Review- NANA: Life, Love & Music

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Synopsis: Nana Komatsu is a young 20 year old girl , who decides to move to Tokyo to live with her boyfriend Shoji. On the train ride there, she meets Nana Ozaki, a punk rock singer who also happens to be moving to Tokyo.  Upon arrival, they both end up trying to rent out the same apartment and decide to compromise by becoming roommates. The two become close friends as they deal with the men in their lives and the inner pain they both have to overcome.

Review

The shojo genre is  one that is generally filled with ideals as romance stories are its most primary staple.  Though many shows in the genre do tackle genuine drama and struggle, most of them never stray too far from the ideal of pure and innocent relationships, not always giving into total fantasy, but rarely much further. However Nana is a show that understands that ideals and reality are two different things and breaks the mold in a sometimes painful but ultimately compelling display of this truth.

Before the show even begins to build the two girls relationship together, it first dives into each of their pasts and examines them fully. Nana Komatsu, later nicknamed Hachi, to make it easier to differentiate the two, is boy crazy, dreams of being a bride someday and tends to fall in love at first sight, which has lead her into a series of failed romances, including an affair that leaves her somewhat scarred before finally finding a real relationship in Shoji. The other Nana was abandoned as a child, and lived a life of social isolation before joining a band called Blast, and falling in love with the band’s leader, Ren before he ends up moving to Tokyo to join other band. She vows to surpass him and become a great musician in her own right, which leads her to Tokyo and ultimately becoming roommates with Hachi.

One thing that eventually becomes apparent about the show is that it revels in a lack of escapism, as compared to most other shojo series. The beginning of the story follows Hachi’s perspective on life, and initially things go pretty well for her in her attempts to be independent and become a proper adult. It doesn’t take long though, for her idealism to clash with reality and it sends her on a downward spiral as life’s situations prove much tougher than she expected as she deals with financial struggles and a tough breakup. Through it all, the one thing that remains a constant positive in her life is her relationship with Nana, and the other members of Blast as they make their march towards stardom. However as things push ahead, the more the band’s situation improves, the further isolated and empty Nana feels as she struggles to find a purpose for her life. Her pain eventually leads her into relationship that serves as her biggest wake up call, and forces her to confront both painful new reality and a relationship far below her ideals.

While Hachi attempts to come to terms her new situation, the show moves over to the perspective of the other Nana as she tries to cope with Hachi’s problems in her own way but ends up feeling betrayed as the two part ways.  As Hachi’s struggles force Nana to come to terms with some of her own, the other band members go through their own various love affairs and strained relationships with things becoming painful for everyone involved. However while the show understands that ideals and reality don’t truly mix, it also knows that the two can sometimes mingle in unexpected ways. and this fact becomes more apparent as it goes on.

Hachi’s does eventually become the bride she’s wanted to be but the journey there is harsh, and she ends up losing her ideal men to get there. Similarly, Nana and Blast’s path towards fame is also one that gets fuffiled and allows her to finally obtain a family of her own,  but it also turns out to be a path riddled with compromises in both business and in love. When everything is said and done, the two girls do eventually reconcile and find peace with themselves as life goes on for everyone, and while the ending is a bit more ambiguous about Nana’s future than it needs to be, the show manages to wrap things up satisfactorily for the most part and while no one really manages to find unabashed happiness or love, they come to understand that’s life and it must go on.

The english dub for the series, done by Ocean Group is very solid and provides a good mix of strong performances. Kelly Sheridan delivers a good performance Hachi, making the character sound sugary sweet while also managing to give some heartwrenching delivery during some of her weaker moments. Rebecca Shoichet’s Nana sounds intitially strained during some of her comedic moments but ultimately captures the character well. The rest of the cast provides very down to earth performances that fit the nature of the well show, with some stand out roles such as Brian Drummond’s Yasu which really captures the big brother nature of the character well. The insert songs for the show aren’t dubbed which makes for some occasional dissonance, but it doesn’t effect the dub enough to seriously take away from it.

Madhouse’s production on the show is solid as their usual works, and the animation budget is consistent. The character designs are somewhat standard in terms of shojo but have a pretty good look regardless and they manage to avoid making all of the characters look too pretty. Tomoki Hasegawa’s musical score for the series provides a pretty distinct mix  of orchestral and rock tracks and the all of the opening and ending songs for the series stand out pretty well though the biggest highlight of them is the first opening “Roses” done by ANNA.

Nana is a coming of age tale for young adults and is filled with all of the heartaches and harsh realities that come with it. More than that though, it’s a story of varying degrees of love be they relationships with family, friends or lovers and how they can effect each of us. In a genre of idealized versions of love, Nana stands triumphant as a much more honest portrayal of those ideals and that’s not such a bad thing as it allows for a story that is more than capable of standing the test of time in it’s genre.

Overall: 9.8/10

Available on Hulu

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