by Ai Yazawa; adapted by Allison Wolfe
published by Viz; $8.99 US
Picking up from Book 11, I figured it was time I indulged myself and got caught up on this amazing series.
Time is flexible with this series, what with its narration frequently taking a nostalgic tone of wistful memory. That’s even more obvious in the first chapter, in which we’ve jumped ahead to see Hachi and her daughter (!) Satsuki and her friends gathering for a summer fireworks festival, just as they did back then (which is the reader’s current time).
The flash-forward drops hints, based on which characters appear and which don’t. I like this approach, because later, when all the strands come together, it’s neat to see how now led to then, yet it still leaves surprises to come. And it’s, in a way, happier, knowing that some of them, at least, are still talking, even if there’s plenty of foreshadowing that not everything ends well.
Once we’re back in present-day, things become much more melancholic. Nana’s trying to get Hachi and Nobu back together, even though Hachi’s engaged to Takumi. She has a misguided idea that Nobu’s better for Hachi, which may even be true, but it’s really a way for Nana to keep her friends together and make herself most comfortable. And she’s right about the appeal of a girl who seems like she needs to be rescued to a certain kind of boy.
It’s even more odd that Nana’s focused more on Hachi than her own upcoming marriage plans with Ren. But then, when a record company has to approve the idea and the date, maybe it doesn’t seem as romantic. They’re all seeking comfort, stability, the sense that they belong somewhere, and they’re hoping to find it in official recognition of their relationships. But that brings its own problems, like press conferences and celebrations that are really marketing events.
It all comes to a head at Reira’s birthday party, the same day as Shin turns 16, in Book 13. All this promotion turns them into celebrities, causing people to concentrate on them instead of their music. Yazawa does a particularly good job with the art in these sequences, balancing the confusion of a celebrity crowd with powerful solo emotional moments, trying to find someone or avoid being seen by a particular person.
Takumi comes off particularly hard-hearted in this episode, as he always puts work first, above his fiance and her feelings. He’s breaking up couples left and right, sometimes without even recognizing it, and lovers are forced to realize that more mature considerations — like reputation or career or future plans — may take the place of acting on feelings. The key question is how to balance love and control: of yourself, of your emotions, and sometimes of others. Especially in the face of desire.
Takumi isn’t that bad a guy, but I think I’ve figured out why he seems like such a villain. Many of the characters are driven by not wanting to be alone. They need attention, whether from a crowd at a performance or fans buying the CD, or from friends or lovers. Takumi, on the other hand, makes it clear he’s putting business first. (Some other characters do the same, like Shin asking for money for sex, or Yasu’s mysterious silences, but we can see that they don’t really mean it or that they’re wrong for doing so.)
Nobu’s getting together with a porn star. Shin’s been warned away from Reira. Hachi is torn between Takumi and Nana. Meanwhile, Ren and Nana are wrapping sex and death and rock’n’roll together into one sexy couple. Although their never-ending love drove the series premise, as the books continue and we see more than one kind of relationship, I’m not sure that their love is really the way things should be.
On a completely different note, I love the way couples take baths together to have serious discussions. I’m sure part of it’s cultural, but it seems so warm and comfortable and intimate and potentially sexual (but not necessarily so).
In Book 14, Nana’s band Blast is on a press tour, making appearances to promote their album. There’s a lot of discussions about fans and groupies and how they should behave, and separated, the guys start misbehaving. One’s into women, another’s doing drugs, and the more I learn about Yasu’s past, the more I want to know. He attracts the most beautiful women. Ren, on the other hand, was more attractive before I knew more about how he thinks. As life moves faster, more characters retreat into memories (which means flashbacks for us, distinguished by a different font) to reassure themselves of who they are now.
Typical for me, Book 14 ends on a cliffhanger, in which Nana, kept apart from Ren by the tour, learns something she didn’t want to know and may not listen to him explain.
Here’s a review of Book 13 that explores the depth of character development with some spoilers.