"Justice League": Exploring How Superman Returns (Again)
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I’m happy to welcome everyone back after a brief hiatus from the NANA project! We took a very interesting detour last time to discuss the various ways the NANA manga had been edited for the North American marketplace. This time around, Melinda, Michelle and I discuss the new emotional status quo between Nana and Hachi in volumes 11 and 12, as well as each Nana’s perspective on love, marriage and personal commitment.
Danielle: Re-reading these volumes I was struck by the fact the two main characters have reached a new status quo after the emotional upheaval of the preceding volumes…but that this new status quo seems to completely reverse our original perspective of the two Nanas. Now I feel like Hachi is coming into herself as a person (or, at the very least, is much more aware of who she is and why she does the things she does), while Nana seems to be becoming untethered from her core self more and more as each day passes.
Do you two see the same changes as I do? If not, what do you see? And if you do, how might such change be influencing the central emotional touchstone of the title (i.e. the question of how do two very different women, both named Nana, relate to each other)?
Michelle: I definitely see those same changes. I spent large parts of recent volumes worrying about Hachi and her predicament, but it really seems that this pregnancy has settled her down and given her a purpose in life. She’s even begun to realize what she’d like to do for a career. As Jun puts it, “I think you have your feet on the ground more than before.” Is Hachi perfectly happy? I don’t think she is—it’s more clear in volume twelve how much she still loves Nobu—but she’s at peace with her decision and has every intention of sticking by her choice.
Nana, on the other hand, seems to be coming unglued. After realizing that she can’t depend on Nobu as a means to maintain her ties to Hachi, she suffers her first hyperventilation attack. After that, she tells herself time and time again that she can’t prevent him from moving on, but the very *moment* she has an inkling that Hachi still has lingering feelings for Nobu, she’s back to her old tricks, attempting to engineer a meeting between the two of them not for any true feelings of friendship—what she’s doing is cruel, Shin points out—but for entirely selfish reasons. I wonder, too, if she will feel less frightened about being swept away by Ren if she has Hachi there in a similar position of being swept away by Nobu.
It’s all a big, complicated mess, but I guess that’s why we love NANA!
Melinda: I’m seeing the same things as both of you, and I feel like we’re being taught a lesson about the nature of love, though I’m not entirely sure I like it.
Hachi’s relationship is really a sham on so many levels, yet it offers her a kind of security she’s never quite had (even at home with her parents). Despite the fact that Takumi is a liar and a philanderer who views Hachi mainly as a possession, he’s given her such solid ground to walk on that she’s suddenly able to believe in herself and in her own strength.
Meanwhile, Nana’s urgent love for/with Ren should make them both feel more secure (certainly that’s what everyone’s banking on), but instead it just feels dangerous, suffocating, and a little bit unreal. Despite the fact that their impending marriage is the one being most supported by everyone, it seems doomed from the start, and Nana along with it.
Of course things are not as simple as I’m portraying them here, which is what makes this story ring so true, but I feel like we’re seeing Hachi thrive on false love while Nana chokes on the real thing. This is not a criticism of the series by any means. If anything, I think I’m just appalled by the truths being revealed to me, which demonstrates how powerful Yazawa’s writing is.
One of the most telling moments of Hachi’s I thought, was the scene with Jun, in which she’s lamenting her lack of connection with Nana. Jun says, “Well, she must be pretty busy. I doubt she has time to deal with you,” to which Hachi replies, “She doesn’t have to deal with me. But I’m sad that she won’t depend on me.” Jun’s look of shock at that point is evidence enough of how much Hachi’s grown. I think this is the answer to your question, too, about how these changes have affected the way the two Nanas relate to each other. Their positions in the relationship have almost entirely reversed.
Michelle: “I feel like we’re seeing Hachi thrive on false love while Nana chokes on the real thing.”
That’s really an excellent way to put it. Before catching up for our roudntable, it had been a while since I read NANA and I had actually forgotten how simultaneously amazing and depressing it is. This is not a story that’s going to give us convenient happy endings, no matter how much we crave them.
Danielle: One of the most controversial things about NANA is watching Nana O. deteriorate and while Hachi grows stronger. Nana as a lone wolf is a fearsome and great thing but the second she becomes entangled with someone she seems to lose her way. Hachi, on the other hand, thrives on certain aspects of commitment and may thrive on being a “dependable” person for Nana, her child, and even Takumi.
I think in general I’m more tolerant of Hachi and Takumi’s relationship than Melinda, but I also feel like Ren and Nana are so damn dysfunctional that if this is what passion looks like than god knows it is incredibly unappealing to me. It may simply be a matter of no matter how great a love may be, if a person is fundamentally unstable (as Ren is and Nana is certainly becoming), than it simply can’t be sustained. Turn that around, where Hachi and Takumi appear to basing everything on logic and sense (i.e. delaying their own marriage for the sake of business and Nana and Ren) and that seems almost *too* convenient and, therefore, worrisome. Of course, Hachi is a warm, loving person so she always brings feelings into her commitment to Takumi, which makes their relationship seem a bit less calculated to me. And yet this is why she’ll be hurt in the end, but at least for now Hachi seems strong enough to deal Takumi. I mean, she finally *confronts* Shoji and that is a real breakthrough from the girl who couldn’t face that situation on any level before.
Then we have poor Nobu, whose self-doubts and grief over losing Hachi made me cry in volume 11 and 12. He’s just like Hachi and to have been hurt by someone so much like himself…it must seem like he’s betrayed himself and his own heart when in reality he just reacted quite normally to some very bad news (i.e. the uncertain paternity of Hachi’s baby). So even though I want to warn him away from both the “dorm girls,” he’s kind of like the walking wounded, just waiting for someone to come patch him up (Which is just the way Hachi was after Shoji, showing how much alike they really are).
Melinda: To be fair, probably everyone else on earth is more tolerant of Hachi and Takumi’s relationship than I am, so I suspect you’re in good company, Danielle. Though even *I* can appreciate that the relationship may be offering them both something they need very much, even if I think Hachi will ultimately end up very, very hurt.
I think you’ve hit Hachi right on the nose, in that she thrives on commitment. If only Nana had realized the truth of that when first facing the news of Hachi’s decision to be with Takumi, I think things might have been very different. Had Nana been able to get past her own issues with Takumi quickly enough to offer Hachi the same kind of support, I doubt Takumi would have stood a chance. Ultimately, I don’t think any man has the power to sway Hachi that Nana does. If she’d played the hero, she would’ve won, hands down.
Nobu, poor Nobu… though it’s difficult for me to put away my Hachi/Nobu-‘shipping heart, even for their own sakes, I’d also like to see Nobu get some kind of reward for being such a stand-up guy. So I suppose I’m rooting for him with the “dorm girls” just a little bit, even if it breaks my heart to do so. That tortured scene at apartment 707… that alone was enough for me to cry on behalf of both of them. Nobu gets a lot of points from me for not letting Nana use him for her own selfish purposes.
And, okay, I can’t believe *I’m* going to be the first to bring this up, but what about Reira’s blatant play to keep Takumi from getting married? I’ve been pretty tolerant of her all this time, but that was low, even for her.
Michelle: I’ve also found it interesting how much expectations are playing a part with these two couples. Other characters (and readers) may expect Hachi to be miserable in her situation, but she really isn’t. And other characters (and readers) may expect Nana to be happy in her situation, but she isn’t. I found it extremely sad that even Hachi was doing this, painting Ren and Nana as the ideal couple and thinking how Nana must be living “total bliss” right now.
As for Reira, that *was* low, but I thought she made some good points, too, about Takumi essentially using Nana to clean up the mess that is Ren. I still can’t like her, though, and I really wonder what Shin sees in her. Especially her lines about “to look into each other’s eyes with no lies,” when she evidently still harbors feelings for Takumi (as the members of Blast observe later on).
Danielle: Great point, Michelle, about reader expectations. For my perspective, this is related to each character’s relative maturity level. Why can’t Nana be happy in her situation? Well, she has a million reasons but I think she’s primarily pissed off at how little control she has over how events are developing. Shin has that great line when they are meeting with the record execs about the Ren and Nana marriage and he kind of points out that this should be a *happy* occasion. Instead, they are kind of talking about it like it is a big burden. They chalk this up to Shin not being a fully indoctrinated-adult but mostly it is because Shin, at least, believes in recognizing the happiness you do have, not the pure happiness you think you want for yourself. Or that’s my reading of it anyway.
But she’s getting married…when I don’t even think she *wants* to be tied to Ren like that. And this is being pushed onto her from so many different directions, because it’ll “fix” certain aspects of her public persona (and therefore help the band) but still. It isn’t what she wants and I don’t think she has the emotional fortitude to relinquish the opportunity to create those kinds of ties to Ren thanks to their inherent instability as a couple and as individuals. It’s really kind of messed up. When you add Yasu to this mix, trying to support Nana and Ren, but to get the result *he* thinks is appropriate, much less Hachi on the sidelines trying to wish Nana the best as she prepares to embark on her own “happy ending,”…yeah, Nana’s the miserable one here, no doubt about it.
Michelle: I think Nana is definitely incapable of turning down this opportunity for a “permanent” connection, which is why she tries to come on to Yasu a few times so that he’ll do it for her. When she realizes that he’ll never make a move on her because she’s Ren’s girlfriend she realizes that no one is going to save her from “drowning helplessly in Ren.” I wonder, too, if she recognizes on some level how unstable they both are. She’d be better with someone sturdy like Yasu—she can’t depend on Ren to be strong, whether she knows it or not, because everyone is expecting *her* to be the strong one that saves him!
Melinda: I love that line of Shin’s too, and actually I think he’s one of the more mature of the bunch, despite his youth and his strange areas of inexperience.
Regarding Shin and Reira, aside from Reira’s beauty and talent (which I think most men would find fairly enticing), I actually think they have some things in common that may be a draw for Shin.
Both of them have (at one point or another in their lives) experienced a sense of isolation due to only being half-Japanese. And both of them have become accustomed to being valued for qualities they see as being external to their true selves–Reira as a beautiful songbird and Shin as a sex object to the older women he sleeps with. I think, too, that both of them spend a lot of time worrying over whether they are worth anything outside of the ways in which they are valued by others. I think it’s no mistake that Yazawa gave them the same birthday.
Though I’m much fonder of Shin than I am of Reira, I can recognize that they are somewhat alike. In an environment as toxic as Trapnest’s, I think Shin might easily fall into the same traps (so to speak) as Reira has.
I’m going to come down on Yasu a bit here, though I normally defend him, by expanding on your point. I think he is not only looking for an “appropriate” solution to Nana and Ren’s issues, but also his own. Since he’s not willing to do anything about his own feelings for Nana, believing that she “belongs” to Ren (quotes inserted to reveal my disgust with that concept), he’s making it easier for himself, too, by pushing them together so he won’t be tempted. I generally think Yasu is a pretty great guy, but here’s where he shows his least attractive characteristics.
Michelle: Those are good points and I guess I should also keep in mind that, even with all his maturity, Shin is only sixteen. I just don’t want to see him get hurt, but that goes for all the characters in this story.
Heh. Yazawa creates characters that we love and don’t want to see hurt, and then hurts them mercilessly. I bet Joss Whedon would like this series.
Danielle: Well, I was just wondering if we should talk about the things that made us *happy* in these volumes. I’m reminded of Michelle’s line, “I had actually forgotten how simultaneously amazing and depressing [the series] is.” I mean, if NANA were all doom and gloom I couldn’t get through it and yet these volumes are so interesting because of how well Yazawa portrays grief and loss…not as relentless pain that is felt every second of the day but something more complex than that.
An example from my notes — “Hachi’s mother is awesome. Discuss.” Actually, that whole scene where she introduces Takumi to the ‘rents is just hilarious. I love Nana’s jealous father, her annoying little sister, her pragmatic mother, and, of course, Hachi, the “problem” child, trying to live up to her new role as mature wife, all help set the mood for this highly surreal moment.
So what moments made you laugh or smile in these volumes?
Michelle: I loved the scene with Hachi’s family, too, especially her dad who goes from thinking “look dignified” one moment to shouting, “Whoa, you’re huge!” the next. Even though it made me teary, Hachi’s tears at the success of Blast’s impromptu Shinjuku concert also made my heart swell. I enjoyed seeing grown-up Shin in the flash-forward (which we have yet to talk about!) as well as a few moments of Hachi geeking out over toys (like Nobu’s gift for Satsuki and possible birthday presents for Reira) despite her age. It’s little touches like that that show us she’s still the same old Hachi, even if she has grown up a lot.
Melinda: I have a lot of love for all the scenes you’ve mentioned here, and I’ll also add “Hachi & Shoji.” I really enjoyed seeing the two of them interact after all this time, with each of them so much more self-aware than when they were together. I even enjoyed Shoji’s deliberate affection with Sachiko afterwards– a relationship that once gave me so much pain.
Danielle: In that vein of “reconciliation” or “forgiveness”, I’ll also add that Nobu’s kindness toward Hachi’s child, Satsuki, really touched me. I was pleased that he doesn’t just look at her and see only Takumi in the child as he once predicted he would (even though it seems very likely that Takumi *is* her biological father).
In fact, Hachi as a mother in general was wonderful to see but seeing Satsuki fit into the band member’s lives as easily as Hachi once did gives me hope in spite of the sadder elements of that scene.
Michelle: I wonder if Satsuki’s obvious resemblance to Takumi is a balm to Nobu, who we learn has been losing sleep over the possibility that the child is his and he’s not doing anything to help.
I too loved seeing Hachi as a mother. Another thing I found interesting about the flash-forward was the quick reference to Ren. Hachi’s narration mentions a “sad ending” for Nana and Ren’s love story, and of course, my mind thought, “Oh, maybe he’ll overdose!” But then I remembered this mention and realized that there’s no way Ai Yazawa would go for such a quick and easy sad ending. It’s got to be as painful as possible, and Ren’s death in such a way would not accomplish that.
Danielle: I tend to agonize over the Nobu-Hachi moments in that scene rather than the implications of Ren and Nana not being there (probably because as we’ve discussed before it has been clear for volumes that Hachi is usually addressing an absent Nana at the end of each volume). As for Hachi and Nobu, she still has her ring on but then there’s something very much alive between them. That moment when their hands touch as she draws him a bath….Maybe the feeling isn’t alive but just a ghost of what could have been, I’m not sure. Everything seems somehow settled and unsettled at once in that flashforward, but that could be an indication of what it is like for Hachi to live her life without Nana by her side.
Michelle: I was struck by Hachi’s phrase, “You don’t have to worry about me. I’m all right now.” It makes me wonder whether something else has happened, like a messy break-up with Takumi, perhaps. Though, I guess that doesn’t explain the ring. Actually, examining the hand-clasping scene, I think I *do* see a wedding band there, and not just the diamond solitaire.
Melinda: As a fervent fan of both Hachi and Nobu, I can’t help but cling to hope that this touching moment between them might eventually lead to something more. Though even that is probably a foolish thought when we’ve been shown so little of the story behind that time period at this point.
I really like your description, Danielle, “somehow settled and unsettled at once.” I think that is exactly right.
Danielle: And that seems like an excellent place to conclude our discussion, particularly considering that at the end of volume 12, Hachi’s about to walk into Reira’s birthday party without a clue to what awaits her there. In a very rare moment for this manga, *all* the major players will be on the scene at the same time. Kind of gives me chills of anticipation….Come back in August to read our discussion of volumes 13 and 14!
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