Monday, May 23, 2011

Nana 2: A Comic Review

Nana vol. 2
Publisher: Shojo Beat/Viz Media
Writer/Artist: Yazawa Ai
English Adaptation: Allison Wolfe
Translation: Goto Koji

What happens when two girls named Nana meet? Will physics allow them to occupy virtually the same physical space, or will the universe die screaming as anti-matter and matter collide, ripping reality apart? Actually, all potential problems are solved when punk Nana Osaki notices girly Nana Komatsu’s resemblance-- in personality only, please-- to a famous dog and renames her friend Hachi, thus reducing the Nana surplus by one and saving the universe as we know it.

The fun starts when Shoji, Nana K’s long distance boyfriend, sends her a special text message: “Cherry blossoms R blooming!” and tells her he finally got into art school. So she quits her video store job, runs through the snow in her monster lace-up platform boots, jumps the shinkansen for Tokyo for their long-awaited reunion. She’s saved her money, waited ever so patiently and now all her dreams are coming true…

If only Nana K can be patient for a few hours more. The trains’s delayed due to snow and there’s only one empty seat- empty but for a sinister looking black guitar case guarding the sleeping girl in the window seat next to it. This girl is nothing like Nana K; she’s all dressed up in black, looks like an erotic vulture in her leather jacket, thigh-high fishnets and clunky engineer boots.

Nana K’s decision to take the seat changes both of their lives. And her name.

You know, with the comic series emerging as one of Japan's top-selling titles of all time and the 2005 film adaptation spawning even more Nanamania, a sequel became inevitable:

Nana 2 debuted in 2006. Again, Nakashima Mika starred as Nana O, the fame hungry punk rocker. But Miyazaki Aoi didn't reprise her role as Hachi. Why? What do I look like, Japan Film Insider? Whatever the reason, Ichikawa Yui took over the role. The sequel wasn't as big a hit as the first, and the few people I talked to about it when I lived in Japan expressed their disappointment with both movies, and their preference for the animated series. Oh well, at least Nose Anna returned as Junko!

Anyway, back to the comic review.

And so Yazawa Ai finally brings our two Nanas together, on a snowbound train aimed at Tokyo. Through various circumstances and perhaps the machinations of Nana K's personal deity/devil the Demon Lord, the girls end up as roommates in a funky Tokyo suburb along what I’m guessing is the Sumida River. I base this on my own scientific Nana research, consisting of going to Tokyo and looking for a river. During one Golden Week excursion to Tokyo, I wanted to go to Kojima-cho to look for Jackson Hole and have a Jackson Burger (Hachi's favorite food), but a nasty cold and frequent chilly downpours caused me to limit myself merely to reading about it, and having Wendy's (since closed) in Shibuya instead.

Yazawa also begins weaving together the supporting casts. At first it seemed as though we were going to be treated to parallel narratives but Yazawa skillfully mixes the very different characters to create dramatic tension and humor.

Nana K’s impulsive nature comes to the fore as she falls head over heels in platonic love with her slightly sinister, definitely mysterious doppelganger. If fate and coincidence are to be recurring themes, then it certainly seems that Nana K’s intuition serves her well. Because the story cannot happen unless she appends herself to Nana O’s life, works her way into the center despite their differing backgrounds and outlooks. Failing that, both characters and all their friends would be out of work and they'd end up hanging around Junko's snack bar all day. And we would have nothing to read.

Nana K is a reckless romantic, while Nana O is coolly self-possessed. But how will her punk rock fa├žade hold up when living with a girl who loves Trapnest, the very band her own lover abandoned her to join (to the point of adorning their shared pad with a massive fannish poster of the group)… with her love crazed, puppydog-like-in-her-clumsy-enthusiasm roomie? That’s the origin of the name Hachi.

Hachiko was a dog who waited at Shibuya Station every day for her college professor owner even after he died. A symbol of loyalty, she’s immortalized in a statue outside the station, and the exit to that area is named after her: the Hachiko Exit. People say if you stand there long enough, the one you’d most like to see will eventually walk by. You can speed up the process by simply text messaging that person and arranging a rendezvous beforehand. But given the mob usually lounging around the Hachiko statue, you should probably wave a flag.

Nana, meet Hachi, your very own loyal, loving pet girl friend.

I think we can all agree Nakashima Mika is perfect as Nana O. She's also a big-time singing star in her own right, and released an album called The End: Nana starring Mika Nakashima that features her songs from the second film. Her comics connection continues- last fall she had a hit song with the theme to the TV drama adaptation of the comic Life.

And despite falling victim to the law of diminishing returns, the movie certainly looks like the comic:

Volume 2 is where the story really gets going, where Yazawa sets up Hachi’s fascination with Nana’s shadowy past. It’s strongly character driven, with Hachi’s manic energy linking her with her namesake, entangling them both in each other’s lives. Things don’t so much happen as Hachi makes them happen, from wheedling her way into her dream apartment with Nana, to finding a job at a hip vintage clothing store, to spending all her money getting set up in Tokyo.

Beyond the addictive charms of the lead story, Yazawa gives us the fun and frivolous “Junko’s Place” backup story, where the Nana cast break the fourth wall while remaining totally in character. Their awareness not only of their existence as fictional comic book characters but also of the cast hierarchy is hilariously meta. As much as I love the narrative, as I accumulated volumes I found myself flipping back to "Junko’s Place" to catch up on Jun and her boyfriend and their little area of the Nana world. Each hint Junko’s restaurant might close due to lack of business only intensifies my obsession. What if Junko’s Place does close? What will she do? What will we do?

Nana is a drug. You should have to get a doctor’s okay before buying it. A prescription or something, and your health should be carefully vetted before they hand it out. On the other hand, some stressed out, over-worked mothers here are actually turning over all their parental responsibilities to the Nana comic series and allowing it to raise their children:

PS- Note how the covers actually tell a wordless little story of a day in the lives of the two Nanas. On the cover of volume 1, Nana O wakes first and reads the paper in their cozy little dining alcove, Hachi takes longer to get dressed but appears on volume 2, they have breakfast, go downstairs on volume 3, and on subsequent covers do some shopping, have lunch, ride the trains...

Pretty sneaky, Yazawa Ai!

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