Nana psychology

At Bento Physics, Jamila starts off their promised series on feminism in shoujo manga by analyzing Ai Yazawa’s Nana.

She defines the problem beautifully:

There are those who choose to interpret the soft-spoken heroine as an exemplifier of what they perceive as an inherent regressiveness in Asian gender roles.

The more forgiving choose to regard this as part of a simple cultural difference that can be overlooked in favor of shounen manga. Then there are those who enjoy shoujo well enough to not write it off as completely counterfeminist, but may not have found a way to articulate why this is so.

For an example of this, look no further than the recent discussion here at MangaBlog about Tohru Honda.

Jamila talks about looking at women who are ordinary, flawed but in the process of change, rather than ass-kicking, masculinized superheroines.

Proper representation should focus on what is truthful and free of delusion just as much as it should focus on the ideal and the empowered. The girl you find on the street is just as important in her mundane ordinariness as any other representation, complete with her flaws and shortcomings. And one thing manga has proven capable of is showing these women, resolutely mundane or extremely symbolic, as possessing genuine desire for change and self-actualization.

Yesss! That’s what makes it so interesting.

Then she applies these principles to Nana, a book that, I have to confess, I found unbearable because I couldn’t stand the boy-craziness of Nana Komatsu. Jamila addresses that, pointing out that the story is one of change and growth.

This is because Yazawa intends Komatsu’s personal journey to be one in which she earns herself a stronger personality. The fact that she ends up taking one step back for every two steps she does forward is a deliberate part of this growth.

This goes back to that old cliche about manga, that the characters change and develop in the course of the series. I’m not sure that’s always true, but Jamila thinks it is in Nana’s case. I certainly think it makes for interesting narrative.

Read the whole thing, because these excerpts don’t really do it justice. Jamila has a sharp eye and a graceful style, and I’m looking forward to reading more of her analyses in the future.

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  1. Thanks so much for the kind words Brigid, I was nervous about expectations and the challenges that come with analyzing shoujo ;) I am now happily glowing and making colon three (that’s :3) faces.

    I can’t take all the credit for the article though, especially in terms of the graceful writing. Matthew and I spent a lot of time throwing the article back and forth between each other, since he’s the supah editor in the team. Also, just like you, I was initially turning cold towards Komatsu’s character.

    Her boycrazy attitude was such a personal turn off, and mostly because I’ve seen so many girls and women like her. They’re quite a large group of them here in Manila, and it annoys me to absolutely no end, haha!

    Strangely enough, Matthew was more sympathetic towards Komatsu, which lead to a better analysis…hence why this article took so long to write, sigh.

    But yes, thanks again for the kind words, they’re much appreciated :D

  2. In regards to “self-actualization): when people ask me what Nana is about, I say that it’s a thematic cross between “Desperately Seeking Susan” and the first season of “Felicity”. Both of these stories begin with young women who are vaguely dissatisfied with the way that they live their lives (sometimes so vaguely that it cannot even be noticed, let alone articulated) who one day decide that there’s another person that they want to be. The end result is someone who is on the surface a flawed version of this “other” that they want to be, but in the effort they find that they have slowly become a strange new third person, wholly different and even stronger (and, in their way, even more beautiful) than either who they were and who they wanted to be. Like the saying goes, the truth is not in the destination, but the journey.

    Nana K. IS extremely annoying, but I’m hoping that just means that I’ll like her that much better when she inevitably (and hopefully subtly) changes into a “better” person. I’ll keep reading to find out. If the movie is any indication, I will not be disappointed.

  3. I find it interesting to read reviews of Shojo Beat titles because most of those reviews are looking at the digests, while I’ve read them serially. The different pacing seems to lead to different reactions and, I suspect the early chapters of Nana read better in serial form when you’re not dealing with Nana K’s problems in such large and chunks. (I suspect, too, the nature of serialization lends you more patient with character development, since you’re reading it more slowly and the tiny steps forward become more notable.)

  4. Large chunks? Nana‘s first volume was published in both the original serial & Shojo Beat as two huge chapters of approximately a hundred pages each. That’s pretty honking huge, and to be honest the Nana K. chapter initially put me off the manga when I read it at a friend’s place in scanslation. I warmed to the series when it came out from Viz, but that enormous first chapter is a bit of a hurdle, no matter how you publish it.

  5. Honestly, the second chapter didn’t feel so long to me because I never noticed that it was as long as the first chapter (which probably says something about how Hatchi initially grates). As for the first chapter, it felt like a complete story to me (leaving me confused about the series’ concept since it looked like the next chapter would tell the story of a different woman named Nana) neutralizing her irksome “four steps foward, three steps back” quality.