February 18, 2010

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Nana Volume 3

Written by Ai Yazawa
Illustrated by Ai Yazawa
Viz

The story of the two Nanas continues in this third volume, as things start to look up for singer-Nana but look worse for her roommate. Slowly but surely the band is getting back together and singing Nana can afford to let loose a bit and allow her guard down, now that it might be time for her to shine.

On the other hand, our more open and expressive Nana is having problems all over. She's overspent, her job status is shaky, her mom thinks she eloped, and, worst of all, the boy she followed to Tokyo may not be all she thought him to be!

There's still a lot of comical situations in Nana's third volume, but from the opening lines on, you can tell that Yazawa is going to darken the tone a bit. Despite silly jokes about ghosts in the house, Nana K is starting to worry about the neighbors, a care I don't think she would have had at the start of the series.

As things progress, the formerly carefree Nana is worrying about making rent, looking good to her mother and boyfriend, and even what the future holds. (It may be a really stereotypical future, but still, it shows her desire to knuckle down and care.) Singer-Nana (Nana O) snarks about these things but seems more willing to let Nana K into her life, even letting her sing a bit at a band rehearsal. There's even just a bit of hinting that they are going to be actual friends, which I think is a good sign.

Oddly, it's as though the two Nanas reverse roles here. Nana O is getting her friends back and building on what she lost when Ren went to Tokyo. Meanwhile, Nana K's friends are avoiding her because of the actions of her boyfriend. He's not at all the man Nana K takes him to be, as we see further proof why long distance relationships don't generally work. Both of these parallel
plots are developed nicely here and neither have a payoff in this volume. (In fact, the ending of this one caused me to regret not requesting Volume 4 as soon as I got this one in, so be warned!)

This doesn't mean it's all seriousness, though. Yazawa still gets her inside jokes in, this time as Nana K joins a publishing firm and is summarily abused. Nana O's new bassist is underage, apparently has no home, and is a goldmine of comedy. Nana K overreacts in the most comic way possible to anything that isn't serious, with Nana O baiting her at every opportunity. While there is a new layer of seriousness on top, Yazawa is by no means cutting out the comedy. That's a good thing, because I'm sure that Nana K is going to need something to keep her mind off the tragedy headed her way.

I really like Yazawa's art style, mixing typical manga style with a bit of photo realism here and there. Her characters are all distinctive and dress according to their characterization. Even the new characters introduced fit into this pattern, especially Sachigo, who is presented as a total innocent about to get really, really hurt. Her fragile build and simple clothing are perfect.

Yazawa does a bit more with backgrounds than the other manga I've been reading lately, giving us details like the gingerbread on a staircase or hooks on curtains. Part of this is probably a result of the photo realism vibe, but part of it is most likely to show the striking difference between the Nanas. Either way, I like getting to see how Nana K blew her check or the idea that Nana O has almost nothing, something that would have been lost if we had sparse interior artwork.

Nana is quickly becoming one of my favorite shojo manga series, with two dynamic characters who should not be meshing together at all but forming a bond the reader wants to see developed. Combined with a great supporting cast (almost any of whom could easily be the focus of their own series), strong and distinctive artwork, and the right balance of humor, Nana shows the best things that a shojo manga can offer. I am totally hooked and can't wait for volume four to arrive at my library!