Reviewby Zac Bertschy,
Seemingly cursed by “The Demon Lord”, her own personal (and imaginary!) spirit of bad luck, Nana Komatsu has never had it easy when it comes to men. She falls in love at the drop of a hat with any cute boy who comes her way, and she can't seem to make a real relationship work… but, of course, it all changes when a young man named Shoji enters her life, and they wind up together in Tokyo. Meanwhile, elsewhere in Japan, Nana Osaki's rock band, Blast, has been making waves in the local scene, but their guitarist (and Nana's lover) Ren has bigger plans, having signed with another band that just got a recording contract in Tokyo. Fiercely independent, Nana doesn't want to move at first, but eventually the tides change, and she finds herself heading for the big city…
Japan's most popular shojo comic in the history of the form, Nana has sold over 22 million copies there and frankly, after reading this first English edition, it's not hard to see why this manga is so ragingly successful. Surprisingly realistic, refreshingly modern, fast-paced and gripping, Nana, at least in this first volume, has set itself up as the best shojo title to emerge from the genre in the last 5 years or so. It's a relatively simple concept presented with elegance and finesse.
The story of Nana is simple; two girls with the same name, who lead very different lives, find one another in Tokyo while simultaneously going through rough patches. While the story stands from a lot of other shojo manga (even though you can distill it down to “boy trouble” which is at the core of nearly every shojo title on the market), what shines about this title are the characters – Ai Yazawa, most popular in the States for her Paradise Kiss manga, has crafted very realistic young adults, with very modern and believable attitudes about love. She isn't writing stereotypes or clichés; these people act like real young adults do today, which is part of why Nana is so easy to get yourself wrapped up in. It's relatable, and realistic. There's no magical bishonen prince who sweeps the heroine off her feet to a world full of hot guys who want to marry her, no cliché schoolroom romance, none of that.
Unfortunately, while the character's reactions and situations are above par, the dialogue could use some work. A bathtub scene between Nana Osaki and her rock star boyfriend Ren is ham-handed expository dialogue of the worst order. The two characters sit there and tell each other things they should already know about one another, solely so the audience can know these things as well. There are other, less awkward literary devices to bring the audience up to speed. It isn't just this scene either; the dialogue at times borders on being a little too melodramatic or overplayed. It's difficult to tell if that's the fault of the translator or the original author, but either way it's very amateurish and somewhat shocking to read such poor dialogue in an otherwise blemish-free comic.
The art, as we have come to expect from Ms. Yazawa, is above reproach. Her line work is impeccable, her characters distinguished, and her eye for fashion forever focused on the pulse of today's trendy youth. The understated punk rock look of Nana's band, Blast, is just right; not too much like the stereotypical goth-rock Japanese band, and not too much like the Sex Pistols, but a nice mix in between that very much captures the look of Japanese rock music today. In Nana Komatsu's somewhat more mundane side of the story, the artwork is gentler, almost dreamlike in some panels, until she gets to Tokyo and the harsh reality of the big city sets in. Yazawa has never been a disappointment in the art department, and Nana is no exception.
If you've been reading Shojo Beat, Viz's monthly shojo anthology, you're already familiar with the world of Nana and have probably already pre-ordered this volume. Those of you on the fence (or even those of you who publicly avoid the shojo genre but catch yourself eyeing the stacks every now and then), this is your gateway drug. Ai Yazawa, even in just this first volume, is poised to outdo herself. Once you get to the last page, you'll be begging for more, and there is no higher recommendation than that.
Story : A
Art : A
+ Great art, great story, feels urgently modern.
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