Anime Reviews: NANA
With powerful drama, attaching characters, and toe-tappin' music, NANA is a stylish and memorable series that fans will enjoy, even if its ending doesn't exist.
Production: Studio Madhouse
Series Length: 50 episodes
Air Dates: 4/5/2006 to 3/27/2007
Age Rating: 17+ (mild language, partial nudity, suggestive content)
Summary: Nana Komatsu is a chipper 20-year-old girl, taking the train to Tokyo to reunite with her boyfriend, Shoji. Unfortunately, the train is halted by a snowstorm, delaying her arrival for several hours. There she meets a punk-rock-looking woman her age named Nana Osaki, who is going to Tokyo in order to further her music career, and the two become unlikely friends. As the train arrives in Tokyo and the two girls part ways, Nana K. meets with her friends Junko and Kyosuke, as well as Shoji, before undertaking the search for her own apartment. While looking at a Western-style complex, Nana K. runs into Nana O. again, looking at the same apartment. Guided by the prospect of fate (and cheaper rent split two ways~), the two move in together and tackle the hardships of life as they come.
The Good: Stylish visuals; loaded with great songs; excellent voice acting; attaching characters in a believable drama plot
The Bad: Gets excessively dramatic; doesn't truly end; intrusive recap episodes
The Ugly: Ai Yazawa's fascination with foreheads
Recently, I've learned that the author of NANA is sick, has been sick for several years, and is unsure whether or not she'll finish the story. This disturbs me, because I was hopelessly sucked into the series when it first aired, and my recent re-viewing sucked me in just as much, maybe even more, and now I know that hunting for the manga won't give me any closure. So frustrating! So, naturally, this should give you an impression of what my opinion on the show is. Guess now's the time to elaborate, eh?
Firstly, Ai Yazawa's artwork is stylish and iconoclastic on the page, but it's downright amazing on the screen (though, I have always questioned her fascination with humongous foreheads...). Studio Madhouse have delivered yet again, giving Yazawa's sleek, thin character designs life and glamour (or deliberate lack thereof), and the animation is smooth and consistent to match. I also appreciate the little nods to the fact it's based on a manga, with little words and images popping over the characters' heads during the more comedic scenes. The use of light and shadow gives a lot of character to the series, as well, especially when the dookie hits the fan and the atmosphere is heavy. It's just a treat for the eyes all the way through.
Likewise, the music in the series is quite awesome. The various insert songs are interesting in that they are performed in the style of the two main vocalists in the story, Nana O. of the Black Stones and Reira of Trapnest. Notable examples include the first opening, "Rose," performed by Anna Tsuchiya (inspired by Nana O.), second opener "Wish," performed by Olivia (inspired by Reira), second ending "Starless Night" also by Olivia, and third ending "Black Tears" by Anna Tsuchiya. Aside from being spectacular bookends for the series, much like Full Moon wo Sagashite, these songs make an appearance in-universe, making the opening/ending themes feel even more like an extension of the show. Whether it's an aggressive pop-punk tune or a touching ballad, I like 'em all. And what I like, you('d better) like (dammit).
As more of a side note, the voice acting is phenomenal in both the English and Japanese versions of the series. While the Japanese version has big names like Romi Park, Kaori, and Tomokazu Seki, the English version is filled with relative unknowns, with only Saffron Henderson and Brian Drummond being familiar names--however, name recognition is fairly irrelevant because, as I just said, both versions are excellent. Whether you're a sub purist or a dub fan, you can't go wrong!
But really, you're here for the meat. NANA is most definitely a title that carries a tremendous amount of weight because of its writing, and it's no surprise--it's another one of those manga adaptations where there are dozens of characters and I love (or love to hate) all of them, whether it's the punky no-nonsense Nana O., the bubbly boy-crazy Nana K., cool and collected rocker Ren, the brutally-honest Junko and Kyosuke, the earnest good-guy Nobu, the hilariously/terrifyingly decadent Shin...I could literally go on and on. So many memorable characters! But of course, the series truly shines when they're all put through the wringer, and the character development comes along in full-force. There is a very, very short list of anime that have fully-explored, truly three-dimensional characters in such great number, and you'd better believe NANA is on that list.
The fact that the ongoing plot is quite believable helps, too. We see the characters start from, basically, the bottom, and slowly (ever-so-slowly) climb the ladders of their dreams, trip and fall over, and try to get back up again--you know, kinda like real people. As enthralling as many stories can be, they often only feature their heroes tripping up once or twice before picking themselves back up and overcoming that obstacle, but that simply isn't how real life works, and NANA knows that. Characters trip up countless times. They may pick themselves up, or they may languish in sorrow. They might even reverse any progress they've made. No one is perfect, and everyone has damning flaws that create (or flee from) conflict. Y'know, like real people! For my money, the fact that the series features such detailed characters going through realistic troubles that many of us can relate to is its strongest attribute. It is wildly popular for a reason, after all.
But as much as I praise the series for its excellent drama, there are times when it gets to be too much. A character running out of the building will incite a tremolo string section and a dramatic close-up of another's face, a simple revelation of the past kills an entire conversation as the screen goes black-and-white, or an easygoing reunion turns into a cataclysmic argument...these are the things that take the believable drama and turn it into a soap opera (albeit a well-written one). I would be invested in a scene, and then the director decides to go full-ham with it, and then everyone watching feels awkward. I want to see what happens next, and I really want to know where everyone ends up, but the melodrama just ruins every scene it rears its ugly head into. You don't need to go that far, Mr. Director! Luckily, this doesn't happen too terribly often, but when it does, it's so hokey. And that's a shame.
You know what else is a shame? The fact that there's no ending. Like, at all. Now, as I've mentioned in the intro, Ai Yazawa hasn't ended the manga (and currently can't in her state), but that doesn't mean Studio Madhouse couldn't find a better place to end the series--at least not a few episodes after packing the cast with 5-6 new characters and introducing new relationships among them. Come on, guys. This is just poor planning! The last episode just kinda comes and goes, without any hint that it's the last. And then it's over. I've just made myself really sad, now. And so has Studio Madhouse. Guess I'll have to track down the manga...and then cry when that's not finished, either...
My last complaint is pretty minor: the three recap episodes. They're a waste of time, frankly. The show is not hard to follow at all, and we're constantly reminded of what the situation is or what's happened in the past, so having recap episodes just feels extraneous. Skip 'em.
And that's NANA in a nutshell. Mostly excellent, a few missteps here and there, and a slap in the face for an ending. Oh, well. We can't all have everything, I guess. But despite my griping, I would recommend this series all day long, especially if you're a fan of drama or any kind of stories involving musicians. You will be sucked in immediately, and that's a guarantee. And you better not have any problem with that.
Final Score: 8.5 out of 10. It does suffer from a lack of an ending and the occasional melodrama, but NANA is a vibrant, stylish series that delivers spectacularly with its realistic story, colorful characters, and instantly-memorable music.