A Love Letter to Nana (AKA Hachi)
February 26, 2016 at 1:49 pm
The years roll by so quickly, but I’m still sitting here, waiting for you to come back. It’s been seven years since you disappeared from my life. We were the same age when we met — you, (mostly) frozen in 2001, me, continually getting older in 2008. I’ve always loved beautiful comics about feelings. When Ai Yazawa’s Nana fell into my hands by chance, I couldn’t resist poring over every page. I mean, an immense tome of a shoujo manga about two women my age, who shared a name and were bound by fate? How could I resist? It’s probably obvious why I gravitated to you as a character: I saw myself in you to an uncanny degree. I noticed that we were both smotheringly affectionate, prone to hero worship, and distracted by beautiful, shiny things. On the other hand, we were also both deeply insecure and prone to idealizing bad situations. Hachi, I’ve grown up so much since we were barely out of our teenage years, but you haven’t. Back in 2009, your story went on hiatus, and your entire world was paused indefinitely. You’re still waiting for Nana through the worst winter of your life, and I’m still waiting for both of you.
Hachi, now that I am older, the things around you look so different. When we were the same age, everyone in your life seemed so glamorous. Like you, I idealized Nana’s relationship without realizing how truly, deeply troubling it was. Like you, I thought of your first serious boyfriend as a cool, mysterious, heartless older guy. It didn’t occur to me what a sad, lonely creeper he must have been. I also didn’t fully comprehend the unsettling tire fire that was the relationship between Reira and Shin, especially the issues beyond the wide age gap between them. Everything in your world burned brightly in my eyes, too brightly for me to examine it all that closely. All of those beautiful people and their big emotions ripped right through me, though I didn’t fully understand their experiences or their pain. I think I understand it better now.
I also didn’t really understand how young all of you were. The oldest people in your immediate vicinity are twenty four years old. I always thought of your evil, douchey ex as some kind of mastermind rake, but as an almost-27-year-old women, I see that he’s kind of a self-important twerp. When I look back on how you and Nana met, I now see how quickly and intensely you struck up a bond, and how fragile and fraught it was. I can also see how a couple of perfect months at 20 can stay golden and present in your memory for years to come. I see how you can press those things into a book and keep them in your heart forever.
I know that people criticize you for making catastrophic romantic decisions. You wear your heart on your sleeve, but your wandering attention span always gets you in trouble. Within the span of a year or two, you dated a married guy, a cheating trashbaby, a douchey celebrity, and a sweet, indecisive dweeb in rapid succession. You made some pretty bad calls about birth control. You completely fell apart in the face of a crisis, and you stepped out of the way and let things happen to you, because you felt too weak to make the decisions the people in your life wanted you to make.
Some Nana readers say that they couldn’t follow your adventures because they wanted to yell at you for your terrible taste in boyfriends, or your ineptitude at making a relationship work. I find this condescending at best, and sexist at worst. Did all of these people make well-thought-out and pragmatic romantic decisions when they were 20? Didn’t they, too, think that their first relationships were different, and that things were going to work out Because Love? We were all oblivious, back before we had anything to compare our experiences to, or before we really understood the consequences of our actions. Most of us just get lucky enough to avoid having to stare them down the way you did. I see the decisions you tried to make, the recalibrations, and the new set of mistakes that followed you each time. I see how thoughtful you were about the times you failed, and your internal battles to do better next time.
Hachi, I wish you could acknowledge your real, actual love for Nana, though. We both know that your feelings for her are more than friendship. On the other hand, Nana is probably the most tragically heterosexual character in all of fiction, so maybe feeling that situation out on your own is a safe bet.
But seriously. Maybe if you come to terms with this, you can resolve some of whatever is propelling you towards the nearest trash straight boy in your social circle? I support you no matter what you do, but I love you and I know that you deserve so much better.
Hachi, I wish that you had saved a little bit of your love and courage for yourself. You knew exactly how people saw you — a sweet, cheerful, enthusiastic, naive person from the outside who is sometimes allowed to come in. You felt that you had value when you were useful, but did you think that was the only reason people loved you? You were so terrified of changing your loved ones’ perception of you that you shackled yourself to an abusive, controlling guy in order to hide everything about you that you thought was bad. Sometimes, even I grew impatient with your passivity. But back then, I couldn’t really see that some of the choices you made weren’t really choices at all. At that age, I couldn’t forgive the weaknesses in myself, so I certainly couldn’t forgive yours. I am so sorry for judging you so unfairly.
Now that I’m older, I see how thoroughly you were surrounded by people who treated you either like a pet (Nana), a damsel in distress (Nobu), or a child (Junko). Hachi, you never got to be your own person. Everyone was so busy worrying for you and selling you short that they never gave you the chance to fail and find your own strength.
As your story drew to a close, we saw glimpses of you farther into the future. In these flash-forward sequences, you are roughly my age now. I wish I knew more about what kind of woman you became. But however things turned out, you’re still waiting for Nana to come back. You’re still Hachiko, ever faithful, waiting at apartment 707 as long as it takes. You miss her, and you call out to her over and over again to no effect.
But Hachi, don’t you know how easy it is to call out for someone who can’t hear you? When you carry someone who’s been gone that long in your heart, they can be anything you want them to be. They lose the rough edges that went hand-in-hand with who they were.
Nana went on hiatus because its creator, Ai Yazawa, was hospitalized due to a severe illness. After nearly a decade of serialization, the story may never continue. It breaks my heart to know that you’re still waiting by the ocean, calling Nana’s name over and over, as many times as necessary. Because Hachi, I’m still calling out for you. I want to know that you made it. I want to know that people like me, who can be weak in ways I can be weak and strong in ways I can be strong, can make it out of the giant holes they dig themselves into. As much as I want to believe that you and Nana reunited at long last, I’d be satisfied just to know that you have some of the love that you’ve always wanted.