Reviewby Jean-Karlo Lemus,
Nana & Kaoru
The escalating S&M love comedy finally comes to the US! Kaoru had long dreamed of binding up his childhood friend Nana in his BDSM-themed daydreams. But now that she's actively asking him to do it, the two find themselves up to their necks in fun that they need to keep secret! What happens when one of Nana's school rivals finds out?
Nana & Kaoru GN 1 was translated by Mike Wolfe.
An English localization for Nana & Kaoru has been a long-anticipated dream for both fans of cheesecake and BDSM enthusiasts alike. After years of false starts, Denpa and Fakku came together to release it in America finally. And thankfully, it's pretty much everything fans could have hoped for.
Kaoru Sugimura (nicknamed “Creepy-mura” by his peers) is a short, squat, froggy-looking senior in high school. He's a slacker, argues with his mother, and is hopelessly addicted to BDSM porn. His childhood friend, Nana Chigusa, is way out of his league, and he knows it: she's glamorous, an over-achiever in both academics and the student council, and forgets he exists plenty often. Nana locking herself into a leather bondage corset kickstarts her renewed relationship with Kaoru. While Nana is overworking herself, she doesn't have any friends or hobbies outside her work. As Kaoru toys with her in her corset, she feels relief and makes a deal with Kaoru where he gets to practice BDSM play on her so she can work out her tension.
There is a lot about this setup that shouldn't work, particularly given how much of an actual horndog Kaoru is. After all, he does take a bit too much joy in having Nana in the palm of his hands (literally). But it's tempered by Nana and Kaoru having a closer relationship with each other than even they'd be willing to cop to. Never mind the childhood friend angle; their “breathers” are chock full of intimacy that bleeds over into their daily life. Kaoru, ever the slacker laden with insecurities over his looks and lack of skill, finds himself putting more and more work into bettering himself in the name of giving Nana a better experience. One chapter gives a candid peek into how much he risks life and limb to ensure Nana is safe during a nighttime stroll (specifically, one where Nana is walking outside without her underwear). In contrast, in other chapters, we see the effort with which he customizes his collars and ropes to keep Nana comfortable. On the other hand, Nana is the only person who sees past Kaoru's froggy exterior. She fully trusts that Kaoru would never do anything to hurt her and appreciates him to the point where she's convinced someone else might also see past his features and snatch him away from her.
This dynamic breathes life into their BDSM scenes together; Nana and Kaoru are indeed a submissive and dominant that need each other. Kaoru finally has a purpose and puts tremendous effort into caring for Nana. Meanwhile, Nana finally has an outlet for herself and can enjoy moments where she doesn't have to shoulder the expectations of her peers. We even see some of this closeness outside of their BDSM scenes; there's a charming chapter where Kaoru showers Nana with flowers that she needed to finish an arch for a cultural festival. It's obvious to everyone that there's something very genuine between these two hormone-addled kids—they're grasping at every excuse they can to avoid seeing the writing on the walls.
As for the BDSM scenes, they're obviously where Ryuta Amazume put his effort into. While Nana is never explicitly drawn naked (we see plenty of Kaoru's porn that fills in for that instead), there's a lot of detail delivered in Nana relishing in her “breathers” with Kaoru. Much of this is mental, as is the case with the best of romance scenes: Kaoru's careful planning and scripted lines cribbed from his favorite BDSM author contrast with all of the heady emotions racing through Nana's brain until Kaoru pulls on just the right thread and all that's left for Nana is sheer bliss and relaxation. There's a lot of fun in the details, like how Nana compulsively licks her lips, how Nana's body contours to the rope when Kaoru ties her up, or another scene where Nana's arousal bleeds through her clothing. It's for the better that the scenes don't veer into full explicitness, or else we'd lose out on the running internal monologues between the two leads; it's here that we truly see where they are headed with each other.
The formula gets clogged up a little with the introduction of Tachi, Nana's athletic rival. Like many people, she doesn't understand the finer points of BDSM and thinks it's all outright abuse. On the one hand, there's a good deal of emotional conflict in the story: Kaoru is more than a little affronted that anyone would imply he's hurting Nana (to say nothing of someone almost outing their secret). At the same time, Nana finds herself oddly hurt that Kaoru is using some of the tools he had bought for her on Tachi when she joins in on one of their scenes. It's a good chapter with lots of emotional development for Nana, but the thought of Tachi overshadowing our leads is a worrying one—much like Pinky and The Brain, this is a package deal that wouldn't work too well with too many extra hands sticking in.
There are some parts of the story that do feel a bit iffy. One scene has Kaoru's friends clipping out headshots of their female classmates to overlay them onto naked porn stars; I know Kaoru and his buddies are supposed to be creeps and weirdos, but this one goes a bit far. Kaoru's set-up with Nana is also a bit crass, given how excited he is to have Nana at his mercy. Though it's a sign of how much he has grown up that we soon see him take greater care in handling her.
The script reads phenomenally; Mike Wolfe's translation not only captures all of the heavy dialogue between Nana and Kaoru in their “breathers” (remember, the brain is the most important sexual organ, that old yarn) but also retains several translation choices older fans might have affection for from the older illegitimate translations—Kaoru being nicknamed “Creepy-mura” and his scenes with Nana being nicknamed “breathers” are key among these decisions. Denpa collects three volumes in one with this set, so you've already got a phenomenal deal in terms of a value proposition. They also retain the color chapters in all of Ryuta Amazume's lavish glory. Fans have been waiting for Nana & Kaoru to come stateside; this omnibus is worth the wait.
And really, that's what it all boils down to—the years of waiting finally paid off. While the story might have been off to a bumpy start, Nana & Kaoru sets up an enjoyable continuation. Nothing to do but lick our lips as we wait for the second volume. Denpa knows how to keep a fan waiting.
Overall : A
Story : B+
Art : A
+ Lovely art, fantastic details, Nana and Kaoru are a perfect leading couple, They Really Do Love Each Other™, tons of actual research into BDSM philosophy
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