General OverviewBefore we jump into my thoughts and into the heart of the review, I'll write up an overview for those of you who may not be familiar with this series.
Nana follows the lives of two young women who happen to share the same name, you guessed it- Nana. They meet on the subway their way to Tokyo, each chasing their dreams so to speak. These two main characters appear to be quite different on the outside but become close friends and roommates through a series of events. Nana Osaki is after fame and won't stop until shes a well known punk rock singer. Nana Komatsu is a little more confused about her goals, but chasing after true love is certainly one that she knows. Nana O. later affectionately nicknames Nana K. "Hachi" or "Hachiko" due to her puppy-like tendencies as well as her loyalty. Many other characters are introduced as the series go on and by the end you'll know each one of them very well. Its a slice of life type of series and is realistic in many aspects.
As the series begins the two Nanas are 20 years old, the other characters are mostly around this age as well. Soon after moving in with Hachi, Nanas old band mates come to visit and claim that they want to keep supporting her and shooting for success. Hachi becomes Blast's fan overnight after watching them play in her apartment and from that point on supports them in any way possible. Later on we will be entering into a bit of a "battle of the bands" between Blast and Trapnest (The band Ren leaves for in the very first volume) as well. Hachi appears clingy and weak while Nana appears strong and mysterious, and if you pick up this series you will be watching their lives unfold. I'm afraid I can't sum up most of the plot in a simple overview, quite a bit happens within the lives of these two Nanas.
First I'd like to take a step back and look at the art in this series. Ai Yazawa certainly has a unique style of art. Some may love it and some.. not so much, but my suggestion would be to give it a chance. It really grew on me and I love that it stands out from a lot of other art styles that I have seen. It is very josei/shoujou like with a touch of punk style. Its a mixture of smooth and heavy lines so to speak and the character's expressions always come across well.
I want to take a moment here and point out that I have seen a lot of negative reviews from people who have found this series to be either boring or depressing. As for boring, this will depend on what genre/type of series that you like. If you don't like slice of life or realism then you may well be bored and shouldn't bother with this series. As for the depression factor I cannot deny that this series has quite a few depressing turns. In my opinion that makes it worth it because we get to see how each of these issues are handled by the characters, and because real life is not always happy. I found that there were still happy parts and that during the depressing parts characters still stood out and were strong in their own ways.
Of course if you are easily depressed or easily put in a bad mood, you may want to skip this series. If you are anything like me then you may give it a try and become emotionally invested. I needed to finish the series because I fell for the amazing characters. Kudos to Ai Yazawa, her character development skills are amazing. She takes realism to a level that I haven't seen many manga-ka able to reach in that her characters are so complex.
*** WARNING!! This section of the post will include SPOILERS!! ***
Highlight/Mouse over the text below in order to read on. You have been warned~
Plenty of things happen in this series that made my heart sink. Unfortunately the realism is one thing that I love about this series. As depressing as the plot twists were, they only served to make their lives seem that much more real. I warn you again, stop reading now if you don't want to see major spoilers. Skipping to just past the next image will put you in a safe place once again.
I rooted for Nana and Ren from the very beginning when Ren left for Trapnest, before I ever knew that they would get back together. Watching the two of them try to make it as a couple while hitting so many bumps in the road was tough. They eventually began to drift apart a bit and just as you think they are about to meet up and work it out, Ren dies in a car accident. To top it off the birthday gift he had in his car for Nana gets delivered to her from beyond the grave so to speak. All of this was too much for me, and I certainly became emotional as I read it. It made me realize that you should work out your problems as they arise and appreciate what you have because you never know when you might not have it anymore.
Now for Hachi. After being cheated on by Shoji (even though I understood this from his point of view and ended up not really blaming him since she was being so selfish in that relationship), I had begun to root for her and Nobu. It was a happy time to watch her and Nobu's puppy love grow and the whole cast of characters seemed to be happy about it. Unfortunately, Hachi's choice to have a one night stand with her long time Trapnest idol, Takumi, leaves her pregnant with his child. Next was the difficulty of watching Takumi and Hachi try to form a relationship that felt fake all around, simply for the sake of the child and being a "family". This drives a rift into the relationship between the two Nanas as well.
Looking at other characters I also felt attached to Shin and Reira's relationship and was sad when they were "torn apart" too. Happy couples are hard to come by here in this series, it seems. On top of everything I found it really hard to hate or dislike any of the characters because of how much we learn about each one. For example I wanted to hate Takumi so badly, but I can't quite bring it to that level once I look at his twisted views and past.
I admit that I was pretty depressed by all of these things, but I feel like I was learning quite a bit at the same time. Life can be really harsh, but you should keep pushing onward for your dreams. Hopefully you won't end up clinging to shattered pieces of said dreams in the end.
*** End of Spoilers! ***
Anime Version Vs. Manga Version
The anime version of Nana followed the manga so closely that it isn't even worth making a new blog post for it. This is a very good thing in my opinion; to many series veer off of their original plots in their anime counterparts. However there is one key part of the anime that you can't experience within the manga and that is the music. Now music is something that we all may have imagined a bit differently, this I realize. So for me personally, the singers that stepped up for Nana and Reira's voice actors did an amazing job. The bands each sounded pretty much like what I had imagined or expected from reading the manga and I really enjoyed the musical aspect of this series. If music is very important to you then I'd say to go for the anime over the manga, however the manga does continue on for longer than the anime. It would be easy to find where the anime left off and start reading from there if you chose to.
Other than that the anime keeps the same art style and looks great visually. Its always great to see your favorite characters come to life in the animated version, to hear their voices as well. (Quick note here, I only watched the Subbed version. I don't generally watch the dubbed version of anything anymore.)
Recommendation / Afterthoughts
This is by far one of my favorite series, period. It has everything that I look for these days and more. Most importantly, in my opinion, is that it is very mature. I don't just refer to the sex scenes here, I refer to the whole story and all of its characters. Nothing is sugar coated. If you easily become emotional then bring some tissues. I'm willing to bet you that at least once during this series you will realize something about yourself, someone close to you, or about life in general. Granted, younger audiences may not pick up on these "life lessons" since the series is aimed at an older audience. I believe that Nana is very well written (and has a unique art style to boot). It will cause you to reflect on your own life, as well as show you why it's never a good idea to judge a book by it's cover. After each volume (or episode), you'll learn something new about the characters and their personal lives, and you'll beg for more. Now it isn't always somber and serious, either. There are plenty of happy and cute scenes, as well as a few chibi moments and such as well. One more tidbit to throw in is that I like how the sex scenes are done. They aren't all out like a hentai, and yet they are there and they don't try to hide them. Another addition to the realism in my opinion, I'm tired of manga trying to skip over or cut away with these scenes. Adult relationships will involve this, it can be important to your growth as a couple and to other aspects of the story as well.
This gets a 9.5 out of 10 from me (despite the depressing turns that it takes later on), and I highly recommend it. I'd give it a chance, even if the art style or the slice of life aspect turns you off a bit. I will say, however, that it is aimed a little more towards a female audience. So guys, keep that in mind if you do give it a try; it may or may not be your taste. If you end up unable to relate with any of the characters (by this I'm including more than just the 2 Nanas) then you may not enjoy the series much or agree with my rating. You should also keep in mind the fact that the manga-ka has been ill and unable to finish the series for some time now. As far as I know she still intends to finish it whenever she is able, so I still recommend the series and will post another review whenever the final chapters are released.