That’s pretty much the plot of Nana’s second episode. We’re in flashback territory now, as we learn about the end of Nana’s high school life and the beginning of her time at art school. She falls in love, is rejected, falls in love, is ignored, falls in love, is forgotten, and finally falls in love with someone who’s actually interested in her. Unfortunately, her eventual “boyfriend’s” interest is of a pretty limited and predatory type – the man she falls for is married, and he is only willing to meet with her for sex a few times a month. Nana is being used, but as a naive and love-struck high school student, she doesn’t have much recourse.
The relationship hanging in the background of this episode is a heavy event, but in moment-to-moment terms, this episode is actually very light and endearing. It turns out the bright-eyed enthusiasm that Nana previously applied to city living was always a part of her personality, but without a man in her life, her energy turns to boy-craze. Nana is ridiculously hungry for love, prone to falling for basically anyone at first sight, and more than a little ignorant of what actually constitutes a relationship.
The show isn’t ignorant alongside her; this is a show about young adults, after all. Instead of actually validating Nana’s romantic fantasies, the framing here constantly cuts her down to size. We’ve all met someone like Nana; claiming they’re the ultimate romantic, they come across more like someone who just doesn’t know what to do with themselves when they’re single. The pain of Nana’s manipulative relationship is real, but the show never implies that her feelings are romantically profound outside of the legitimate hurt they’ve caused her.
We’re more observers of Nana’s troubles, resting much closer to the perspective of her friend Junko. Junko is a very necessary presence here; she’s the straight man cutting down Nana’s fantasies, the one who both centers the viewer perspective back in reality and helps punchlines land. She knows what kind of person Nana is, and she’s just doing her best to help a friend while maybe getting a couple quips in edgewise.
Nana’s excellent dialogue and humor continues to elevate basically every scene. Characters are treated with an unvarnished perspective that helps them come across as far more textured and human than you often get in anime. In the early scene depicting Nana’s breakup, her first thoughts aren’t “but our love was so pure,” they’re “alright, can I actually manage the logistics of a long-distance relationship.” Near the end, Nana’s conversation with male friend Shoji works on a variety of levels. She’s trying to get over her heartbreak, but isn’t interested in dating Shoji (she sees him as a “valuable male friend”) – but he’s definitely interested in her. And so her declaration that she must find a new love to get over heartbreak is greeted with enthusiasm by Shoji for less than chivalrous reasons, while also reinforcing Nana’s own immaturity.
But it’s Junko and Nana who get most of the best material here. Their conversations have a blunt realism and rapid pacing that making for consistently funny repartee. Take one of their first conversations after Nana’s breakup, which essentially proceeds like: “I’m going!” “Wait, to Tokyo?” “No, to the beauty salon. I don’t want to look like a dumb high schooler anymore!” “But we’re graduating today anyway.” “Oh no, we’re late for the graduation!” Nothing truly groundbreaking there, but the beats move quickly and build off each other with a strong comic rhythm. Nana’s visual storytelling is never more than serviceable, but its script reads like a snappy play.
The comedy regularly helps make Nana come across as more endearing than aggravating (“in any case, keep away from love at first sight” followed by Nana immediately crossing eyes with a new beau). But it doesn’t really have to work that hard – there’s a clear, relatable humanity to these characters already. Junko’s advice to Nana is sound and necessary – “you see men as targets, so you don’t have any male friends. You should try seeing them as human beings.” Nana’s responses to insecurity are questionable but understandable – “I should try to avoid saying something stupid. Wait, how about I just get drunk so I don’t feel nervous at all.” And in the end, Junko’s final decision on how to help her friend feels like the only reasonable conclusion: “this girl clearly isn’t ready for a relationship, but she’s also the kind of person who can’t be happy outside of one, so I might as well try to set her up with someone who won’t take advantage of her.”
In short, Nana continues to find great humor in extremely human behavior. The dialogue is sharp and characters relatably drawn. The chemistry evolves naturally out of the differences between the cast, and the situations are funny without ever veering into the absurd. So far, Nana is a reliably excellent character drama, its writing placing it high above typical anime fare.
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