NANA, Volume 18
By Ai Yazawa
Published by Viz Media
After a quick opening set in the future, where Hachi, Yasu, Nobu, and Shin contemplate how best to track down Nana whom they’ve determined must be in England, the story returns to the present where everything is finally coming together the day before Blast’s tour is ready to launch. Nana is pumped, her voice is solid, she’s got Hachi in her corner, and even her home life with Ren, newly returned from recording overseas, is humming along nicely. Unfortunately, Shin’s personal turmoil is taking a toll, driving him into the arms of sugar mama Ryoko, with whom he gets arrested for marijuana possession, causing the tour to be canceled at the last minute. The rest of the volume focuses mainly on the aftermath of this–how the members of Blast will move on, particularly Nana, whose newly re-established easiness with Ren collapses quickly under the stress. Meanwhile, Takumi tries to figure out how to help Reira deal with the situation, finally addressing her relationship with Shin in a realistic way, in a scene that is tied closely to the Takumi-centric side story included at the end of the volume.
One thing that is particularly striking in this volume is that the forced breakup of Blast and subsequent events places Nana in an isolated enough position that the gap between the present and the future narration suddenly seems much less wide than it has up to this point. Also, with implications made about Shin in the opening “future” chapter (in which Yasu tells him he should be grateful his agency let him back in the business) being explained in this very volume, it really feels like the series of events immediately related to Nana’s eventual disappearance are finally unfolding before our very eyes.
There are a few really interesting reactions amongst the characters here in this volume, which feel unexpected and completely realistic all at once. Displaying just how well-suited she is to Yasu, Miu, tasked with giving the news to Hachi and Takumi, is the voice of reason, dispensing rock-solid advice to Nana (and harsh truth to Takumi) when it is most needed. Takumi, usually poised to step up in any kind of crisis, actually seems rather sad and helpless when he’s faced with the demise of Blast, despite the fact that it isn’t even his band. He is unusually warm throughout this volume, watching other people’s worlds falling apart around him, and his offer to help Reira find a place where she can meet up with Shin after he is freed is almost touching. “It’s not your fault. I drove you to it. I drove Shin into it,” he says to her with uncharacteristic emotion and candor. “But I didn’t mean to take away your happiness. I didn’t start Trapnest to do that to you guys!”
Almost comical is the reaction of the sleazy press guys, who seem to feel somehow hurt by the whole situation, as though they have an actual stake in the success of Blast whose members they’ve tormented with threat of scandal since the beginning. Nana waffles between selfish (if understandable) anger, regret, raw ambition, and abject terror over the prospect of being on her own as a performer. That she is eventually able to recognize that Yasu’s pain over it all must be as great or greater than her own and is able to actually act on that realization (by determining to go solo to keep not just herself but Blast in the public consciousness) is a huge sign of growth for her.
This entire volume contains enough emotional complexity to inspire an essay almost as long as the volume itself, but perhaps the most compelling bit of all is the Takumi side story at the end. He’s always been a character who is pretty easy to hate, particularly for readers who identify strongly with Hachi, and though the side story does not ease any of that Hachi-related resentment (and in fact, makes it quite a bit worse) it does humanize him in a way I would not have thought possible, making sense of his actions, even the worst ones (perhaps especially the worst ones). This side story, more than any of the others that have been included so far, is crucial to understanding the deep disfunction at the core of Trapnest and provides a huge amount of insight into Takumi, Reira, and even Yasu, and how their mutual history continues to shape the present.
The more I examine the way Ai Yazawa has conceived and developed these characters and the complex web of love and pain that binds them all together, the more impressed I become. This series remains fantastic and utterly addictive in the best way possible.
Review copy provided by the publisher.