By Ai Yazawa
Viz, 200 pp.
After Search’s cruel delivery of a suggestive photo of Ren and Riera at the end of volume fourteen, this volume opens with the fallout from that and Takumi’s brilliantly manipulative efforts to keep the photo out of the papers. Unfortunately, the ramifications of the photo run deeper than that and Nana and Ren’s relationship continues to unravel further. Hachi and Takumi finally get married (thanks to Takumi’s manipulations) and Yasu and Miu begin to solidify their relationship as well. All of this brings Nana’s abandonment issues to the fore as she watches the most important people in her life drifting further away from her. Shin, too, feels the effect of the Search incident as Reira, suddenly aware of how vulnerable her world is to scandal, suggests they stop seeing each other. The appearance of the Search photo highlights how fragile everyone’s world is and how far a single act of thoughtlessness or cruelty can reach.
The expressive genius of Ai Yazawa’s art is what really makes this volume shine, elevating what could easily be trite soap-opera to the realm of top-notch fiction. Her ability to use panel layouts and close-ups to get to the heart of her characters is unmatched. The art feeds the complexity of the characters, transforming them into something that almost feels more real than “real life.” It’s not the art alone, of course. Yazawa resists letting any character fall into pat categories like “good” or “evil,” giving full dimension to each of them and their rich, complicated, gray-shaded world. Even manipulative, controlling Takumi, who frames everything in terms of protecting own interests, is not a clear-cut villain any more than Nana and Hachi perfectly virtuous heroines.
There is an interesting scene early in the volume, where the folks at Search mull over the power that they wield, finally determining that if Ren and Nana break up because of what they print, then the breakup was “meant to be.” “The strength of their bond will be tested,” says one writer, determined to justify the paper’s actions as some kind of righteous social experiment. The lengths to which people will go to justify their own poor behavior is a fascinating (if horrifying) study, and it is this type of insight into humanity that makes Yazawa’s writing so powerful.
Though it is clear that much of the story’s real drama is yet to come, this is a strong volume in an exceptional series that continues to be both beautifully crafted and extremely compelling.
Review copy provided by the publisher. Review originally published at PopCultureShock.