Tuesday, March 10, 2009

"...and many lovers at one time:" Nana 14 Review

Nana vol. 14
Publisher: Shojo Beat/Viz Media
Writer/Artist: Yazawa Ai
English Adaptation: Allison Wolfe
Translation: Tomo Kimura

Capsule review: Yazawa Ai introduces a mysterious new character and brings romantic turmoil to several of her castmembers-- including an unexpected one-- in this particularly busy volume of her hit manga series about two women named Nana. Gosurori cutie Misato consolidates her relationship with Blast even as she meets new challenges from within the fan community, Hachi has a major epiphany about her relationship with rock star Takumi, Nana's fiance Ren hits the road for a magical memory trip accompanied by pop chanteuse Reira... and Nobu has to deal with sketchy contract legalities because he's in love with a runaway porn star. Also, Ren snorts cocaine in the bathroom, Nana weathers a brutal hangover and Nobu has sex. Whew! Yazawa never gives her people a break. No wonder Junko closes Junko's Place for a breather this time out.

Blast has hit the road on a national tour in support of their first release. Everyone waits in suspense waiting for the weekly Oricon chart to see how high it debuts. Meanwhile, in Osaka, a gathering of Blast fans gather in a downpour just to catch a glimpse of the band, to share that certain special feeling that comes from being part of a group of like-minded obsessives, to feel the touch of Nana’s essence, to catch a glimpse of Yasu’s shiny bald head.

Enter professionalist superfan Shion, the self-appointed president of the Blast fan club. Her every word, relayed by an assistant, commands the faithful even if they're somewhat dubious as to her status in the herd. Shion is business-like, cool, totally self-possessed and she hates, hates, hates Misato Uehara, the cutest, most loyal little gosurori Blast fan there is for her friendship with Nana.

And in Tokyo, Hachi encounters more evidence that her relationship with Takumi is something of a sham. Is he really working late, the way he claims? Or does the fact he still keeps a separate apartment have a meaning all its own?

Desires of the heart have always propelled the various characters in Yazawa Ai’s Nana. Nana wants to sing, to be famous and free, to get her stupid family register so she and Ren can tie the knot at last. Hachi wants love and to believe she can make her life as Takumi’s wife work for her and their unborn child, but she's no longer kidding herself about his straying ways. Misato wants a job now that she’s finally flunked out of school. Ren wants drugs and a getaway with Reira. Takumi wants Hachi and any other woman he can get into bed. And Shion wants to be the queen of the Nana fans. Seldom has this much angst exploded in such a concentrated area; the collateral emotional damage will be truly horrific.

Yazawa uses the Osaka rain to visually symbolize the way reality sometimes dampens hopes and dreams. I don’t know if you know this, but Japan is one hellishly rainy country. It’s not just rainy season, which starts in June and lasts for at least a month. It might rain for six or seven days straight before you get even a day of broken clouds. But scarcely a week passes by the rest of the year without one or two gray, dreary days of mist or drizzle or torrents. It’s no wonder one of the most romantic images possible here in movies, animation or comic books is that of a young couple sharing an umbrella.

She also keeps up the steady stream of unbelievably stylish characters. Shion— her name a truncation of the word fashion itself-- sports chic businesswear, a little too dressy for any stultifying office but more adult than the sailor-style school uniforms the rank-and-file fans wear. It suits her imperiousness. Misato gets a makeover as she abandons her blond ringlets for a short, black bob. But, once she nabs her job, she’s right back to “wearing [her] little get-ups.” Fashion is so much the focus, Misato's new look gets a special panel-breaking image complete with gray-tone sparkles; I'm sure this is expressive of some sort of subjective manga visual vocabulary with some definite meaning or perhaps even a mental sound effect to Japanese readers, but it's just a pretty drawing to me. As Hachi marvels in disbelief, "But you look even more radical now."

Misato, Hachi, Nana and all the rest of Yazawa’s impossibly slender, angular figures wear their clothes well. Each page is a veritable fashion parade, an enchanting glimpse of the high class world of visual self-expression. Even Nana’s sexily dishevelled punk couture comes off as glitteringly glamorous-- one day strutting in front of the Osaka fan contingent in her aviator glasses and a leopard-fur jacket, by night smoking cigarettes and lounging on a sofa, then donning classic leather motorcycle/plaid mini/garters and thigh highs look.

And then there's Yuri/Asami in her negligee and bunny ears...

Just as the Japanese rain soaks shoes and makes them cold and squishy, so to does it bog down these lovely characters. Into every rain some life must fall, and Yazawa never lets the Nana cast remain warm and dry for long. The Ren-Reira matching threatens to destroy Nana’s status quo, and and Hachi's puppy-dog drive for happiness somehow complements a growing pragmatism, a new-found understanding of her true status in Ren's world. We also get the further developments of Nobu‘s sweet yet slightly twisted relationship with porn star Yuri (or is it Asami?), and a peek behind the detached, businesslike fa├žade of chrome dome Yasu; who knew he had a heart in there? Another cold, wet splash from the gloomy rain gods hits Nana right at the end, creating yet another of Yazawa’s emotional cliffhangers.

Bring on Nana 15!

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