Sunday, July 12, 2009
Recessionary Rereads: NANA, vol. 1-2
Comic Book Resources is hosting a great conversation on NANA right now, called The NANA Project. Together, Melinda Beasi, Michelle Smith and Danielle Leigh go through two volumes of NANA at a time. As you'll see, I commented quite a bit in their first installment. It also inspired me to get started on a new feature here on i ♥ manga: recessionary rereads.
Since I already own and have read many volumes of NANA, I thought this would be a great opportunity to reread the series and review these books on my second go. So, here's the first post of recessionary rereads, featuring the first two volumes of NANA. Of course, the name comes from my need to reread the series I own since I don't have a lot of money for manga right now! During the course of The NANA Project, I'll try to keep up with the volumes they're reading and discussing.
The story: This is the story of two women named Nana. Nana Komatsu is, by all accounts, an average girl from an average family in an average town with an above-average ability to fall in love hard and fast. When her best friend, Jun, moves to Tokyo with her boyfriend, Nana knows she wants to follow. On the other hand is the cool, punk rock-loving Nana Osaki, lead singer of Blast. Music is her life and she'll be damned if she doesn't make it on her own to Tokyo, especially after her boyfriend and former bandmate, Ren, makes it big by joining Trapnest in Tokyo as their bassist.
On their separate ways to Tokyo -- Nana Komatsu in a seemingly split-second decision to leave and Nana Osaki after getting her act together -- the two fatefully meet on the train that snowy night. When they finally arrive, they part and expect to never see each other again. Of course, fate has other plans and the two Nanas soon become Nana and "Hachi" when they become roommates. They're quickly drawn into each other's worlds and their adventure together begins.
Reaction times two: When I first read NANA a few years ago, I was put off by Nana "Hachi" Komatsu -- she's flighty and flaky. But, rereading the first volume's introduction of her didn't revive my annoyance at all. Instead, it was like remembering the youth of an old friend, or my own. We all make mistakes when we're younger and, during this second read, I felt much the same. Hachi has a lot going for her, like her practically instant capacity to love that's admirable in its own right, even if it leads her down the wrong path time and again.
Of course, I had the opposite initial reaction to Nana Osaki -- I was a big fan of punk rock in high school and she reminded me of some of the women I knew then. She's cool and tough, but underneath it all, she's actually quite vulnerable. But, when Nana finds her strength -- often in rock music and, now, enhanced by Hachi's presence in her life -- she's a force to be reckoned with. While Nana and Hachi seem like opposites initially, they're actually quite complementary; Hachi needs to love someone all the time and Nana needs to be loved unconditionally.
About the mangaka: Honestly, Ai Yazawa's art and writing skills are amazing, and the near-perfect combination of the two is what has kept me hooked on this story all these years. Yazawa has a deft hand at balancing this series' dramatic tension with some comedic turns. She also combines photorealistic backgrounds of Tokyo with her distinctive style, with long-limbed, lithe character design. My only gripe is that, without the distinct markers of hair, clothing and accessories, it would be all too easy to confuse the characters.
Regardless, the nuances of the unspoken need of both Nanas to be someone else's most important person are perfectly illustrated by Yazawa, both in words and via character's expressed emotion. Nana Osaki is tight-lipped about her past, but Yazawa shows her reactions and emotions beautifully by simply illustrating them. While Nana "Hachi" Komatsu wears her heart on her sleeve, she still has a hard time reading other people, with the exception of the other Nana. Their relationship is, in many ways, a symbiotic one, but there's no way of knowing who is the parasite and who is the host.
Both of these women need each other for their own reasons and here, in these first two volumes, Yazawa only hints at those reasons. This is an amazing story of two women, their lives and their love for each other that surprisingly bloomed quickly and without reason.
In the end: This series should be required reading for any woman out there, and for guys that can deal with drama, comedy and a heartwarming, yet heartbreaking, tale. While the cast of characters we've already been introduced to serve primarily as the two Nanas' support systems, these two first books set up why the two young women will soon enough lean on one another instead. NANA is available in the U.S. from Viz.