Saturday, January 24, 2009

No Music, No Life: "Nana" 4 Review

Nana vol. 4
Publisher: Shojo Beat/Viz Media
Writer/Artist: Yazawa Ai
English Adaptation: Allison Wolfe
Translation: Tomo Kimura

Let me tell you right now the outfit that Sachiko wears in scene where she inadvertently faces off with Hachi outside the restaurant where she and Hachi’s boyfriend Shoji work just absolutely kills me! What is that… some kind of fleece Alpine bonnet? With dangling puffballs? And her backpack matches her full-length skirt; obviously, she made both of them herself… she’s a fashionista with a pixie cut!

Sorry, I have a weakness.

On a cold night, Nana Osaki keeps her hapless-in-love friend Nana company as they wait in the parking lot outside for Shoji to get off work. Hachi learns Nana is from some frigid prefecture where snow is common, and listens as her punk friend sings some soft song to the night….

That’s when Yazawa Ai brings Hachi, Shoji and Sachiko together for a tearful confrontation where the painful truth emerges. The build-up is exquisite, as is the payoff. Nana sticks up for her friend, ready to pound the two-timing Shoji right in the face with one of her ring-laden fists. And Hachi? She’s the one who’s been betrayed, and this after waiting a whole year, saving every yen for the move, sacrificing everything to live her dream for both of them. How does she react?

Nana volume 4 is like an emotional elevator for Hachi and the hapless readers. Up- Hachi’s growing fascination with Nana. Down- Shoji. Up- tickets front row center for a Trapnest concert in her hometown. Down- no one to go with. Up- Black Stones’ first Tokyo show. Down- Nana’s gosu-rori groupie Misato.

The middle section depicts the show itself, and Yazawa throws in a lot of little reportorial details. The place only holds a limited number of standing-room-only bodies, the cover includes a ticket for a free drink. I once ordered a Coke at one of these shows and the bartender looked at me like she’d just met Forrest Gump live and in person. Oh yeah, I’ve been to quite a few shows here in Japan; only we don’t call them “shows” or “concerts” here. The preferred term is “live.” You might tell a friend the next day, “I went to Black Stones’ live last night.”

“Where was it?”

“At the live house.”


The show takes place in a small venue somewhere in Shinjuku (Check out local landmark, the Epson building, as Junko and Kyosuke drive past on their way to the show). After the first band, the crowd’s ready to split, but Hachi and Misato (in sausage roll hair, her floral and petticoated skirt and knee-socks, she looks like a living doll) perform a little impromptu sketch:

Hachi: Ya wanna know what? This next band is, like, the best band in the world!

Misato (shouting): I totally agree! Doesn’t Blast just totally rule?! The singer, Nana, is amazing! Her voice is so strong and beautiful!

Their interest piqued, a few curious onlookers filter back into the live house. Yazawa makes even the extras stand out. There’s the tall girl in the spiky, modified-ducktail haircut and star print tee who wants to know if the band’s all girls, her friend in the plaid beret, the buzz cut dude wearing a slick motorcycle jacket and his pal with the rolled-up sleeves and sweatband on his wrist. Everyone seems to be fully accessorized. It must be a blast for her to come up with these distinct and accurate hipster looks. I’ve seen these people! At lives!

And then Blast takes the stage, Nana tying a rose to the mic stand.

There's even a chance the show might've taken place in Shin-Okubo, a neighborhood just a stop from Shinjuku on the Yamanote Line. It's certainly close enough for Junko and Kyosuke to drive there, and there are a few live houses just outside the station within easy walking distance. In fact... here's one now. You've seen the Nana version of a live show in Japan, now here's the real thing. Melt-Banana at Earthdom, September 2007:

What it lacked in Nana-like elegance and fashionability, it more than made up for in energy and power. Melt-Banana's total sonic attack destroyed eardrums and the crowd moshed with frantic intensity. I ended up hobbled like an oldster, leaning on my umbrella as if it were a cane, my body sore, but my heart soaring. Welcome to my world!

That’s at least one of the many ways this book gets its addictive hooks in you- presenting the familiar and the ultra-dramatic side-by-side. Like the semi-similar Love & Rockets, Nana presents a heightened reality filled with situations that are similar to things you’ve been through, only amplified for fictional effect. Nana is an unrepentant soap opera, in comics form. And that Yazawa Ai is a fiend. Pure evil, I tells ya! She created these characters, all the cute girls and pretty boys, put them in a fun milieu and set them into motion with Nana and Hachi as the story’s beating, bleeding, loving hearts, their every action creating emotional chaos, making the readers want more, more, MORE.

Pure wickedness.

If the Nanaishness is too much for you, check out my Melt-Banana show reviews here and here.

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