This month Melinda, Michelle and I return to talk about volumes 5 and 6 of Ai Yazawa's NANA. Topics on our agenda this time around: Is Trapnest hogging Blast's spot-light (i.e. precious page-count)? Reira, Reira, Reira -- just the way she likes it! And, of course, what exactly was Hachi thinking?
Danielle: With volumes 5 and 6, Yazawa essentially doubles not only the cast of NANA, she also expands the story to include twice as many relationships (and therefore complications) than were there before. Of course, Trapnest has always been lurking in the shadows of NANA but now they've suddenly got distinct personalities and conflicts that are starting to bleed into the formerly cozy world of Nana O. + Hachi and Blast. Looking back, how does this sudden expansion of the NANA universe feel to you?
Melinda: Great question, Danielle! You know, I think I went through phases. At first it was exciting. I loved all these new, complicated, glamorous characters arriving on the scene, stirring things up. Then somewhere around Nobu and Shin's confrontation with Takumi at the Trapnest after-party, I started to feel like they were really in the way. Then as things got even more complicated, I got swept up in all the fabulous drama all over again. I do love to have my heart kicked around, after all. Basically, I think I experienced these two volumes very much like Hachi does. As I was re-reading the volumes for this discussion, I was really struck at the end of volume six by Hachi's realization that somehow it is Takumi, who approaches their relationship in the most shallow way possible, who can understand and even revel in the emptiness in her that seems invisible to everyone else. The new characters come in to make a mess of things, that much is certain, but Yazawa could never have told such an emotionally complex story without them. Blast is such a nice group. Sure, they're deeply scarred just like the others, but between the lot of them, they could be simply and truly happy. I think the story needs the sickly-sweet poison Trapnest carries with it in order to go as deep as it does.
Michelle: I have mixed feelings about the arrival of Trapnest. On the one hand, the relationship between Hachi and Takumi is utterly fascinating, because only with him can she shed her cheery facade and show just how empty she feels inside. Without his presence, would we ever see this darker side of her? Even adorable Nobu, when he confesses her love to her, is seeing an idealized version of her, so it makes sense why she'd be drawn to someone with whom there's no need to pretend. And, too, the addition of the added complications has the retroactive effect of making the first few volumes seem like halcyon days in comparison, which is kind of nice, too.
Melinda: Michelle, (and I hope I'm not getting ahead of things here) your comment about Nobu reminded me of how much I appreciate Shin's view of Hachi in these two volumes. Though Shin sees Hachi differently than Takumi does (mainly because he actually cares for her) he is also free of Nobu's need to idealize her,and I truly love the talking-to he gives Nobu on the subject. Though his love for Hachi is not romantic in nature, I think actually he may be the person who sees her the most clearly during this period, regardless of what Hachi thinks. He not only admires her strengths but also recognizes and understands her weaknesses, and he still loves her. That's something neither Takumi or Nobu (or Nana, for that matter) is prepared to offer her at this time.
Danielle: Melinda's pretty much put her finger on how I first experienced these volumes -- I identified so strongly with Hachi that it really was exciting to be involved a little more deeply in Nana's world. This perhaps points to this early stage where we identify with Hachi but we may "desire" Nana, since she still seems somehow distinct from the trivial and dulling nature of everyday existence. This will change over time as we get to know her more and see her more as a flawed individual but early on she still has this mystery about her.
Looking back, though, these volumes now seem almost chilling to me -- I'm trying not to get ahead of myself as well, there is still a sense that anything could happen and that there is nothing particular holding these folks down. That makes for fairly easy reading since the worst that can happen is that one might get caught up in a "non-relationship" with a selfish guy. Towards the end of volume 6, however, we start to get the distinct impression that Hachi is suffering because her inability to show Takumi the door. This is also the volume where I believe Hachi starts to address a Nana who very obviously is not around anymore (but no concrete information about death versus absence is offered) in the opening and closing monologues, which reveal a bleak future on the horizon.
Michelle: I know what you mean by chilling. I had forgotten that it's actually Nana who arranges for Takumi and Hachi to meet as a kind of "thank you" gift for Hachi's help in bringing her back together with Ren, which only makes it worse for her when they hook up and she begins to feel that Takumi's taking something precious away from her.
Melinda: "Towards the end of volume 6, however, we start to get the distinct impression that Hachi is suffering because of her inability to show Takumi the door." How true and how deeply unfortunate. Again, I don't want to rush ahead, but you're right, Danielle, these volumes do read as chilling on the second read, with more knowledge of what's to come.
Melinda: Michelle, It's interesting to look at Nana's reaction to Takumi's new place in Hachi's life, isn't it? She liked bringing him to Hachi as a gift as long as he remained just something for Hachi to admire from a distance. And though Hachi fears telling Nana about her relationship with Takumi because she thinks Nana will think she's being stupid, Nana passes up the opportunity to try to save Hachi from being hurt by letting her believe she's okay with it. Hachi's feelings are actually not her concern at all. It's pure jealousy--a jealousy that perhaps even turns to spite. I'm not trying to rag on Nana here--I understand her feelings. But it's so deeply selfish. I think of that often when fans complain about how selfish Hachi is.
Michelle: But in Nana, who has seemed so strong up 'til now, this flaw kind of manifests more as vulnerability than selfishness, in a way. I'm thinking of her conversation with Yasu, after she flees the apartment when Takumi comes back from tour, in which she says that she knows people aren't possessions, and she knows that she can't make them hers, but that admitting makes her feel so lonely. She knows she's not being fair to Hachi, but can't seem to help herself.
Melinda: Oh, you're absolutely right, it is vulnerability. As are all of Hachi's moments of selfishness. Pretty much everyone's are, really. This is a great truth in life. I just get irritated with the fan double-standard.
Michelle: Yeah. I guess it's more squee-making to see a cool person finally display a vulnerability than to sympathize with someone who constantly wears her heart on her sleeve.
Danielle: I'm really curious about Yazawa's view on what it means to love someone. There is this whole thread running through these volumes about wanting to possess the person you love and how in reality that is a flawed and troubled way of looking at love and other people in the first place. Nana seems so scared because she wants to hold on -- to Ren and to Hachi -- but can't seem to find a way to do it that won't ultimately undermine her sense of self.
Melinda: I think Yazawa makes a similar point about placing someone you love on a pedestal here as well. I admit I'm really hoping she'll follow this through to the end and show us what she sees as real, healthy love.
Danielle: Okay, one significant effect of the increased page count for Trapnest we should probably address is the introduction of a new and fairly central female character, Reira.
Michelle: I have zero interest in Reira and her angst and resent the "page time" devoted to her. It's not so much in these two volumes, but it starts here.
Melinda: Heh, I was wondering when we'd get to something like this with Reira. I, too, feel a bit cold towards her, though I do have sympathy for her feelings of doubt and anxiety about herself as anything more than a valuable talent and her wish to be able to shed her humanity and really be only that. Also, since she's so intimately involved with Shin (which begins here), who is one of my favorite characters, I'm interested in her role in that relationship.
Danielle: Reira has a lot of potential when she is first introduced -- particularly when she takes Takumi down a peg at the Trapnest part after Shin throws a drink in his face (not to mention her immediate come on to Shin and Nobu is funny, rather than creepy). However, I don't think it is an accident that when Shin and Reira first "hook up" (as the young people like to say) we are witness to a voice over about one of the two lovers' past. After a few lines it becomes clear that it is Reira speaking but when the reader probably is dying to know more about Shin (since we get very little concrete information about him, even by volume 6), we instead get Reira. Talking about herself. Which. Well. Says it all, as far as I'm concerned.
Michelle: I remember that bit. One cool thing is that, as she's talking, Shin's in the panel, but is completely in shadow. The focus is all on her and we only know he's there because of the smoke wafting up from his cigarette. It is, as you say, telling.
Danielle: New Question: One thing I noticed this time around is how
incestuous the relationship between Blast and Trapnest becomes (and perhaps has always been). This is probably where NANA branches out into serious soap opera territory rather than being a story about two girls named Nana. Romantically speaking, we've got Nana-Ren, former relationship between Yasu-Reira, Shin-Reira, Takumi-Hachi, possibility of Nobu-Hachi, hints of Yasu-Nana....not to mention flat out antagonistic relationships, i.e. Nobu-Takumi. (And then there are the friendships. And the relationships I can't even mention yet because I would be spoiling later volumes. But I could go on for days....some days I think Noaki is the only sane one of the bunch for not boinking a co-worker or rival bandmember). Does entangling the bands to this degree draw the reader further into the world of NANA? Or does it just put poor Hachi in a miserable position of trying to "sleep" her way into the inner circle?
Michelle: You left out Hachi's short-lived crush on Yasu! And Naoki may not be boinking anyone, but he has some fanboy tendencies, which may show up more later on. I'm not sure it draws the reader further into the world of NANA, but it does play into something Nana says: "Why does Trapnest take over everything important in my life?” Trapnest is suddenly everywhere and completely, possibly inextricably entangled with the band that was Nana's dream. Of course, she doesn't realize that Yasu is in essentially the same position she is until he points it out.
I also don't see Hachi as trying to sleep her way into the inner circle. True, she's attracted by Nana's glittering life, but ultimately, she does want love. She just encounters Takumi at a particularly low moment and then can't break free. It's not as if she's going around indiscriminately boffing the fellas.
Danielle: No, not at all! But the "short-lived" crush on Yasu, the attraction to Nobu....I don't think it is an accident Hachi is scoping out potential mates in Nana's universe. But I don't want to imply that this says anything bad about her or that she is scheming in anyway. I think this is just how she operates -- she, just like Nobu, is looking for "accessible" partners. And at this point in her life, accessible is inextricably bound up with Nana's world.
Melinda: What an interesting pair of questions. I admit I've never thought about Hachi's situation that way. I agree with Michelle--I don't think Hachi is in the position of having to sleep her way into the inner circle. I don't even think her string of crushes is a very unusual thing. I think when you're young and unattached, it is very natural to evaluate your immediate circle (whatever that might be at the time) as potential material for love, even if you end up actually pursuing few or none of them. I certainly did when I was her age. More to the point, though, I don't think Hachi needs to do this to be part of the crowd, whether she realizes that or not. I think what she may fail to appreciate is just how refreshing she is for everyone in that group (Blast, in particular) mainly because she's not a part of their incestuous history.
To address your first question, Danielle, yes, I do think the complicated mess of relationships (past and present) between the two bands draws the reader in further, partly because this is one of the aspects of the story that is so easy to relate to, especially for readers from small towns (or small communities within huge cities), where everyone knows everyone and the older you get, the more tangled that web becomes. The mutual history these characters share brings them down to earth and closer to the reader, just as it brings them each closer to Hachi, one way or another.
Poor Naoki. I feel sad that he doesn't get any. Though I suppose an argument could be made that he's better off for it.
Danielle: “It's not as if she's going around indiscriminately boffing the fellas.” Once again I return this because I think I didn't express myself very well the first time around. I used value-laden and judgmental language (i.e. Hachi "sleeping her way to the inner circle"), when I didn't mean to judge the character at all. Instead, I think I wanted to stress the emotional state that leads to Hachi sleeping with Takumi. I don't think just any guy would have done that fateful day -- I don't even think "Takumi" as an individual would have done. She accepted his advances because he was "Takumi from Trapnest" and that is really all she knew about him. She accepted his advances because for one disastrous and fleeting moment she somehow thought it was bring her closer to Nana's "glittering world."
Melinda notes that it is natural to evaluate one's immediate circle of friends for partners and I agree...to a degree. There are two catalysts that effect Hachi emotionally that lead to her accepting Takumi's advances. The first is obvious -- the loss of job that undermines her confidence and literally makes her available to Takumi. The second is less obvious, but I think quite significant -- the night before at the Blast-Trapnest party she discovers Yasu had once dated Reira -- a beautiful and talented women who goes on to become famous after their break-up. In that moment she starts to feel very distant from Nana's world, as if she really can't compete. Of course, Nana has no idea this is going on in Hachi's head, and if she did she would set Hachi straight, but I think my point is that these particular insecurities of Hachi's ultimately lead to some really bad decisions and serious consequences.
Now, the regret that comes afterward is both immediate (hell, she regrets it even before they've even had sex) and three-fold -- 1) this action has nothing to do with getting closer to Nana, 2) after she's slept with Takumi once, she returns to him in order to "justify" that first action, and finally, 3) Hachi is a young woman who can't easily distinguish between love and sex. In other words, she's signed up for some serious heartbreak by continuing to see Takumi.
Melinda: I don't disagree with anything you've said here, Danielle, though I think another factor we shouldn't forget is that Hachi idolized Takumi long before she met Nana. It's not just a reaction to Yasu's past with Reira and the loss of her job, or even just a way to get closer to Nana's world. It's also this sort of surreal, warped version of a dream come true that she isn't quite able to pass up even after it's clear to her that the reality is so far removed from what her fantasy would have been. Most of us will never find ourselves in a situation where we are faced with a real, flesh-and-blood opportunity to go to bed with a celebrity we've fantasized about on any level, so we'll (thankfully, in my opinion) never be in her shoes. I find Hachi's reaction here to be stunningly real (at least as I would imagine it) and it makes a lot of sense to me that even after she's been awakened to the true reality of the situation (which I think happens for her pretty fast) she still goes through with it.
Michelle: You make some excellent points, Danielle, particularly about the two catalysts that lead Hachi to sleep with Takumi.
I disagree somewhat with your final point, though. I think Hachi does initially distinguish between love and sex, and realizes she's just another "dumb girl" who's all over him. "As long as I admit it, it's okay, right?" But afterward, when it becomes known, it's clear that everyone except Shin (who, as Melinda pointed out earlier, is the only one to get that maybe she just wanted to sleep with a hot guy) believes she did it because she loves him. I wonder if this doesn't start to affect the way she thinks about what happened. She starts getting confused when she'd still choose Takumi even after Nobu's confession, and wonders if she really does love him after all, which ties in with your point about continuing to see him as a way to rationalize/justify having slept with him.
Melinda: Ah ha! I think both your points together have helped crystallize something for me. I think Hachi's main confusion here is less about distinguishing between love and sex and more about distinguishing between love and infatuation. She's infatuated with her image of "Takumi from Trapnest" and has been for some time. Her feelings for Takumi the man (whom she's barely met) are unformed and vaguely negative, which makes her feel ashamed of her infatuation, but it doesn't actually stop the infatuation which she is able to convince herself (with help from everyone around her, whether they intend it or not) might be the same thing as love. It's a justification, certainly, but also a point of genuine confusion for her.
Danielle: I think it is quite amazing that we’ve been able to analyze so many complex motivating factors leading up to a single act – i.e. Hachi sleeping with Takumi. This really speaks to Yazawa’s skill in developing extraordinary characters and compelling situations. I get the feeling we could keep on going but I suspect there are many more debates we’re going to have about why these characters do the things they do as Trapnest and Blast grow ever more entangled in each others’ lives in future volumes.
Thanks to Melinda and Michelle for being such great partners in the project! We’ll see you all in about a month or so for the next installment.