December 28, 2009

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Nana Volume 2

Written by Ai Yazawa
Illustrated by Ai Yazawa
Viz

I'm glad I decided to stick with Nana, because I really enjoyed this second volume, as the characters set up in the first trade start to interact and new possible conflicts form as our dual protagonists meet on the way to Tokyo.

After a chance meeting on a train, the Nanas end up coveting the same apartment, leading to a rather unlikely (but still fun for the reader) sharing arrangement in which the two opposites start the ever-awkward process of learning to live together.

The Nana with a boyfriend starts to get her life together, and though she loves her no-longer long distance boyfriend, she's also seeing that at 20, there's a lot of field yet to be played. After all, her new manager is pretty cute. How will she deal with the possibilities Toyko has to offer, given her flare for the dramatic? And what of the advice of her older friends?

Meanwhile, singer-Nana gives a jaded look at the other Nana's world, offering sarcastic one-liners and trying really hard to be hipper than everyone else in the room. Yet she still has ties to her own past, and can't quite seem to let go of the man she (sort of) followed to Toyko. By the end of the volume, the past starts to catch up to her. Is that necessarily a bad thing?

Given how many volumes there are of Nana, I was actually surprised that our co-heroines met this quickly. I figured there would be near misses leading up to a big scene, but instead, Yazawa gives us the stranger on a train scene. I thought maybe that would be all, but then she came up with the amazing idea of having them live together. It's positively preposterous, but I love it.

Once the players are set in place, Yazawa turns on the comedy, using the oddly paired couple to create as many funny situations as possible. Everything from worrying about another girlfriend (who even gets a name) to the type of glasses to use in the house to the unknowing love of Ren's band fills the pages with laugh after laugh.

But behind the jokes are two very interesting storylines which ground the humour. Singer-Nana is by no means ready to give up all her old connections, as we see by the end of this trade. She's oddly unconcerned about her money situation, too, or how she's going to manage. The other Nana, by contrast, is trying hard to establish her own life. She gets her own place, gets a job, and strives to show she can do things on her own. But will that independence lead to a break with the friends she had? A woman of extremes (as opposed to the singer-Nana, who plays it close to the vest), will she take living her own live too far?

Yazawa also does a nice job with the artwork, especially when it comes to the characters' clothes. Nana with a boyfriend keeps changing outfits and Yazawa gives each a distinctive look at fits well with a clothes hog. Meanwhile, the rest of the cast also dresses sharply based on their personality. There were a few scenes that looked like they were taken from a photo and drawn over, a technique I thought was interesting in limited doses, as it's used here. We also get a few super-exaggerated moments, but those are few and far between and are always appropriate to the scene.

About the only thing that's a bit odd is Yazawa's multiple in-jokes, referencing other manga, anime, and even herself here and there. They're fun but a bit distracting at times because I wasn't expecting so many breaks of the 4th wall. I'll be interested to see if they continue.

Nana is probably a textbook example of why you should almost always give manga two or three volumes to settle in. (After all, for those used to reading American comic books, how many took 5-10 issues to get going?) While I found the first volume to be a little slow-going, there was a seed in there that had the potential to grow into something really fun to read. Those who told me that Nana was well worth sticking with were totally right. With this volume, those seeds sprouted into a full story that I can't wait to continue in volume three!