Monday, May 1, 2017

Merry Month of Manga Review: NANA

Five years.

Can you believe it?  It's been five years since I first put together this humble little BlogSpot to start putting up reviews.  It was meant to just be a hobby, a way to pass the time on my own in my quiet little rental room during a period of extended unemployment. 

Five years later I'm now a married woman with shelves full of manga, and what started as a hobby is growing into something more.  Writing here has given me the confidence to try writing on other topics at other places.  Not only do I now have some regular features on Infinite Rainy Day, but also recently made my debut as a contributing writer for Anime Feminist.  I've dabbled in podcasting, and I hope to someday return to it. I've even started to make a little income off of this humble little hobby of mine.  It's been a hell of a ride, even if I admit that I'm not always the most consistent about it.

As we do every May, I plan on reviewing an entire month's worth of manga.  This year, I'm shaking things up yet again with a new theme: shoujo manga.  I'll be doing 31 days' worth of shoujo manga reviews, as I try to cover books old and new, good and bad, and all points in between.  Of course, we have to kick off such a momentous anniversary with a review of an equally momentous series.

NANA, by Ai Yazawa.  First published in 2000 and first published in North America in 2005.


This is the story of two young women, both named Nana.

Nana Komatsu is a frantic young woman who is always unlucky in love (mostly because she tends to choose bad, douchey partners).  Her latest relationship with a married, older businessman is no exception to this.  She decides to follow her best friend Jun to art college in hopes of turning her life around…and she pretty much fails at that.  Instead, she ends up latching onto and falling for a mutual friend, Shoji, and decides to follow him to Tokyo.

Nana Osaki is cool and confident, a troubled kid who grew up to be the lead singer for her boyfriend’s punk band, Blast.  Unfortunately, he’s decided to move on to a new up-and-coming band and now she has to decide whether to try and make things work with Ren or to head to Tokyo with her remaining bandmates to try and break out.


The most suprising thing about this first volume is that there’s no real overarching plot thread.  There’s just two different stories about two very different girls who happen to have the same first name.  Mind you, that’s not a problem because each story is interesting and involving in its own right.  You can’t help but root for Nana K., even as she clearly demonstrates that when it comes to anything involving romance, she is in way over her head.  She’s just like a hyper little puppy and you can’t help but want to pat her on the head, even as she’s diving into relationships solely because she’s in love with the idea of being in love and has no idea what she wants in a partner and tends to lose herself in her attempts to always please her partners.  She’s also surrounded by a great group of friends, especially Jun, her more level-headed, snarky best friend. 

Nana O. clearly has things a little more together than Nana K.  She knows what she wants out of life (to be a rock star) and has a fairly healthy, normal relationship with Ren.  She’s tough and cool on the surface, thanks to a hard-knock childhood, but she’s still a little vulnerable and now she’s torn between pursuing her dream and finding happiness through success or pursuing her relationship with Ren and maybe trying to find happiness in family.  It’s a tough choice for anyone to make, but luckily she has an awesome support team in the form of her bandmates and even a few of her fans.  Nana O. is just such a compelling and real person, and she is by and large my favorite character of the story.  That's not something you can say for every shoujo manga, and it's that same vivid character writing which distinguishes NANA even at this early stage.


The character designs are typical for Yazawa, all long and lanky with sharp eyes, expressive faces and really nicely drawn hair (I particularly like Jun’s mess of dark curls and Nana O.’s dark, short mop of hair).  As always, she clearly has lots of fun drawing the characters’ wardrobes too, and really gets to let loose with the punk fashions of  Nana O. and her gang.  Backgrounds are surprisingly infrequent and are often either traced or just flat-out rotoscoped, if not replaced with screen effects.  Also typical of her work, the panels tend to be small, sparse and very talkative.


There’s a very meta omake in the back, where Nana K. and her friends talk about what the manga should be like (and even reference a couple of Yazawa’s other works, like Paradise Kiss).


Yazawa has always had a gift for writing and drawing really compelling stories about fascinating, flawed young women and NANA is no exception.  Over a decade and a half later, it's still worth reading.

This series is published by Viz.  This series is on hiatus in Japan with 21 volumes available.  All volumes have been published and are currently in print.

No comments:

Post a Comment