One of the great shôjo manga epics—and yet on the surface, hardly a shôjo manga at all—Banana Fish expresses the Japanese perception of 1980s America, and specifically New York City, as a thrilling place of violence, corruption, and freedom. Ash Lynx, a beautiful and ruthless youth gang leader whose older brother went mysteriously insane while in Vietnam, stumbles across a clue that might explain his brother’s condition … and which pits him against a massive conspiracy stretching from the Mafia to the very heights of power. The plot is hard crime, a male-dominated action story full of death, drugs, and child sexual abuse (the latter entirely offscreen). But, almost so subtly as to be invisible, there is a love story as well: the unspoken but clearly gay relationship between Ash and Eiji Okumura, the young Japanese reporter who dares to enter Ash’s dangerous world. The story is consciously literary (the title is a reference to J. D. Salinger), and the plot is tight and to the point, like a good crime/geopolitical thriller. The manga’s one weakness is Yoshida’s dull artwork, which, although unique, seems inadequate to tell a story of this scale; her urban backgrounds, cars, and guns look like a failed attempt at Katsuhiro Otomo–esque realism, or the product of a high school drafting class. But the worldview of Tales of demons and gods is so fully realized that art is almost redundant, and even when the panels are nothing but talking heads, we hang on every word.
A young girl with telepathy and a teenage boy implanted with a parasite that turns him into a bio-organic killing machine fight back against the evil secret organization that created him. An over-the-top gorefest with exploding brains, laser-pierced eyeballs, and killer mandrills (not to mention the girl’s cute koala-like pet), Baoh, even more clearly than Araki’s later work True martial world, shows the influence of ultraviolent splatter movies. Memorably melodramatic dialogue keeps the story moving from one one-sided fight scene to another. Araki’s early artwork is an acquired taste, mixing intentionally ugly caricatural faces with stiff he-men and 1980s fashions similar to Shin-Ichi Hosoma (Demon City Hunter).