Nana is the story of two young women who move to Tokyo to begin their lives as young adults. Both of them come from smaller towns and both are named Nana, but there the similarities end. Nana Komatsu is a rather flighty young woman who falls in love very quickly, but who doesn’t make very good choices about who to fall in love with. She is heading to Tokyo to be closer to her boyfriend Shojo and her best friend Junko. Nana Osaki is a punk rock musician moving to Tokyo to try to make it as a singer. A chance encounter on the train and another in Tokyo leads to a decision to become roommates. They are two very different young women, with very different dreams for the future, but the support and friendship they find together will sustain them on their journey through life.
In many respects Nana is part Sense and Sensibility and part Odd Couple. Nana Komatsu (nicknamed Hatchi or Hachiko by Nana Osaki) is obsessed with love, seeing it in every handsome young man who crosses her path. Having been raised by a loving family, she is unsure of how to take care of herself, even as she is insistent on trying to do so. Nana Osaki, however, was raised by a grandmother who couldn’t have cared less about her, so she is fully able to take care of herself and rejects help past the point when she really needs it. But together they fill in the gaps in each other’s souls. It is the building of this friendship that is so beautiful to watch. Hatchi in one scene describes the feeling of a new friendship as being similar to the feeling she gets when she first starts to fall in love and she’s not far off.
The other characters who come in and out of the Nanas’ lives are just as well-developed and we get to know them over the course of the anime. Yasu (the taciturn drummer), Shin (the underage bassist), and Nobu (the hyper guitarist) are all part of Nana O.’s band Black Stones, called Blast for short. These men are loyal to Nana, but they don’t exist just to back her up. They have their own pasts and their own demons with which to struggle. The same can be said for Junko (Hatchi’s best friend), Kyosuke (Junko’s loyal boyfriend), and Shoji (Hatchi’s boyfriend, who soon finds himself caught between two young women). And overshadowing them all is the specter of Ren, Nana O.’s ex-boyfriend and former bassist for Blast, who is currently the guitarist for the up-and-coming band Trapnest, a favorite of Hatchi’s. Nana and Ren’s love was real and parting ripped out a piece of each of their souls. Nana’s struggle with that colors much of her interactions with the other characters.
For those who have read Ai Yazawa’s manga, the anime follows it pretty closely. If you haven’t read the manga, know that the structure of the first few episodes is a little strange. We are show the first meeting of the Nanas in the first episode, but then we are taken back for two episodes and shown Hatchi/Nana K.’s past and what motivated her to move to Tokyo. Then we are shown the same thing for Nana O. Then in episode six, the meeting occurs again and the storyline picks up from there. Know that that means there are essentially two recap episodes: episode six, which does have different scenes from episode one, and episode 11.5, which takes the bonus section from the manga volumes, “Junko’s Room,” and uses it to recap the first eleven episodes. Ordinarily I wouldn’t want that much recap, but with Nana, which has a lot of characters and an emotionally complex storyline, it’s not as much of a weakness.
The anime is visually very similar to the manga. Yazawa’s trademark long-limbed, gracefully beautiful characters are rendered here in full-color and come out gloriously real. They are distinct from each other visually and believable as young men and women. Special scenes, such as Nana O. seeing a poster of Trapnest, or Nana and Nobu’s playing for Hatchi in their apartment, or the end of episode 11, when someone special shows up at the girls’; door, are perfectly paced, allowing the visual impact to hit you like a punch you didn’t see coming. The music is spot on as well. The opening and closing songs are sung by Anna Tsuchiya (inspired by Nana O.) and Olivia (inspired by Reira/Layla, the lead singer for Trapnest) and both will quickly stick in your head.
Personally I prefer to watch subtitled, but having watched this both dubbed and subtitled, I have to admit that both are strong. Midori Kawana is the Japanese voice of Hatchi, with Kelly Sheridan doing the English dub. Both nicely capture Hatchi’s perkiness, her desperate need for love and acceptance, and her sweet, happy nature. Romi Paku (whom anime fans might recognize as Edward Elric in Fullmetal Alchemist, Temari in Naruto, Yuujirou Shihoudani in Princess Princess, as well as many others) has an almost shockingly deep voice for Nana O. at the beginning, but as I listened her husky sound began to seem perfect for the young punk rocker. Rebecca Shoichet’s voice in the English dub was less deep, but no less effective. In addition to the nice casting job for the dubbing, the subtitles were strong and blessedly free from typos or misspellings.
I have recommended the Nana manga before and it is a nice feeling to now be able to also recommend the anime. I’ll never be as much of an anime watcher as I am a manga reader, but with anime as strong as this one, I definitely have incentive to watch more. Highly recommended.
NOTE: This review was previously posted at an old blog of mine, Fujoshi Librarian.
Nana: Uncut Box Set 1
by Moriko Asaka
270, Number of Discs: 3, Box set
Company Age Rating: M/Mature
Related to: Nana by Ai Yazawa