Reviewby Casey Brienza, Oct 8th 2009
The tabloid Weekly Search has been hard at work of late digging up Nana Osaki's troubled family history, and it finally looks like they have hit pay dirt…dirt that connects both to Blast's new manager Mai Tsuzuki and to one of the band's biggest fangirls, Misato Uehara. When Nana Komatsu learns of Search's agenda, she goes to Osaka herself to try to nip it in the bud. That does not work out as she had hoped, but there might be a silver lining: It gives the two Nanas some quality time together, the first they have had in a long time. Will this little bit of happiness be enough to stave off Nana's burgeoning problems with Ren? Meanwhile, Shin's love and family life are fast going down the tubes, and in his youthful naïveté he may well make a mistake that could cost his fellow Black Stones everything…
Ai Yazawa's NANA, the most popular shoujo manga of all time, has been serialized in Shueisha's magazine Cookie since 1999—a decade now—and by the end of the eighteenth volume, it finally looks as if the plot is coming to a climatic head. A number of ongoing mysteries related to Nana Osaki's past and future, for example are solved at last. Volumes sixteen, seventeen, and eighteen may well be the beginning of the end…and boy is it going to be one absolutely wild, unforgettable ride.
The major subplot of volumes sixteen and seventeen is one that has been slowly coming to fruition for quite a long time: That of the whereabouts of Nana Osaki's missing mother. Weekly Search has been busily digging up dirt in-between the lurches of the previous volumes, and now finally they are ready to go to print. (Any especially thick-headed readers should now know beyond a shadow of a doubt what is going on with that little hole in the wall restaurant in Osaka by now.) Nana's reaction to the revelation, after all that buildup of dramatic tension, is a bit anti-climatic, but there is plenty of opportunity to get to know the series' large cast of characters better as they react collectively to the fallout.
One of the manga's best pieces of dramatic irony thus far involves Misato Uehara's inclusion in Black Stones' VIP Christmas party. This occurs late in volume sixteen, before the “missing mother” subplot unfurls completely…although you will definitely feel sorry for what is revealed, via hearsay only, about how Misato takes the news. Ah, but we're getting ahead of ourselves here, and I'm trying not to drop any major spoilers. Anyway, back to the party. Of course, the little fangirl's resemblance to Nana is not merely coincidental, and you get to see the goth-lolita Mai Tsuzuki, who once operated under the name Misato, sweat it out in a major—and for a reviewer who doesn't especially like Mai, profoundly satisfying—way. For better or worse, though, the party begins and ends without a hitch. Misato's misery happens later.
After that whole snafus, you might expect the plot to slow down for a volume or so. Not a chance. You get the feeling in volume eighteen that Yazawa is ready to make the final sprint toward the proverbial finish line with a shocking turn. Shin, you see, has been dealing badly with his breakup with Reira, and then his family, with which he has never been on good terms in the first place, turns his bedroom into his dad's library. Shin goes straight over the deep end—and gets caught by the police. The resultant scandal may well be the end of Blast's explosive rise to top of the charts. It's still an open question, though, whether it will be this latest scandal, or her own devouring ambition, that will lead to Nana's downfall.
Two of the volumes reviewed, sixteen and eighteen, are oversized; they include side stories devoted to Nobu and Takumi respectively. While Nobu's is about as unexciting as the characters' hometown and really does little more than show, in detail, how prosaic his personality really is (Yazawa was just phoning it in, anyway), Takumi's—as per the character's simultaneously alluring and repulsive sides—is quite fascinating. We get to see the basis for his “special” relationship to Reira, and by implication a bit of the rationale behind his eagerness to lay claim to Hachi's unborn child. Needless to say, the language here is definitely not appropriate for your average pre-teen.
As always, NANA's artwork is among the most distinctive and exquisite available on the shoujo manga market, on both sides of the Pacific. You could spend hours just exploring the visual depth of her drawings, for there is detail, detail, and more detail everywhere, and despite what must be a veritable army of assistants, the illustration is always stylistically consistent and compelling. Furthermore, the typically melodramatic, emotional story gains much needed levity primarily from the artwork; characters' faces have quirky ranges of expression, and the little doodles that sometimes appear in the background can be laugh out loud funny.
I won't spoil anything, but it appears the series' recurring trope of narrated nostalgia might not be the prelude to unrelenting tragedy after all. There may still be hope for a happy ending, and that little glimmer of hope is sure to keep Yazawa's fans, who have been following this series now for as long as a decade and quite possibly came of age during its serialization, riveted right to the end.
Overall : A
Story : A-
Art : A+
+ A metric ton of compelling plotting combined with some of the best shoujo artwork in the biz.
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