Although the real drama begins in The Chronicles of William Bazillion! It's just one insane cliffhanger after another, isn't it?
Another reminder: I'll be at the Stumptown Comics Fest in Portland on September 29 and 30, so stop by and see me if you're gonna be in town.
Right. Overlooked Manga Festival time!
This manga is not totally overlooked; until recently, it was one of the titles serialized in Shojo Beat magazine, which upped its profile. But more people ought to be reading it, dammit! I say this for purely selfish reasons, as I would personally like to participate in a huge, Harry Potter-like fan community dedicated to talking about it and speculating about it and writing smutty fanfiction about the characters. I imagine such a community exists in Japan, where it's one of the biggest-selling shojo manga, but not so much here.
But it's so awesome!
Nana is the current project of genius creator Ai Yazawa, whose Paradise Kiss, about a teenage girl who falls into the funky world of art-school fashion students, is one of the best shojo manga available in English. Nana is even better. And I'm kind of baffled that more of Yazawa's work hasn't been published over here, but, you know, whatever. If people would rather print lame manga than manga that TOTALLY ROCKS OUT, that's their problem.
The first thing Nana fans will tell you about Nana is that it's great, but it starts slow. This is pretty much true, but the beginning is still better than almost any other manga you're likely to read; it just gets way better and more absorbing as it goes on. Tezuka's Adolf is "the story of three men named Adolf," and this is the story of two girls named Nana. Nana Komatsu is an ordinary girly-girl, cute and uncertain of herself and really, really stupid about men. Nana Osaki is as extraordinary as Nana K. is ordinary, a heartbreaking punk rocker determined to hit it big with a new band. The first volume of Nana introduces us to each Nana separately before bringing them together as, for very different reasons, they both land on the same train to Tokyo.
The Nanas wind up sharing a Tokyo apartment and lots of big-city dreams. They also, naturally, accumulate a slew of love interests. Nana O. still carries a torch for her first boyfriend, slinky Sex Pistols disciple Ren, who once played in a band with her and is now the idol of millions (mostly millions of girls) as the guitarist for the hit band Trapnest.
Nana K. has a boy from home, but as Nana O.'s band, Blast, takes off, she gets caught up in the swirl of musicians, concerts, musicians, parties, musicians, and really hot musicians.
But, copious sex scenes aside, Nana isn't really about love. It's about friendship, and how it can be far more intense, vital, joyous and painful than love. Despite their radically different personalities, the Nanas grow achingly close, close enough to share a big brass bed and a clawfoot bathtub, close enough to destroy each other if something goes wrong.
Meanwhile, Yazawa builds up a massive, eclectic supporting cast. We get to know all the members of Blast, all the members of Trapnest, and all the problems that occur when they start mingling and sleeping together. Nana K.'s hometown friends hang around as a kind of Greek chorus, particularly two who are in a comfortable long-term relationship (just so you know what that looks like) and comment regularly on their friend's none-too-bright romantic and sexual choices.
Like the great Fumi Yoshinaga, Ai Yazawa constantly hits you with the realization that she's working on a higher and deeper level than most manga creators. In place of the thin cliches, timid erotic fantasies, and mopey self-absorption that make up so much of shojo manga, Nana digs up the real dirt on human relationships. Her characters feel alive, and their problems feel like the problems these people would really have. I've experienced this phone breakup, for example.
At the same time, Nana is a fantasy: a fantasy of moving to the big city, hanging out with rock stars, being a rock star, having the coolest friend ever, living your life on a bigger and sexier scale. Yazawa knows how to do sweeping emotion and Drama with a capital D, and boy, does she ever do it.
Although it doesn't really stray far from the standards of mainstream shojo manga, Nana is one of those series that can open your eyes to what manga--and comics in general--are capable of. Also, everyone in it is totally hot. Which helps.
Previous Overlooked Manga Festivities:
Please Save My Earth
From Eroica with Love
Even a Monkey Can Draw Manga
Your and My Secret
Knights of the Zodiac
The Drifting Classroom
OMF Special Event: Manga Editors Recommend Manga, Part 1
OMF Special Event: Manga Editors Recommend Manga, Part 2
OMF Special Event: Manga Editors Recommend Manga, Part 3
OMF Special Event: Great Moments in Manga Baking
Shout Out Loud
Warren Buffett: An Illustrated Biography of the World's Most Successful Investor
Sexy Voice and Robo
OMF Special Event: 2006 Overlooked Manga Update
The Four Immigrants Manga
Gerard and Jacques
Ode To Kirihito
Bringing Home the Sushi
OMF Special Event: The Greatest Manga Magazine in American History
Anywhere But Here
Town of Evening Calm, Country of Cherry Blossoms
The Walking Man
Sugar Sugar Rune
Japan as Viewed by 17 Creators
Ricca 'tte Kanji!?
OMF Special Event: My Legacy
OMF Special Event: An All-Star Tribute to Carl Gustav Horn
Guest OMF by Jason Thompson: 888
JoJo's Bizarre Adventure
Flower of Life
OMF Special Event: Top Ten Lines from the Excel Saga manga