Saturday, June 7, 2014

Manga Review: Nana

When most people think of anime with "broad crossover appeal" they tend to think of the shows like Fullmetal Alchemist and Attack on Titan, shows with flashy action that also spend quite a bit of time making their characters sympathetic so that any audience can follow their actions, not just hardcore anime fans who know what it means when a sister sighs after her brother. Nana doesn't have that flashy action that tends to grab people and yet I have heard so many people say that they don't usually read manga/watch anime or that they're fans but their parents aren't and yet this is one of the few series that has really grabbed them. I've been trying to get a hold of the series for years but given that, even unfinished, it's 21 volumes I've had a bit of a hard time, heck there's probably a review or two of volume one floating way back in my backlogs here. But when I had a lot of free time this past winter I decided to just go ahead and check out as many books from the library as I could carry at once (especially since it was a 30 minute walk each way to the silly place) and found out that the series was well worth my time indeed.


Nana (volumes 1-21) by Ai Yazawa



Nana Komatsu is a bubbly girl who isn't sure what she wants to do with her life but falling in love again and again appears to be something she'll do regardless of if she wants it to happen or not. Nana Osaki is a rocker girl whose decided to move to Tokyo with her band to go big or go home, although the rest of the band can't tell if she's partially chasing her past boyfriend, their old guitarist, and if that would even be a good thing or not. The two girls meet and soon Nana and "Hachi" Komatsu are flatmates, friends, and generally trying to live their own lives as best as they can, no matter how tangled and snarled up they become.


As a quick note before I really dive into the review, when Nana "ends" the story is focusing on two different time periods, one is the early-2000s story where the story really starts and the other is about five or eight years in the future (the story has many ominous "but we didn't know things would go so wrong" moments early on but doesn't switch to giving that time much page time until later on). Since there are still events that need to happen in the earlier time period before it connects up to the later one I'm going to refer to the earlier one as the "present" and the later one as the "future," although ironically enough given how many years it's took for the story to progress as far as they did they're both technically in the past for us now.

I think it's perfect that Nana refers to two different characters because this story is about a lot of different characters and, while Nana and Hachi are clearly the two leads, Yazawa does a fantastic job at making each character feel like the hero of their own story. She's constantly introducing new characters as each reoccurring character's situation changes and this is one of the few times where I understand why a story has so many love triangles, you're with the characters so long you can see not only how they change (and therefore, what they want out of life changes) but how different characters can really be right for each other but only in certain situations. She nails the complexities of human interaction really well, even if I feel that sometimes (more and more later on) that the plot feels more like a soap opera than a grounded drama.

It's hard to write a 10 volume+ story that revolves more around character growth than a "X needs to happen or Y will" plot and I understand that, I really do. But when you do nothing but focus on characters then it feels like their lives are too full, there's always something going on instead of the usual ebb and flow of events that's more realistic. I almost wonder if Yazawa should have focused on the side characters more to give the main characters that break, and then I remember that she fleshed out both bands pretty throughly as well, plus Hachi's original friends had some side plots going on earlier in the story so I'm really not sure where she could do here. And that does make me a little worried for when the story (hopefully!) resumes, what is she going to use to fill the time between the two time periods that can create meaningful progress or even in the future?

One thing that surprised me was that I had heard all over the internet before I started the series that many people expected the two Nanas to end up together at the very end of the story. I wasn't positive if people meant romantically or platonically but from that I expected that one of the big focuses in the story would be the two of them deepening a relationship where even when the world was crappy they still had that to fall back on, with normal bickering and such. That relationship did turn out to be a huge part of the story but I now have to question everyone who thought that this would be a good idea since the manga makes it clear that, at this point, this would be a bit of a terrible idea. While Hachi has become more sure of herself as the story goes on Nana truly hasn't become older and more mature and has a possessive streak a mile wide, going so far as to want one of her bandmates to date Hachi not just because the two of them like each other but because it would tie Hachi to her more closely (and I thought the story implied that was her main reason for wanting that relationship, not that it would be an added bonus but the main reason for it). I am now seriously questioning everyone who, as of volume 21, really thinks that's how the story is going to end, maybe when the characters are a few decades older but currently it's a terrible idea!

To touch briefly on the art, I felt like at times some of the characters looked too similar (especially since Yazawa seems to introduce new characters in groups, not just one or two at a time) but that was my only complaint there. And on that note, is the manga worth reading even if it gets soapy? I think so, I certainly liked it more than a lot of other, currently on-going manga out there and the subject matter is closer to josei than shojo (it is in fact shojo, look at the magazine it runs in) so I can see both josei readers enjoying it and shojo readers using it as a way to "try out" a more mature story. So give it a shot, it's been around long enough that even my libraries have a copy of it, it's still in print, and there are digital editions out as well!



  

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