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#59 [Dec. 24th, 2008|12:42 pm]

100 COMICS TO READ BEFORE YOU DIE (or grow out of them)

#59 NANA – Ai Yazawa
(Shojo Beat)

“Say something new! The readers will start snoring!”

Nana is the story of two girls both coincidentally named Nana who both move to Tokyo for reasons involving boys. Despite their similarities, Nana Hachi and Nana Osaki are very different people. Hachi is sheltered, needy and lovesick; flitting from one crush to the next, reacting to every morsel of drama that enters her life by either clinging to people and wailing or blasting out laughter like a giddy machine gun. She over-reacts to everything, which she’s oblivious to though those around her are somewhat put off by it, especially her rants blaming all of her troubles on the curse of an imaginary ‘demon lord of terror’ she has invented to explain the little tragedies that befall her. Nana Osaki on the other hand is the cooler and calmer of the two, a wannabe rock-star singing in a punk band called the Black Stones – Blast for short – and in love with a guitarist named Ren. Ren and Nana's relationship mirrors Sid And Nancy down to their hairstyles, though minus the heroin. There’s also a rival band named Trapnest, who get signed to a label before them, to add further complications and conveniently a new batch of pretty rock-star characters.

Soap opera can be hard to take seriously, both for the audience and the creator. Dramatic events need to keep happening to the same characters constantly to keep interest and suspense up, but they have to be fundamentally ordinary people (even if unusually good-looking) to maintain audience identification and sympathy. Nana gets around this by not taking itself seriously. At one point Nana Hachi grabs a copy of the first volume of the series she’s starring in to refresh her memory of what someone said. Characters complain about scenes being dragged on for too long, background characters becoming too important and their faces being drawn inconsistently. In the bonus pages these brief jumps through the fourth wall become longer excursions so that the characters can read their fan mail and even interact with characters from Ai Yazawa’s other series, as if the author is pre-emptively creating her own fan fiction.

Somehow, Yazawa manages to keep just enough of the everyday about her characters and their lives to keep them feeling authentic despite this meta-level playfulness. Her fine eye for detail, especially in fashion, helps. So too does her sense of place, both in the importance placed on Tokyo’s nightclubs, festivals and fireworks and the intimacy portrayed in scenes of share-housing and bathtub-sharing. Most importantly, Nana’s characters aren’t static, but are changed by the things they go through in a surprisingly believable and affecting way. When the things they care about are yanked away from them and the big dramatic life stuff starts happening it’s entirely gripping. Before you know it you’re reading about 20-something Tokyo slackers drifting through relationships and jobs, grasping desperately at chances for love and fame and a better life, and hopelessly hooked by it.