I just picked up Ai Yazawa’s Nana 11 and 12, started reading them, and realized that I had totally forgotten the story (who is that sleeping with Reira? Is that a woman? What’s going on?) So I went back and reread 9 and 10 too. So now my head is filled with Nana. Various random thoughts:

Takumi is George
I hadn’t really grokked this before, but musical mastermind Takumi is totally another iteration of the brooding, ambitious, self-centered genius meme that Yazawa used for fashion-mastermind George in her earlier series Paradise Kiss. Like George, Takumi is very sympathetic — he had an unhappy childhood, and the fact that he’s generally such an unfeeling dick only adds poignancy to his more human moments.

What was great about George was that, though Yazawa was clearly into his whole brooding bad-boy anti-hero schtick, she never exactly let him off the hook for being such a jerk. He didn’t, for example, get the girl — instead the protagonist ends up with a nice, boring guy, who it’s clear is a much better person (in some sense) and will treat her a lot better. I guess I’m hoping for something similar to happen in Nana. Hachi (one of the main characters) is at the moment planning to marry Takumi in large part because she’s having a baby which is probably his. Takumi seems to care about her to some extent…but he’s also a control freak: he seems to have decided to marry her less out of love and more out of a jealous desire to keep her away from Nobu (who is the other possible father), and from Hachi’s roommate Nana. As if that’s not creepy enough, Takumi’s also way too committed to his hit band, Trapnest, (he tells Hachi that 90% of his brain is devoted to the band, not her…points for honesty, but not what you want to hear from your fiancee, I don’t think.)

Takumi is kind of a more complicated character than George, I think; there seems to be some room for the former to change, anyway. But I suspect that he’s going to get dumped by the wayside at some point, and end up the tragic lost love who lends a patina of romance and nostalgia to a more stable, more boring, and all-around better relationship. I’ve got my fingers crossed, anyway.

Losing Pot in Translation
I just have to say that Yazawa’s treatment of pot and the music industry is hard for me to follow. Everyone in the book seems really upset that Ren, the guitarist for Trapnest, smokes a lot of pot. The concern seems to be that it will interfere with his playing. This is bizarre: I mean, I think at this point there are probably more great musicians who smoked pot than those who didn’t. Every reggae star ever, and every rap star for the last ten years to start with. Louis Armstrong spent his entire life high, as far as I can tell. Pot certainly has downsides, but interfering with one’s musical abilities just isn’t one of them.

I guess that may sound nitpicky, but it connects to what has been one of my main stumbling blocks in the series, which is that the whole band milieu just doesn’t ring right at all. This really bothered me in 9 and 10 when I first read them; it seemed like Yazawa just didn’t know what she was talking about. Upon going through them again, though, I think that a lot of this must be cultural difference. For instance, Takumi actually says that if the press found out about Ren’s pot use, the band would be finished. In an American context, this would be laughable on its face, right? Rock Guitarist Smokes Pot! — who would be surprised by that, or even care? Similarly, the band is all worried that if Ren and Takumi get married at the same time, their female fans will be disappointed or angry. I just have trouble imagining that that would be the case in the U.S. — marriage just doesn’t seem to be any kind of barrier to being a sex symbol here (Brad Pitt? Angelina Jolie?)

Maybe it’s just me…but I really find this sort of thing fascinating. Everything with the rock star world is just slightly off. In the first place, in the U.S., Trapnest and Blast, which are huge pop successes for a young audience, would probably not even be rock; they’d be dance bands like N’Sync or something (not that there aren’t hugely successful rock bands, but the demographics just seem slightly off.) And while the media scrutiny would be intense, the things that would cause scandal (smoking pot, getting married) are just all wrong. And the band-members’ relationship with the label is weirdly deferential, almost like they’re employees — Ren and Nana even ask the label for permission to marry. And the label people are always telling Nana that her singing sucks, and everybody treats it as a joke — I don’t know, I just have trouble believing that this would happen in the U.S., even with a newly signed band. There’d have to be significantly more of a pretense that the artist was at least vaguely in control. (I’m not saying that press and labels and scandal aren’t huge motivating forces in American pop as well, but I just don’t think they’d play out quite this way…)

Fanboy Gushing
I think my favorite moment in these issues has to be the conversation in 10 between Hachi and Shin. Shin is a 15-year old gigolo whose mother abandoned him; I believe at one point in the series he wishes he hadn’t been born. Hachi, who’s pregnant, asks him for advice on how she can avoid the mistakes Shin’s mother made with her own child. Then Shin tells her he wishes he had been her child. It gets the full Yazawa tear-jerking treatment — giant close-ups, stricken expressions, beautiful washes of grey in the background. Made me choke up. (Second favorite moment: Nobu telling Nana to hurry up and apologize so he can go to sleep.)

Shin in general gets a lot of the best moments here; his secret relationship with 23-year old Reira is incredibly sweet, and soon he’s going to be 16, apparently, so the ick factor will be somewhat diminished (okay, maybe not.)

Nana continues to freak out at the prospect of Hachi marrying Takumi, who Nana hates. The way Yazawa has tilted that relationship is really masterful, and kind of at the core of the series so far. Originally, Hachi was portrayed as the little puppy-dog, following the more mature Nana around. Now it’s almost reversed; Nana wants Hachi to be hers (in a not completely platonic way), while Hachi is getting on with her life. It’s done very believably (Yasu has an off-hand remark where he notes that Nana has abandonment issues up the wazoo), and you really feel for Nana even as her desperation leads her to be more and more of an asshole basket-case. In some sense, the logical result here is for Nana and Hachi to get together and live happily ever after, since there’s is the most intense and central relationship of the series. Yazawa is fairly gay friendly — but not quite that gay friendly, I don’t think. (Though Nana and Hachi do get to sleep in the same bed in the bonus pages.)

Oh, and I love the “Days of Future Past” opening to volume 12, where we see maybe Hachi’s daughter in 6 years time interacting with all her friends. It’s not introduced at all and is completely disorienting — I couldn’t figure out what was going on at first. But what’s notable about it is how little you find out, and how low-key it is. I really liked that…it’s more like a quiet dream than a revelation.

In line with that future scenario…one of the great things about this series is that I don’t know what’s going to happen. Hachi really could marry Takumi; she could get back together with Nobu; she could end up with somebody else altogether, she could have the baby, she could have a miscarriage, Nana could marry Ren or Yasu or even Nobu, really….the story is complicated enough and thoughtful enough that it never veers into cliché or predictability. It’s also nice that I feel like I can trust Yazawa not to betray her characters for the sake of an idiotic plot twist, or just because she doesn’t know any better. That sort of thing happened all the time in Buffy, for example, and it happens constantly in super-hero comics. It’s the curse of serial drama, actually — the crushing of character beneath the remorseless wheels of plot. It’s why series tend to get worse and worse as they go along. But somehow, magically, Nana just gets better. (More or less…I still pledge my undying loyalty to volume 8….)

More Hooded Nana-blogging here and here. Oh yeah, and here.