I’ve actually been looking forward to getting to this episode for a while now. Nana is one of those rare unicorns of anime – an adaptation of a josei manga, the manga designation that in my mind might as well just mean “good manga.” Shounen manga are aimed at boys, shoujo manga are aimed at girls, and seinen manga are… well, generally aimed at adult boys. The seinen label rarely conveys actual maturity – it’s more the adolescent veneer of maturity, stories with lots of blood and guts but often even less to say about people or the world than their shounen counterparts.
But josei manga… now we’re talking. Even if you just look at MAL’s genre list, you can immediately see some great and terrible trends. On the great side, josei anime tend to tell legitimately grounded stories about actual adult or young adult lives, stories more akin to dramas in other mediums than standard anime fare. And on the negative side, there are like five of them in total.
And in keeping with this trend, Nana certainly doesn’t disappoint. It details the lives of two young women both named Nana, who each come from very different backgrounds to Tokyo, and end up living together through what the more star-struck Nana considers the hand of fate. One Nana is a country girl with dreams of the big city; the other is a punk rocker, and her feelings are less clear. Together, I’m guessing they’ll do what characters so often do in these stories – just try to live, one day at a time.
Merely by its genre position, there are many things about this first episode that make it unique and compelling. First, it’s a story about adults, and adult women no less – people who search for apartments and worry about finding jobs and actually have some agency within their lives. People have relationship troubles here, and actually discuss their feelings like they’re not constantly terrified of their own emotions. People have style and confidence and identities, not just an inclination towards one or another youthful persona.
On top of that, Nana also possesses a strong gift for natural character dialogue, with the rapport between the two Nanas immediately impressing in the way it contrasts their personalities naturally and with great humor. Country Nana talks about the dreams that bring her to the big city, and rocker Nana listens affectionately, laughing but sympathizing. When they meet again, there is friction there, but also friendship; the two girls are different in many ways, but you can also see what each of them finds appealing in the other. Country Nana sees her new friend as an icon of cool and stability; Rocker Nana is more hesitant, but relates to her acquaintance’s enthusiastic feelings.
The relationship between those two isn’t the only strong dynamic. Country Nana also has some great scenes with Shoji, her boyfriend – scenes that demonstrate both a nuance of mismatched expectations and the clear issues with Nana’s worldview. Her boyfriend is happy to see her, but it’s clear in scene after scene that they have very different goals for their relationship. Nana leans on Shoji, but Shoji doesn’t want to become her life; he urges her to find an apartment and job, acting paternal even as he tries to create distance. The two of them could work on this relationship, but they could also drift apart, and that would not be anyone’s fault. People grow and change, and relationships are a constant navigation of individual and communal needs.
The disconnect in Country Nana’s relationship points to the limitations of her current worldview, as well. Nana treats her trip to Tokyo as a fantastical voyage, gawking at the bright lights and seeing magic in everything. Her worldview informs the show’s aesthetic, making the occasional shoujo visual flourishes and reflections on fate seem like Nana’s view bleeding into the show’s. Nana immediately frames herself as a newlywed when she gets to Shoji’s apartment, and when she finds an apartment of her own, she’s taken by its western-style grandeur. Nana sees herself as a princess embarking on her first adult fantasy; her positivity is both immediately infectious and an excellent starting point for a show that seems far more wise to the world than she herself is.
Nana’s first episode is great, basically. It sketches a trio of characters quite well while only giving us slight information about two of them, courtesy of the strong dialogue and clear differing personal priorities. It establishes an immediate disconnect between Country Nana’s worldview and the world she inhabits, hinting at conflicts without having to rely on artificial and immersion-breaking plot hooks. And it simply portrays an actual world far better than most shows. I wish we had half a dozen shows like Nana to choose from every season. I wish shows like this were so common I could take them for granted.
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