NANA is a glamorous and unflinching exploration of life
CW: The following article contains mentions of grooming, drug abuse, and other sensitive topics.
If you've been watching anime for a while, you might have heard of NANA. Although it's not as popular as many other anime and manga in the shoujo scene, the series has a devoted fanbase alive even today, despite it being released over a decade ago.
I've seen manga panels and anime screencaps of this series while idly scrolling on social media. The manga is visually stunning, containing some essence of the 2000s art style as well as author Ai Yazawa's own idiosyncratic touches. Despite my initial intrigue, I only started watching it after a friend's recommendation.
NANA is unlike your typical music anime, despite being driven by the musical endeavours of its characters. The titular characters Nana Komatsu and Nana Osaki are as different as two people can be despite sharing the same first name, allowing the viewers to see the world through two different lenses.
Nana Osaki is the heroine you'll instantly fall in love with – a glamorous punk vocalist with a cold front that disguises her intense passion for music, and her tumultuous relationship with her former bandmate Ren Honjo.
Nana Komatsu, on the other hand, will help you see the world from a more ordinary perspective. She initially resembles the "preppy girl next door" archetype with a naive outlook on love, and by extension, on life itself.
The charm of NANA is that none of the characters is two-dimensional; all of them have something to offer that betrays their appearance and viewers' expectations. They whisk you away on a journey of ambition and friendship that feels incredibly realistic. You can see them repeatedly committing mistakes, some less forgivable than others, and trying their best at achieving redemption.
NANA doesn't shy away from exploring topics generally avoided in the shoujo genre, setting it apart from other music-centric anime. Each character has their own arc, and they're all given similar importance. It elaborates on sensitive topics such as grooming, adultery, mental health issues, drug abuse, manipulative and codependent relationships, child prostitution, and many more. It's not an ingenious breakdown of the entertainment industry, but neither does it try to be. Rather, it sheds light on the realities of individuals, without glorifying the themes it explores.
Like other music anime, NANA has a great soundtrack. It references legendary figures in the rock and roll scene. Nana Osaki and Ren Honjo's relationship draws inspiration from Sex Pistols bassist Sid Vicious and Nancy Spungen's codependent, destructive romance.
Aimed at a slightly more mature audience than typical shoujo anime, NANA tells the interwoven tales of deeply flawed individuals. It offers the heart warmth and pain in equal measure. It's got great music as well as amazing fashion, and it makes us confront aspects of ourselves we prefer not to acknowledge.
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