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Poor Hachi...
Excerpt from ¡Journalista! for January 17, 2007

 

No, this isn't getting emotional at all. panel from the ninth volume of Ai Yazawa's Nana, ©2016 Yazawa Manga Seisakusho.

 

So I was about to sit down yesterday evening and write today's review, and thought to myself, "You know? As busy as I've been these past few weeks, I've got a massive backlog of fansubbed anime that I've downloaded but have yet to find the time to watch. Before I set to work, how about playing hooky for half an hour and catching up on one of my cartoon series?"

Looking in the video directory on my hard drive, I found four recent episodes of Nana. I should've known better than to choose this one, really. Remember back in TCJ #275, when I called Ai Yazawa's manga series one of the best comics released last year? In the course of it, I mentioned that the first seven volumes of Nana were basically all prologue, as Yazawa introduced her characters and situations, patiently lining up the dominoes until toward the end of the eighth book, when she flicks the lead tile over and everything kicks into high gear. For those following the series in Shojo Beat: There are three key events that cumulatively upend the series and turn it into a fairly different story featuring the same characters. The big reveal from the January 2007 installment is Event #1. Event #2 is actually a fairly happy occurance, and Event #3 is as heartrending as it gets.

Anyway, the four episodes I had on my hard drive were all devoted to Event #3, and when I hit the end of the episode I watched, I compulsively opened the second video file. Then the third. Then the fourth. When I was done, almost two hours had passed, and I was too wrapped up in staring into space and muttering "Poor Hachi..." under my breath to be able to concentrate on actually reviewing a book.

Incidentally — and I realize that I'm sidetracking an excuse with a pointless observation, here, but bear with me — this really gets to why I've fallen so deep into the Japanese-culture trap, and why shoujo and josei manga seem to take up so much of my comics dollars these days: Japanese creators as a class seem never to have lost faith in character and melodrama the way their American counterparts have. Genre comics, of course, never had much truck in such things to begin with; for them, the evolution toward the present day has involved plot rather than character, and much of the complaint superhero fans have with their funnybooks revolve not so much around whether the books are well-written as whether as much actually happens in each issue as it did in the comics of their youth. On the lit-comics side, writers have gone from the situation-based stories of the Underground era towards more multifaceted works of today, sure, but I've noticed that in picking up the values of modern literature, modern art-comics have also picked up the vices of modern literature as well. Because the work is expected to be read by modern, sophisticated readers, there's a certain distance to much of the better storytelling, be it by Chris Ware, Dan Clowes, Charles Burns, Adrian Tomine and now Alison Bechdel — I've found much to admire and digest in their works, but not a lot with which to empathize. Empathy? In modern prose fiction, that smacks of wallowing in emotions, and at that point you're halfway to a Harlequin Romance novel, now aren't you? Real literature should be complex, pregnant with meaning, and have resonance to The Times In Which We Live.

I can appreciate this in individual works, but collectively it seems to be wearing me down a bit. Partly it's probably due to the fact that I entered the world of literature through Anaïs Nin and Henry Miller, whose works were concerned with matters of the heart and epic bouts of fucking, respectively, and perhaps that may have warped my expectations. Granted. Still: It's telling for me that despite all the new cartoonists who've shown up in the past decade, wrapped in the values promoted by The Comics Journal and ready to demonstrate the outer reaches of comics as a literary medium, my favorite creators remain Eddie Campbell and Los Bros Hernandez — the former a career diarist devoted to exploring the joys found in everyday life, the latter both unapologetic about drenching their stories in a swimming pool's worth of soap opera. And soap opera, it turns out, is a good portion of what drew me to adult-level reading in the first place. I love the sensation of losing myself in someone else's life, and it doesn't seem to matter much whose life so long as it feels real.

At its best, manga feels real. When I was editing The Comics Journal, my then-assistant Kristy Valenti once remarked that my taste in Japanese culture revealed that I was secretly harboring an Inner Twelve-Year-Old Girl, and I suppose it's true enough. I'm a total sucker for well-done melodrama, certainly, and perhaps this is a weakness in my critical make-up. I have to wonder, though, if American comics' lack of melodrama — of kitchen drama, of everyday drama, of oh my god I can't believe he dumped you like that drama — might be why the general public prefers to consume their panels in imported rather than domestic flavors.

All of which is a long way of saying: No daily review today, because I'm a fanboy goofball unable to rein in his obsessions. Sorry.

 

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