Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Free Online Manga: Nana

Review stolen from Comics Worth Reading:

Nana is a little slow-starting, but the result is more than worth the time invested. A few volumes in, it becomes incredibly addictive. Like many manga series these days, the first volume is prologue, leading into a simple premise. Two girls named Nana come to Tokyo to follow their dreams and in search of love; they wind up rooming together and learning from each other.

Book one is made up of two stories, each one introducing a different Nana. The first, Naive Nana, is largely average, with no distinguishing characteristics except for her boycraziness. She falls in love instantly with highly inappropriate choices. As the book opens, she’s being dumped by the married man she’s been sleeping with.

More disturbingly, she has no drive and no purpose in life besides being in love. Nana constantly refers to her bad-luck name and the poor omen of the number 7 and the “demon lord” who’s cursed her for no known reason. Her friends think she’s joking around, but she says it in one of those “ha ha only serious” ways. She’s looking for anything to seize upon to make herself not responsible for her own life.

Best friend Jun wants to go to Tokyo to art school, and since Nana thinks she can meet boys there, she tags along. Soon she meets Shoji, and after confusion over whether she’s capable of having a male friend (no) and some drunken evenings, she’s involved with Shoji and trying to find her way to Tokyo to follow her friends.

Nana’s casual acceptance of relationships based on nothing but physicality is disturbing, especially her affair with the married man. That pairing was based around nothing but sex, and Nana’s inability to comprehend how she was being used makes it hard for me to identify with or even understand her. In short, she’s an idiot (or, as a friend of mine calls her, the “wishy washy wimpy one”). But that’s just where she starts.

Thankfully, the author gives her enough luck to survive, and as I read more about her, her touching faith in the future is beginning to grow to me. When she gets to Tokyo in book two, she stumbles into a great job and coincidentally encounters the second Nana.

That Nana, a singer and punk rocker, is the kind of strong personality the first Nana needs to learn from. When musician Nana’s boyfriend gets picked up by a Tokyo band on the rise, she refuses to follow him until she can do it on her own terms. She’s determined to take care of herself, even if it requires sacrifices. The two Nanas first encounter each other on the train to the big city, where Naive Nana spills her guts to the more reticent Punk Nana. Although the same age, the two seem like they’re from completely different generations in their temperament and attitudes.

Like Ai Yazawa’s previous manga series Paradise Kiss, an underlying theme here is that the family you build and choose is better than the one you happen to be born into. Naive Nana is a mostly ignored middle child, and Punk Nana was an orphan raised by a harsh grandmother. The two of them have made small groups of close friends with shared interests to support them instead.

To begin reading, click here.