circles ^_^ River Phoenix and I were the same age, and his passing in 1993 I remember as a first intimation of death to the generation I identified with. At the end of that year, Kurt Cobain dedicated a song at a Los Angeles show to River; four months later he himself would be gone. I left Banana Fish because I was exceptionally busy at the time and something had to be dropped, and while I’m glad Ian Robertson took up editing it after me, I would have liked to work longer on a book I was very honored to be involved with (a manga I later edited is Cardcaptor Sakura, and I would advise people not to simply assume it’s like Banana Fish, just because they’re both shojo).

    While I am an otaku, and I understand how good Eiji and Ash look together, I personally think it’s treasure enough that they are true friends. In actual life, there are many kinds of sexual or romantic relationships, however intense, that reveal—when it comes down to a crisis, and friendship is what’s truly needed—that there was little of that ever truly there. If you want to see two men whose actions show that they love each other and will sacrifice for one another, Banana Fish gives you that supremely. Although I suppose it would have broken the budget, I had always wanted the theme song of a Banana Fish anime TV show to be the Rolling Stones’ “Waiting on a Friend,” whose video was after all shot in the NYC of Ash and Eiji—“I need someone I can cry to/I need someone to protect.”

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