Before I even get started—
“Why was that necessary before going forward”, you ask? Well, it has everything to do with that never before—and never after—has a series left me in such a state of emotional disrepair than Ai Yazawa’s best-selling, award-winning shoujo manga, Nana.
This is not an exaggeration. In fact, I truly believe this series has had a hand in my chronic depression. That is also not an exaggeration. From the events within the series itself, to the heart-rendering and beautiful music of the anime, and right down to the fact that Ai Yazawa fell ill which forced Nana into an eight-year hiatus to this day, the lack of closure has always left me with a huge hole in my heart.
And when Ai Yazawa released brand new artwork for Nana around this time two years ago, I was desperately hoping that meant she was finally bringing Nana out of hiatus. I even expounded in a Buzzfeed article upon the fact that had Nana resumed last year, that would have made seven years since the last and newest chapter—given the word “Nana” means “seven”, and is one of the central themes of the story.
While Nana is categorized as a shoujo series, it also fits right in with the themes found in that of josei manga.
On The Surface:
A cute ‘opposites attract’ series that revolves around the chance meeting and friendship of two young women whom—despite being as different as night and day—bear the same name: Nana.
Nana Osaki (Nana O) is a strikingly beautiful punk rock goddess dedicated to her dreams of making a name for herself in the world of music.
Nana Komatsu (Nana K, or “Hachi”) is a vivacious, dreamy young woman who never stops hoping nor searching for the love of her life.
What Lies Beneath:
(*hits blunt again*)
An emotionally driven, hard-hitting series that delivers a single, clear-cut message that no other shoujo manga has conveyed as brilliantly as this series has:
Sometimes in life, there are no happy endings.
At the core of Nana Osaki (or Nana O.)’s emotional and psychological turmoil is her Ain’t-Shit mother, Misuzu, who abandoned Nana as a very young child to run away and be with a man who absolutely hated children. Nana’s father isn’t in the picture, either—there is literally an infinite number of number of men who could have possibly fathered her.
From then on, Nana is raised by her cold and hard grandmother who mistreated Nana out of spite, and forbid her from wearing “girlish” colors such as red or pink, believing that only promiscuous women wore those types of clothing.
Nana O. grew up a loner, choosing to march to the beat of her own drum regardless of what anyone thought of her. Her only friend was her future bandmate and guitarist, a “Richie Rich” by the name of Nobu—the only one unafraid to talk to her, and of whom also shares Nana’s love of rock music:
However, Nana O’s aloofness and beauty made her the target of a vicious (and untrue) rumor that spread saying she was caught having sex for money in the bathroom of her high school. While it wasn’t true, Nana O. didn’t even try and fight the charges, and was immediately expelled—something that Nana O. laments contributed to the death of her grandmother, who died of a “broken heart”.
Nana O., now sixteen and alone in the world, works a series of oddjobs to make ends meet and support herself. Around the time when she was seventeen or so, Nobu invites her to take in a rock show with her.
Nobu later explains that he’s been friends with the band’s bassist, Ren Honjou, for years; when Ren was a newborn, he was abandoned in a warehouse near the harbor. At the time, it was such a big deal that the story even made it’s way onto the news.
When Nana O. chides Nobu for gossiping, she’s shocked to hear Nobu reply that Ren actually brags about his scandalous past because of the extra attention it gets him as a musician. Nana O. is even more perplexed when Nobu tells her that Ren eventually bought the same warehouse where he was found and turned it into a living space and hangout spot for his friends.
But she’s singing a different tune once Ren appears on stage with his band. She stands there shook by the man whose godlike presence illuminates the entire stage:
Fastfoward to a few weeks; Nobu and Ren are discussing putting together their own band with Ren’s older, best friend Yasu; of whom was also abandoned as a child, and grew up in the same orphanage as Ren right until Yasu was adopted by a wealthy family. Ren tells them that they need an attractive woman to be the frontrunner of their band.
Enter Nana, who at that very moment drops by to return a few CD’s Nobu had lent her. Embarrassed, Nana quickly hands Nobu the CD’s before rushing off. Ren goes chasing after her with the proposal to form a band. She agrees, and the four of them form The Black Stones or BLAST for short, inspired by the brand of cigarette Yasu, Nana, and Ren are so fond of.
The band becomes immensely popular, and it isn’t before long that Nana and Ren fall in love, hard and fast. She moves into the warehouse with him, gets him a “Sid Vicious” padlock of which only she has the key to, and even gets a lotus tattoo (of which Nana O. refers to a “Ren flower”, due to “Ren” meaning “lotus”).
And speaking of Ren, doesn't he remind you of a certain someone...?
It's worth mentioning Ai Yazawa is an enormous fan of the Six Pistols, and boyhowdy does it show in this series; particularly in the cases of the characters Nana Osaki and Ren Honjou.
There's several homages scattered throught Nana (one might even say that the series itself is an entire homage), not only of The Sex Pistols, but Sid Vicious and his girlfriend, Nancy. There's even a poster of them in Ren and Nana's bedroom.
The most obvious homage is Ren's entire design: from his signature padlock, guitar, and playing style, his character was heavily influenced by the Sex Pistol's bassist, Sid Vicious:
Ren even asks Nana, upon receiving his padlock from her: "So does that make you Nancy?"
(So, you already know shit's not gonna end well, is essentially what Yazawa and I are hinting at.)
For the next two years, Ren and Nana remain the center of one another’s worlds.
....Riiiight up until Ren is scouted as a guitarist by his other childhood friends who have formed the band Trapnest, and have since become Tokyo’s number one band—and it’s at Yasu’s insistence (having also known the members of Trapnest since childhood) that Ren takes them up on their offer.
And while Ren wants Nana to come with him and start a family, Nana is adamant about wanting to live her own life—and one without children (for understandable reasons), in total contrast to Ren who wants desperately to be a father. This reoccurring conflict appears later on in the series, but be touching up that in a little while.
Nana remains behind and tearfully bids Ren farewell, signaling the end of their relationship. And triggering Nana’s overwhelming fear of abandonment—which in turn, causes her to feel betrayal and resentment towards him (or anyone else she feels abandoned by).
Two years later, on her birthday, she decides to move to Tokyo—not to be with Ren, but to follow her dream of becoming a great vocalist.
And on that snowy train bound for Tokyo, she meets...
(Find out tomorrow in Part 2!)