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The NANA Project #5 — NANA volumes 9 and 10

This time around we all discuss the harsh world of fame, Melinda and I then subject the character of Yasu to relentless psychoanalysis, while Michelle awes us all with her new “hair theory” of NANA!  Let’s get to it, then…

Danielle:  I think that with volume 9 of NANA, Ai Yazawa suddenly “widens the lens” of the series and we start to see many, many more characters’ perspectives on events, or even just how characters outside of the inner circle interact with each other.  How do you two experience this change?  It is problematic that our original character p.o.v. into the story, i.e. Hachi, can disappear for a chapter or two?

Melinda:  You know, it’s interesting that you mention Hachi disappearing for chapters at a time. When you said that, I had to go back and look to see what you meant, because I somehow had no awareness of it.  The thing is… even though it’s true that she’s off-screen more, I feel like her absence keeps her connected to the story more effectively than her presence could have during these volumes. It is Hachi’s absence that drives Nana’s actions and emotions through most of this time period, so it really doesn’t feel like she’s gone at all.

Michelle:  I wouldn’t say that it’s problematic. Hachi has been voluntarily whisked away to a fortress of Takumi’s making, and it’s important to examine the effect that her sudden absence has on those who loved her best. And even though she’s not on every page, Hachi was still a mystery in my mind when reading volume nine. “Is she really okay with this?!”  Takumi does all the talking when announcing their engagement to Nana, and is Hachi, who (we are told) clearly knows the difference between reality and ideals, simply making the most of the situation?

That said, it is a fact that I do not like Reira and don’t generally find the Trapnest-only scenes to be that great. I know important lines of dialogue occur in them but when I was skimming/semi-rereading these volumes in preparation for this roundtable, theirs were the scenes I would skip.

Melinda:  I’m glad you brought up Reira specifically, Michelle, because *wow* are some of her scenes revealing. I’m thinking especially of the one late in volume ten where she is expressing sympathy for Takumi’s British lover, Stella, and even *she* realizes that she’s only using the idea of Stella to help justify her own disappointment and jealousy about his engagement to Hachi. It’s one of the few times I feel a little for Reira, because she’s at least momentarily aware of her own self-involvement and cops to it.

NANA 9As for Hachi, I think she actually does know the difference between reality and ideals, even if she isn’t quite ready to admit that to *herself*. The exchange between Hachi and Junko in volume ten I think is incredibly revealing. Hachi has had an argument with Takumi and calls Jun, crying over the realization that she actually really does love Takumi, and how guilty that makes her feel because she thought she loved Nobu. Jun respondes, “I know you feel bad about Nobu, but this is much better than using money or the baby to rationalize your decision.” Hachi replies, “But… it was easier to rationalize things.” Hachi feels guilty about loving Takumi when someone like Nobu, who values her more, should be her ideal. But she ultimately makes her choice based on the reality of her feelings rather than a vision of ideal love, even if she’s been reluctant to admit it. She’s made her decisions with her eyes wide open, however we feel about them.

Also. Well. I love Shin. I just had to say it.

Danielle:  I think this is much bigger, though, than incorporating Trapnest more fully or even situating Hachi as an absent presence (although I completely agree with that argument).   With volume 9, I feel Hachi becomes the “object” of the book from Nana’s perspective, while Nana becomes the subject in a way she wasn’t quite before.  Their roles almost seem completely reversed…  But I also noticed that we’ve got scenes with Yasu and the music biz honchos, we’ve got scenes with the tabloid folks, as well as scenes in the vein of “man on the street” interviews (i.e. the general public’s reactions to sudden reveal of Blast and existence of Nana).

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Suddenly, this book isn’t as intimate as it was…and that means we’re given a multiplicity of perspectives on how things develop.  For examples, we get a clearer idea of how Reira feels about Takumi.  How Ren feels about his band and even how he thinks his relationship to Nana has changed *because* he’s in Trapnest.  Hell, we get a clearer idea of *who* Takumi is and how the different pieces of Trapnest actually work together.

But as a whole I definitely feel some intimacy recedes…we don’t just lose Hachi’s immediacy, we also lose the ways in which she kind of became the soul of Blast.  Without her I realize that Nobu kind of gets lost a little bit in these volumes — even though he really should be central considering what’s just happened between him and Hachi.  This isn’t a critique, really, just an observation about how the entire “map” of NANA has been turned sideways or something and these volumes are all about re-orienting the reader to be aware of a much, much larger stage for the action.

Michelle:  To reply to Melinda’s point about a decision made with “eyes wide open,” I definitely agree, but we don’t really see how Hachi herself feels about the situation until volume ten, when she says, “I really… really do love Takumi.”  Though, of course, she goes on to say, “But I thought I loved Nobu.”  Poor confused Hachi!  Anyway, my point is that I was worried about her throughout volume nine when she appeared less frequently, and maybe this was Ai Yazawa’s intent.

Danielle, you make an excellent point about the object/subject switch between the two Nanas and the loss of intimacy.  I wonder if this ties in with the progress of Blast’s careers. They *were* a cozy little tight-knit community, but once you start trying to make it big, you have to make sacrifices.  You have to let people into your process that were never there before.  And, indeed, the question of reality vs. ideals that Hachi faces EXACTLY parallels the situation that Blast faces. Once they make it big, it’d be impossible for any one person to be their soul ever again.

Danielle:  Michelle, that is a really important point about sacrifices needing to be made to make it big.  A few thoughts on this — I think that sometimes the characters are sacrificing because they THINK they need to but they’ve only imposed limits on their own lives / relationships that weren’t necessary.

A case in point — Ren’s discussion with Reira about that fact he can’t come to Nana’s aid during the whole media crisis.  Ren says he has to protect the band, that he can’t be the way he was before.  Now Reira actually makes a good point in response — something like, the longer you live the more burdens you taken on.  Except there’s just something completely flawed in their logic.  Ren has built this totally artificial division in his life and he pushes that same kind of thinking onto Nana.  I think this is the biggest mistake of their relationship, one that may be even more harmful to them in the long run than Ren joining Trapnest in the first place.

You can’t be in love and be in the band?  You can’t be a human being with important emotional attachments?  I swear to god sometimes I think these idiots are wandering around in some repressive era out of the 19th Century, I just don’t understand any of it.  No one’s asking you to “choose” between your band and your girlfriend.  You just think that you have to.  And that’s just really sad in my mind.

Michelle:  Haha, yes I think Ren’s definitely going about it the wrong way.  I think we’re talking two different kinds of sacrifices.  Ren’s definitely trying to compartmentalize his life to keep things separate while the members of Blast are having to *relinquish* some of their control and allow some degree of ownership of their look and sound to people who don’t necessarily love or understand it.

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Melinda:  Danielle, that’s a great point about Hachi becoming the “object,” (and Nana the subject) though I’m not sure I agree it’s entirely new. I feel like the story has been moving slowly in this direction since we began to see Nana attempting to establish a kind of ownership of Hachi by manipulating the men in her life. She’s been treating Hachi as her “object” for quite some time, and in some ways I think she’s paying a price for that now. Also, I think your point about Nobu being lost a bit in these volumes is really spot on and is *part* of the book’s shift into Nana’s perspective. Despite Nana’s sudden burst of protectiveness regarding Nobu, Nobu’s relationship with Hachi was always really about *Nana* to Nana, if that makes sense. It was something she desperately tried to manipulate for her own purposes, and so their breakup is really not about Nobu at all in Nana’s mind. It is her own hurt she focuses on, and that’s where the books go too. She even realizes this herself when she breaks down while trying to comfort Nobu.

I realize I’m making it sound like I think Nana is horribly manipulative and that’s really not how I think of her. But her desperation over Hachi is responsible for the emotional perspective of these volumes more than anything else.

On the subject of having to choose between career and love… I think this might be an area where I disagree slightly with the two of you. This may seem like a tangent, but bear with me:

I just spent the last three days auditioning young actors–mostly straight out of school or just at the very beginning of their professional careers–and one of the things that surprised me over and over was a general lack of understanding about some of the personal sacrifices required to succeed in this particular business. We ask prospective performers to list their availability over the next year so that we know who is already booked for when, and I was *stunned* by how many young actors were using that space to let us know about time conflicts such as weddings, holidays, or other family functions. Some young married couples were specifically seeking only shows in which they could be cast along with their spouses. And… wow, all I could think was, do they *really* want to be in this business? Are they really ready to do what they must in order to build their careers? Because while it’s perfectly fine (and even admirable) to prioritize family, my honest assessment of their career prospects at this point is that they are going to be committed to a full-time office job within a year.  That is, very honestly, the only way for them to have what they want. A life in live theater offers many, many wonderful experiences that are only available to those in that world. What it does not offer is some of the things that other people take for granted, such as holidays, vacation days, and living at home full-time with your partner. Even at the highest level–a Broadway show, say–where you *do* get paid vacation and the luxury of living at home, it only lasts as long as that show stays open, which can be as little as a few days. And while it’s true that you technically do not have to choose between career and love, in order to maintain consistent enough employment to actually move forward (a stagnant resume will get you *nowhere*), your partner has to be able to accept the reality of your job. “Love” has to be flexible and willing to play second fiddle a whooooole lot of the time, and most people aren’t really happy with that even when they claim to be. People have made it work, sure, but many, many more have failed or ended up giving up their careers in favor of a more traditional life.

I think the music business, while unique in some ways, shares some basic realities with the theater business.  Opportunity frequently only knocks once, and what you do with it can honestly make or break your career. This is why I’ve never shared others’ dismay over Ren’s choice to leave Blast (and Nana) for Trapnest or Yasu’s role in encouraging him.  A career as a performer can be incredibly rewarding on a level experienced by few people in their lifetimes but, like most things worth having, it does not come without a price.

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All that said, I do have a problem with Ren’s choices regarding the band vs. love, though my perspective’s a little different. My problem with it is that, deep down, Ren would *much* prefer love. He’d be perfectly content to give up his career to be with Nana, but he makes these choices to please the people around him (including her, ironically enough), so they ultimately seem pointless and, frankly, arbitrary. Why does he abandon Nana in *this* moment, of all times, after having been incredibly careless up until that point? It’s not because he wants to protect his own career (which he cares almost nothing about) but because he feels guilty about not caring and how that affects the people who have been carrying him along, like his bandmates and Yasu.  I think Nana, who values her own career *immensely*, would actually understand if he truly wanted to protect his career. Trouble is, he really doesn’t. He’s a fake, and deep down they both know it.

Michelle:  Thanks for that wonderful perspective on the topic, Melinda!  You make a very convincing argument. I’m also glad that you pointed out that Ren’s actions are motivated “because he feels guilty about not caring and how that affects the people who have been carrying him along, like his bandmates and Yasu.”  I think you really hit it spot-on.

I was thinking the other day how Ren’s actions tie in with the Naoki side story in volume nine. Naoki describes all of his experiences on the road to Trapnest’s success and at the very end says, “But amidst this luxury, I feel empty. If I could experience one real love, that’d be enough.”  I think it’s no coincidence that Yazawa has Naoki express this sentiment here when very soon Ren, who has exactly what Naoki wants, will instead prioritize his career over that love.

Danielle:  I think I’m still reading Ren’s actions differently than Melinda, but she makes some really great points that are forcing me to rethink my own perspective.  Melinda, you write “My problem with it is that, deep down, Ren would *much* prefer love. He’d be perfectly content to give up his career to be with Nana, but he makes these choices to please the people around him (including her, ironically enough), so they ultimately seem pointless and, frankly, arbitrary.”  See, I don’t necessarily see Ren just going along with things just for other people…he keeps on defending Takumi, saying things like the other members of Trapnest aren’t just “Takumi’s soldiers” (he says this to the guy who drives him around in volume eight) and that “we don’t want soldiers who aren’t on our side.  ‘Cause if you don’t like the way Takumi operates you’re out.”  For Ren this is a major statement of identification with Trapnest as a group, particularly considering he came on board late in the game.  He’s also endorsing BOTH Takumi as their leader but himself as a “true believer.”  That seems kind of weird and an un-Ren-like thing to do, but this shows that Ren really has become part of the Trapnest machine and not just because he thinks he needs to please Yasu (although, Melinda, I totally agree that is certainly *part* of it).

Melinda:  I think we are in more agreement than it seems!  I don’t see Ren’s loyalty to Takumi being much different than his loyalty to Yasu. And I don’t mean to suggest that what he does is for other people. I think he feels a lot of responsibility towards others, including both Yasu and Trapnest. He needs Trapnest and I think really has signed on like a soldier, ready to do his duty. But doing things out of duty to Trapnest is exactly what I’m talking about. This isn’t about his own ambition (which I still think he has little of). This is the family he’s allowed to adopt him (unlike Yasu’s… an interesting fact that leapt out at me this time around) and he feels obligated to play the part. Ultimately, however, he’s not that good at it, and that’s because it’s not really what he wants. He’s not on the same mission, or at least not for the same reasons. He’s committed to the army, but not the war. I am not sure he even understands the war.

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Danielle:  Very well put!  I couldn’t agree more with everything you’ve just pointed out (also nice catch about his refusal to be adopted by Yasu’s parents and why he might think of Trapnest as a family).

Your point about him not understanding the war is great because Takumi really IS the general here.  He’s the strategist, the planner, the master manipulator, etc.  Somehow Takumi, unlike Ren, does know how to get what he wants in both life and love and pretty much proves it with these two volumes (if he hadn’t already in 8 when Hachi realizes she can only share responsibility for her child with him, not Nana or Nobu).

Michelle:  That is, of course, supposing that what he has with Hachi actually *is* love.  :)

Melinda:  Heh, yeah, Michelle I think that actually reinforces my earlier argument. Sure, Takumi can have “love” but it’s going to be a love that always comes in second and can never be the kind of passionate, all-consuming love that Ren and Nana have tried to maintain. This is the kind of love that can accommodate his ambition, which requires a significant level of selfishness and emotional detachment. His persistent infidelity is part of maintaining that, I think.

Michelle: To return to the issue of Ren and his rationalizations about not defending Nana for just a moment, I wonder how important it’ll be down the line that Yasu defended her without a second thought. The first time I read volume ten, I assumed that he was honestly answering Nana in the affirmative when she says, “You’re totally in love with me, right?”  On a reread, though, it seems like the whole conversation could be read with a sort of wry tone. I personally believe he *does* love Nana, but perhaps he answers the way he does in a way to protect them both.

Melinda:  I think it’s interesting that Nana and Yasu have this conversation NANA 10not long after Takumi chides Ren for not letting him maintain his carefully practiced ignorance over Reira’s feelings for him. It’s so revealing of the differences between the way the two bands function. Takumi feels determined (maybe even obligated?) to control everything within Trapnest, right down to its emotional makeup. Yasu, on the other hand, can have a conversation like that with Nana, plainly admitting his feelings (in a semi-joking manner) and feeling totally safe about it, because he has trust in his bandmates as human beings. I think they have that conversation because it’s the way they can talk about what exists between them without just losing control and having sex, which would complicate everything in a way neither of them (especially Yasu) wants to be responsible for. Reira, on the other hand, has to run away from Takumi in order to deal with her feelings, because she’s not allowed to express them directly or even indirectly to Takumi. That’s how Trapnest operates.

Danielle:  I’m still trying to figure out why this scene disturbs me so much.  I think Melinda’s explanation — which I’m going to over-simply and say “it’s about trust” — is really spot on but I guess I don’t understand how you can love someone and not want to be with them in every way.  I’m kind of an all or nothing girl when it comes to love and I don’t get the half-way.  I suppose I don’t see how Yasu can ever find happiness if he’s always putting other people ahead of himself.  I mean, it is possible that happiness for himself isn’t even his goal or he thinks he can be content watching over his bandmates and seeing to their wants and needs but I really think he’s fooling himself.

Michelle:  To tie this back in to your original question, perhaps we suddenly get so many Trapnest scenes specifically to contrast them with Blast. To warn of what they might become with success, but also to show where their relationships with each other are warmer or, at least, freer.

That said, I’m bothered by how calm Yasu is in his admission. It just… lacks fire. Perhaps this is because he has already abdicated in his mind, but… I just keep thinking of that scene at the end of “The Crying Game” where one character elicits a sort of… sighing admittance of love from the other that at first seems real but, on reflection, is actually rather sad.

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Melinda:  Oh, great theory about the inclusion of the Trapnest scenes, Michelle!  That makes a lot of sense.

As for Yasu’s confession…. I think it deliberately lacks fire. The only motivation for letting any fire into his words would be to actually make something happen. He doesn’t want that. And seriously, do we think he should? Sure, I can get carried away by Yasu/Nana ‘shipping as easily as anyone but… well, she’s his best friend’s girlfriend! What kind of guy would he have to be to go after her? Would we even like that guy? I’m not sure I would.  Nana and Ren are separated from each other at this point, but they aren’t broken up. Not even remotely so. I respect Yasu more for not trying to turn a moment of simple honesty into a seduction.

Michelle:  Sigh.  I know, I know.  You’re right, but I can’t help wanting him to intervene anyway.  From the outside, Ren and Nana must look happy to him and it makes sense that he wouldn’t want to interfere, but *we* know that Nana does not feel fulfilled when she’s with Ren and thinks, “But, Yasu… it feels like my bond with you has gotten stronger than my bond with Ren.”

Melinda:  Honestly, even if he *did* know what she was thinking, going after her while she’s still with Ren would be a huge betrayal. I’m not even convinced it would work out well for him in the end. After all, Nana leaves this scene pretty much knowing how Yasu feels about her. Does that motivate her to break up with Ren and pursue Yasu? No. That’s got to tell Yasu a *lot*.  Nana is no more ready to leave Ren than she was before this conversation happened. If Yasu had gone after her here, they might have had a fantastic night of sex, but ultimately it would have ended in pain for all involved.

Michelle:  Maybe it’s a case of Nana needing time to think things through. Maybe she knows that acting on it now will only lead to pain but I doubt she’s going to forget about it. That said, I’ve still not read past volume eleven, so I have no idea what actions she really will take with this knowledge.

Danielle:  I’m with Melinda, I totally wouldn’t want Yasu to go after Nana!  I feel very much like Michelle does, that this really a rather sad admission.  He’s in this place where he can say he loves this girl but not do anything about it…and that isn’t a good place to be.  But that is where Yasu spends most of his life — procuring things or happiness or situations for other people but not for himself.  I think that is the only point I’m trying to make.

Melinda:  You know, I think Yasu’s not such a sad figure. He’s got a band on the brink of success, filled with people he genuinely cares about and who care about and respect him. Maybe it’s my own biases showing (I *love* love, but I need meaningful work more) but I think at 20-something he’s doing all right.

Danielle:  Here’s the thing, though, that may be reinforcing my reading that Yasu can’t go after happiness — in the side story about Naoki we get glimpses of a boy who can’t even figure out what to ask his adopted parents for on his own birthday.  His sense of self is defined in relation to other people’s wants and needs because it is Ren’s love of music, his interest in the guitar to be precise, that inspires him to ask for a set of drums (i.e. so he can back Ren up!).  That kid, who can’t even figure out if he has any desires of his own, breaks my heart and makes me feel for Yasu (I know I’ve been tough on him in past NANA projects but seeing him try to brainstorm a request for a present like it was a duty…oh dear.  It really got to me).

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Melinda:  I can definitely see your point, Danielle.  But maybe look at it from another side.  Even to himself, he’s thinking, “There’s no inconvenience or or dissatisfaction in my life. I can’t think of anything more I want or need.”  If he really feels that way, isn’t he less sad than most people? Is *wanting* necessary for happiness? I could actually see an argument for either response to that question.

Michelle:  Looking at how multi-leveled all of this is, do you ever wonder what kind of notes Yazawa must have on these characters?  Or does she keep notes at all, but rather knows them so well that she can execute their development without flaw?

Danielle:  I think this is a very interesting question because of how little Yazawa herself can be felt in NANA.  Unlike a lot of other shojo mangaka she doesn’t include a version of herself in her omakes — she actually creates an alternative universe where all of her characters collide.  I guess I’m trying to say that for me Yazawa’s process is one big question mark so while I’m just as curious as Michelle I don’t have any way of knowing how she does the things she does!

Before we wrap up this installment of the NANA project, I wanted ask how you two responded to the first side-story (“Naoki’s Story”) of the title.  What is like reading about a number of the main characters’ histories through the perspective of one of the lesser-used side characters?

Michelle:  To me the most remarkable thing about Naoki’s story is that it made me almost like Takumi and Reira!  There’s still a great deal of room for more revelations about their backgrounds, but knowing where they’re coming from makes a difference in how I view their current incarnations. I’m actually even curious about what changed Reira from a cute and chipper junior high student to a moody high schooler. Heavens forfend!

Melinda:  You know, MIchelle, what is distressing about all this re-reading is that even *I* am finding myself liking Takumi just a little bit, or at least respecting him on some level (though never when it comes to his treatment of women). Reira I mostly feel sorry for. I think she must be a miserable, miserable person.

To answer Danielle’s question, I think it’s really perfect that Yazawa chose to give us a look at all those characters through Naoki’s eyes. First of all, it gives us a chance to get to know him a little, which hasn’t happened at all in the manga. Mostly, though, I think it gives us a relatively objective look at this group of characters, free of biases we are almost certainly carrying at this point based on how we’ve interpreted things from the protagonists’ point of view. We haven’t yet been given an opportunity to identify with Naoki, so it is necessarily less personal. We are forced to view things through fresh eyes. I think this is incredibly effective.

Danielle:  I think this short story reveals the most about Yasu and Takumi (through Naoki’s eyes) and one thing that struck me this time around is the way in which Yasu and Takumi are parallel figures.  Amsuingly, Naoki thinks of Yasu an an “undercover boss” because he’s so good at working behind the scenes to get things done, while in comparison he just thinks of Takumi as a thug (as everyone else does) when they are young.  Either way, though, both are figures who can get things moving and who have a strange power over other people.  Each will become a band leader but they will end up having such different priorities and philosophies when it comes to making music / work and being responsible for other peoples’ destinies.

In terms of Reira, I ended up feeling sorry for her as well.  I think it must be absolute hell to feel as though you are responsible for carrying out the plans / dreams of someone as ambitious as Takumi — particularly when she also in love with him as well.  That is an unimaginable burden for someone as fragile as Reira.  I imagine Yasu must have been her rebellion of sorts against Takumi and even though I still have a hard time seeing how that relationship worked, I think that she, like Ren, can’t seem to understand a world in which one doesn’t necessarily have to “sacrifice” important things, like love, for the band.

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I think it was important to see all this happening through Naoki’s eyes and agree with Melinda, that choice was incredibly effective.  I also think there is significance in the fact that Naoki is actually a “true believer” and that he puts his faith in Takumi so people who don’t fall in line end up expendable as far as he’s concerned (unlike Ren, who as we have discussed really just puts on the attitude of a true believer because he feels he owes it to the group).  Through Naoki you can see how the pieces of Trapnest really fit together and how those individuals came to be who they are in the current timeline.

Melinda:  Great insights, Danielle! You are completely on the nose regarding Yasu and Takumi, in my opinion. In a way, Takumi has never really moved on from the “thug” way of getting things done. He’s smoother about it (frighteningly smooth) but he still uses intimidation as his primary tool for controlling people. I suppose he’s added some more subtle manipulation to his repertoire, but it still seems more often than not that people genuinely *fear* defying him. Yasu is manipulative in his own way–still fixing things for people behind the scenes–but he lacks Takumi’s desperate need for control.

And Reira… poor Reira. I know we complain a lot about her here, but when I think about her choices… wow. She doesn’t even get to choose between love and the band. She can have the band along with unrequited love, or she can have nothing. At least, I’m sure that’s what it seems like to her, and as long as she’s in love with Takumi, I can’t argue. Those really are her choices.

Michelle:  You’ve both said things that remind me of…. my hair theory!  Keep in mind, I thought of this as I was going to sleep, so it’s far more silly than serious.

The theory goes that dark-haired people in the story are more cynical and, often, broken.  Nana, Ren, Takumi… The exceptions here are Jun and her fella, but one could even argue that their dreadlock hairdos mean that they’ve now got their shit together.  The lighter-haired people are the ones who *help* the broken folks.  Hachi, Nobu, Naoki… They don’t even have to necessarily be sunny optimists (case in point: Shin). The exception here is Reira, who became broken herself when her fixing abilities were soundly rejected.

Naoki finds adult Yasu inscrutable because… he has no hair!  But the flashback informs us that, in actually, Yasu had light hair and is therefore a “fixer.”

Melinda:  Michelle, your hair theory is awesome and I’ve decided you’re a genius.

Danielle:  This is a completely awesome theory (also I love the way you explain away Jun and boyfriend’s dreadlocks!).

Michelle:  I must admit I am rather astonished to see the hair theory get so much traction. Clearly I do my best thinking muffled in blankets and surrounded by drowsy kitties.

Danielle:  Oh my god, do you think we can apply the hair theory to other shojo manga?!

Melinda:  So, at random I decided to pick out one manga series (Banana Fish) and one manhwa series (One Thousand and One Nights, not manga at all, but just go with me on this) to put to the “hair theory” test (mainly because these are two series I’ve compared to each other enough to have a really clear visual in my own head of both the “broken” and “helper” characters). With Banana Fish, Akimi Yashida defies the hair theory by giving her broken character, Ash, light hair (blond, even) and her helper character, Eiji, dark hair. Han SeungHee plays right along, however, in One Thousand and One Nights, making broken Shahryar the dark-haired character and nurturing Sehara the light-haired one. My super-scientific conclusion: the “hair theory” doesn’t necessarily hold water outside NANA. But I still think Michelle’s a genius.

I was going to try Fruits Basket, but redheads throw the whole thing off, don’t they?

Danielle: Don’t they always?

And so Melinda proves the hair theory is probably NANA-specific…still, though, I’m going to keep thinking about how we can turn this into a winning formula for shojo-manga analysis!

Thanks to Melinda and Michelle for an amazing conversation about NANA and join us again in April where we tackle volumes 11 and 12!


[…] I’d like to point you to the latest installment of The NANA Project, in which Danielle Leigh, Michelle Smith, and I dig into NANA volumes 9 & 10! I can honestly […]

This was a wonderful, insighful discussion. I feel Nana is not manipulative on purpose, but because of her emotional immaturity. That to me is more harmful because she doesn’t really know what she is doing. She can’t stop herself either if she doesn’t know herself. I’m hoping she will grow more in the future. It will cause her less heartbreak . Hachi is maturing faster which is a wonderful about face considering how mature Nana seemed in the early volumes.
Ultimately, Nana to me is a manga about broken people trying to become whole. Looking forward to the next discussion.

Thanks for reading, Judi! We were worried the length of this installment might be daunting, so I’m really glad you made it through. :)

I agree with you about Nana. I don’t think she’s purposefully manipulative either, or at least not in a malicious way. She’s just struggling hard not to lose herself.

To start off, I didn’t read the above post but I did go read the first post for the NANA project. It was interestin but mostly it was confusing. Why did I read the first NANA project post? Because, Danielle, I need help and so far, you’ve always pointed me in the right direction when it comes to manga.

You’ve transformed me into a manga machine as of late and my girlfriend is pretty close minded about the whole thing. She’s down with the comics and has actualy read a fair size of my collection and i’ve actualy been able to find comics more oriented towards her personal taste in fiction which were received quite well. However, she mocks me for my Pluto, Boys and One Piece volumes.

My intentions are not to make her fall in love with manga (but if that happens I will deal with the consequences) but to show her that it is as good of a medium as anything else and like all other mediums there is some very good stuff, some very bad stuff but more importantly that there is something for everyone to enjoy.

So is Nana a manga for her? I don’t know. I’m sure the NANA Project is very interesting for a NANA reader but, for me, it was very confusing. I have no idea what kind of manga this could be. Heck, I don’t even know what kind of manga “regular” shojo is. All I know is that Pluto and One Piece (maybe not Boys, but i’ve got my doubts) are not for my girlfriend. (What about Ooku?)

Do you have any recommendations for me? Something with a strong first or at least second volume would be best. Her favourite comic so far is a Scott Pilgrim, she absolutely loves it. She really enjoyed Strangers in Paradise, Smile, Fables and Runaways.

Can you help?

hi Mario, thanks for asking about this…first, I really appreciate you giving the NANA project a read. I realize that these discussions are really for people who have already read the book (otherwise, as you said it is probably very confusing otherwise).

Most people probably have some prejudice against manga, and even I did before I became a regular manga reader, but really they are just *comics* (it might help to stress this to your girlfriend. They come out of a different comic book culture than Anglo-American comics but they are still sequential art / graphic novels whatever you want to call them. Manga has so much diversity it seems silly to try to dismiss them as any one thing).

I definitely think NANA might be the manga for your girlfriend. I myself also love Scott Pilgrim and Runaways but NANA is an entirely different sort of comic. It is a wonderful and absorbing story about two very different twenty year old girls named Nana who meet on the train on their way to Tokyo. The first volume of NANA is entirely PROLOGUE. The girls never meet but each gets a long story to explain her life up until the time period when she gets on that train. In volume 2 they meet and things really get going…. While the first Nana is sweet and kind of flaky, the second is much more intense (she’s a punk rock singer and may be of more interest to your girlfriend since she is probably more charismatic to readers at first). It is also a mature story for women which might be of interest to your girlfriend.

Possible other comics: All My Darling Daughters by Fumi Yoshinaga (also the creator of Ooku) is a short story collection about women and family life. Yoshinaga is a keen observer of the human condition. Highly recommended.

Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service is interesting work about a group of…well the title kind of says it all. Mixes mystery, humor, horror…you might to check out volume 1 and then hand it off to your girlfriend (the style is not what is stereotypically seen as “manga”).

Still, if your girlfriend dismisses *Urasawa* you might have some problems. I think of his work as very friendly to the western comic book reader so in spite of her dismissal you might want to try again with him (hell. Maybe start her off with Monster or Boys).

I’ll keep thinking about what titles might work and be sure to comment again on the post if anything particularly apt comes to mind!

[…] fifth installment of The NANA Project is now posted on Comics Should Be Good! In it, Danielle Leigh, Melinda Beasi, and I discuss the ninth and tenth […]

Mario, in my experience, it seems like the key to enjoying NANA is that you need to have experienced some heartbreak in your life. When that happens, the music becomes much clearer. If your girlfriend can’t get into NANA, she’s either had a very nice life, or she might be a robot.

Anyway, about the discussion itself; really awesome stuff! Longer than I expected, but I enjoyed it! I think I’ll read along with you guys next time because some of this stuff feels surprisingly distant to me and remembering it all can get a bit tough.

I don’t have a whole lot to add, but there was one part that stuck out to me. About Yazawa inserting herself in the omake, that’s a good observation, and one I never really picked out. One thing that’s super important though is that Ai Yazawa DEFINITELY appears within the main story itself. In fact, she appears as two different characters.

One is sort of a joke, as ‘Ai Yazawa’ is the author of the dirty book Shin always seems to be reading, but the other appearance is a character who seems like an analog to her in a way that almost spoils all the fun found in analyzing the series. I don’t want to spoil who it is, but if you keep an eye out for it, I’m pretty someone will notice in the next few volumes. By volume 20 it’s more or less bolded, underlined, and highlighted. I’d be really curious to hear what you all think about it because it seems to take a bold position on criticism of NANA itself.

Well thanks for the help Danielle and José!
I’ll let you know how things go (might take a while).

Jose, thanks for stopping by! I think your theory about authorial self-insertion is fascinating but I honestly have no clue who you might be talking about (I mean I have *guesses* but I don’t necessarily see those folks as a stand-in for the author). I think we’ll definitely keep this idea in mind as we move forward in case we start to see what you do. (And your statement about that character taking a “bold position on criticism of NANA itself” really fascinates me…certainly NANA has some ebbs and flows in its storytelling, which can feel frustrating as a reader. I tend to think of Paradise Kiss as five volume perfection but NANA’s imperfections almost make it more dear to me in a way).

Well, maybe I should clarify a little bit. The character isn’t a direct stand-in (though what he/she does in the plot is part of my theory), but at certain points what this character says seems like Yazawa commenting on what she’s trying to do with NANA. Or maybe what she isn’t trying to do. Or do in addition to something else. Like everything else in the series, it’s a bit more complicated than a direct correlation. I’d hate for you guys to miss it, so I’ll definitely point it out if it seems to go by untouched.

I desperately want to read Paradise Kiss! I own the anime, but the manga’s out of print status has made tracking down all five volumes next to impossible. The imperfections of NANA are definitely what make it more dear to me too.

[…] The Nana Project continues, with Danielle Leigh, Melinda Beasi, and Michelle Smith putting vol. 5 of Nana under the microscope at Comics Should Be Good! At The Manga Critic, guest reviewer Martin Gray […]

Mario, how does your girlfriend feel about violence? If that is not an obstacle, I might well recommend a try at early Gantz and the whole of Battle Royale. They are well-plotted and have fascinating character material.

If that is not the case, I suggest Claymore (also violent, but not as often) and InuYasha (quite strong in the character pieces).

All four stories have marvelous plots about growth and redemption, although Gantz sort of changes direction somewhere in the 10s or so.

[…] One Fine Day… and Danielle Leigh, Michelle Smith, and Melinda Beasi post a new installment of The NANA Project at Comics Should Be Good. The focus of this week’s roundtable: “the harsh world of […]

[…] One Fine Day… and Danielle Leigh, Michelle Smith, and Melinda Beasi post a new installment of The NANA Project at Comics Should Be Good. The focus of this week’s roundtable: “the harsh world of […]

Hmm…I’d have to argue that Hachi’s relationship with Takumi has nothing to do with love, but more convenience, which may be fine, but Hachi’s acceptance of this subservient attachment to Takumi is expressly and graphically illustrated as inextricably tied to Hachi’s lack of personality and self-loathing tied to it. Her conversation with Jun was a confusing anomaly, though perhaps meant to supplicate fans as Hachi is shunted into her predestined barefoot and pregnant housewife role.

Jade, thanks for joining in! Though I think you’re taking an awfully narrow view of what constitutes “love.” Hachi is attracted to Takumi physically (after all, this is how she became interested in him in the first place), has expressed more than once the ways in which she connects with him personally (even if some of these ways represent things she dislikes in herself) and appreciates the security he offers her, both now and when she first realized she was pregnant. How can any of us say that can’t be love? I might not think Takumi is a healthy choice for Hachi, but she’s expressed her feelings for him more than once. To suggest that she can’t be telling the truth says more about you than it does about the character.

Melinda, you raise some good points, but I wasn’t trying to define love. I think Hachi’s true love is the traditional ideal of a housewife and anyone who can provide her with that is merely a ‘husband’ extension of that goal.

Now, this mindset could make for a fine relationship in some cases, but for the most part, it’s the foundation of several different flavours of abuse as a person tends to start making exceptions for abuse to justify the roles or conveniences. You see this in the context of the series, when Hachi decides that love isn’t necessary between a husband and wife or that Takumi’s absences are ok as long as he comes home every once in a while or that the cheating is fine as long as she’s his wife. Far from a narrow definition of love, I think people can deal with unconventional relationships and still love each other as pointed out in…your theatre example (it was hard to track down, haha.) The difference for Hachi is that the ideal relationship is the very basis of her relationships with the man as a random variable, so in the context of Hachi herself, when she starts hacking off bits of that ideal to adjust to abuse. For Hachi’s part, she does realise this though and accepts the paradox of sacrificing her ideals because she places too much importance on her ideals.

I also don’t want to suggest that Nobu would have worked out at all better for her. Interestingly, I think Hachi sees a mirror to her personal relationship ‘dynamic’ in Nobu as he searches for a surrogate mother to nurture his insecurities and it pushes her away. Fulfilling that ‘mother’ role is shown to sit well with her, but she’s ultimately intimidated by the idea of adjusting her vision of a wife role to adapt to an actual person.

In short, Hachi and Takumi’s relationship has nothing to do with love. Hachi desires a matching set of roles, Takumi bristles against that role he’s supposed to fit into, Hachi is forced to adjust via exceptions and places more importance on the inert role components left over, repeat. The whole story is about roles, how well one adapts to either traditional roles or individuality, roles of one’s own devising. So, in the context of the story, the comfort a character finds within their role ideals determines the internal morality.

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