Vaughan & Chiang's "Paper Girls" Builds a Familiar Yet Disconcerting World
Once again Melinda, Michelle and I return to discuss NANA! This time around, we cover the book’s point-of-view character, as well as Yazawa’s take on infidelity and relationships, and even discuss why Hachi should not be comparing Shin to a malted drink. Ever.
Danielle: The early volumes of NANA tend to show us the world through Hachi’s eyes. Even after Nana and Hachi move in together, Nana still feels like a mystery to us (in spite of the fact we the reader know a lot about her personal history thanks to her prologue chapter in volume 1). Why does Yazawa focus so much energy on Hachi’s perspective and how do you think it influences the book / story that she’s telling?
Melinda: This is going to sound awful, but I think it’s at least partly because we need to see Hachi fail. And when I say that, I don’t necessarily mean personal failure (though she does experience some of that as well) but really the failure of her entire plan for moving to Tokyo. She moves to be with Shoji (or more accurately, not to be left behind by Shoji) which is honestly doomed from the start. While they may have had enough in common to stay together if they’d both remained at home, they were doomed to fall apart out in the greater world. Anyone who has gone away to college knows that 99 times out of 100 the girlfriend or boyfriend “from home” doesn’t last. These are the times when people change the most. Shoji was always going to meet someone more ideal for him (Sachiko), and Hachi too (Nana). That doesn’t make what happens any less painful (I seriously had a hard time reading these volumes through again, they were so painful–I have strong personal issues with infidelity) but it was inevitable.
I’ve gone on a tangent here, but my point is that I think as the story gets into the third and fourth volumes, Nana is already on her path (aided by Nobu’s arrival) and Hachi is still finding hers. What’s most needed to move the story forward, for both of them, really, is for Hachi to lose a lot of what she has–the boy she followed to Tokyo, the job she actually enjoys–in order to truly recognize what’s in front of her and be able to pursue it, unhindered. All this has to happen for Hachi so that she can get Nana to the Trapnest concert, which changes everything for both of them, for better or worse.
I also think Yazawa may assume (and I suspect rightly so) that most of her young, female readers are going to have more in common with Hachi at the beginning, whether they wish to admit it or not. She’s the “normal” girl being swept up into the entertainment world, so to some extent I think Yazawa may be sweeping the readers up in it along with her. It brings us into that world in a way that feels very natural and unforced and, thanks to Hachi, we’re brought in as insiders, not as distant voyeurs. It creates as immediate emotional intimacy between the reader and the members of Blast that would have been much more difficult to achieve without Hachi’s perspective. We are able to love them more quickly because of their fast acceptance of Hachi. We’re brought right into their self-made family. It’s brilliant, really.
Michelle: First, not only is Hachi the easier nut of the two to crack, she is not tough to crack whatsoever! It makes sense that, just as she’s more immediately open to Nana and the other characters, she’s also more immediately open to the reader.
Tying in with this would be reason number two—I think the readers are, at this point, supposed to agree with Hachi that Nana is cool and enigmatic. It’s only gradually that we, like Hachi, begin to realize what Nana’s particular weaknesses are, but because she projects such a tough girl veneer, we have to be led along for a while to believe that she’s really that strong inside as well.
Lastly, I think it’s all about seeing Hachi grow up. She has impulsively come to Tokyo without any particular goal in mind, and we see in volume three that Nana has given her what she was lacking—a dream. As she adopts the task of finding bandmates for Nana, she says, “It’s the first time I’ve ever been so psyched in my life.” Unfortunately, being impulsive, while charming at times, means that she doesn’t always see the consequences of her actions, and so she ends up neglecting her relationship with Shoji and must face the painful result.
While I wasn’t too keen on Hachi in volumes one and two, it’s this near obsession with Nana and its repercussions that made me realize what a truly fascinating character she had the potential to be. I’ve only read through volume eleven so far, but even looking back from that vantage point, I can see how very much she has grown already; she seems quite childish in retrospect. It could be argued that Yazawa’s focus on her makes NANA qualify as a bildungsroman.
Danielle: Both of you have such excellent points about why Hachi’s perspective is so vital to the story, I don’t have much to add. I admit, I have some issues concerning the Shoji storyline since it seems unbearably sad to me that Shoji and Hachi could maintain the relationship from a distance but it all fell apart once they actually had to deal with the reality of both everyday contact and missed chances at contact. I agree with you two — Shoji probably had to be cut loose from the story so that Hachi could sinker deeper into Nana’s world, but at times I think Yazawa took the easy way out here. Shoji’s actions are such pure betrayal, Hachi is never forced to learn how to how to maintain a relationship that really takes work (something that will be problematic later when it comes to how she deals with Nana). At the same time, I also get frustrated that Jun is so quick to assign Hachi responsibility, because once a guy cheats I have a very hard time mustering up even the slightest amount of understanding for him. (I know, I’ve just contradicted myself but well. That’s NANA for you!). In the end, I feel incredibly dissatisfied with how Hachi and Shoji play out because it seems too neat…even though it is such an incredibly messy thing for Hachi emotionally.
Michelle: I’m actually not dissatisfied in the least with how the Shoji situation plays out. That breakup scene… man, just thinking about it gives me goosebumps. I think in my review of volume four, I described it as both brutal and amazing. Yazawa’s art, too, makes it feel all the more painful and real; the way she incorporates a photographic sort of backdrop that seems to place the characters squarely in the real world is nothing short of brilliant.
Melinda: I’m actually not dissatisfied with the way the Shoji story is told either. While I agree that Hachi doesn’t learn how to maintain a relationship that takes work in this scenario, I actually think it would have seemed contrived on Yazawa’s part to try to do that with this relationship. Hachi couldn’t learn that here because the relationship was already lost before she even moved to Tokyo. This was not a salvageable relationship, not even in the short-term. I think it would have taken Yazawa a lot of work to try to pretend otherwise long enough for Hachi to get something like that out of it and ultimately it would have not served the story or the characters.
I don’t even see him as a complete villain, despite how much hurt I personally felt while reading that section of the story. After all, it was inevitable that he’d fall for Sachiko, and I even think it’s the right thing for everyone that he let himself fall for her. Shoji had grown into a different person than he was when he was with Hachi, which is exactly why they could maintain their relationship at a distance but not in person. It’s easy to ignore the holes and problems in a relationship when you don’t have to deal with it day-to-day. Tangent: I saw this so often when I was a professional actor–so many relationships that only really worked because one or the other person was always out of town. Distance prolongs the inevitable. Return from tangent: The only thing Shoji did wrong (and it’s a huge thing) was to not break up with Hachi before getting involved with Sachiko, and that was due to a kind of cowardice that is so common it’s hard for me to hold a grudge about it even though my own personal reaction to that kind of betrayal is (and was when I read this) extremely strong. Short version: I get it. It’s stupid and hurtful, but he’s really young and I get it. It felt very true to life to me, because people are stupid and hurtful sometimes, even really nice people. Sometimes they are stupid and hurtful because they are nice and they let their own cowardice convince them that it is somehow less hurtful to lie and put off what will undeniably be a painful confrontation than it is to tell the truth. That is wrong, obviously, but unfortunately it is also what most people would do, especially at that age.
The only thing I dislike about that breakup scene–and I think this is realistic too, it just makes me really sad–is Nana’s feeling that Hachi should have fought for Shoji, and a suggestion that it maybe was symptomatic of some weakness of Hachi’s that she didn’t. I disagree with that really strongly. I think as painful as it was, even Hachi knew that she didn’t love Shoji enough to make herself that much more vulnerable by trying to fight for him. Furthermore, I think not fighting was the right decision, both for her and for Shoji (and actually for Sachiko who I think is a really likable character as much as I hated to admit it at the time).
Regarding Jun, I actually hate the way she manages to blame Hachi for everything after Shoji has betrayed her. Sure, Hachi may have made mistakes in the relationship, but the only person responsible for Shoji’s betrayal is Shoji. That’s just a fact and I admit I really resented Jun for finding a way to make Hachi the bad guy. It really wasn’t fair and definitely not kind. Jun’s a good egg, but I actually think she’s an unhealthy friend for Hachi at this point. As much as Jun complains that Hachi isn’t being a grown-up and taking responsibility for her own life, I think her treatment of Hachi only perpetuates that, regardless of her intentions. Just as Hachi can’t grow up if she’s being constantly coddled, she also can’t grow up if she’s held responsible for things that actually aren’t her responsibility. Jun doesn’t give her a chance.
Danielle: I feel that because we are always being shown what Hachi thinks of Nana, and rarely what Nana thinks of Hachi, that volume 4’s short falling out between the two is a bit of a shock to us. How does Hachi manage to fall into that strange space Yazawa calls “Nana’s weakness”? In just volume 4, in particular, why do you think Nana suddenly becomes so influenced by Hachi?
Michelle: I think Nana is somewhat…not exactly envious of, but entranced by and attracted to Hachi’s ability to love so openly and completely, much in the same way as an introvert like myself can be affected by the abilities of an extrovert to draw me out of my shell. When she thinks Hachi is simply waiting for Shoji to employ some manipulative tactics upon him, she’s angry, but she’s perfectly willing to stay if Hachi is waiting simply because she loves him. Is she comparing Hachi’s completely unrestrained feelings with her own experiences with love and wishing she could be the same way? Possibly.
When Misato arrives, Nana must’ve been so happy inside to have both her and Hachi around, so Hachi’s jealous reaction really hurts. Later, Hachi’s completely heartfelt apology, in which she reveals how much she’d been worried about Nana, touches her a great deal. I get the feeling no one much has worried about Nana in her life; in volume three, there’s a scene with Shin in which she says, “Well, I know there really are parents who don’t care about their kids.” That’s why she loves Hachi’s warm family environment so much when she later accompanies Hachi on a visit. It’s during that visit, too, where she articulates her feelings about Hachi for the first time, saying, “She’s honest, considerate, and cheerful. I’m happy to live with her.”
Melinda: I think Michelle is absolutely right on about Nana being attracted to Hachi’s ability to love so easily and unfettered by fear or doubt. Nana’s spent years learning how to protect herself and then there’s Hachi, running around making herself completely vulnerable to everyone without a thought and I think it must seem like the most wonderful kind of freedom in the world to Nana. I think she even admires it on some level. (You know, I hear some fans talk about Hachi as if she’s a manipulative game-player and I have to laugh. Even when she might try to be, she really doesn’t have a talent for it. She’s just constantly putting herself out there, hoping for love.) I think it’s inevitable that Nana would get caught up easily in this and probably it is a huge shock to her when Hachi, who loves everyone, lashes out over Misato. I think Michelle has hit this on the nose as well. I’d even go so far as to say that she is not only touched by Hachi’s apology but admires Hachi’s ability to apologize so openly as well. Nana has never found it that easy to throw her pride aside. It might sound funny to say this, but I think Nana probably perceives Hachi as being stronger than she is in a lot of ways and I think she would be right. It takes more strength to make yourself vulnerable to others than it does to protect yourself from them, and Nana knows that. She may fool other people into thinking she’s really strong, but she knows the truth. I think volume four is where Nana really begins to understand how valuable Hachi will be to her.
Danielle: One thing I think is fascinating about the whole “falling out” in volume four is where Nana goes when she’s feeling vulnerable about her relationship with Hachi…and she runs to Yasu. She can’t even articulate why she is upset or why she runs to him instead of anyone else. I think this is what troubles me most about Nana – it is that inability to understand (or try to understand) herself and her own emotions. That is why I agree with Michelle that the moment she is able to tell Hachi’s family, “She’s honest, considerate, and cheerful. I’m happy to live with her” feels like a major emotional breakthrough simply because Nana is so straight-jacketed, otherwise, with her own feelings.
This may be why I have a hard time connecting to Nana as a character – she often isn’t self-reflective in the same why Hachi is shown to be. Hachi is always wondering about what kind of love she wants, what kind of life, why she does the things she does….which means, she may seem flighty because she doesn’t always know right away what she wants, but I can definitely relate to that aspect of her character that is unfinished. While, in comparison, Nana seems to have this impossibly thick shell that life has hardened. Maybe that is why I’m so deeply moved when Nana is moved by Hachi…because she, more than anyone, is surprised by the depth of feeling for this energetic interloper.
Michelle: Yes, it’s absolutely fascinating that she runs to Yasu for comfort and very tentatively, disguising her aim with a cavalier tone, encourages him to make a move on her. It’s like she doesn’t want to risk rejection by coming out and admitting her own attraction to/dependency on him. When he doesn’t take her seriously, she leaves abruptly, probably both hurt and embarrassed.
Danielle: Now, I wanted to ask you both about the translation / localization choices made in the early volumes. Hachi, in particular, doesn’t really sound like any 20 year old I happen to know….did they go overboard with the slang? Is the slang already out-of-date (now just a few years after these first volumes were been published)? Should the adapter have just avoided slang altogether, in spite of the fact this is supposed to be a “rock ‘n roll” story?
Michelle: Oh, that slang! There must be some way to adapt dialogue so that a character can sound youthful without taking readers out of the story so much. Probably the most egregious example I can think of is in volume three; when Hachi is cajoling Shoji over having to work so much, she says, “Don’t your ‘rents hook you up, dude?” Ugh. There are other instances, like when Hachi declares something is “rad” or when Shoji, voicing a legitimate complaint about Hachi’s preoccupations, says, “It’s like, who’s dissing who?”
Another thing I really dislike is this sentence on the back cover: “What follows is a thundering blast of sex, music, fashion, gossip, and all-night parties!” It makes the story sound pretty inane to me. First of all, I can’t think of any riotous all-night parties that have actually occurred, and if these characters were the type to wantonly gossip about their friends behind their backs, I wouldn’t like them as much as I do! Too, Yazawa is not one to include sex simply for its own sake—it’s always about the characters—so to single it out as a reason one should purchase the book is just tacky.
Melinda: Honestly, wasn’t most of the slang used outdated years before these books were printed? “I’m so sure”? I mean, c’mon. Michelle has pointed out some of the particularly jarring examples, but wow, there are so many. I think one of the problems with it is that, more than anything, the chosen slang makes the characters sound American (mid-1980s-early 1990s American, at that) which doesn’t work well for me in a story set in Japan. I can understand the difficulty of adapting this for western audiences when it comes to slang, but I really think the series is better off without it. Yazawa’s characterizations are strong enough to hold up with either Japanese slang left intact or no slang at all (or at least drastically reduced slang). Also, I think I have been scarred for life by Hachi’s description of Shin as “a hot malt.”
Additionally, thank you, Michelle, for bringing up the language on the back cover. I hate that description with a fiery passion and honestly, if I’d been browsing for manga and picked that up without knowing anything about it, I never would have bought it, not in a million years. It makes the series sound trashy and shallow. I honestly think it is an insult to Yazawa and her work as a whole. I have a lot of love for Viz, but I think they devalue NANA by marketing it this way, and it hurts my heart.
Danielle: One day, when I’m feeling particularly evil (instead of my normal amount of everyday evil), I think I’ll challenge us to rewrite the back cover text to better reflect what we think the story is really about.
Okay, folks, it is time to wrap up the second NANA Project — come back in September when we will be discussing volumes 5 & 6!
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