[OWLS Blog Tour] It Just Is: Relationships Don’t Always Need Labels

Hey hey all you Heroes and Travelers out there today I’m bringing you all another super special awesome OWLS post!! If this is your first time here at Nice Job Breaking It Hero, you were probably linked here by the lovely Arria’s blog tour post… and I welcome you with open arms!!

Back in December I mentioned that I’d joined OWLS: Otaku Warriors of Liberty and Self-Respect, a group of bloggers and vloggers that hope to spread a message of acceptance and understanding through thoughtful community activism!

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So, in order to spread our message of self acceptance and tolerance, we’ve decided to hold Monthly Blog Tours! During Blog Tours, we each write individual theme posts on our blogs that promote our group’s values, with a bit of an otaku twist. June’s Blog Tour topic is Team!


There is no “I” in Team

When I see the word “Team” my mind usually jumps straight to that one sports anime series, you know, the one about the volleyball team… and while, I’d love nothing more than to write about Haikyuu at length for the umpteenth time, I figured I could come up with something a bit more unpredictable.

A team isn’t just one person striving towards a goal, a team is a group of people working together and supporting each other. Whether they are working to defeat one of Japan’s best high school volleyball teams or working to ensure that individuals are given the same civil liberties as others, a team works together to achieve that mission. Of course not everyone on a team is the same and there are bound to be some disagreements here and there, however it is important that we celebrate those differences and use them to grow as a community.

June is known as “Pride Month” within the LGBT & Queer communities in honor of the Stonewall Riots that occurred at the end of June in 1969. At OWLS, we strongly support individuals who are part of the LGBT & Queer communities as well as individuals who are struggling with their sexual orientation or gender identity.

“Team” functions in two ways: 1) allows individuals to show their support to the LGBT & Queer communities and 2) allows LGBT & Queer communities to express their love to whoever they want.

So for the “Team” topic, we will be discussing our favorite LGBT & Queer characters in anime and other pop culture related media, the impact of the yaoi and yuri genre within LGBT & Queer communities, our personal stories involving gender/sexual orientation, and etc.

OWLS June Blog Tour Prompt

I have a confession to make, I had no idea what I’d write about for this blog tour until the day before this post went live. Someone suggested I write about Boku no Pico, however, that would be both scarring and extremely ranty, so I decided to go with a series that is near and dear to my heart. While it isn’t technically a boys’ love title, it does have some BL themes and situations. But, that’s not what I want to focus on with this post, instead I want to look at how the relationship between Eiji and Ash, the main leads of the manga series, Banana Fish, build a lasting friendship that changes not just themselves, but everyone that they come into contact with.


How Banana Fish Transcends Labels

Technically Akimi Yoshida’s Banana Fish (1985-1994) is a shoujo manga since it was published in Betsucomi, however this series couldn’t be further from what folks think of when they think “shoujo manga”. The series is set in 1980’s New York and follows Ash Lynx, a handsome young gang leader as he attempts to unravel the criminal empire of the notorious crime boss Papa Dino. Along the way Ash befriends a young Japanese photographer, Eiji Okamura. Despite their vastly different backgrounds, Eiji and Ash form an unbreakable bond, but when Ash’s past threatens the safety of everyone he holds dear, his relationship with the young photographer is tested in ways neither could have ever imagined.

Banana fish 3

The series deals with some dark themes, including, but not limited to: child prostitution, rape/forced sexual situations, coarse language, and death. So, if you aren’t comfortable with any of those topics, this manga isn’t for you, however, I won’t be going into much detail about those elements of the plot, instead, I want to focus on the relationship between the main leads and how that bond (whether you believe it to be romantic or platonic) shapes their growth throughout the course of the series. More so how their bond transcends traditional labels. While I admit that there are some not so subtle romantic undertones to their relationship, that’s not the driving force behind their interactions with one another. 

Far too often when we think of relationships between men in Japanese media, we tend to think primarily about boys’ love or yaoi, which in turn brings up images of well, sex. It’s a hard image to shake, especially with the overabundance of media that seems to only focus on the physical relationships between men. Most recently, the anime series Yuri!!! on Ice helped change people’s views on relationships between men in Japanese media, by offering a wholesome relationship between two male characters that didn’t rely on sexual intimacy. As I have said in the past, this is not the only series to portray “romantic” relationships between same sex couples in a much more organic way, but it is one of the most recent and popular examples. In fact, it’s not easy to find BL titles that aren’t purely smut with plot or… smut without plot. There has been a recent trend towards  more realistic same sex relationships in BL media, but there is still a ways to go before this becomes the norm.


More Than Friends, More Than Lovers

Banana Fish is a series that explores the complex relationship between two men without falling prey to some of the usual BL tropes because it’s not really a BL. Yoshida does something unique, she never specifically establishes their relationship as wholly romantic, nor does she define it solely as a just a friends relationship, she leaves everything rather ambiguous. And, part of that is due to the fact that the manga was published in a shoujo manga magazine. Betsucomi, probably wouldn’t have let an outright romantic relationship between Ash and Eiji fly in the first place. But that’s okay, in reality, by keeping things ambiguous Yoshida actually adds more meaning to their relationship.

“I can’t have a relationship with someone from the straight world. Because the people from my world just won’t let it happen.”

-Ash Lynx

Ash is a street thug that has only seen the worst life has to offer, groomed by a sadistic crime boss and forces to “perform” in kiddie porn, he knows what it’s like to fight to survive. When he meets Eiji, Ash is on the verge of becoming the very thing he claims to hate, a monster. Eiji on the other hand is everything Ash isn’t, innocent, honest, and pure. For Ash, who has become increasingly disillusioned with life, Eiji is the one beacon of hope in an otherwise tragic life. He gives Ash hope that there is a future, one without gang wars and death, but no matter how hard he tries to run away from his past it always seems to catch up with him. However, despite all of his baggage, Eiji never gives up on Ash, he is more than a friend or a lover, their relationship is built on mutual trust and emotional support.  Unlike his other friendships and partnerships, Eiji isn’t a part of his world and just being near him let’s Ash forget all of the horrors he’s seen, when he’s with Eiji he can just be a 17 year old kid and not the feared street thug, Ash Lynx.

Banana fish 1

They can be open with one another in a way that they can’t be with other people, which is what sound, healthy relationships are built on. Yoshida doesn’t have to rely on the usual BL tropes to validate Eiji and Ash’s relationship, she lets their relationship speak for itself in small intimate moments. Of course the relationship is not without it’s fair share of ups and downs, but through it all it is their emotional connection that helps pull them through. Both men are forever changed by the other and it’s beautiful to watch unfold. They never define their relationship, but they don’t have to, it’s evident in their conversations, the way they look at one another… there is an openness to their partnerships that most relationships never have. It is without question one of the most well written relationships, romantic or otherwise that I have ever read in a manga.

Before I close this out, there is one moment that happens early on in the manga that perfectly sums up the level of trust and vulnerability both Ash and Eiji have with one another. In the first volume, Eiji asks to hold Ash’s gun, a simple request, but Ash never lets anyone and I mean anyone touch his gun, not even his second in command. For someone in his line of “work” his gun is the only thing that stands between him and death, so by relinquishing that power to Eiji, a complete stranger he is leaving himself vulnerable.

Banana fish 2

The moment is full of tension both from the Ash’s associates who are all watching the scene in absolute silence and from the main pair. Despite knowing who Ash is and what he’s done Eiji has no problem asking him for his gun without any fear of retaliation, which most folks trump up to his unwavering innocence. But, it’s more than that, Eiji isn’t afraid of Ash, he sees a kindred spirit, someone he doesn’t need to fear. For Ash he see’s Eiji as what he could have been, what he still is… good. Eiji reminds him that there is still goodness in the world and by extension goodness inside of himself. It’s a brief moment, maybe lasting no more than a few minutes, but it is one of the most fantastic moments in the manga. I don’t have the words for how intimate it is and it is that unspoken intimacy that makes Banana Fish one of the most progressive manga series I have ever read.


Conclusion

Typically authors will try to define character relationships in order to evoke some sort of emotional response from their audience, but by leaving everything unspoken (though there are some hints that both men harbor romantic feelings for one another) Yoshida creates a quiet intimacy that is prevalent throughout Ash and Eiji’s interactions with one another. It’s really quite progressive for a manga from the 80’s, since their relationship isn’t defined by any existing labels, it just is (if that makes sense). Is it love? Is it friendship? Who knows…who cares? What Eiji and Ash have is beyond all of that and that’s how love should be!

There is still a few more blog tour stop left in the June Tour, next up is Zoe from Let’s Talk Anime so definitely be on the look out for that posts on the 23rd!! Also if you haven’t already, please subscribe to the Official OWLS Twitter account @OWLSbloggers and the Official OWLS Blog, to stay up to date on all OWLS news and announcements!

If you are interested in becoming a member of the OWLS team, please feel free to fill out the contact form, HERE! So don’t be afraid to reach out to any of us on our blogs, on twitter, or at the contact page to learn more about us!! You just need an open mind and a willingness to have fun!

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11 thoughts on “[OWLS Blog Tour] It Just Is: Relationships Don’t Always Need Labels

  1. Naja Dear,
    First the name of this manga the title is hilarious to me ahaha but this manga sounds so interesting especially for a 80’s one. I don’t think I’ve ever read anything from that era at all. This manga seems clear on these characters not having to define there relationship I liked the part of you talking about the scene with the gun of they care for how it shows vulnerably. This series exceed of how you describe of being labelled.

    Really you enjoyed your post Naja Awesome job !!!

    Like

  2. Another fantastic OWLS post. I’m constantly blown away by the quality of posts coming from you OWLS members! I love that you decided to discuss the idea of relationships that arent as clear cut as BL. This manga you have talked about sounds insanely interesting and I really want to read it now, if anything just to see how their relationship develops and how they impact each others lives. I also really want to see that one scene you described as being intimate and unspoken

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I am so glad that you are enjoying our OWLS blog tours and posts!
      Comments like this always give me the warm fuzzies since I’m always glad when someone picks up a series that I love! Banana Fish is one of those overlooked series and it’s a shame really because it has such a unique premise and characters. Definitely a must read one of my favorite manga ever!
      Usually I hate it when authors are ambiguous about the status of relationships, but in Banana Fish everything was just handled so well, to the point that it really doesn’t matter what 5hey define themselves as. Their relationship is built on stronger stuff than whether or not they are lovers. Ahh man, I wish there were more manga like this now a days.

      As for that scene, it is just one of many and each one is better than the last. I can’t recommend this manga enough!

      Liked by 1 person

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