Nana – Episode 1

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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11 thoughts on “Nana – Episode 1

  1. So, I’m actually watching this series now, as my workout motivation – I can’t watch an episode unless I’m working out. This sounds terrible, but to be honest, it’s been fantastic motivation. The reason why I chose it is because it is hailed as one of the few series with great – no, amazing -dubbing and I couldn’t agree more. I NEVER watch dubs, can’t stand them, but at the moment, I need to be able to not read – rather listen and see while exercising. And holy moly, I watched today’s episode (25) subbed and I actually preferred the dub. I mean, the dub is honestly SO good that it makes the original Japanese actors seem wooden and awful…I highly recommend you check out at least one episode as the dub.

  2. “The seinen label rarely conveys actual maturity – it’s more the adolescent veneer of maturity”

    Can’t say a totally agree with that statement. A ton of seinen mangas that aren’t mindless violence; that have something to say about the world( the works of Naoki Urasawa for example). Even really violent ones like Berserk,Blade of the Immortal, and Lone Wolf and Cub have something to say and shouldn’t be written off as exploitative garbage.

    • I imagine it’s a matter of quantity over quality. Some of my favorite series are seinen, and yet I often have to wade through a lot of titles to get at one that’s actually good.

      We can use this season for example… of the titles currently that you would consider being aimed at “18+ males”… what are the standouts? Taking a quick peak at MAL (and ignoring shorts), I would say:
      Big Order, Bungo Stray Dogs (yes, really, the manga is serialized in Young Ace), Concrete Revolutio, Joker Game, Jojo, Kabaneri, Kiznaiver, Mayoiga, Netoge, Re:Zero, Sakamoto, and freakin Terra Formars. (and sure, we can bicker over my picks, since few of these were manga that were released in an actual seinen magazine, but this is my best guess)

      There is a BIG spread in quality there, on a lot of different fronts, but if we narrow down our “good” criteria to “which ones have excellent characterization?”, again, we can bicker over choices, but the list grows much shorter. Personally I’d probably only stick Kiznaiver in that category, and frankly even that is my wishful thinking rather than what’s actually aired so far.

      How about judging instead based on “Interesting and/or uncommon and/or adult themes?” OK, now you have Concrete Revolutio, and maybe Joker Game, and again, depending upon how things shake out, maybe Kiznaiver.

      How does currently airing Josei compare to this?… uhhhhh… dunno, because there isn’t any airing. You could MAYBE argue for Flying Witch, and the critics kinda really like that so far.

      This is getting kind of long (I need to stop reading anime blogs while drinking), but I guess TL;DR is that seinen is such a broad, varied category, and any general complaint about it does NOT imply that the genre* as a whole is crap.

      *YES, I KNOW it’s not TECHNICALLY a “genre”, but it’s an easier term to use than “targeted demographic”.

    • I get why he’s saying it, because most seinen really are Shonen minus the humor and with more violence.

      But the best seinen are really among the best works out there: you’ve already mentioned Naoki Urasawa, and just about all of his manga are seinen and amazing at what they do. Inio Asano falls in the same group. With those two out there, it feels very… off to look down on seinen.

  3. “the manga designation that in my mind might as well just mean “good manga.””
    I know you’re trying to say that from what you’ve seen, a josei manga is more likely to appeal to your tastes than other demographics.
    And that’s totally fine. In fact, my current tastes happen to be similar, but that’s beside the point.
    But when you use such a vague, universial word as “good”, the adjective becomes non-meaningful. Is it “good” because it fits your tastes? Or the tastes that you think your readership has? Or should have?. I understand this is your essay and there’s an implicit “In my opinion” in front of every sentence, but regrettably not everyone interprets essays that way.

  4. I think part of the problem is that MAL’s “genre” corpus of Josei titles is severely lacking, and that the four quadrant categorization of manga titles is frequently inadequate. I’m a neophite anime watcher, but I can already think of a good half-a-dozen titles that aren’t filed under the title — Kino’s Journey, Neighbourhood Story, Serial Experiments Lain, Maoyu, Mitchiko to Hatchin, Gunbuster, — because, one suspects, they aren’t notionally concerned with traditional conceptions of femininity. Or also because most people have forgotten that Neighbourhood Story even existed in the first place.

    I mean, we can quibble over the variations of exactly where these shows stand, but I frankly don’t understand why fans and critics alike are still kowtowing to a “blue is for boys” mentality. Surely if we started categorizing shows by traditional notions of genre we’d be avoiding this headache.

    • I think most people consider Lain as seinen, for all that it has a female lead. Although sorting demographics for anime original series is a dicey business. Neighbourhood Story’s manga ran in a shojo magazine, and would be the third AI Yazawa manga even if you counted it, so still not a great picture. Josei is the most neglected demographic in terms of getting translations and licenses in the US. Why is nobody making anime of trashy, fun genre fare like Midnight Secretary?

  5. Please continue to blog about Nana. It’s one of the best shows for those who prefer character-driven stories, regardless of genre. Thanks!

  6. I will be THAT person:

    How do you know Nana is a josei manga? English Wikipedia claims so, but Japanese and German ones think it is a shoujo work.

    I saw at least several times different attribution of demographics to it. So, do you know something further on the subject?

    • Manga demographics are usually determined by whatever manga magazine they were originally published in.

      Nana was originally serialized in the josei magazine “Cookie”. So that makes it josei.

      However, in the US it ended up in the manga magazine “Shoujo Beat”. That likely explains the discrepancy. I don’t think that a serialized US josei magazine publication even exists, which also explains why a shoujo publication was chosen for Nana: there just wasn’t anywhere else to put it!

      • the entire point of my post was that according to German and Japanese Wikipedia “Cookie” is a shoujo, not josei magazine.

        So it would make it shoujo. But English sources list “Cookie” as josei. Hence my doubts. And what you wrote doesn’t address them at all.

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