Axel-In-Charge: "Secret Wars" Jam Session Talking "A-Force," "Ultimate End" and More
Welcome back to the NANA project everyone! This week we talk about three “controversial” couples that take center stage in volumes 13 and 14 of NANA. Join us as Michelle puts on her detective’s cap, Melinda redeems “bad girl” Yuri, and Danielle gets fed up with whiny rock stars.
Danielle: We’ve reached a point in manga where the cast of regular characters has expanded exponentially and Nana and Hachi often aren’t featured in as many scenes as before. Many fans have critiqued the series as it has gotten further and further from what *we’ve* imagined the story to be — i.e. a love story of two girls named Nana. Do you two think Yazawa has lost focus in her storytelling or do you still feel that the story follows a certain grand plan that we just can’t grasp all the pieces of yet? (In other words, has the book lost is way in some respects or are you two still completely on board with the direction Yazawa’s taking?)
Melinda: I’m completely on board. I tend not to have an agenda for authors when I’m reading their work, and with something as long-running as NANA, I’m much more interested in finding out what story Yazawa wants to tell than I am in clinging to whatever preconceived notions I might have.
That said, I actually don’t think the story has lost focus at all. I think the current state of affairs regarding characters and screen time actually reflects the distance that has grown between the two main characters. Their circles have grown wider based on the choices they’ve made, and the gap between them is now populated by a host of others who, knowingly or not, stand in the way of them finding their way back to each other. On the other hand, it is also these people who keep them from drifting apart entirely. In most other circumstances, two women in the roles of Nana and Hachi would already have lost each other to their separate, complicated lives, but thanks to the incestuous world of Blast and Trapnest, they remain connected through others, even when they are wrapped up in their own worlds. Because of that, these other characters (including the new ones) are now as important to their relationship as they are themselves. So, yes, I do think Yazawa has a grand plan (the recurring narration from the future is proof enough of that) and I don’t think she’s lost the thread even for a moment.
Michelle: I am partially on board. I believe that Yazawa does have a grand plan—as Melinda pointed out, the narration from the future makes it clear that some vague *something* is going to happen to cause Nana to go off alone—but I am an impatient person, and I keep thinking we’re about to see some tragic event that will lead us to that moment, and instead we get a lot of pages devoted to Yuri’s porn career. As an example, the narration at the end of volume thirteen made me suspect a car accident was forthcoming. You have the members of Blast piling in a car and talking about the need to rush to their next gig, and you’ve got narration saying, “But the rain that day never stopped. It still wets my cheeks to this day. The rain that day came down so hard.”
Obviously I don’t *want* the characters to be injured in a car accident, but it seemed to be a perfectly feasible reason why Nana’s career was cut short and why she might wish to distance herself from her former friends. In volume fourteen, however, it’s clear this didn’t happen. After this experience, I’m wary of expecting too much from other possible foreshadowing—like the possibility that super-fan Misato presents a danger to Nana—lest I be disappointed again.
Melinda: Hmmm, I guess I think of the stuff about Yuri’s career *really* being about Nobu growing up and learning to be truly supportive in a relationship, which I think is important to the story.
Michelle: Oh, I agree and, in fact, I originally had a line in my first paragraph about why Yuri’s contract issues are really important for Nobu. I didn’t mean to suggest that spending time on that sort of thing means that Yazawa has lost focus; it’s just that my brain tends to go “What happens to Nana? What happens to Nana?” and sometimes I get impatient when other plot lines take center stage.
Danielle: I also trust in Yazawa’s grand design but there is no doubt I’m starting to find the characters that are outside the Nana-Hachi friendship impediments to the story *I* want (which is obviously not the story Yazawa wants to tell). In a way, sometimes those characters feel as if they are supposed to get us, the readers, riled up. For example, Yasu may believe that Nobu’s learning to deal with Yuri’s contract to perform in porn is an important step that will allow him to grow up, but all I see is Nobu being pushed around, even abused at times, by a woman I’d rather not have around in the story at all. She takes Hachi’s bad qualities and magnifies them by about a 1,000 and it almost seems as if Nobu wants to exorcise his past with Hachi he has to succeed in his relationship with Yuri. (Which I find quite unfair…but then I might be a Nobu apologist).
I can see what Yazawa’s doing but I think it is important to note that she’s introducing new characters who are very divisive to not only other characters but to the audience as well.
Melinda: Aw, I’m with Yasu on this one. I actually like Yuri and I think she’s good for Nobu (and vice-versa). She’s not perfect, by any means, obviously, and she tries to be manipulative, but she’s so vulnerable I think she ultimately fails at that. I have a lot of sympathy for her career situation and its impact on her personally. I don’t see her as someone Nobu would be with permanently, but at this place in his life, at this time, I actually think she’s the right thing for him.
Michelle: I don’t see her as someone permanent in his life, either, but I think the point Yasu makes is interesting: why *did* Hachi choose Takumi? She herself seems to suggest later that it’s because he has the capacity to make objective decisions. Now Nobu is beginning to learn to do just that. While I mourn a little the loss of the more idealistic Nobu, I think it’s interesting that both he *and* Yasu lose some of the shine they once had on the basis of their actions in these volumes, even though neither does anything reprehensible.
Although I singled Yuri out for my mention, I actually find Miu more annoying. I do not understand why Yasu likes her *at all.*
Danielle: I can totally see that but I’m really bothered by the fact whenever she gets upset she *slaps* him. She does this once in each volume which leads me to say that ultimately this is not a person who can keep even a bit of control over her emotions. That just worries me…
Although now I’m curious why you find Miu so annoying, Michelle…
Michelle: I guess what bugs me most is that she doesn’t take action about the things she wants but then gets emo when she doesn’t get them. I know, I know, plenty of people are this way in real life, and so I feel kind of bad snickering at the scene where she’s returned to the dorm to pout and inflict personal injury upon herself after Nobu hooks up with Yuri, but I just couldn’t muster any sympathy for her. And I don’t think Yasu needs yet another person to babysit in his life. That said, I love the reaction Miu’s growing interaction with Yasu is prompting from Nana.
Danielle: Everything you say about Miu is completely true, but in an odd way she holds her own in the *moment* with people and usually takes her suffering “off stage” from the people around her. This isn’t a good thing (after all, she is inflicting physical punishment upon herself), but she doesn’t assume that the people around her are necessarily just there to be an audience for her suffering. I suppose I find that interesting about her since Yuri is the complete opposite (if Yuri’s hurting the whole *world* is going to know about it…especially her poor new boyfriend Nobu).
Melinda: It took me a while to warm to Miu, I suppose because it takes her so long to warm to anyone else, and it’s easier for me to understand someone like Yuri who can’t hide what she’s feeling or thinking. I think the moment I finally felt a connection to her was when that manager grilled her about Yuri’s whereabouts, spitting out, “If you’re just hanging around here, go get into a bikini for some centerfold shots. You don’t even sell, but you’re still stuck up.” It was the last part that really got me. I felt then that I could understand better what her life is like and why she is so guarded. I can’t help but feel that she’s in the wrong line of work.
Despite Yuri’s difficulties, overall she’s much better suited to a career that depends on her ability to allow herself to be completely vulnerable to others (including strangers), and to a great extent, the way she acts out with people is a relatively healthy way of dealing with that aspect of her job. Miu, on the other hand, is completely unsuited to this. She’d rather take her pain out on herself than let anyone else in on it. And though this isn’t actually addressed in the manga, I suspect this has something to do with why she doesn’t work much.
Also, although Danielle seems bothered by the relationship between Nobu and Yuri, I wanted to explain why *I* don’t find Nobu/Yuri disturbing, or at least why things like her slapping him don’t bother me. It’s all about power dynamics. Nobu has all the power in the relationship (she pursued *him* and she is much more emotionally invested in it than he is at this point), which makes Yuri totally vulnerable to him. So when Yuri slaps Nobu, it feels defensive. Whereas if Nobu slapped Yuri, it would feel aggressive. I’m not saying that Nobu deserves to be slapped or that this is an appropriate way for Yuri to express her feelings. But I’m pretty sure that’s why it doesn’t register as abusive to me. At first, when I was thinking about this, I thought the difference was as simple as comparing a man slapping a woman to a woman slapping a man, and I was trying to figure out why one seemed much worse than the other. But in the end, I think it all comes down to power. I think if I felt that Yuri was in a position of power in the relationship, I *would* see it the way you do. But as it is, I don’t.
Danielle: I never thought about the power dynamic at all because in my mind “hitting = bad!” but I can definitely see why emotionally this doesn’t come off as an abusive relationship. After all, Nobu isn’t cowering from her either, he’s often facing her head on in a way he failed to do with Hachi in the end. I’m still not comfortable with those two together because I mourn Nobu’s innocence to a degree and feel the longer he’s with her, the more it gets leeched away from him (and despite what Yasu may think, Nobu is often the one thing keeping *Nana* together…as we’re getting to the point where Yasu is starting to distance himself from Nana. I don’t blame him for that — he should have his own life, but Nana’s so dependent upon Yasu this is going to get painful…)
However, I want to take what Melinda pointed out about power dynamics and turn that around to talk about Takumi and Hachi’s relationship in these books. We have what looks to me to be the second instance in which Takumi rapes his lover / fiance / partner but we also have her conscious decision to work it out with him in spite of his behavior. How did you two respond to those scenes where first he takes out his “frustration” on her and then the later scenes of happy domesticity? Can you reconcile those extremes and is this just part of being Takumi’s “wife”?
Michelle: There’s a lot of shedding of ideals in these volumes. Nobu loses his more innocent view of relationships, Yasu is ostensibly shown to be hooking up with groupies, and Hachi not only admits to herself why she chose Takumi in the first place (he was the nicest to her in her time of need) but decides to accept all his qualities, both good and bad. Though she calls what happens rape, and it clearly is, this is another case where going through that doesn’t rob Hachi of her power. She still has the fortitude to leave without giving him a definitive answer about her return, and still enjoys an evening with Nana (as much as one can with a very drunken Nana).
I still loathe what Takumi did, don’t get me wrong, but it seems to me that Hachi’s got her eyes open to everything about him and is still determined to make it work. And somehow, this period of defiance seems to make him value her more, as demonstrated by his confiding to her some of his worries about the band and the problems Shin and Reira’s relationship might cause. It’s possible he told her of the latter in order to sneakily manipulate her into attempting to put a stop to it, but he looked pretty genuine in his worries to me.
Melinda: I think we all know how much I dislike Takumi, so this is not necessarily an unbiased response. I think these volumes highlight really well, though, both Takumi’s strengths and weaknesses as a person. I think he’s poison in a relationship, thanks to his weaknesses, and though I think to some extent, Hachi is learning a lot about life and about herself by remaining with him, I also think it’s ultimately a very bad situation for her and that the extremes you mention really *can’t* be reconciled. I think the process she’s going through is part of figuring that out, and as disgusted as I am over it, I can’t expect that to happen quickly. Takumi says some very insightful things about their personal history in these volumes and I think those things are valuable lessons for Hachi (for *most* of us, probably, if we’re honest). And I think he genuinely appreciates their moments of happy domesticity. But I don’t think those things can make up for the rest of his behavior–not even close.
I suppose what bothers me even more than the moments in which Hachi chooses to stay with Takumi despite his hurtful actions (when he forces her into sex or is obviously insensitive to her) are the ones in which she’s basically being deceived into not having a choice at all. The scene, for instance, where he’s texting her while in bed with another woman, even manipulating her into expressing sympathy for him over his long work hours–to me, that’s the worst kind of abuse, because he’s not only preempting her opportunity to object to his behavior by lying about it, he’s going a step further by actually making *her* feel bad for expecting that he’d be home. He’s making a fool of her and forcing inappropriate blame *on her* and she doesn’t even know it. I can’t possibly tell you how horrifying that is to me. And yeah, this is certainly my own issue in many ways and no small part of why I identify so strongly with Hachi. I don’t think I’m wrong, though. I think it’s inexcusable. And it’s just another way in which he establishes power for himself in the relationship.
Michelle: I really like the thought that she’s still in the process of figuring out that, ultimately, this isn’t going to work. She has decided to try harder with this relationship than any other she’d been in, which makes her reluctant to just give up, but she’s also beginning to chafe against certain elements of it. The more she realizes what she wants and needs out of a partner, the more she’ll realize that Takumi isn’t it *and* the better off she’ll be in pursuing other relationships in the future.
Does this mean Takumi is to Hachi as Yuri is to Nobu?
Danielle: Yeah, Nobu even makes that comparison at the Reira’s birthday party — he says to Shin that because of Yuri he kind of figured out why Takumi didn’t want Hachi at the party (even if, he says, he didn’t really want to figure that kind of thing out).
Although both of you have theorized an interesting narrative — the more Hachi knows herself, the better position she will be in to leave Takumi for good — at the moment all I see is conflict bringing them closer together. For example, the bath scene where they share all their problems with one another is really UNLIKE anything else Hachi’s ever had in her life. She shared things with Nobu but this is an entirely different level, somehow, and I really think she likes it and I would go so far as to say that we are supposed to see this as a very healthy relationship but only *in that moment.* The problem comes when we remember Takumi’s reprehensible behavior. In a way, Yazawa doesn’t let anyone off the hook here, including the reader, since we see how happy Hachi is in these moments and even see her acknowledge that even if every day of her life with Takumi can’t be this happy, she *still* wants to be with him. Ultimately, the stronger Hachi gets the more equipped she becomes at dealing with Takumi’s bullshit. Certainly, now, she feels much stronger to me than she did than when she was with either Nobu or Shoji.
Melinda: Oh, I completely agree that Hachi is gaining things from her relationship with Takumi. I just think that eventually the the same strength she’s building up–the thing that’s keeping her with Takumi–will allow her to leave him, whether it’s to seek out a relationship that’s made up of all the best parts of what she has with Takumi and less of the bad, or even just to be on her own, free of the veil of deception. It’s ironic, perhaps, but I think it’s this relationship that is giving Hachi the tools she needs to potentially be alone–something she was unequipped for up to this point. That’s speculation, obviously, but she actually had nearly that same realization when she contemplated leaving Takumi during Shin’s party. Ultimately, she decided to stay with Takumi and try to work things out, but I think for the first time ever, she realized that she could potentially be okay on her own.
Michelle: “The same strength she’s building up will allow her to leave him.” Yes, exactly. I, too, see Hachi as stronger now than ever before and was happy to see her entertain the thought of living on her own. Too, she partly rejected this idea because she thought that she might end up relying on her friends too much if she were to try it now.
By the way, I love how this one little comment of Hachi’s gets passed around the party and the various reactions to it. Shin evidently expects Nobu to get excited, but Nobu has a very mature response along the lines of, “I’m sure they’ll talk it out.” I love, too, that Hachi refuses to make a snap decision; I think her *calm* reaction when Nana inquires as to her plans is what enables Nana to offer her encouragement. If Hachi was visibly distraught, there’s no way Nana would’ve said what she did.
Danielle: Now that we’ve discussed Nobu and Yuri, Hachi and Takumi, I was hoping we could talk about a third “couple”….Ren and Reira. I have to be upfront and acknowledge that they are pretty much the two characters I find the most obnoxious out of the entire cast, but am I the only one who just sees their interactions and gets incredibly frustrated? As friends, I feel like they bring about the absolute worst in each other, in the sense that if they are always being “supportive” of the other one, they usually give each other license to behave anyway they damn well please, to hell with the consequences. And I think we start to see some of the real consequences of their impulsiveness at the end of the 14th volume as Nana gets hurt by their decision to go off and play together, a moment which is unfortunately captured by the paparazzi.
Michelle: You are not alone in finding their interactions frustrating. Does Reira even have any reaction at all to Ren’s declaration that sometimes he thinks about killing Nana? Certainly not enough of one to actually, oh, *mention* this disturbing confession to anyone. I think we also see, from a glimpse of a memory, that the spot to which Ren took Reira is actually the same place he and Nana shared a romantic moment in the past. That is just tacky.
That said, I think Ren’s quasi-murderous feelings interestingly parallel the ominous scene of “Misato” in volume thirteen. We see her maintaining her Nana scrapbook while a TV reporter in the background relates the details of a victim killed by a stalker. Misato addresses a photo of Nana and says something along the lines of, “The more you love someone, the harder it is to control yourself.” Poor Nana seems to have two secret adversaries here, in the guises of people she thought cared about her!
Danielle: Oh lord, I somehow missed the fact that Ren took her to a special place he shared with Nana. It is kind of sad that I am so used to Ren and Nana discussing dying together I didn’t even key in on how disturbing Ren is being when he mentions wanting to kill Nana. I’m just like, “oh Ren. Just shut your mouth and use your brain for once.” I actually think the problem is that Ren thinks *he* is the only one who ever sacrificed for his career in that relationship, and both he and Reira are constantly harping on the fact they “gave up everything” to make it big with Trapnest. (This seems like an excuse they just bring up so they can continue treating people around them like shit). And frankly, as long as you are alive and have people you love in your life, you haven’t sacrificed everything. I don’t know…I think I’m just sick of the two them feeling sorry for themselves when they are young, rich, attractive and have a lot to be thankful for. Well. Except for that drug problem. But Ren did that to himself which means he could fix it himself. But that would take effort and I guess he can’t ever stand to deal seriously with something that isn’t playing his guitar.
As for “Misato”….I feel like this is a big misdirect by Yazawa but only time will tell (she honestly seems less possessive of Blast and Nana than Hachi but, of course, sometimes “crazy” doesn’t actually present as crazy).
Michelle: I have a feeling it’s a misdirect, too, especially after my car accident prediction, but it *can’t* be a coincidence that “Misato Uehara,” whose real name may or may not be Mai Tsuzuki, has chosen the name of Nana’s unknown little sister (and, c’mon, she *has* to be) for herself. That’s a lot of snooping and a lot of creepy.
Melinda: I completely agree that Ren and Reira enable each other, and while I’m glad they have a friend in each other, I’m not sure it’s helping either of them. I would even say they probably seek each other out specifically because they know they won’t be held accountable for anything. I guess I think they each could really use a good friend–they’re certainly both lonely and messed up–but the kind they need would be a lot harder on them. You know who they really need? Junko. Too bad she doesn’t hire herself out. Frankly, even Takumi would be more helpful, and that’s just sad.
Michelle: Yeah, those two make me sympathize with Takumi a little bit because he’s trying to keep things together and they seem determined to tear things apart. At least he seems the most poised to land on his feet if that should happen.
Danielle: I’m amused that we’re ending this NANA project on a positive-Takumi note considering his bad behavior in these two volumes. Next time he’ll do something actually selfless for once and then we won’t even know how to react! Join us next time when we’ll be discussing volumes 15 and 16!
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