Reviewby Carl Kimlinger, Oct 21st 2009
DVD - Box Set 1
On a snowbound train two young women meet. Despite being the same age, heading the same direction and, most curiously, sharing the same name, Nana Komatsu and Nana Osaki couldn't be more different. Nana Komatsu—or Hachi, as she is soon to be known—is a flighty, love-addicted bundle of energy in hot pursuit of her relocated beau. Nana Osaki—or just plain Nana—is a scarred and defiantly independent musician looking to make her name in Tokyo's punk rock scene. To the delight of both, and consternation of their respective friends, they fit together like two long-lost pieces of the same puzzle. As they settle into their life together—they decide, after some divine intervention, to split a flat—Nana reassembles the shattered pieces of her old band and Hachi negotiates the thorny byways of true love. But as both know all too well, life is a thug with a crowbar up its sleeve, and it's only a matter of time before it clobbers you over the head. That's the beauty of friendship though: having someone there to pick you up and drag you to the hospital when it does.
You can't talk about NANA without talking about the relationship around which Ai Yazawa coils her knotty tale of life in cosmopolitan Tokyo. It's not a romantic relationship, at least not in the conventional sense. Neither is it a friendship in the conventional sense. Rather, Nana and Hachi's relationship is something in between; two people finding in their friendship the soul-mate that they could never quite find in their romantic relations with the opposite sex. It's an incredibly odd and yet somehow very real relationship, and probably the most conspicuous example of Yazawa's vaunted skill with characterization. Creating an ostensibly mismatched pair who fit as seamlessly together as Nana and Hachi is a tricky business, and doing so with the honesty and gimlet eye for emotional consequences that Yazawa brings to bear is worthy of the overused epithet of “genius.”
But for this first set of episodes, that isn't really so important. We could speak of Yazawa's uncanny insights into the complementary faults that make the two so compatible, or her deadeye accuracy in capturing the conflicting feelings of those on the outer edges of friendship, or the organic flow the two Nanas' relationship as it forms, intensifies, and ultimately cracks. But that is fodder for a later date. NANA will eventually become anime's single greatest statement on the power, both constructive and destructive, of a single friendship, as well as one of the few dramas of truly epic breadth and depth, but here in the throes of its introductory growing pains it is only (only?) a nigh-perfect snapshot of that queasily uncertain time after high school and before the rest of your life.
Already the series' signature mix of unflinching realism and deeply-felt sympathy is firmly in place, effortlessly shaping a cast of believably flawed and infectiously likeable characters and almost unconsciously tossing off scenes of heartbreaking honesty. It gets that intangible aura of directionlessness and looming, unstoppable change frighteningly right, and it wraps it all in a rich and achingly ephemeral sense of time and place. Watching NANA is unsettlingly like living through your twenties all over again—only cooler and sexier. Director and master technician Morio Asaka filters Yazawa's fashions and urban environs through his own cinematic sensibilities to create a living, breathing and very seductive Tokyo, and he polishes each scene until it shines like a dark jewel. If you aren't completely won over by the time Nana, decked in her punk finery and wreathed in moonlight, performs solo for Hachi, well, you may want to check your pulse. Likely as not, you're dead.
Viz continues their winning streak with another fine dub. Kelly Sheridan attacks the role of Hachi with bracing enthusiasm, the supporting cast is strong, and the scripting is tight and, when need be, inventive. The real revelation, however, is Rebecca Shoichet, whose slender resume gives no warning of the smoky charisma she brings to the role of Nana. Nevertheless, the difference in the depth of Japan and America's respective talent pools shows. Sheridan, Shoichet and the rest are taking over for a cast of voice-acting superstars, nearly all giving the performances of their lives. No matter how careful and professional the dub, it's hard to compete with a Japanese track that can cram the likes of Kenji Hamada and Emi Shinohara into peripheral roles and populate the main cast with talents like Akira Ishida and Tomokazu Seki, to say nothing of the underrated Kaori and magnificent Romi Paku. Sad, but true.
A short but telling interview with Morio Asaka and the usual art gallery and clean OP and ED (a pair of rocking angst punkers) are on hand to stave off extras starvation. If you want to be well-fed, though, go elsewhere.
It's almost futile to rave about NANA. Praising its construction, its wonderful central relationship, its cast, its intelligence and emotional maturity—it's all woefully inadequate. Go on about the black-leather luminescence of its art or the artful stylization of its animation as you will (with Mad House and Asaka behind it, you'd be amiss if you didn't), deify Ai Yazawa if you want (the Goddess of Ugly Love?), parse, analyze, and deconstruct—it stands up to it all—but ultimately none of that can communicate the magic of the show; the way it can make your heart to that little two-step, the way it makes your blood stir and your chest hitch a little. Hell, by episode two, it has you feeling like dizzy little Nana. Like a fool in love. And in love with someone you just know is going to break your heart. That's a feeling no words can do justice—you just have to experience it for yourself.
Overall (dub) : A
Overall (sub) : A+
Story : A
Animation : A
Art : A+
Music : A
+ A nearly flawless adult drama: powerful, insightful, and most importantly, human; in short, one of the greatest anime of all time. No joke.
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