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Paradise Kiss by Ai Yazawa

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I’ve been doing a lot of extrablogular writing this month! First, there was the third installment of Breaking Down Banana Fish at Manga Bookshelf, in which we discuss volumes five and six of that series. Next, Melinda Beasi, Danielle Leigh and I talked NANA—the eleventh and twelfth volumes, specifically—in our latest NANA Project at Comics Should Be Good. Lastly, as part of Fumi Yoshinaga week at Manga Bookshelf, I took part in a roundtable focusing on her historical boys’ love series, Gerard & Jacques.

In addition to the roundtable action, I’ve contributed to two Off the Shelf features at Manga Bookshelf in July: on the 7th—when I discussed The Clique (Yen Press), Millennium Prime Minister 3 (DMP), and Okimono Kimono (Dark Horse)—and the 14th, when my picks were Fruits Basket: Banquet (TOKYOPOP), Dengeki Daisy 1 (VIZ), and Crimson Hero 13 (VIZ). During the third week of each month, Off the Shelf is replaced by BL Bookrack, and since this coincided with Fumi Yoshinaga week, I reviewed Solfege and Don’t Say Any More, Darling (both DMP).

I’ve also written two solo reviews at Comics Should Be Good so far this month: Saturn Apartments 1 and Afterschool Charisma 1 (both VIZ).

As you can see, it’s been a busy month, and it’s not over yet! Tune in next week for more, as the Paradise Kiss MMF begins!

NANA 12 by Ai Yazawa: A

Cut for spoilers!

From the back cover:
Hachi tells herself that she’s got her eye on the future and her life with Takumi, but she just can’t let go of the past and her friendship with Nana and the rest of Blast—especially Nobu. And the tangle gets thicker when Hachi’s wedding has to be postponed in favor of Nana and Ren’s nuptials. Can Hachi handle another delay in her happily-ever-after?

Oh, NANA. So good and yet so depressing.

Volume eleven left off with a hopeful/hopeless cliffhanger—Hachi had invited Blast to attend a fireworks festival and they’re all gathered in the girls’ old apartment, waiting for her. Hachi, meanwhile, is broken down in tears because she’s just encountered Shoji and has realized that she has truly lost him forever. Can she now face Nobu knowing the same thing?

Volume twelve begins not with a direct followup, but with a similar gathering six or seven years in the future. None of the old pain has been resolved—Nobu and Hachi still have a palpable connection and chemistry—and Nana is welcome, wished-for, but absent. After this glimpse at what will be, we return to the night of the fireworks festival and to some very selfish actions by Nana.

She has been trying to reconcile herself that Nobu isn’t going to be the glue that keeps her and Hachi together, and even trying to be supportive of his flirtations with a couple of residents of the agency dorm where the band is now living, but just as soon as she gets an inkling that Hachi isn’t over Nobu, she goes into a desperate sort of auto-pilot. She lies to Hachi, saying Nobu didn’t come, and arranges so that Nobu is alone in the apartment to greet Hachi when she arrives. Nobu, though, is too decent a guy to jeopardize Hachi’s happiness and doesn’t answer the door.

Meanwhile, plans for Nana and Ren’s wedding proceed, and it’s made into a huge publicity deal by their agencies, including a press conference on the day that both bands release new singles. The expectations everyone has for this match are horribly weighty. Takumi (and Yasu, too) think that Nana is going to be able to keep Ren from sliding further into drug addiction. Hachi thinks theirs is the dreamiest love story ever and is sure that Nana is in “total bliss” right now.

As for Nana, she’s completely terrified, but still hopeful that marrying will make her feel more stable. Not realizing, of course, that Ren is as much of a wreck as she is, if not more so. Shin points out at one point that no one at a band/agency meeting is discussing the impending wedding like it’s a good thing, but there’s just such an atmosphere of gloom and foreboding that it’s certainly doomed to failure.

In Hachi’s world, thanks to some clever scheming from Reira, Takumi has realized that it just wouldn’t do for two of Trapnest’s eligible bachelors to get married at the same time, so his and Hachi’s nuptuals are on hold indefinitely. She tries to keep upbeat about this, and doesn’t waver in her commitment to sticking it out with him, but even she is honest. “Even though we can construct our little world, I don’t think it can grow.”

The volume concludes with all of the main characters about to meet up again at a joint birthday party for Shin and Reira. I expect many revelations and much pain will ensue, including, perhaps, incontrovertible evidence that Takumi is a cheating bastard, that Nobu has a heart of gold, and that nobody in this story ever really has any chance of being happy.

And yet, for all of the pain and misery, NANA is still simply amazing. I am desperate to read volume thirteen, and yet simultaneously dread it because it will surely hurt. A story capable of hurting you, though, is a story worth treasuring.

NANA 11 by Ai Yazawa: A

Cut for spoilers.

nana11From the back cover:
With the tabloids still out for blood, Nana and her Blast bandmates move into a weird dorm building run by their agency. But they’ve barely got enough time to settle into their new digs beacuse their crammed schedule has them running from music studio to TV interview. The stress of band life and dealing with a disintegrating Ren have started to take their toll on Nana. If she collapses now, will she ever get back up?

Although this volume isn’t light-hearted by any means, it is still far less painful to read than some recent ones have been. Time heals all wounds, as they say, and keeping busy helps, too. Nana and the other members of Blast are working hard on their album as well as doing interviews and live shows, and she’s feeling so good that at one point she thinks she could handle talking with Hachi about Takumi and the baby. In a similar “moving forward” vein, Nobu meets a girl he might like and is forgiven by his parents for not wanting to inherit their inn, and Hachi introduces Takumi to her family.

One of the things I really like about NANA is the way that it shifts focus between the leads. For a while there, we were all worried about Hachi, but it really seems that she’s at peace with her situation. Yes, she has regrets, but, as Jun says, she has her feet on the ground more than before. Hachi has palpably matured and she actually has a career goal in mind now. I’m left wondering if perhaps this pregnancy wasn’t ultimately a really good thing to happen to her, despite that it meant the end of her relationship with Nobu.

Now it’s Nana that I’m really worried about. She’d had this idea in her head that Blast becoming successful would somehow bring Hachi back and that Nobu would fight to get back together with her. When she learns that he has no intention of doing that, she begins to hyperventilate and ends up at the hospital. It’s like she has no faith in her own ability to keep Hachi near her—going back to motherly abandonment issues, perhaps—and so is depending on Nobu to do it for her.

She also feels like she’s “drowning helplessly in Ren,” and several times seems to be expecting Yasu to declare his feelings for her and rescue her from Ren’s pull. When she realizes at last that Yasu will never do that because of how close he and Ren are, she gives in to some extent and reconnects with Ren, who proposes. Trouble is waiting, though, because Ren has been using drugs, and a paparazzi guy also seems to’ve located her mother. Poor Nana.

This volume’s full of the drama, but I’m relieved that it wasn’t quite the kind to make me cry.

NANA 10 by Ai Yazawa: A

NANA is a series I vow never to spoil.

nana10From the back cover:
Being engaged isn’t as wonderful as Hachi thought it would be. She has a trendy new apartment, but she’s isolated from all her friends and Takumi is hardly ever home. When scandal hits hard, Trapnest (and her fiancé) flee to Europe, and Hachi is left to watch Blast suffer in the scandal rags and tabloid shows.

So much happens in a volume of NANA that I feel like I should keep a scorecard or something! There are important revelations (Nobu still seems to have feelings for Hachi, Yasu’s feelings for Nana become known both to her and Ren), realizations (Blast must sacrifice some of their ideals about how they want to become successful in order to seize the chance they’ve been given), and reconciliations (even though Nana and Hachi have not met face to face due to the paparazzi frenzy surrounding Blast and Trapnest, Nana takes advantage of a microphone thrust in her face to declare that she’s still working to make Hachi’s dreams come true).

The most fascinating part of the story for me right now is the Nana-Yasu-Ren triangle. Although Nana and Ren both have moments where they think that their love for the other hasn’t diminished, things still aren’t the same as they used to be. Nana feels that her bond with Yasu may be even stronger than hers with Ren, and Ren’s commitment to Trapnest leads him to decide not to defend Nana from reporters. Instead, that role falls to Yasu who does it without a second thought. It also becomes clear that Yasu has completely abandoned his ambitions to practice law in order to pursue a musical career, something he had told Reira long ago that he wasn’t willing to do. I personally am really rooting for Nana and Yasu to get together.

Less successful to me is the Hachi plotline: I’m confused, though I think that may be because Hachi is confused. She tells Jun that she “really, really” loves Takumi, and laments that she can’t seem to fall in love with nice guys like Shoji or Nobu. Later on, though, it seems like she’s talking about Nobu when she says, “I’ll never be fulfilled by happiness like that again, the kind with no shadows.” Were her earlier comments just an attempt to make the best of an imperfect situation? She likes him enough to derive some happiness from their life together, even while mourning what might’ve been?

On the whole, I love how complex all of these characters and their circumstances are. I still profess a desire for some big, unambiguously positive event for these beloved characters—something like that would surely merit an A+ from me—even while I recognize that such untainted triumph rarely happens in life, and appreciate that Ai Yazawa recognizes it, too.

NANA 9 by Ai Yazawa: A

Spoilers beyond the cut.

From the back cover
Takumi and Hachi are getting married, but it’s far from a joyous announcement. Nobu and Nana are devastated, and even Takumi’s bandmates take the news hard. With paparazzi skulking around for a new scandal to exploit and tensions between Trapnest and Blast on high alert, will Hachi ever get her happily ever after?

I had started this volume immediately after finishing volume eight back in August but watching Hachi dutifully submit to Takumi’s advances was just too horrible and I had to put it aside. It took seven months for me to be ready to give it another go. Having made it to the end this time, I’m feeling at least a little more optimistic about Hachi’s chances for happiness.

One might think, in a volume dealing with the fallout from an unplanned pregnancy, that the expectant mother would be the one experiencing the most traumatic emotions. Fascinatingly, however, Hachi seems quite serene. Lonely and missing Nana, but still at peace with her decision to marry Takumi and seemingly even happy with him, to the point of snuggling with him in the swanky new apartment he rents for the two of them. I don’t really know what to make of that, honestly—can she actually love him? Is this another of her acts that she’s putting on for the sake of her child? Even when we do see her, it’s more from Takumi’s perspective than her own, so I hope we get some insight into her thoughts soon.

It’s actually Nana who reacts the worst, to the point of actually blacking out and forgetting some of her actions. Her friends are very concerned and her interactions with them are the best parts of the volume for me. I especially love the scene near the end where Ren has read the letter Hachi left for Nana upon moving out of their apartment. In it, Hachi says that Nana will always be her hero. As Ren urges Nana to go after Hachi, and she demands why she should have to be the one to do that, Ren replies, “That’s what a hero does.” It’s no exaggeration to say that line made tears spring to my eyes. I love the love between friends in this series. Even if the narration—”Is your new life that you protected at all costs still fulfilling you now?”—is beginning to drive me crazy with impatience to know what happens.

Another thing I appreciate is that Takumi is not the straight-up villain. Yes, he’s controlling and untrustworthy, but he seems to be making an effort to be nice to Hachi. We’ll see how long that lasts. I liked that the bonus story, ostensibly about Naoki, managed to sneak in some more revelations about Takumi’s character, too. Plus, you will never do wrong in my eyes by praising the music of T.Rex and David Bowie!

The only complaint I could make is that the Trapnest members don’t really interest me much. I find Reira, with her predilection for sobbing, rather tiresome. I think I’m supposed to feel sorry for her, but she just gets on my nerves. Still, I suppose even that is good character development.

NANA 8 by Ai Yazawa: A+

No way am I spoiling this.

From the back cover:
Hachi’s happiness with Nobu is slipping through her fingers as an unexpected complication with Takumi threatens to upend her entire life. And unlike her past romantic woes, the choice she makes now will change the lives of everyone around her.

I knew this was coming for one of the Nanas (stupid article was just supposed to have only general comments about series, dangit!), but it’s pretty horrible all the same. I have zero sympathy for unplanned pregnancy woes—people are freakin’ morons if they don’t consider the consequences of their actions—but I can’t deny this makes for the big drama, and just when Hachi was on the verge of happiness. I sometimes wonder why I like series like this and things by Whedon, when I so desperately want the characters I love to be happy. I should know it’s never gonna happen.

Anyway, we get to see most things unfold through Nana’s point of view, which is fabulous. This time, the retrospective narration seems to be hers, though it’s similar to what has gone before, like she and Hachi are thinking the same things at the same time without knowing it. Maybe if something has happened to part them, then both are regretting it from whatever future point they’re speaking from. If the series ends with a tearful reunion between two middle-aged ladies, I am going to bawl my eyes out. It already makes me sniffly to see how intensely Nana loves Hachi without the latter being aware of it.

In a scene both terrible and awesome, Takumi comes to see Hachi, finds out she’s pregnant, and promptly calls Nobu to inform him. During the aftermath, when Nobu asks whether she really broke things off with Takumi before coming to him, she doesn’t say she did. The explanation for this initially confusing act is given later, when Junko figures out that Nana did that on purpose to get Nobu to leave. If he knew she really hadn’t been two-timing him, he’d want to help her, would probably give up on the band and take over the family hotel to be able to provide for her and the baby, and she couldn’t ask him to do that for another man’s child.

Nana is particularly upset by the news, because it means it could take Hachi out of her life, the very thing she most wants to avoid. She desperately tries to convince Nobu to claim the baby as his. I find her actions here fascinating, and because the character has been so well-established, her motivations are obvious throughout. And man, this bit makes me teary:

Hey, Hachi… I wanted to keep you chained to me, even if I had to put a collar on you. I was afraid of myself, so I always kept a little distance between us. I still can’t make friends very easily. I’m still… scared.

Artwise, my favorite part was a juxtaposition of this story with the efforts of Blast to obtain a recording contract with a major label. Shin, having an illicit smoke break in the bathroom of the said label, overhears a conversation that implies Blast won’t get much support and will face attempts to change their look and sound. As the dream of a major label deal goes down the drain, he watches his cigarette swirl in the toilet. The bottom half of the page is Hachi being sick, her own dreams spiraling away in similar fashion. I dunno, maybe it’s kind of crude, but I thought it made the point well.

I kind of dread where the story is going to go from here, because it seems like Hachi might end up marrying Takumi and the thought of her and Nobu never being together again is too sad to contemplate. I have some hope that things are going to work out to my liking, though it’s but a wee sliver.

NANA 7 by Ai Yazawa: A

Still too good to spoil, even fractionally.

From the back cover:
Hachi was happy to be Blast’s biggest cheerleader, but now that the band is taking off, she’s discovering that there are hordes of fans eager to take her place. At the same time, her involvement with Trapnest hottie Takumi is turning into a romantic entanglement she hadn’t expected. When a chance for another kind of happiness presents itself, will Hachi be strong enough to face the difficult choices that result?

Ai Yazawa excels at hitting the emotional high notes, no doubt, and I love how the plot turns in this volume. But even more, I appreciate the small moments that are included. For example, after Nobu and Hachi have talked some about their feelings, there’s a prolonged scene of awkwardness between them where they wonder what’s going on, where they’re going to go from here, what the other person is thinking. I think many mangaka would skip over that period of uncertainty, but Yazawa handles it perfectly.

On the surface, this would seem to be a happy volume. Hachi finally (ineptly) ditches Takumi, with whom there was no potential of love, and begins a relationship with Nobu. She seems to’ve learned from the Shoji experience and is willing to really give of herself rather than merely expect and accept adoration. Those two are ideally suited and I am happy to see them paired up, but I’m worried, because Takumi doesn’t realize it’s really over and I have a feeling he’s going to be making trouble.

Underneath, though, things are rather sad. Hachi says, towards the beginning, “I didn’t want to make you all mine. I just wanted you to need me, Nana.” And at the end, we learn that Nana does. She nudged Nobu and Hachi together all with the purpose of keeping Hachi in her life. The tragic part is that Hachi doesn’t know and would be oh so happy if she did. I’ve really liked the last few volumes and their focus on Hachi, but now I want to see what’s up with Nana and her possessiveness issues. A couple of her bandmates talk about it, so maybe that means it’s going to be dealt with further later on.

About the only complaint I could make is that there’s no translation note to explain why the band is referred to as Blast in the text but as Black Stones at the venue or on a celebratory cake Hachi bakes. There might’ve been one in the first volume, but it’d be good to have a reminder.

Lastly, I still love the retrospective narration but it’s another cause for concern. There are a couple of quotes that hint of ominous things to come, like

The feelings I professed that night remain unfaded in my heart. Just don’t ever forget the shining dreams we had back then.


So I’m still calling your name…no matter how much it hurts… until you answer me.

Holy crap, what’s gonna happen?! I haven’t been this worried or happy or scared for a set of characters in a long time, and I’m really loving it. NANA is a bloody masterpiece.

NANA 6 by Ai Yazawa: A

This is the kind of stuff one just doesn’t spoil.

From the back cover:
Nana’s band Blast is taking off in a big way—from sold-out club dates to a record label waving a contract at them. But the Trapnest menace still lurks, stealing away everything she cares for. Trapnest took her boyfriend, and even though Ren is back in her life, his band still comes first. And now her trusty sidekick Hachi is being lured away by Trapnest bassist Takumi. But this time, Nana won’t give up without a fight!

There’s a lot of complicated emotional stuff going on in this volume, some of it explained and some left to the reader to interpret. The major issue at hand is how the others see Hachi and the way that Hachi sees herself.

Everyone learns that Hachi slept with Takumi, thanks to his casual admission. They all assume she must love him, because they can’t fathom her doing that otherwise. The boys defend her. Nana is initially shocked to see them together, but quickly begins rationalizing it. She even covers for him and doesn’t tell Hachi about some rude things he said about her. Still, it puts a wedge between them and she spends most of the volume staying with Ren.

Nobu, spurred by the situation with Takumi, confesses his love to Hachi. But he’s another one with an idealistic vision of her, and though she’s positive she’d be happier in the kind of relationship he could offer, she still can’t break free of Takumi. I was having trouble understanding why she’d do that, but something she thought later made it clear—it’s because Takumi is the only one who gets that she is not so pure and innocent. He knows exactly how empty she is inside.

This is all incredibly deep stuff! Even though the relationship with Takumi is trouble, I’m still fascinated to see one of the heroines go through such a dark journey. I want to see her come out of it and pursue something healthier. She admitted several volumes ago that she was kind of playing up the naïveté because she wanted Nana to like her; I’d like to see her dismiss that, too, and just be herself. That may be the only thing that’ll bring Nana home again.

I love that the plot is completely secondary to the emotional journey of the characters. I’m torn, though, ‘cos I want them to get their happy ending soon, and I highly doubt that is going to happen.

NANA 5 by Ai Yazawa: A

From the back cover:
Nana K. is going home—for an awesome Trapnest concert! She drags Nana O. along, convinced that somehow Ren will sense his ex-flame in the audience. But life is never that easy, and Nana O. isn’t sure if she even wants Ren back. As for Nana K., is she prepared for Trapnest to come down off the stage and into her life, or will her fangirl attitude land her in a heap of trouble?

It’s rather hard to review this series without giving away all the plot developments, and they’re really too good to spoil. The volume picks up where the last left off, with the girls in the front row at the concert, Nana O. seeing Ren for the first time in years. I really like how things turn out with the two of them.

The latter half of the volume is Nana K.’s turn (I think I’m just going to start calling her Hachi, because everyone in the story does). She’s lost and making bad decisions, drawn to Nana’s glittering life because her own is such a mess. She’s mature enough to know that ultimately, her actions will lead her to feel pain, but she’s trying to live for the moment and put thoughts of tomorrow out of her head. I love how Yazawa is able to portray that she’s changed since we first met her, but do it in a subtle manner. She’s still got lots of issues and things to work out, but she’s not quite as naive as she sometimes pretends to be.

I continue to be madly in love with the technique of interposing real life images into the panels. My favorite is the use of some real office furniture at Hachi’s workplace. Simply seeing a real chair at her workstation makes it seem like there really could be a young woman like her out there someplace. I haven’t experienced anything like that with any other manga.

NANA manages to be entertaining, moving, realistic, and funny all while boasting some damned great art. This is not one to miss.