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NANA Project #9 — Volumes 17 and 18

by  in Comic News Comment
NANA Project #9 — Volumes 17 and 18

Greetings everyone!  This month, Melinda, Michelle and I return to discuss volumes 17 and 18 of NANA.  Michelle decides she likes Miu, Danielle has a Yasu-epiphany, and Melinda takes on Takumi and Reira’s dysfunctional relationship.

Danielle: I’ll start by noting that I personally found volume 17 to be a bit exposition-heavy while volume 18 was rather nerve-wracking, what with the so-called “countdown to tragedy” slowly but surely winding down.  But for once instead of skipping ahead to dessert (i.e. the juicy stuff in volume 18 or the compelling flashback to Takumi’s early years), let’s start with the revelations about Misato.  Did her backstory work for you?  Do you think it fit with all we’ve come to know about her?  And what do you think Nana would do if she knew about Misato’s connection to her family?

Melinda:  I’d say that Misato’s story *works* for me, and yes I do think it’s consistent with what we’ve seen in her up to this point, but it’s not as compelling for me as the other things that are going on around it. I am grateful that it doesn’t dominate the entire volume. I’m not sure what to say about Nana’s reaction, though. I think she might actually not want to be around her for a while if she found out. Misato has represented a kind of pure adoration for Nana up to this point. I think finding out that Misato’s secrets actually have to do with *her* could be difficult for Nana. She doesn’t trust easily, after all.

Michelle:  I thought Misato’s backstory did a good job at explaining how she came to know and adopt the name of Nana’s little sister without making it into some huge drama. I’m not sure how Nana would react—she’s always known that Misato idolizes her, but probably thinks it’s something purely positive and not an obsession in the service of which Misato has withheld crucial information.

I was thinking that a lot of this series is about people having idealized views of one another, and it occurs to me that the relationship between Nana and Misato is just another example of that.

Melinda:  Oh, that’s a wonderful insight, Michelle!  I’ll take this a step further and say  that much of the series is about people’s perceptions of each other in general, and how skewed that can be for various reasons. Something that struck me sort of profoundly early on in this volume, was Hachi’s observation about the real Misato, and how she was “not old enough to consider her parents as people with their own lives apart from her.”  I think I spent half the volume pondering that in the back of my mind, and how easily it applies to people in all kinds of circumstances, including adults.

Danielle:  Ah, such excellent points about how Nana idealizes Misato.  I remember how miserable Hachi felt when she first met Misato because she felt so *selfish* for wanting to be special to Nana in a way no other person was.  A lot of this series is about how people try to hold on to those that they love in exclusionary ways that can be harmful to both individuals.  There has to be a balance somewhere…between Yasu, for whom all loved ones are equal in status, and Nana’s suffocating desire to completely own Hachi or Ren.

Michelle:  I was thinking that maybe Miu is the best at not wanting to completely own someone. She’s a little jealous of Yasu’s connection with Shion, but I didn’t get the impression it’s going to make her hyperventilate or run away from the relationship. She’s also able to see almost instantly that *Hachi* is the strong one and Nana the weak one, no matter what Hachi herself thinks. Am I the only one who began to seriously like her in these two volumes?

Melinda:  Anyone who befriends Hachi is fine by me, so Miu definitely grew on me during these volumes, yes.

Danielle:  *raises hand* Not only did I start to like her, I had a total Yasu EPIPHANY.  I’m like a Yasu-convert now.  I’ve been very critical of him in the past, but watching him respond to the disaster that is Shin with tough love, I realize he’s almost always taken the right approach with the others (the big exception in my mind is his unquestioning support of Ren, because Ren totally needs to be set straight by someone with a lot more sense than him and Reira is a disaster as a friend).

Michelle:  There’s a lot of great Yasu stuff in these volumes. His approach to the Shin situation was strict but ultimately more loving

than any more lenient suggestions. While Nana and Takumi thought of the tour first, and Hachi thought of Shin first, it was Yasu who was able to see both simultaneously. I suppose he and Miu do make a good couple after all, since she’s a fairly impartial observer who hasn’t concocted idealized notions about the other characters.

Melinda:  I found Yasu’s comment stating that making Shin feel guilty for canceling the tour was less awful than making him feel expendable to be, actually, very moving. I’ve been a fan of Yasu from the start, but he’s really shown to his best advantage in this situation, I think.

Michelle:  It’s interesting how strongly Ren seemed to feel the same, too. Maybe it’s because of their shared background that they’re both very sensitive to making someone feel unneeded.

Danielle:  I can’t give Ren any credit here at all because he’s never *useful* in these situations ever.  He tries for Yasu’s distant protection and ends up as performing a fairly cool self-interest instead. Ren’s refusal of Nana’s attempt to enlist him into the band for their first major arena concert really grates with me.  Can he never ever step up and be a hero for Nana?  Is this expecting too much of him (or anyone?)  Just once I’d like him to put Nana first.  Just.  Once.

Melinda:  You know, for once I can get behind intense anger towards someone other than Takumi (heh), because I absolutely agree with you, Danielle. Though it doesn’t *surprise* me, it infuriates me that Ren won’t step up to help Nana here, at least just for the one concert. How could that have possibly hurt him? Yet it might have saved Blast.

Michelle:  I’ll be the lone voice supporting Ren’s decision here. Okay, yes, maybe doing it for one concert might not have hurt, but it’s obvious that Shin is not going to be released for a while. What then?  What about the other shows?  What happens when Shin realizes they all went on without him?  There’s no good answer here, because going on with the tour with a different bassist and canceling the tour altogether *both* have the potential to derail Blast’s upward trajectory.

Interesting that Takumi sort of took responsibility for it all.

Melinda:  And yes, helping for one concert doesn’t save the whole tour, but at least it buys them some time to find another bassist, or some other solution.

Danielle:  Well, I think what really infuriates me isn’t just the refusal but the way he *digs* the knife into Nana, telling her that he wouldn’t want to help out someone who didn’t support her own bandmember.  Now, Nana’s sinking in quicksand at this moment and she’s mad at Shin, but she has a right to be.  She’ll forgive him in time, but I think she’s allowed to be mad right now.  And Ren’s hypocrisy — when he knows he departed the band for greener pastures to benefit *him* and *only him* — is just disgusting to me.

Michelle: That’s a good point about the hypocrisy.  That angle hadn’t occurred to me.

Melinda:  Yes, YES, Danielle, *that*. Oh, look, I’m all riled up. I really do think, too, that Nana (and everyone in the band) has a right to be angry at Shin here, whatever his own pain has been, and really Ren’s just looking for an excuse not to have to step out of his comfort zone.

Danielle:  Even though I’m not surprised Ren said no, something still seems off about *why* — deep down — he’s refusing her.  Is he that afraid to “step out of his comfort zone” as you say?  It is something else?  Could he really want to torpedo Nana’s career?  I can’t see that of Ren, no matter how self-absorbed he can be (and remember, this is the person who could have “fixed” the entire Takumi-Hachi-Nobu triangle by simply opening his mouth and giving Nana a head’s up about Takumi not understanding that Hachi’s done with him).  Is it he’s just so self-involved he doesn’t want to get involved…because it’s a bother?

Melinda:  I don’t think it’s so much that he’s self-involved, but that he’s really, really a coward. He’s terrified of putting himself on the line, even to save himself. That’s what makes Reira such a comforting friend for him. She doesn’t require anything of him except what’s easiest.

Michelle:  Whereas Nana is needy and requires quite a lot, hence his “I’m sick of catering to her” response.

Danielle:  Perhaps it is time to turn to the reason Blast is in this mess in the first place…poor Shin.  It is interesting to see both how lost and self-destructive Shin is as a teenager but in the flashforward we see a young man who has taken accountability for his actions and works very hard to gain a foothold in the entertainment industry.  I’m kind of proud of how both he and Nobu turned out, to be honest.

Melinda:  I think Yazawa manages this brilliantly. By showing us future Shin juxtaposed against current Shin as he’s making the worst mess of his life, she’s avoided having to tell us what’s happened to him via awkward exposition later on.  It’s wonderfully effective storytelling shorthand.

I’d agree, too, I love seeing both future Shin and future Nobu, and the men they’ve become. They’re even lovelier than I might have hoped. Do you think they could have turned out so well if Blast hadn’t been forced to break up at this point? With Shin in particular, I have to wonder if this ugly wake-up call might be exactly what he needs in order to figure out how to live a healthier life, even if it comes at others’ expense.

Danielle:  Even though Shin’s a walking disaster and is engaging in risky behavior, I have to point out that it is hilarious to me there’s such a big scandal over pot of all things.  I mean, I realize this is a representation of the Japanese music industry and not the American one, but still…Shin self-identifies as a punk.  How exactly is he *supposed* to act?  Sheesh.  And while the underage sex is a component of this, he’s really just busted for the pot as far as I can tell.  In the U.S. he’s be released immediately on bail and probably go off to give a concert the next day.

Michelle:  Well, marijuana laws in Japan are really strict. Paul McCartney was busted there for pot in 1980 and spent nine days in jail. I suppose to them, it *is* a huge deal and a big scandal.

I agree that seeing future Shin, who has obviously turned out pretty well, before we learn the details of his fall from grace is reassuring. It’s interesting to me how much closer current and future events are getting. (Or should it be past and present?  I’m not sure…)  Before, we had this ominous retrospective narration but no clue as to what was going to happen, but slowly, like a funnel, the edges of the story have been coming together and now we can see the other side. We still don’t know exactly what sends Nana running away to England, but we can see that she’s there and that she’s hurting, and it’s only a remembrance of Hachi’s faith in her that has kept her alive so far.

Danielle:  I really like the funnel metaphor, because slowly but surely we are beginning to see the whole picture.  We see why Shin has become an actor, where the seeds of Hachi’s business came from (Miu teaching her how to dress herself in a kimono), why Nobu splits his time between his parents’ inn and the music scene, etc.  We know Nana is alive but we also know that she’s only hanging onto her current life by a thread, which is quite heartbreaking.  Nana wishing for the oblivion of death is just…so broken.  The mystery remains — why does she feel she can’t reach out to Hachi

Melinda:  That really is the great mystery, isn’t it? While it’s easy to imagine any number of reasons Nana might leave the music business in Japan, and maybe even why she might lose touch with her bandmates, who are inextricably tied to memories of her youth and her hometown, it’s much, much harder to imagine why she might cut all ties with Hachi, to whom she obviously still clings, if only in her mind. What could have happened to drive the two of *them* apart like this?

Michelle:  I honestly think this goes back to the issue of having an idealized view of someone. Nana is still trying to be Hachi’s shoujo hero, and probably feels like she’ll be too big of a disappointment. Hachi’s faith in her was a source of strength at times, certainly, like when she prepares to embark on her solo career, but that kind of faith also comes with expectations that she might feel that she’s unable to live up to.

Danielle:  This is interesting theory particularly because of how *not* upset Nana was once the tabloids ran the story on her mother.  I was actually kind of impressed with the fact Nana decided to take the “good” that came from the story — a real reconciliation with Hachi — and not cling to the fact her mother abandoned her all those years ago.  Of course, this could be because as Michelle notes, she’s turned Hachi into an idealized version of herself (and I would argue a kind of mother figure at the same time).

Michelle:  I think, too, that she’s taking comfort in the fact that Hachi is still herself, even after the ideal-busting liaison and union with Takumi. They’ve finally got back into a place where Nana can sort of forget some of that stuff happened and allow herself to see Hachi as someone saintly once more.

Danielle:  Now that we’ve speculated on the characters’ future, let’s return to their past — or Takumi’s past, at least.  “Takumi’s Story” — unlike Nobu and Naoki’s stories, both of which had a heavy layer of romanticism / nostalgia filtering their respective childhood experiences — is a rather unflinching, almost brutal, portrait of the anti-hero of NANA.  In spite of the fact I will always find his treatment of women despicable, I also found his development from violent, empty-headed thug to hard-working bandleader impressive.  A lot of the characters in NANA have impressively shitty childhoods but Takumi’s seems like a living hell.  The fact that unlike a lot of the other characters he doesn’t go out of his way to sabotage his own life or success (because he’s so “damaged” or some excuse we might make for Nana, Shin, Ren, etc.) is a mark of a very tough individual.  I suspect, though, that I am probably alone in my weird respect for this character….

Melinda:  I have a lot of respect for Takumi as a businessman, and his side story here enhances that, for all the reasons you describe, Danielle. I also think his ideas about women are horrifying, and this story only enhances that perspective as well. Interestingly, the person I came out of this story feeling a new sense of sympathy for is Reira.

As much as I despise the ways Takumi uses his girlfriends (and oh, the way he deals with one of them getting an abortion makes me want to punch him in the face) I actually think the girl he treats the most cruelly is Reira. His idea of her as an untouchable doll may be keeping him from defiling her or whatever, but it’s also responsible for pretty much everything that’s wrong with her *now*. All those things we find maddening/annoying about her? Takumi created them. By keeping hold of her so tightly, but refusing to actually touch her, he has, in a very real way, I think, driven her mad. She can’t be with him, because she’s too precious for him to touch, but she can’t be with anyone else either, not really, because he’s still holding on to her.  If anything, this story makes me despise Takumi more, but it definitely gives me a new appreciation for how much it sucks to be Reira. She really *is* a songbird in a cage, and Takumi’s left her in there so long, it’s a wonder she can still sing at all.

Danielle:  I think I feel the exact opposite of you in terms of who is responsible for Reira — I think only *Reira* is responsible for Reira.  She knew he was never going to love her the way she loved him…so why should he take responsibility for the fact she couldn’t leave his side?  The girl we saw in the flashback had spirit and fire.  She even demands to know what she means to Takumi and when he can’t answer her that should have been her cue.  GET AWAY FROM THIS MAN.  She didn’t take it and as she sinks into Takumi’s comfortable birdcage I feel she only has herself to blame.  Takumi’s a strong personality but he didn’t drag her kicking and screaming into his orbit (and, therefore, his control).  She *walked* right into the cage knowing full well what he was like.

I have very little pity for her, because while I respect the teenager who was able to defy him but not the infantilized women who cedes to his every direction / whim.  I totally agree he used her to make his career but I think she let herself be used.

Melinda:  I disagree that this is all her responsibility. The very last page of the side story, when he makes it clear that he wants to keep her by his side… he *knows* how to do this. He knows exactly what to do to keep her with him, and even though he rejects her romantic advances, he never actually lets her go. I’d be willing to come halfway and say they’re both playing their part here, but I just can’t absolve him of responsibility when he’s so consciously keeping her with him. And I don’t actually think he’s made it clear to Reira that he’s never going to love her the way she loves him. In fact, I think he *does* love her exactly that way, but he’s not willing to touch her, because then she’s be tainted by him and couldn’t be his precious angel anymore. To me, that’s just sick.

Michelle:  I kind of feel like y’all want me to cast a tie-breaking vote here, but I really can’t. I agree that Takumi does love her in a way—again with the idealized views!—and is purposefully keeping her by his side, but it’s Reira who keeps staying there. Maybe if he had made clear the impossibility of the kind of relationship she wants, she would have left, but I rather doubt it.  They’re both responsible, and neither one of them is willing or able to walk away from the relationship.

As a side note, I found it very interesting that she does with Yasu exactly what she’s doing now with Shin. She purports to love him, they’re in a relationship, but ultimately, in the end it’s really all about Takumi. In fact, there really are quite a few characters in this series with conflicting romantic feelings for two people.

Danielle:  I’m starting to come around on Takumi deserving a hefty share of responsibility for the status quo between him and Reira, although I think I resist reading him as “in love” with Reira.  I think that’s because he clearly finds it sickening when he tries to think of Reira in a sexual way, which makes me believe that his love for her can’t be read in romantic terms, but rather something much more complex.  In a way, I think he actually holds love for Hachi in his heart, while Reira is part of his soul / extension of himself.  Takumi can do without his heart (i.e. he can discard Hachi when it suits him), but I don’t think he can manage without that which defines him, i.e. Reira.  This may be a silly distinction between love / self but for some reason it just works for me.

Michelle:  That makes sense.  Y’know, learning Takumi had impregnated someone before and urged an abortion makes me wonder why he didn’t do the same to Hachi. Is it because she, although no pure angel, is still more fundamentally *good* than the other women he came across and he realized that, with her, he had the best chance of creating the happy family he himself was denied?

Melinda:  Well, he was a teenager (maybe even a middle schooler?) at the time, so it seems likely that has *something* to do with it.  He certainly felt no responsibility for it having happened back then, and resented having to play a part in it at all.  I do have doubts that the difference would have much to do with Hachi herself, since I don’t think he loved her in the slightest back at that time, or even thought of her as being worth much. She was just something he didn’t want Nobu to have. I think perhaps he’s grown to feel love for her, but back then, she was just part of his need to beat Nobu, and taking care of her and offering to support her baby was what he could do to best achieve that.

Michelle:  I’m pretty sure he was in high school, but given his history of refusing to use protection, that girl and Hachi *can’t* be the only two girls he’s impregnated.

I don’t mean to ascribe better motives to him than he had, because I think you’re right that he wanted to take her away from Nobu, and maybe the notion of building a family came afterwards. I just think it might factor in somewhere, even if only a little.

Danielle: I guess I think it is significant that the woman he chooses to allow complicate his life (something he’d always seen as a “bother” before) is Hachi.  And pregnancy seems like a major complication to a guy whose first response to trouble of any kind is to cut ties with the woman in his life.

Of course, Takumi’s status allows him to support Hachi and a baby in a way he couldn’t as a teenager….but what’s really interesting is that he accepts Hachi *knowing* that the child might not be his.  I mean, that is a complete 180 in attitude from when he didn’t even give a damn about a girlfriend aborting a child he knew was his.

I don’t agree with Melinda that he only valued Hachi because Nobu wanted her…even for a man as extreme as Takumi it seems irrational to commit himself to a woman simply because some other guy loved her.  I *do* agree that he doesn’t love her then, but I think Hachi *interests* him.  And that interest he had for her may be the closest he had ever come (up to that point) to *feeling* something for someone outside his immediate family…besides Reira, of course.

Michelle:  Probably you guys are never going to see eye to eye where Takumi is concerned! 🙂

Melinda:  Probably not. But at least we both love Hachi!

Michelle:  And you both want to kick Ren in the shins.

Danielle:  And I can’t even begin to tell you both how much it pleases me to wrap-up this month’s NANA project with the image of us kicking Ren in the shins.  Join us later in the spring when the three of us will tackle the final three volumes of NANA that have been published in the U.S. and then try to figure out where we’ll go next.

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