This is review number four hundred and twenty one. This anime is part of the Spring 2006 lineup. It’s called Nana, and it’s a forty seven episode anime about a bunch of people having a lot of casual sex. Yeah, this took me a while to finish. Let’s read on.
The anime follows the life of two people named Nana as they live their days in Tokyo. They both have different dreams, different personalities and different lives to life in general, but they soon discover that the presence of the other holds so much significance as they brave on with their own lives.
Taking the Pants Off
I’ll be straight with you. I won’t be doing this anime justice with my review. I know NANA is amazing, but I personally don’t get it. I’m not sure if it’s because I’m not really the target demographic or something. I just found the entire experience boring, and the heavy dialogue makes my mind wander. The show often lacks excitement, and it often feels like someone should’ve cut the anime down to make the dialogue scenes more tolerable. I guess that’s the perplexing thing about the anime: they faithfully adapted the manga. Ai Yazawa’s manga was seemingly brought to life and little was changed. The entirety of the original source is meticulously adapted. If I was given a chance to series compose this sh*t, then it won’t run for 47 episodes. You can cut a lot of things off, and it’ll fit a respectable 26 episode run. I don’t think that was ever an option though. No one in the production thought to condense the manga, and it’s so fascinating because rushed adaptations and botched interpretations are so common back in the 2000s. Coming off the anime boom and before the rise of moe, this was a weird time for anime. And yet here is NANA with very little to feature, but its entirety is respected and introduced to anime fans. For me, I really only appreciate this anime because of the legacy it respected. You see, NANA is more than a josei manga. It was Ai Yazawa’s life work.
Art Imitates Life
Apparently, the mangaka is uber popular. She’s been doing manga since the late 80s, and Nana was the culmination of her experience as a mangaka. People love her work, and she is pretty influential. I can only tell these things second hand though, so I’ll provide links talking about Ai Yazawa. I’ll start with this one HERE: “Yazawa’s development as an author is interesting in that her early manga were all short enough to show a very distinct improvement in her writing between each new work laid out in a number of small steps. The progression has a deliberate feeling to it, as if Yazawa intentionally experimented with new themes and built upon her prior experience with each story. Her earliest manga described scenarios in which love was a more idyllic concept and characters pursued it for its own sake. With time her characters began to experience uncertainty about their own feelings, self-sabotage themselves, and actively reflecting upon whether their love life is in line with other personal goals. Yazawa’s work also grew more personalized as she began to work her other passions, primarily fashion and music, into her works to such a degree that she has grown into an influential figure in both of those subjects in Japan.”
One fascinating thing about Ai Yazawa is that she is a recluse (HERE, HERE). No one knows her real name, she gives very little information in interviews, and she is even rarely photographed. Despite that, she does interact with her readers, often drawing characters replying to her fans. If you’ve seen NANA though, then I think you’d understand why she avoids personal topics. The story feels too personal. Some of the dialogues, narrations and situation seem too close to real life. Her style seems to be writing what she knows and letting her heart dictate her work. She’s a passionate artist, and I personally respond to the effort and love she pours into her work. Nothing feels forced, nothing feels fake and you can easily separate the ideal fantasies of her work to the deeply personal one. She writes in a vulnerable state that you can basically know her through her work, and I believe that’s why she doesn’t share anything about her life in interviews. Why bother, when you can read them in her work. I think this is also why a lot of people respond very passionately to them as well. It just hits home in a very satisfying way that does mirror real life in a bittersweet way.
The curious thing about NANA is that the series is not finished. In 2009, Ai Yazawa was hospitalized for an illness, and it wasn’t until 2010 when she was revealed to be in stable condition. Despite being good, NANA remains to be on hiatus. Her last released work is a bunch of “Junko’s Room” chapters that also went on hiatus in 2014. Now this is where my interest honestly peaked in watching NANA: what the hell happened to the passionate mangaka that pours her entire soul into her manga? What made her stop? What made her abandon her lifework? More importantly, why can’t she seemingly put that behind her? Ai Yazawa seems like a very dedicated person, so an announcement from her discontinuing NANA would be the end of it. She personally can’t leave it be though. In the last copy of ROLA magazine, she hinted on being interested in NANA again, but that was back in 2013. What is seemingly stopping her from continuing her work, and what is preventing her from abandoning it as well? It’s such a fascinating case of a woman that poured her entire life into something she is passionate about only to suddenly stop. She just stops. No explanation. She just decided she had enough.
I can personally relate to Ai Yazawa, because this 1000 anime journey of mine is also something I poured my life into. I owe no one an explanation should I ever stop and I don’t care if it’s left unfinished. It does haunt my thoughts though and the idea of continuing feels enticing. When you’ve done it all your life, you’ll find it’s hard to really stop. Ai Yazawa is a very honest individual, and I do believe the reason she put NANA on hiatus can be answered by the manga itself. She either went with Nana Komatsu’s route or she went with Nana Osaki’s route. She either started a family or the stress of a mangaka’s life crippled her. Honestly, it could be both. The fascinating thing about NANA is that nothing happens abruptly, and situations are left to simmer. Characters are left to face the situation and they’d ponder over it in a gloriously long amount of time. Real life is slow and painful, and NANA reflects that. Ai Yazawa teaches us that, and she also tells us that it keeps on moving. You do not have time to look back.
Do you wanna start watching NANA now? I convinced you, right? I’ll tell you though that it took me a month to finish this anime. It is just so gawd damn slow and boring. I get it though. The anime follows the life of the characters, and everything is done for a purpose. Every boring pillow talk, gossiping and conversation over food does have some sort of pay off. They are all dialogue though. Like, 80% of this anime is talking. It’s just characters talking, monologuing and narrating anything and everything. The rest of the show is about music and sex, but it doesn’t really make the dialogue easier to digest. At some point, the episodes feel so slow because the dialogue just kills everything. Oh my gawd, it was just so tough to finish this show. As I said before, I’m not the target audience so I can’t really love NANA as much as I want to. Don’t get me wrong though. I love romance, I’m a romantic, but there is very little romance here too. Most times, it’s just casual sex and then pillow talk. Gawd almight, this anime is sooooooo dense and boring. Is it awful? No, not really. It just really reminds you that real life is slow and painful.
For me, the anime really had two really good episodes. It’s episode 14 and episode 30. These are the best parts of the show. The problem with NANA is that you can’t really skip the previous episodes, because these particular episodes won’t really make much sense. You’re forced to really understand the characters first before reaching the best moments of the anime. For the purpose of this review, this anime is divided into three parts. We have the prologue, or the episodes before the 14th. Episode 15 to 29 is the first chapter. This is really where the story amps up and all the important pieces are introduced. Episode 30 till the end would be the second chapter, and this is really where the anime really started to feel good. Payoff is at the second chapter, but you have 29 episodes to sit through first to truly appreciate everything in it. Also note that one regular airing anime (13 episodes) is needed for character introduction and exposition before the anime hits its stride at episode fourteen. The entire experience hurts, but let’s finally dissect Ai Yazawa’s life work.
Ok, so NANA is about two people named Nana. Nana Komatsu is this naïve girl that immediately jumped on a train to see her boyfriend in Tokyo. Her train is stopped by a snowstorm though, and she starts talking to her seatmate, Nana Osaki. Through sheer coincidence, the two are named NANA and they aren’t aware that their life will soon be intertwined as they both move to Tokyo. The story is pretty loose from the get go, because it’s clearly established that this is a character driven story. Basically, the character’s decisions will shape the story. In order to fully appreciate this character driven narrative though, we must first be introduced properly to the characters themselves. As I said before, this anime took thirteen episodes to properly introduce the characters before actually incorporating more story into the mix. So what exactly is included in the prologue of NANA?
Nothing much, really. The anime opens with the introduction of Nana Komatsu. She loves the idea of falling in love, and she actually doesn’t mind being a side piece for a much older guy just as long as she can “fall in love”. She knows she’s the young mistress to a married guy, but she doesn’t care. She’s in love. Yeah, that’s our lead. A lot of time is actually dedicate to Nana and her relationship to the older guy before we are actually introduced to the boyfriend that she would be living together with in Tokyo. Meanwhile, we’re just presented with this wonderful look at how young people think about love. It actually makes me laugh, because this is basically how a lot of my classmates behave back in high school. This idea of having a “boyfriend” seems glamorous, and actually getting into twenty relationships that would only last a few months isn’t that shocking. They’re “in love” and that’s all that matter. This incredibly short sighted outlook of teenagers is actually beautifully reflected with Nana Komatsu. She IS that real of a character. She’s selfish, she’s flawed and she is also so human that you just can’t really hate her. I know I can’t. The one thing that I had a hard time adjusting in the prologue is the way casual sex is portrayed.
I think in the very first episode, you’ll see Nana K and her boyfriend naked in bed. It was a transition scene too, so it’s implied that they just had sex. Ladies and gentleman, the Josei genre. If we’re indulging in the beauty of youth and the idea of falling in love, then we’re strolling in Shoujo. Let the characters have casual sex and have them half naked all the time, then you’re in Josei. I guess this is why I have a hard time really appreciating this anime, because I am really not its demographic. I can’t really relate to characters having casual sex and female leads thinking about how to make their man happy. The elements of the genre come at you right away, so I guess you have the entire prologue to really adjust to the mindset of the anime. It can also be romantic, in a pragmatic way, especially with how Nana Osaki’s relationship is presented.
I can see some of Ai Yazawa’s reclusiveness in how Nana O is actually presented. This character keeps her distance, she dodges questions, but she is also very vulnerable. The people she lets into her life are people she really cares for, and there are only a handful of them in the prologue. No, there’s only one character she’s close to and it’s her boyfriend, Ren. I believe these characters were both introduced naked in a bath tub together, with Ren cleaning Nana’s body. It establishes how intimate they are, but it also gives you an idea how special they are to each other. I believe once Nana K settled in Tokyo, the story shifts into Nana O’s perspective and this shift is actually very important later on. But anyways, Nana’s story is that the one person she values with all her life walks out on her. Ren is recruited to be a guitarist for a popular band, and he needs to move to Tokyo. He invites Nana to go with him, but the girl is too proud to accept it. Before leaving for Tokyo though, Ren is actually part of Nana’s band. The next time we see Ren and Nana together is her looking at a poster of Ren implying the distance that has grown between them. Nana soon realized though that she wants to be the best singer in the world, so she decides to go to Tokyo as well and prove that she can get famous on her own. And that’s pretty much half of the prologue.
The other half is the two Nana meeting again, and the story basically starts here. Their paths have crossed and we’ll soon find out how much the two influences each other. Again, we are drowned in dialogue but we are also introduced to the important people in the characters’ life. At this point, the story is really only ramping up to the big moment in episode 14, and this’ll really be the big test on whether you’ll enjoy the anime or not. Then again, if you can power through the prologue then the moment in episode 14 is really just a beautifully executed pay off for you. It was for me, because it was a culmination of all the best parts of the show. It was also the first big conflict of the anime, and it gives you an idea how great the other conflicts can be later on. Like, really, it just gets better from here.
One thing you’ll learn from the prologue is that the anime doesn’t really have any “villains” in its story. Sure, there are people that cheat on their relationship and there are people that sleep with everyone, but the anime never really shames them for it. In ramping up to episode 14, the story explores every side of the situation and paints to light that there are no villains in real life. Sure, you can hate a character and you can wish a big load of karma will happen to them, but the anime would help you think otherwise. The big moment in episode 14 illustrates that these characters are just people you can relate to, and they are as flawed as you. Ai Yazawa’s writing is so good that you’d often just sit back and say “well, it can’t be help”. In a situation, no one person is at fault and it takes a bunch of different moving parts for one incident to happen. I honestly hated everyone in episode 14, in that one particular moment that made the anime so good, but I honestly can’t. Given the beautifully crafted situation and the slow journey to get there, you’ll soon realize that this anime doesn’t pick sides. No one is a true hero of this story, and no one is also playing the role of that one antagonist that makes a story good. No, everyone here are relatable humans and the show actually takes the time to point this out. Through all the boring dialogue and dense exposition, a character is explored and developed to the point that their actions truly shape the story. It’s pretty incredible, to be honest, because this kind of storytelling is so precise. It’s also too personal as it blurs the line between fiction and non-fiction. At some point, you’ll have to wonder, how much of this did Ai Yazawa experience herself? At why does she treat everyone lovingly fair?
Since we’re on the topic of the characters, the design is actually one of the big reasons why I was initially put off by the anime. It reminds me of CLAMP’s design, but a lot more exaggerated. It’s become a joke that any slender character in any of Ai Yazawa’s story is guaranteed to be important. She just loves them tall, long limbed and weirdly handsome. Given how realistic the story is, the character design actually takes me out of it. Now, if you can reach episode 14, then it won’t really be a problem for you. The issue I have is that the cell animation didn’t really do justice to Ai Yazawa’s strong style. Since animation is still in a weird transition at this point, that problem is actually embodied by this anime. They use her manga as a storyboard and key animation, but characters don’t really move that much so it just looks a bit awkward. To be honest, Ai Yazawa’s style is so jarring that I intentionally stayed clear of Paradise Kiss because of it. Now, don’t get me wrong, her design is actually glorious. Nana O’s built is awe-inspiring but it’s still a bit in your face, and it takes time to really get used to it.
I believe the characters are tall and slender because it makes it easy to dress them up in fashionable clothes. I believe one of NANA’s selling points is the stylish design Ai Yazawa does to her characters. It’s apparently such a big centerpiece of her style that it does inspire fashion designers and the like. Also, given the target demographic, then I do think her style does evoke a reaction from its intended target. Now that I think about it, actually designing different clothes and accessories to a certain character is pretty hard, so I guess her style is something to really be admired. For me though, coupled with the heavy dialogue and exposition, the style and animation also doesn’t help in making me invest much in the show. There are certain times where I wanted to cry, and I suddenly laugh because the design just looks weird. I’m sorry. This is a nit-pick. You’ve seen the screenshots, so judge for yourselves.
The First Chapter
I’ll just quickly talk about the two chapters, because this review is long enough. Basically, major shifts in storytelling happen in the two chapters. In the first chapter, episode 15-29, the focus expands to different characters. In the prologue, the story is about the two Nanas adjusting to their life in Tokyo. Their friend and support systems play their intended role as minor characters here. In the first chapter, various plot points appear and the focus is on the relationships between different people. In the prologue, the Nanas’ and their relationship to their boyfriend is explored. In the first chapter, Nana K’s friends soon meet Nana O’s support system and the relationship branches off from there. Nana K’s relationship with Nana’s band branches off into their own plot points, and more and more relationships are explored. I believe episode 17 is where the relationship branches finally starts taking shape as the final characters are introduced to round up the cast of the first chapter.
The story gets juicy at this point. I can imagine reading this and then immediately gossiping about the characters to my circle of friends that also read the manga. One of Ai Yazawa’s main goals in creating NANA is to point out that small relationships or a casual encounter between two characters can grow into something big. She points out that even the tiniest of events can build into something huge in a person’s life. So every small meet up and relationship in the first chapter does have, or rather will have, a chance to blow up into something more meaningful between the two people. This is something I really admire in this anime, because you’ll never really expect how a relationship can blow up. I mean, it even comes to a point where you’ll be annoyed that the anime is putting so much time and effort to feature casual encounters or meaningless walks between two characters, but then it just builds steam and it soon becomes a major focus of the show. It’s really masterful given how many relationships are established in the show. Let’s say there are six characters, and the anime will feature all six interacting in pairs, so you’ll be following thirty relationships just between that circle. I believe there are ten characters introduced in the first chapter, so good luck with the math with that one. Of course, some of the meet ups won’t mean much, but the show will still take time introducing one character to the rest of the cast. It’s insane, and incredibly meticulous. It’s no surprised Ai Yazawa is taking her time to return.
Sex into Love
I believe this is the big theme of the first chapter. Can two people who just want to have sex actually build enough between them to actually fall in love? This is brought up, because a lot of the characters does go off and get naked in front of each other. While the story at this point is a bit loose, because characters are still settling in, this theme does float over the characters head. You should also keep this in mind, because the various relationships in the first chapter do seek to answer this question. Characters ponder about love and wonders if it is really separate from just casual sex? More importantly, can you really stop the feelings from growing?
The Second Chapter
This chapter starts at episode 30, and it’s a major shift for the anime because the narrator changes. Usually, it’s Nana K narrating the anime but Nana O does that task from this point on. There’s a big reason to the sudden shift, but it mostly signals that the story is finally ripening up. While the first chapter built the foundation of the story, the second chapter develops it further. One of the most notable things to happen in the second chapter is the streamlining of the story to focus on a central plot line. It also introduces a lot of conflict, like actual conflict important to the story. This is really why I believe the anime truly starts at episode 30, and everything else before it is just the show slowly developing flavor. The anime actually gives big life altering problems for the characters to handle, and it’s so different from the usual melodrama between two characters. I mean, a fight between characters is normal for the show. The second chapter actually introduces conflict so strong that it shakes the status quo, and the conflict just slowly escalates one after the other. I am tiptoeing around the big conflicts, but it truly tests the characters. It makes them make big life choices that’ll affect the relationship they’ve built in the previous twenty nine episodes, and it’s soooo good. It’s truly the best pay off in the anime. Yeah, they all happen in the second chapter.
More importantly, the even handed character development is still present in the second chapter. The antagonistic personality of the characters bubble to the surface, and you’re still not able to fully hate them. While I know there is one particular character you want to strangle, it’s actually really impressive how much I relate to his choices in the story. He isn’t a bad guy, but he also doesn’t have the right to treat people the way he does in the story. I know there are people in your life that fits this description, and now watch Ai Yazawa slowly make sense of such a strong character. Aside from that, the big theme of the first chapter is also explored more heavily in this chapter. Can love born from just sex? Well, this one dimensional question is given more depth. How dependent are they to each other? How vulnerable is this individual? So the simple question grows to really explore every possibility. I truly started enjoying this anime around this time, and it’s kinda funny looking back. The amount of highs and lows in this chapter is so effective that I actually prefer the boring pace of the prologue and the first chapter. It just ramps up in a way that really changes the impression you have of the anime itself. I’ll stop here, or else I will spoil everything.
I won’t go into a big tangent about the characters. All I can say is that they are the best part of the show, and I urge everyone to actually fall in love with all of them. From the two Nanas to the gossiping art friends to even the minor characters introduced in the second chapter, these characters are really smartly conceived. It often feels like there is no big plan for them ahead of time, and everything just naturally happens as each character makes a big decision. The anime does a great job of really putting the audience in their shoes, and it gives you an idea how complex the relationships can be. Of course, you’ll love certain characters and absolutely hate some of them but always keep in mind that the anime itself is forcing you to pick a side. Seeing the character you’ve grown to love suddenly be hurt by another character makes you side with them. And I really love how the show forces a reaction out of you. It’s manipulating you in such a smart way, and I don’t really think most audience can catch it.
One thing I love about the characters is how old bonds stand the test of time while new ones hold so much promise. When a new character is introduced very late in the show, I actually couldn’t wait to see them connect with the cast, but then the show abruptly ends. The show got me so invested that I truly wanted to see them develop relationships. Meanwhile, through the use of flashbacks and monologues, old relationships are given so much weight. Yasu and Nana O’s relationship is particularly impressive, because of how complex their bond is. It’s beyond being lovers yet also beyond friendship, and as if they’ve been through so much that their relationship could handle anything. Whether it’s the intense feeling they have for each other or the comfort they feel when they are together, it wonderfully highlights how masterful Ai Yazawa is at crafting relationships so personal you’d swear these two are real people. I bet they are, because I do believe Ai Yazawa draws inspiration from her real bonds.
Morio Asaka and Madhouse
This anime is directed by Morio Asaka. He is currently in charge of the new Cardcaptor Sakura anime, while he also directed the first Sakura in his directorial debut. He also handled Chihayafuru and My Love Story. In terms of adapting the original source, this guy seems to master that craft. I always believe that a great adaptation shares the strength and weakness of the original source, and NANA does embody that. Ai Yazawa’s influence is wonderfully captured in this anime, while the lack of inspiration in the way she portrays music, outside a visual presentation, is also featured. I also have a problem with the character design, but the animation of the time has a hand in that as well. I am actually strangely excited to see a reboot of this anime done in the same style as Chihayafuru. I bet it’ll look fantastic, especially the stage performances. The last Madhouse anime I saw might’ve been Mahouka, good gawd, but I must say that this studio does crank out consistent hits. I personally didn’t buy into the hype of Mahouka, but this studio rarely produces clunkers. I’m not sure how they fared back in 2006, but I do think this studio is consistently thriving. Good for them. Once I can get a regular pace again for my reviews, I would love to tackle the new stuff done by Madhouse, especially that new Sakura anime.
Sight and Sound
I do believe the anime itself is Ai Yazawa’s manga in full form, just animated with some weird animation choices for the stage performances. I’ll just focus on the animation here, because it is pretty weird upon first impression. Now, most people would call it “outdated” and that’s honestly such a shallow term to describe any animation. Everything eventually becomes outdated, so a reviewer should go beyond such a shallow term. I’m sorry. This is a pet peeve of mine. Yeah, it looks outdated but any idiot can say that. How about something an idiot wouldn’t say? Yeah? Eh, but the animation is a bit awful. Again, this was cell animation done digitally so it just looks so awkward. Basically, it’s still done frame by frame but things are now done in computers. So it kinda harks back to old school hand drawn procedures while also giving us a glimpse of the future of digital animation. The anime itself doesn’t really have much movement in it. A lot of scenes are taken straight out of the manga, and very limited movement is actually done to them. On stage performances might have the most movement, but they aren’t really timed with the music and they’re still limited. Certain scenes just have characters standing with their guitar, not moving, and it just looks awful. Romantic moments lack nuance as well. Kissing scenes feel stiff, and the sex scenes are never explicit. The emotion is really only delivered through the voices of the characters and Ai Yazawa’s own narrative, and the animation doesn’t really add much. It’s kinda funny, since this is an animated adaptation yet the adaptation aspect shines more than the animation. Again, this was the weird transition of the era. I believe 2009 is when K-On dropped, so most studios slowly improved their output moving forward. So no, this is not outdated animation but it’s a time capsule featuring the growing pains of the industry.
Voice acting is really the only great thing about the animation aspect of the series. The fact that the soulful and passionate words of the mangaka are finally being uttered by real humans seems to be the crowning moment of the entire series. I think the voice work hits you early on when Nana Komatsu’s constant whining and attention seeking grates on you. Midori Kawana did a fantastic job of making this character relatable. From her narrations to her “woe is me” soliloquies, you can feel the character come to life. All her flaws, her insecurities, her longings and her thoughts are wonderfully delivered by Midori’s voice. The same goes for Nana Osaki’s VA, Romi Park. If you close your eyes, you can actually feel the dark pit that hovers below Nana’s feet from the way Romi portrays the characters. I am personally not swayed by most voice acting, since the “acting” is often lost, but that isn’t the case for NANA. Everyone is amazing, and the voice acting does suck you into the lives of the characters. My favorite voice actually comes from a character introduced very late into the show. Saeko Chiba’s Miu Shinoda is really a standout for me, because it just sounds so sensual. She’s a very minor character in this series, but Saeko’s voice just demands you attention, and I can’t believe it’s the same voice as that table f*cker Nina from Code Geass. It’s pretty weird when you compare them side by side.
The anime had three OP and three ED songs, and I will not go over them one by one. I personally didn’t like the latter songs, because it felt like noise to me. The big thing though is that they really did pick artists that can emulate Nana O’s punk aesthetic. In the omake segment of the show, featuring a broadcaster named Nana, they heavily promoted the albums that are featured in the anime. I find the omake segments adorable, by the way. For me, the first OP and ED are the only ones that really stood out, but mainly because it triggered my nostalgia for the show. I already saw this anime back when it was airing, so it was so nostalgic hearing the familiar songs again. I also love the wrong lyrics the fansubbers put in the song, because back in the day, with the internet being sh*t, most translators actually listen by ear and then dub the songs. This is another nostalgic bit for me, since fansubbers religiously put so much effort in their work compared to today. I miss translator notes, but you have to understand that the cultural barrier was very big back in the transition days of the industry. Everyone is still getting used to the world being transformed by technology, and it’s really fascinating looking back.
8/10 “The spirit of the original source is so strong that you can look past the technical errors of the anime, because when boiled down to its essential, Nana is a soulful and passionate story about life that we can relate to.”
The animation and the dense dialogue will be a hurdle at first, but it does grab you immediately. The character driven story is so intense, the relatable situations are endearing and the passionate look at life from the viewpoint of a passionate woman makes this anime an experience you just cannot miss. This anime is incredible, and it is something I urge everyone to try. I highly recommend it.