by Ai Yazawa; adapted by Allison Wolfe
published by Viz; $8.99 US
When people talk about cyber-cheating, or whether or not online communication counts as being unfaithful, they often focus on the acts. “Did you just talk as friends or did you fool around?” That’s the wrong approach. What matters is the person’s attitude. In this book, you can tell from the first few panels of Hachi getting a text message from Nobu that she’s emotionally involved, even though all it says is, “How are you? I’d like to talk to you.”
Yazawa does an amazing job wordlessly capturing Hachi’s feelings, as she checks her phone messages and finds the communication from Nobu. Hachi clutches the mobile to her chest and glances furtively at the man she’s in bed with, her fiancé and father of her child. She creeps into the bathroom and quietly shuts the door before reading the simple message. It’s clear from her actions that it’s not the message text that matters, it’s what it means to her.
The final panel of the scene is Hachi, eyes closed, bringing the phone to her lips, superimposed over a pastoral lake. The band has been sent to the mountains to record their new album, and that’s the scene change.
Yes, it’s odd to wax so rhapsodically over three pages. The book has barely begun. But it’s this kind of skilled storytelling that elevates the tale of a wannabe rock star and her friends to the best manga being published today. (Yet I’m three volumes behind. Want to know why? It’s such a good read that it needs to be savored, not just fit in among other tasks. Plus, it’s reassuring having books in the series still to read, knowing they’re available on the shelf instead of having to wait for more to be published. Book 14 is due out in January.)
Emotion is readily available to the reader to understand and participate in, displayed by three-dimensional people it’s easy to care about. There’s enough fantasy (recording rock albums) to make it entertaining yet underneath it all is a basic story about love and choices. They aren’t adolescent “who should I go to the dance/game/college” with decisions, but major, life-changing events like “is marrying for security instead of love a better choice for my baby?” or “how do I balance my dreams of work and love?”
Um. I still haven’t said anything about what happens in this volume. There’s plenty of both comedy and drama. Takumi and Hachi formally visit her family for her parents to meet her fiancé. Meanwhile, Nana and the band are recording, where an engineer is brutally honest about her skills. She hasn’t been succeeding based on ability but on drive and determination. Otherwise, they’re bonding with the record company workers sent to support them.
After returning from the country, the band is sent to a sketchy record label apartment building. Their neighbor, Myu, is an odd presence during an attack of hyperventilation. Nana collapses when it strikes her how far she’s come from her life with Ren and Hachi. Work becomes a distraction. If everyone’s busy enough, they don’t have to think about painful love, separation, and loss.
That aspect of their lives peaks during a live music broadcast, with both bands appearing on the same TV show and launching their singles on the same day. During the preparations, secrets are revealed. (Or maybe we were supposed to have already noticed them, and I’m just now picking up on them.) Ren has the beginnings of a drug problem without Nana to fill his needs. Nana’s dog collar has unexpected uses. And most surprising to me, Shin is only 15, while Reira is in her early 20s. For several of them, sex solves things, but only temporarily.
What really sold me on this volume (as if it needed a final push) was when Hachi asks a question about how to proceed with an ex-boyfriend. She feels that she should tell him her true feelings, but then she ponders:
But would that just make me feel better? Will I hurt him even more?
That’s a very mature question, to realize that your needs aren’t necessarily what’s best for those you care about. It’s made more poignant by the reappearance of several characters from the earliest volumes whom we haven’t seen for a while.
I’ve previously covered Book 10.