Today I'm pleased to announce first installment of the NANA Project, where Melinda Beasi (Tokidoki Daylight CSBG contributor), Michelle Smith (Blue Moon Reviews CSBG contributor), and I discuss one of our favorite shojo manga titles of all time. Each month I ask Melinda and Michelle questions about two volumes of NANA (no spoilers for later volumes!) and we discuss the two Nanas and their friends and lovers to our hearts' content.
Danielle: Okay, let’s first explain how we were "introduced" to NANA and why it attracted our attention (i.e. Why do we love it so gosh darn much?!).
Michelle: I'm not actually sure when I first heard about NANA. Being a shojo fan, I'd paid attention to the debut of Shojo Beat and was collecting the graphic novels of most of the series published under that imprint, whether I was reading them or not. Finally, positive reviews compelled me to check NANA out. I didn't love everything about it initially—it took a while for me to appreciate Hachi as much as Nana—but by volume three I was hooked by the realism and the retrospective narration, a storytelling technique I will always adore.
Danielle: I had just start reading manga in the Spring of 2005 (and it was shojo manga that really hooked me) so I was very excited about the release of Shojo Beat that summer. The first chapter of NANA stunned me -- it wasn't even a little bit like the other shojo titles I had read up to that point. It could make me laugh and then cry (or vice versa) within the span of a few panels. I loved the distinctive art, the smart writing with just a little bit of attitude, and the shocking "emotionalism" that somehow never felt over the top.
However, unlike Michelle, I really loved Nana K (i.e. Hachi). from the start. Nana O. seemed cold and remote to me, while Hachi seemed like a big, motor-mouthed sweetheart, who didn't have the first clue what "cool" was.
Melinda: I initially read about NANA in Jason Thompson's Manga: The Complete Guide and it sounded kind of interesting, but it took me forever to actually decide to pick it up. Finally, I was preparing for a business trip to Charlotte, NC and made a stop at Barnes & Noble to find manga to read on the plane. I hadn't thought of NANA at all going in, but as I was standing there, I recalled a review (of volume nine) by Johanna Draper Carlson that I had just read days before, and impulsively pulled the first three volumes off the shelf.
The first volume was a bit of a slow burn for me. Like Danielle, I loved Nana Komatsu right away, though my love was mainly anchored in the fact that I could identify with her *really* strongly (we share many of the same core strengths and weaknesses--especially the weaknesses) and immediately acquired a stake in her personal happiness. It was a bit jarring for me to suddenly switch to Nana Osaki's story just when I'd become invested in Hachi's, but I soon developed a fascination for her too, and I could relate to her intense career drive.
It was when the two of them finally met, however, that I really fell for the series. Their relationship was somehow the best love story I'd ever read, despite the multiple men in their lives vying for a spot as "love interest." I raced through the first three volumes on the plane to Charlotte and was pretty devastated that I didn't have more. I bought the next two volumes as soon as I got home.
Danielle: Does the first volume work for you as prologue to the series? Or did Yazawa play mad scientist a bit and just experiment with how these two random girls named Nana would interact if they ever happened to meet?
Melinda: I definitely see it as a prologue to the series. I think she was introducing her characters so that she could really begin the story she wanted to tell in volume two.
Michelle: I think it does work as a prologue, and in some ways, it really only makes sense if the story continues and we can see how these two girls with such different experiences and backgrounds would get along. I think, though, that I like it more now, retro spectively, than I did at first. It was intriguing enough to get me to move on to volume two, but it means more now that I know more about the characters.
Danielle: I completely agree with Michelle. Looking back however, it seems like Yazawa was really setting up an entire universe with Nana O.'s introductory chapter -- it is a world so full you can see many hints of things happening just at the periphery of Nana's vision -- while for me Hachi's story was really about an individual character's journey and development. In other words, to this day the stories feel very different to me emotionally.
Danielle: Okay, let's dish dirt on the first two volumes. Who did you like? Who left you cold? What relationships did you like best and why? What relationships confused you? What were your favorite moments?
Michelle: Like I mentioned before, Hachi hadn't really endeared herself to me by this point. I definitely admired Nana and her resolve not to let romance interfere with her musical goals. Rather than follow Ren to Tokyo and become the supportive woman, she stays behind to develop her own skills. I also appreciated that Shoji (Hachi's boyfriend) wasn't depicted in the idealized way prevalent in much shojo manga. He's actually a pretty regular guy, flaws and all.
My favorite moments are in volume 2, after Nana and Hachi meet. I'm particularly fond of the impromptu kitchen table concert Nana puts on at the end of the final chapter, but I like anything to do with decorating the apartment, building that iconic table, et cetera.
Danielle: On the Nana Crew side -- Even though it seems like it is a good thing that Nana refuses to follow Ren to Tokyo, I've always felt that Nana, Ren and Yasu were thinking about the whole thing ass-backwards. Nana because she doesn't seem to believe in herself enough to tell Yasu and Ren where they can stick it. But I also haven't really forgiven Ren and Yasu for prioritizing Ren and his success with another band on the verge of making it big over Nana and Blast. Why is it is important for Ren to make to make it big but Nana is shit out of luck? Yasu lacks real conviction about his own music as far as I'm concerned, and Ren kind of just follows Yasu's vision of what is important. So I've got a bit of a grudge against Ren and Yasu since I've "sided" with Nana on this one -- I feel like they've betrayed themselves and what they really believe in.
On the Hachi Crew side -- I'm surprised by how many cracks appear between Hachi and Shoji from the instant she arrives in Tokyo. I think Michelle is completely right -- Shoji is a very normal guy and behaves as such. In a shojo manga that makes him appear insensitive but in reality he tries as best he can to care for Hachi. Particularly since Hachi is extremely flighty in this volume, and she is clearly trying the patience of everyone around her...which is why she needs some fresh blood, right?
On the two Nanas meeting -- Oh my, they are so adorable from the get go. Hachi falls head over heals in love right away (i.e. her history of instant infatuation!)...but I think it takes Nana a little longer to realize how much she "fits" with Hachi (most unlikely couple ever, right? And yet they are undeniably better together than apart).
Melinda: First of all, I wanted to echo everyone's sentiments about Shoji. Despite being a kind of dream guy to Hachi, he is *so* much just a regular guy, which is a perfect example of why this series feels so *real* from the very beginning. I was very fond of Shoji in the beginning, I think at least partly because he was able to appreciate what is charming about Hachi even in her most trying moments. This is probably also why I have more love for Kyosuke than I do for Jun, because she's so much harder on Hachi, *always*. I'm so unfair. Poor Jun.
I disliked Ren really early on because of the way he told Nana he was leaving. It felt so cold to me, and it took me a long time to get over that. I don't have a problem with the fact that he *did* leave, just the *way* he did it. It probably has at least some bearing on the fact that I've never been able to really root for their relationship. I disliked it from the start. My favorite of Nana's crew from the beginning was Nobu, and that hasn't changed either. :) I don't share Danielle's issues with Yasu, though. I think his bond with Ren is incredibly deep (and rightly so) which creates a really serious conflict for him that persists throughout the story. I guess I have some sympathy for his position, so it makes it hard for me to hold a grudge. I think Yasu lacks *ambition* more than anything, and I don't really have a problem with that. He is not required to share Nana's desire to make it big with Blast if that's not what he desires for himself. Not everyone needs to be a superstar. And I don't even have a problem with him helping Ren leave, because I think that was okay for Ren to do, even if he had to break Nana's heart to do it. Still, it is easiest to love Nobu, who is able to pursue life with less baggage weighing him down. He is able to just *be* and go after things with a pure, uncomplicated heart. It makes him easy to love, and it makes it easy for him *to* love.
I love Nana to pieces, but I think she causes a lot of her own problems with her stubbornness and pride, and I can't blame other people for that. I mean... why is it more wrong for Ren to follow his ambition and leave than it is for Nana to stubbornly stick to *her* ambition and refuse to go with him? Both of them are more committed to their ambition than they are to each other, at least at this point in the story. This does not, however, change the fact that Ren behaves like a dick. :)
On the two Nanas... oh my *heart*. Poor Shoji, he really had no chance.
In conclusion: Nobu. :)
Danielle: Somehow Melinda's "Nobu. :)" seems like the perfect way to wrap up our first discussion of NANA. Join us next month when we tackle volumes 3 and 4!