Nana Volume 9
It’s been too long since I’ve checked in with this terrific series by Ai Yazawa. I last talked about volume 8 at the beginning of the summer, and there’s been four more installments since then.
I think I hesitate because it’s such a powerful, involving ride. It’s not forgettable entertainment to pick up on a whim; it deserves time and attention. This chapter, in particular, is huge — over 280 pages in the book, 50 of which are a bonus story focusing on Naoki, Trapnest’s drummer, and how their band got started in high school.
As the book opens, the two roommates are “breaking up” — Hachi’s getting married to the controlling Takumi, and Nana’s going to move in with her boyfriend Ren (although typical of Yazawa’s skilled emotional manipulation, it reads as similar to a declaration of “you can’t fire me, I quit!”). Already there are hints that the smart, sensible choice isn’t the right one for these characters, as Hachi’s lost all of her personality and voice to Takumi’s self-centered, hypocritical decision-making. His streak of cruelty begins to emerge in how he wants to arrange everything to suit him.
There’s a set of strawberry glasses that leads to a stunning visual representation of Nana’s perspective on life — better to break both and have them match than leave one to stand after an accident to the other. Watching it play out, the reader knows at the beginning what the end must be, but that knowledge doesn’t include Nana’s tortured face, where this is the last straw. The cross-cutting and slow-motion fall are cinematic in scope but far more extended in time. The sequence suggests more and worse is to come.
And since the proposed marriage has the potential to break up both bands, that’s true. Nobu, Nana’s guitarist, was growing to love Hachi. Reira, Trapnest’s singer, had a crush on Takumi. And Yasu, Nana’s drummer, is as always the rock behind the scenes trying to take care of everyone. He’s my favorite character because of his iceberg-like hidden depths, while Nana is the most interesting portrayal of avoidance I’ve seen. She seems dedicated to her music, but her drives are really running away from things, mostly the pain of abandonment. She wants to leave before she gets left.
I wonder how Hachi’s taking all this. After starring in the early volumes, she’s now more of a device as the focus shifts to others in the cast. She’s no longer a person but a role, wife and mother-to-be.
All the characters have these huge aching voids that they’re trying to fill. That’s what drives them, and that’s what Yazawa portrays so well with her spare figures and shocked expressions. And yet there’s still some optimism, as when the narration (driven by Nana’s nostalgia) reads, “Loving someone is never a waste.” Without their flaws, they wouldn’t seek the adulation of the stage, or be prepared to do what it takes to succeed there. I can’t wait to see more.
Before the extra story, there are a few bonus pages in which characters from Yazawa’s different stories mingle to plug various projects coming out related to her work. It’s twisted but fun when George (from Paradise Kiss) congratulates Hachi’s first boyfriend for stepping out of the story.