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This Week in Anime
Is Talentless Nana Worth Watching?

by Jean-Karlo Lemus & Steve Jones,

Early trailers made Talentless Nana out to look like a My Hero Academia hanger on, but let me ask you a question, did MHA include an extended necrophilia joke? I think not. This is MHA's twisted little sister and she's out to assassinate all her superpowered classmates before they grow up into dangerous adults.

This series is streaming on Funimation

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by the participants in this chatlog are not the views of Anime News Network.
Spoiler Warning for discussion of the series ahead.

@Lossthief @mouse_inhouse @NickyEnchilada @vestenet

Well, Jean-Karlo, it's been a rough and vacationless year for a lot of us, so with 2020 finally wrapping up, let's take this opportunity to soak in the metaphorical sun and imagine a nice tropical getaway. Like, for instance, a remote island populated only by eccentric adolescents with various superpowers. That's certainly something that's never gone horribly wrong ever!
dunno, man. Even with all the crap going on, I've got all kinds of homework. Gotta kill the killers before the killers kill me, and all that.
Damn, there really is just no escaping the rat race. Thankfully, we've got a very small, very determined, very pink rodent who's up to the task.

This week, Steven and I are proud to talk about Talentless Nana, a show that came out of nowhere for me and basically murdered its way into our heart. At the center of this show is the titular Nana, a ruthless and conniving murderer tasked with killing a classroom of Espers who are projected to kill 10 million people in their lives. With their bizarre superhuman powers, all Nana can count on is cold deduction and a rosy exterior. I should hate this show. But I don't.
I'm kinda with you there! Despite a very promising premiere, I didn't really expect Talentless Nana to have much of a leg to stand on once it showed its hand. And I'm happy to be proven wrong! It's turned into one hell of a wild ride, and Nana herself has turned into one of my favorite characters of the season. Or, more specifically, one of my favorite characters to watch get owned.
See, it turns out that as brilliant as Nana's murderous plots are, they're not fool-proof. Enter Kyoya Onodera, the cool-headed (but very offbeat) Esper who dogs Nana's every turn. He knows something isn't right about her, but it's all he can do to be quite convinced she's up to no good.

Meanwhile, his dogged persistence (blind as it is) forces Nana to keep on her toes as she continues to try setting up increasingly-complicated murder plots that both plausibly eliminate her as a suspect while leaving the door open to some other unnamed entity possibly being the threat. It's a great dynamic. It's not unlike Columbo: the joy is in finding out how Nana will overcome this new Esper's abilities while pulling the wool over Kyoya's eyes.
Every Moriarty needs their Sherlock, even if that Sherlock is a gamer.

But Kyoya is definitely an important piece that makes Talentless Nana work overall. He's a great character foil for her, basically inverting all of her (projected) bubbliness into being a cold, awkward jerk. But that's why I love him! Their conflicting demeanors make his frequently nail-biting interactions with Nana so much fun to watch. His watchful eye and stalkerish tendencies are there to ensure that Nana is always just one teensy slip-up away from being exposed as a diminutive serial killer, and that tension is a big piston in the engine driving the show.
Also they're just plain adorable together.

If you, y'know, ignore the whole murder mystery thing.
It would have been so easy to have a dynamic between Kyoya and Nana that only worked on paper. Talentless Nana, put plainly, is a dark show; Nana's serial killings are assigned to her by a shadowy cabal trying to control the rising population of Espers in the world. Being that their powers make them immune to conventional weapons and disobedient to any law or creed, the non-powered humans of the world decide that the only way to nip the problem is to get the Espers while they're young. So a lot of time is taken to illustrate that on some level, being an Esper makes you somewhat messed up as a person. Kyoya and Nana could have been L and Light: a pair of drab, amorphous "amoral" protagonists whose morally grey moralities ultimately mean there's no reason to root for anyone. Here, we have the opposite: both characters are so effortlessly charming in spite of their failings you want to see how they'll one-up each other.
That really is the key thing here. There's an effervescence to Talentless Nana that easily sets it apart from its considerably more tryhard brethren. It's not afraid to be colorful and goofy, and in fact frequently uses humor to either defuse or enhance a scene when appropriate. And, as loathe as I am to admit it, a lion's share of the credit has to go to the anime's core creative team, who worked together previously on a rather, um, TWIA-infamous children's series.

On some level, I'm never going to forgive Talentless Nana for making me praise the director of Heybot!.
I'm still just gobsmacked at how this show manages to pull off being so dark while not turning me away. I am painfully unamused by grimdark shows (I break out in hives around Future Diary or Gantz). I didn't think I'd like this show by the end of the first episode. But here I am, legitimately enjoying this whole thing. As I said earlier, I think part of it is that the show takes pains to illustrate that Nana's classmates are all sick puppies on some level. Each student is projected to kill several hundred thousand people within their lifetimes, and a quick glance at their neuroses makes that easy to believe. The show starts with Nanao, who at first seems to be a hapless, anxious student. It's quickly revealed that he does have a nascent dark side, such as when he refused to share his lunch with a hungry classmate. And then he lied about it to his extremely-generous father. Considering his power is revealed to be the ability to neutralize other powers, it's easy to see how he could go from neurotic wreck to megalomaniac in short order. Y'know, like Anakin Skywalker.
In retrospect, the first episode strikes me as the narrative's statement of intent to not become the next Death Note/Future Diary/etc. If it wanted to be one of those, it would have had Nanao as the mopey misunderstood sadboy protagonist who learns to take the reigns of destiny and prove his naysayers wrong and blah blah blah. We've all seen that show countless times before, and Nana puts them right where they belong.

Off a cliff and straight into the drink.
Six feet under~!
And counting! It's a mean trick on the surface (and honestly not a difficult one to spot during the premiere), but it was such a satisfying one to watch play out. And Nana has fulfilled the gambit by developing into a much more compelling protagonist than Nanao ever would've been. Sorry you had to die for the anime to become good, bro. Sorry, but not sorry.
I always believed a lot of shows would be better if they replaced their potato-protagonists with the female lead. I guess part of the reason I love Talentless Nana so much is that it validates that belief. (Asuna, Rem, take note...) And again, there's a bizarre karmic justice at work as Nana works through her victims. The time-travelling Esper is a major control freak who'd definitely abuse his powers if it meant satisfying his obsession with cleanliness. Tsunekichi the diviner is a pervert who tries to milk his blackmail over Nana for all its worth, until the bitter end. Yuka controls the reanimated corpse of a boy she had a crush on who never reciprocated her feelings (and who she killed in the first place). The gyaru Nana offs were both catty bullies who'd sell each other out for a single corn chip as soon as they'd share makeup. This isn't quite Moriarty the Patriot, but these are all characters with serious issues who already show severe sociopathic tendencies at their tender age. You can buy into them having projected kill-counts in the six digits. Again: this shouldn't work, because the basic idea behind this show is the fodder for so many bad Superman/Batman books. But Talentless Nana manages to make this concept work.
It's worth noting, however, that even Nana starts to suspect those kill count number might be a tad inflated. I mean, does this look like a face that could kill hundreds of thousands? Excluding death by moe, of course.

Like, yes, these kids have issues, but I'm also not exactly going to take a giant shadowy government organization at their word, especially one that decided killing teenagers was the best course of action to preserve "humanity."
There's definitely more to the story than what Nana is being told, like how five years ago the island academy had been host to a previous class of Espers that descended into a battle royale from which only one student survived. The island is still littered with the old corpses!
Not to mention Kyoya, like, immediately finds it weird that all these Talented kids are sequestered on this island together and provided little to no education or support. Almost like the whole thing is designed to stunt their emotional growth and drive them against each other with the ultimate intent of manipulating them all into mutual self-destruction. Seems kinda sus.
You can see the seeds for this being planted as early as the first episode, where a pair of students are tasked with fighting each other with their powers... for the position of class president.
It just really seems like a recipe for disaster! Especially when you throw a pink impostor into the mix who keeps stoking a culture of paranoia as more and more students disappear. I really like this angle, too, because it hints at a much bigger story beyond this island and beyond Nana's mission. It also helps Nana herself become more sympathetic, because if she's also being manipulated, then there's a chance she might eventually switch sides. Or kill everyone. Could go either way.

The important point is that the show isn't just about Nana going around murdering kids behind their peers' backs. Although that is still a very large and very entertaining part of it.
keep repeating myself, but I really wanna sing this to the four winds: it does the material justice and I honestly want to see how it plays out. Do I think it's anywhere as good as, say, Moriarty the Patriot? No. If you wanna watch a great murder-mystery where the protagonist is the murderer and you want to see how they get away with it, then that should be your show. But Talentless Nana is a great also-ran. The animation is a little more workmanlike, but the writing is solid and the many obstacles in Nana's path make for engaging television. There's also that macabre satisfaction of seeing Nana put down some genuinely awful people.
God, it's also great because Nana will relish in the thrill of the kill when appropriate, or troll the shit out of her victims when she's caught on her back foot. Like, she has some CHOICE words for necromancer Yuka here.

Can't say I expected to laugh at jokes about necrophilia in an anime this season, but somehow Talentless Nana delivers.

Conversely, I like that the end of Yuka's arc again shows Nana's convictions waver. The girl was messed up, but a small, buried part of Nana still wanted to give her a chance to prove her wrong. That's good stuff!
Nana may be fairly ruthless in her killing, but she's human enough to want to save a cat stuck in a drain--even if it risks her cover. That counts for something. She isn't Light where she has some farcically inflated sense of self, she's a woman on a mission. No mission is more important than Cat™️.
Unfortunately not all cats on the island are created equal.

On the upside, at least Nana has a friend(?) to confide in now?

On the downside is literally everything else about Jin.

Says a lot when our girl has to take a step back from how far someone's willing to go.
I do appreciate that Jin acts like someone who's been living in a cave by himself and wearing the same striped suit for five straight years—i.e., like a huge creepazoid.
I'm just counting down the minutes until Nana finds a way to kill him. His power definitely would require a plan that'll be amazing to see unfold.
I mean, as a veteran reader of the Animorphs series, I know from experience that there are fates worse than death that can befall a young adult who can transform into other animals, but I'm sure Talentless Nana has something powerful in store. And really, Jin's much more straightforward villainy helps highlight how good a protagonist Nana has been and continues to be. She knows how to give a good aside to the audience.
And she didn't even need potato chips or Willem Dafoe to do it!
She just needs a pair of pink pigtails and a translator I have to commend for their frequently impeccable choice of words.

Well, as much as the two of us clearly like Nana (despite all the murdery bits), we simply can't hold a candle to the #1 Nana Defender, who has just logged on.
Get you a girl who looks at you like Michiru Inukai looks at Nana. You almost suspect she has a better idea of what's going on, giving the evidence towards Nana's actions that comes past her. I almost dread there being a reveal that Michiru has some dark secret or is murderously obsessed with Nana.

She's another one of the key elements that keeps the show from being overbearingly grimdark: a blameless puppy whose worst sin is perhaps being a bit too trusting towards a murderous wolf. And even Nana finds herself dropping her guard around Michiru. She might even resent the idea of having to kill her.
Yeah I think it's both funny and tragic that Nana (and by extension the show) wants you to suspect that Michiru has some secret ulterior motive. In a sense, that'd be par for the course for this series. What this most recent episode reveals, though, is that Nana is so murder-brain-poisoned and emotionally stunted that it's easier for her to imagine Michiru betraying her than to imagine Michiru selflessly caring about her wellbeing. I like that "twist" a lot more, and I think it does more interesting work to undermine Nana's motivations and assumptions. Nana opening up to her about her obligatorily tragic past was one of my favorite scenes to date, because I'm a big sap for broken kids licking each other's wounds.

Even though Michiru takes that a LITTLE too literally sometimes.

Well, at least Nana has a firm and fast friend who will always be there to support her and perhaps even fuel her growth into a better per—

Ah crap.
So, uh, roaring pink-haired revenge rampage maybe?

Talentless Nana is definitely one of the most pleasant surprises I've had in watching a show, I definitely need to know how this resolves itself. I'm invested in this murder girl and her doggy girlfriend, and if it's not clear I wholeheartedly urge other folks to join in.
From melting zombie fingers to reptile-eating gals, it's been one heck of a weird ride, and I'm glad to have been a part of it. I'm wishing all these kids the best, even if most of them are gonna end up totally dead.
Now if only they could solve the true mystery of this show: whether Kyoya can learn what an F-boy is!

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