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Nenene Sumiregawa

In the Read or Die manga, much of the time Nenene is depicted with the word SPUNK written behind her, underlining her strong, spirited nature (I’m not sure what it originally says in Japanese; my guess is "genki"). Really, Nenene could probably walk around with a flag over her head, advertising her spunk at all times. Even in her jaded cynicism at the ripe old age of 22, she still manages to be the poster girl for spunk in the face of adversity. Where others in the RODiverse fend off the forces of evil with literary telekinesis and superhuman reflexes, Nenene blasts through the competition with the sheer force of her charisma and stubbornness.

Interestingly, characters within the RODiverse call Nenene "manly," as do her creators (in the TV-OH liner notes to the DVDs). She doesn’t strike me so much as "manly" as simply aggressive; perhaps, in the stereotypical sense she is not so much "manly" as not overtly "feminine" in a superficial sense. The core of this is that Nenene seems more comfortable with stereotypically "masculine" emotions: anger, frustration, determination. She is not comfortable with stereotypically "feminine" emotions; she seems to have little interest in romance, and she had trouble expressing tender feelings to the persons she feels those feelings for (say that ten times fast). For example, she makes the Paper Sisters look away when she tells them she wants them to stay with her because she does not want them to see her blushing. When asked how she will deal with meeting Yomiko again after her five year absence, Nenene’s first response is, "Maybe I’ll yell" (which she does do, although she eventually breaks down and cries afterward). Nenene fears emotional vulnerability; her first instincts in dealing with others is to either yell or tease, thus keeping others at arm’s length. This fear is understandable, though–for a woman who has apparently endured the threat of kidnapping, torture, and murder from overzealous fans and psychopathic critics since her teen years, she has reason not to readily display trust or fondness. This is likely a self-defense measure as much as it is a means of protecting the few she allows to get close to her. After all, if something horrible does happen to her, if she keeps her friends at arm's length, hopefully they won't grieve her too much.

Seeing as Nenene does avoid close relationships, her depression caused by the disappearance of Yomiko Readman is more than understandable. Yomiko was one of the few people who Nenene let into her life and more than that, looked up to. Yomiko also looked up to Nenene as her favorite author–though she also served as her protector. Mostly, Nenene loved and trusted Yomiko the way she did no one else; Yomiko disappearing without a word must have shattered her beyond even what she expresses. On one hand, it must have caused her great anxiety not to know Yomiko's well-being; on the other–as she implies when they do finally meet again–she is quite hurt that Yomiko could not trust Nenene to reveal her status or whereabouts. This likely contributes to her tendency to push people away, as the one person she did let past her armor abandoned her.

The Read or Die manga follows a slightly different canon than the TV series, but the characterization is similar enough to assume that anime-Nenene's history and personality is similar to manga-Nenene's, giving us insight as to what Nenene was like when she was younger. Comparing the two, we can see the shift in Yomiko and Nenene's relationship: 17-year-old Nenene is in awe of and adores Yomiko, following her anywhere even at great pesonal expense; 22-year-old Nenene still cares for her but her role as a stabilizing figure for Yomiko becomes much more prominent, and the older Yomiko seems even more the childlike of the two than before. Young Nenene is deeply moved by hearing Yomiko speak of her admiration for her and is irritated (or even crushed) when Yomiko pays attention to others; in the TV series, we see Nenene's writer's block is due to the fact that she can't hear Yomiko's thoughts on Midnight Liberation Zone; as she continues on and finds friends in the Paper Sisters, she realizes she doesn't need that admiration and praise to fuel her. She doesn't abandon her love for Yomiko, but she becomes Yomiko's support when Yomiko struggles through her mess, rather than the other way around. Nenene becomes the protector and Yomiko the guarded.

There are of course, rampant romantic fantasies about Yomiko and Nenene among fandom; in my own opinion, I can see why, but I think it's actually a stretch to assume they're actually involved with each other "off screen." In the manga, Nenene admires Yomiko (and apparently has a costume fetish which she forces upon Yomiko) and it's clear she has what I'd call a puppy love crush on her oft-time-rescuer; we see how depressed Nenene is when she sees Yomiko with the man Yomiko thinks his her lost love Donnie. Even then, however, Nenene doesn't seem to pursue a relationship beyond what they already share; she'll go far to be with Yomiko, but ultimately doesn't deny Yomiko her opportunity to be with someone else and doesn't demand affection beyond a certain point. Yomiko loves Nenene, but "not that way"; the manga in fact clearly illustrates that she's lost in her romantic link to the late Donnie Nakajima. For both of them, jelly knees aside, you'd think if that first anonymous kiss between the two of them was good, one or the other would go for it again, but they obviously do not. And if Nenene is willing to spend all her royalty money to keep an eye on Yomiko, if she wanted another kiss, "for reals" this time, she'd've taken it.

In the series, when Nenene denies being in love with Yomiko, she does it rather matter-of-factly and straightforwardly enough that I interpret her statement as the truth. Keep in mind that Nenene blushes just when she has to admit she wants to have the Paper Sisters around as friends; as discussed, she is NOT good at expressing emotions not related to anger; I feel that if she were in denial of deeper feelings for Yomiko, her statements that she had no romantic feelings for Yomiko would come out as far more flustered.

I do, however, fully believe that she loves Yomiko deeply. She’s just not interested in a kind of love that would involve "shacking up" with her, to put it vulgarly. In fact, Nenene just doesn’t strike me as a character who wants to pursue romance with anyone, regardless of possible feelings. Series Nenene eyes Yomiko and Nancy with a "So what have you been up to in this library for the past five years?" supsicion, but she doesn't ever try to place herself between Nancy and Yomiko (although, amusingly, she does insist on going on their trip to India with them, so Yomiko doesn't "disappear" again).

The Paper Sisters do a lot for the depressed, jaded Nenene in reminding her that there is a world outside her apartment (cue song from "Avenue Q"). Michelle’s enthusiasm, Maggie’s earnestness, and Anita’s all-too-similar cynicism-yet-spunkiness each give ways for Nenene to see the world in a light she had not been able to in a long time. They admire her, which of course always helps boost the ego, though Maggie and Michelle’s fandom of her is nowhere near as obsessive as Yomiko’s (as seen in the manga). Anita provides a challenge, and while Nenene seems displeased at first that Anita is not impressed by her credentials, I think that Nenene very much appreciates the challenge of befriending someone who doesn't immediately glom onto her due to her fame. And perhaps all of the Paper Sisters remind Nenene that Yomiko isn’t her only fan, the only person that Nenene is writing for (after all, if the manga is anything to go by, Nenene wrote a buttload of novels before ever meeting Yomiko). Between widening Nenene’s world and offering her that simple gift of friendship (however Nenene balks at it at first), there is no wonder that Nenene finally breaks through her writer’s block under the Sisters' care. Of course the Sisters try her patience to no end as well, but we couldn’t have the domestic comedy aspects of the series without that–and that she does decide to tolerate them indicates she sees their value from the start.

Of the three, Nenene seems least connected to Michelle; this is odd in some respects as Michelle is probably the Paper Sister most like Yomiko, at least in terms of optimism and sheer literary obsessiveness. Both are also absentminded and gentle (while still mercenary when it comes to getting books). Perhaps it is the similarity that puts Nenene off; she's just too familiar and it hurts. Or perhaps it is the differences that strike her–Michelle is far more of an alpha-type personality, ready to take charge (and always willing to find the path towards getting her own way). Both Nenene and Michelle are in some senses head of household, and therefore they are in a somewhat competitive position. Michelle provides the most challenge to Nenene's authority and is the most willing to defy her or manipulate her to achieve her own goals.

Nenene finds a young kindred spirit in Anita: spirited, cynical, popular, and unafraid to speak her mind, just like the girl Nenene used to be. Nenene likes to guide Anita in her own way, and perhaps does so because she feels that being of similar temperaments, she can probably advise or serve as an example to Anita in a way that others can’t. She also is willing to stand up to Anita, and likewise Anita doesn't tolerate Nenene's BS, which is good for Nenene. Anita has a knack for keeping people honest and is only judgemental when it comes to obvious displays of foolishness, so it's no wonder Nenene finds it easy to confide in the girl, regardless of the fact that Nenene is ten years older.

As for Maggie, Nenene lets her get closer than the others in some ways, as Maggie seems to be the one often left to look after her when the other two are off doing something else. Nenene teases Maggie horribly at times, keeping her close yet still at arm’s length simultaneously, highlighting again Nenene's tendency to avoid expressing affection to those close to her. Still, she is very kind and supportive when Maggie is manipulated by Wendy to turn Nenene over to the British Library. Nenene is not liberal with trust but yet has faith Maggie would not betray her; she lets Maggie physically close (massages) and leaves her apartment in Maggie's care when she leaves for India at the end of the series. If anything, Nenene likely likes to keep Maggie around and close because Maggie is quiet, calming, and down to earth, a trait rarely found amid her other would-be protectors.

Nenene interacts little with the other characters, although she makes it clear she thinks it important that Junior get to know his mother; she also apparently likes the idea (again shown through teasing) of Junior and Anita as a couple. She at first seems slightly jealous of Nancy because of her closeness to Yomiko, although–perhaps simply for Yomiko’s sake–she is quickly willing to literally stand in the line of fire to protect Nancy despite not knowing her well. Nenene and Drake never do much together; both being of a certain kind of practical nature they have little to say that the other does not already understand.

Importantly, while Nenene's tendency is to distance herself, as she gets closer to the Paper Sisters and find and rekindles her friendship with Yomiko, her faith in her friends grows to the point she is not afraid to express it to a worried Junior.

History
Nenene published her first novel You Know Me (or “You Know All of Me”) when she was 13 years old, and she won an inaugural young novelist award for it amid immediately becoming a celebrity writer. Assuming the Read or Die manga is more or less accurate where the events do not contradict the events in the anime, she met Yomiko Readman at the age of 17 when Yomiko tracked her down in search of an autograph and ended up protecting her from a very dangerously obsessive fan. Nenene then followed Yomiko on her adventures, both helping her but also occasionally requiring rescue once again. Based on events in the manga, people kidnapping Nenene to force her to write a special book just for them (usually torturing her first)–or using her as bait for Yomiko–is really nothing new.

Nenene’s novel Midnight Liberation Zone was published about a year after the I-Jin incident; she wrote it in Yomiko’s presence but Yomiko disappeared by the time it came out. During her four-five year "dry spell" she is able to live fairly comfortably off royalties.

In the manga, Nenene meets Wendy and Drake, but she clearly has not met them in the series (she introduces herself to Drake, and Wendy says, "Nice to meet you," during their encounter). Nenene and Wendy in the manga got along well in a friendly-rivals sort of way (and manga Wendy rescues Nenene from capture–turning against Joker to do so–when Yomiko is indisposed), but young Wendy's personality is quite different from the jaded Wendy in the TV series.

Skills and Powers
Nenene is the least "powered" of all the R.O.D adventurers–even the non-superpowered usually have enormous levels of combat or espionage skills to draw from. What Nenene seems to lack in "power," however, she more than makes up for with sheer determination. Nenene is possibly the most strong-willed character in the entire RODiverse. She can withstand the brutal installation of Dokusensha’s Perfect Language project with apparently little lasting damage. Nothing seems to get in Nenene’s way once she sets her mind to something. She is a survivor, having endured a great deal of torture and hardship, especially since she was repeatedly a victim of kidnapping and the efforts of overzealous fans since she was a teen. Indeed, regardless of how "powerful" the other characters may seem, Nenene is clearly the keystone, the foundation, the grounding force for many of the R.O.D characters. Her determination inspires them all and helps them keep focused–and lord help them survive Nenene's wrath if they don't. So strong is her stubbornness I am almost tempted to indeed call it a supernatural skill. It's no wonder the great literary secret societies want to capture Nenene and put her mind to their use.

Beyond her iron will, Nenene is of course a superlative writer and in general is extremely eloquent and persuasive (provided the subject matter is not sentimental). While no soldier, she is seen on a few occasions to possess basic knowledge of self-defense/martial arts, and she seems pretty hardy. This makes sense, given her history for being kidnapped. Apart from this, she has few noteworthy skills; clearly, writing is her life.

Names and Symbols
According to my rudimentary knowledge of Japanese, "Ne" is a sound used for emphasis, roughly meaning "hey" or "eh" in Japanese (this is why her name was mistranslated to "Up! Up! Up!" on the post-it notes in Yomiko’s apartment in the OAV–I can only guess that the translators did not realize it was a character’s name and presumed "Ne-Ne-Ne" was a means of underlining the point of the message. Fortunately, at least as far as the Geneon DVD commentaries indicate, the creators decided to communicate more frequently with the translators for R.O.D the TV. :) ). A variety of online resources tell me that the kanji spelling "sumire" means "violet" (the color or the flower I'm not sure) and "gawa" means "river." I have read comments from Japanese-speaking fans on the Web (specifically at a thread at this message board, which I found by accident: http://com1.runboard.com/bcjkdramasincalifornia.fanime.t17%7Coffset=20) that say that "Sumiregawa Nenene" sounds clearly like a fake name: the surname "Sumiregawa" does not actually exist, and introducing yourself in Japan as "Sumiregawa Nenene" would be like going to a native English speaking country and telling them your name was "Heya Violetriver." Sure it could be a real name, but probably not. As false as it may sound, however, there is no indication that "Sumiregawa Nenene" is not the author's actual birth name. My best guess is that its mild pretension may hint at her celebrity. Or, perhaps, it is indeed a pen name, though obviously the one she goes by as her name, even if her birth name is something else.

In terms of honorifics, many characters call her "Sensei" (in a very broad sense, "learned person"–most often used for doctors and teachers) due to her status as a respected writer. Though this is somewhat confusing to my American ears in trying to figure out who is talking about whom, both she and Yomiko call each other "Sensei" (since Yomiko was a teacher when Nenene first met her).

Symbols associated with Nenene include her locket, glasses, and photographs. The first two both correspond to her connection to Yomiko Readman and her attempt to somehow keep the Paper Master in her life. When struggling with her writer's block, she speaks to the glasses as if she were speaking to Yomiko. There is a nod to the manga here, where in the first volume, Yomiko reveals to Nenene that she wears her glasses, once belonging to her mentor Donnie Nakajima, to keep Donnie’s memory alive and to uphold the idea that as long as she reads through them, Donnie is reading with her. Nenene’s glasses are apparently her own, however (and does actually need them to see clearly, as shown in episode 13); nonetheless they seem to be her way of feeling connected to Yomiko during her absence, just as Yomiko used her glasses to feel connected to Donnie. Nenene’s locket with Yomiko’s picture inside is of course another connector to her old friend, and also serves as a bit of a security blanket for her, and she clutches it when feeling lonely or uncertain. The importance of these items are clear to Nenene’s companions; when she is kidnapped by Dokusensha, Anita keeps her glasses safe while Maggie takes Nenene’s locket and wears it until it can be returned to her; in some ways, therefore Yomiko is symbolically present as the two Paper Masters battle to save Nenene as Yomiko once did. At the same time, a line is clearly drawn from past to present, where the transition is made and the Paper Sisters officially become Nenene’s new protectors. The photographs in Nenene’s life outline this transition clearly; early on, we see repeated shots of a photo of her (at the age of 17) with Yomiko, but after the Paper Sisters fully become part of her life, we are shown a shot of her with them instead (and the first picture repeatedly enters Yomiko's hands as Yomiko tackles the reality that she left her friend hanging for five years). The relationships are eventually brought full circle by the end of the series, with both pictures sitting side-by-side on Nenene’s mantle.


Death Quaker's Realm All original creative materials © 2005 R. Pickard. Read or Die, R.O.D. the TV and all related concepts were created by Hideyuki Kurata and are ©2003 Aniplex/Studio Orphee.
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