Just read through the 15th volume of Ai Yazawa’s Nana, and yes, I am still in love with the series. A few more or less random thoughts…some of which I may have said before, but what the hell:
1. One of the things I like most about the series is the way that it manages to be a soap opera and use lots of soap opera cliches — and yet, the way the series uses them is never, or rarely cliched. For example, volume 14 ended with Nana being confronted by a picture of Ren, her finacé hugging another woman (Reira). We know that nothing happened between Ren and Reira, but Nana doens’t..so, totally predictable set-up, right? Nana should go ballistic and be horribly upset and betrayed and there should be all this drama because of miscommunication. Except that isn’t what happens at all; Nana immediately realizes that the picture isn’t all that incriminating and that Ren wouldn’t cheat on her. She is upset, and there is some drama with Ren, but it’s more about the fissures that already exist in their relationship than it is with the photograph per se…and, in any case, their reconciliation occurs fairly quickly.
Basically, the point is that Yazawa seems to trust her characters to be interesting on their own terms. She certainly provides plenty of drama, but she never sacrifices her protagonists to the exigencies of plot. Nana doesn’t become stupid just because the story would be more conventionally exciting if she did. It’s pretty much the opposite of the way that Brian K. Vaughn proceeded in Y; The Last Man, in which the integrity of the characters is gleefully chucked over every available cliff-hanger.
2. I love the way that Yazawa let’s the focus of the story drift from character to character over the course of the story. Nana and Hachi are always more or less the most important characters. But as their lives alter and evolve, the most important supporting characters change a lot. In this volume, I was just noticing how central Takumi (Hachi’s fiance) has become, while Nobu (her former flame) has been pushed off to the sidelines. Meanwhile, Jun, Hachi’s friend, and a central character early on, has a walk-on appearance, and though it’s a very brief scene, you can feel the weight of their past — there’s a close-up where you can see Jun realize that Hachi has become a much stronger and more mature person — and seeing it through Jun’s eyes allows the reader (for whom the transformation has been more gradual) to recognize it too.
Again, the point here is Yazawa’s faith in her work and in her readers. She trusts that even if she drops characters or adds characters, the reader will stay with her. And, perhaps more importantly, she trusts that the story can change gradually and organically, without exclamation points. It’s just incredibly mature and confident story-telling.
3. On another note: this isn’t exactly a criticism, but…today I was talking to a friend who has toured with an act which started small, and then got quite big. And one of the big problems he encountered was with money. That is, when you start out small, nobody thinks much about how you’re going to split the dough, because there is none. But when you suddenly get big, the money becomes a huge issue — one that can sew a lot of bitterness, wreck friendships, and just generally create a lot of drama.
Nana is, of course, about two bands that make it big. And it’s a soap opera, so it thrives on drama. But…there’s virtually never any drama about money. The characters don’t argue about money. There’s no discussion of how they’ll split their takes. There’s an acknowledgment that they are earning money, certainly, but there’s never fighting about it. It’s weird.
A while back I talked about the odd way Nana deals with the band’s drug use and publicity. Most of that strangeness had to do with cultural differences, I think; Japanese bands have to be a lot more careful of their public image, especially around issues like drug use. It seems unlikely that cultural difference explains the problem here, though; I mean, I doubt that Japanese rock stars never quibble over money. Probably Yazawa just doesn’t think that money troubles are romantic or interesting — and possibly she thinks such mundane concerns are beneath her characters, who are all fairly self-consciously presented as artists. I don’t know…anyone out there have any insights? It doesn’t really bother me per se…it just seems odd.