March 18, 2010

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Nana Volume 4

Written by Ai Yazawa
Illustrated by Ai Yazawa
Viz

While one Nana's past life appears to crumble once and for all, the chance to rebuild the other Nana's life presents itself in the fourth trade of Nana. What does the possibility of seeing Ren in concert hold for our protagonists, who seem to be growing closer as time goes on?

It's almost impossible to discuss this one without spoiling some of the book itself, so if you haven't read this yet and you want to, it might be best to skip this review, read the book, and come back to read my thoughts on it. You've been warned.

The point of this fourth volume seems to be to draw our two Nanas together in a bond that may or may not be related romantically. Nana K is definitely acting like she is dating Nana O, but I think that's just the nature of her personality rather than an attempt to slip something else into the mix. Her comical thoughts about how she's sexualising her roommate are pretty funny, however. It will be interesting to me to see if we're going to keep going down this road, or if it's a blind alley set up to throw the reader off. Either way would work for me.

After keeping her shrouded in mystery for so long, I appreciate that Yazawa is opening up Nana O here and there. Seeing her happy with an old friend, dealing with her feelings for Ren (and maybe someone else), and actually caring about what happens to Nana K soften her character just enough to round her out as a person. This doesn't meant she's losing her edge, as she's still just as likely to make a snide remark or pretend to be indifferent. What we see is a young woman with depth rather than a change in personality.

But I am really mad she didn't get to deck Shogi. That would have been classic.

I felt like this volume concentrated more on Nana O, so we didn't see as much development from Nana K as we have in the past. She's still learning her way around her new life, but she seemed to be dealing with her own issues by focusing on someone else's--Nana O's. That's a very human reaction, but it didn't give us a lot of personal growth. I hope that will change a bit next volume. I am very interested to see how the fallout from her (unintentional?) manipulation into Nana O's life turns out. Usually doing that is a bad idea, especially with a close friend.

Regardless of the results, I'm sure it will be well-written and realistic, because that's how the series has run so far. I am very impressed with Yazawa's ability to portray how people act in light of relationship issues, particularly friends of those involved. Junko and Kyosuke are a bit stuck in the middle, and the problems associated with that show up here. Nana K's poking around Nana O's life with her bandmates leads to talk that sounds real--here's the scoop, but don't let on that you know.

Honest feelings, well-meaning comments, and mistakes abound here, as people aren't sure what to say or not say in uncomfortable positions. It's the type of things we deal with every day with our own friends and family. Yazawa's ability to capture that on the page is part of why this manga is so good.

Though there are a lot of serious moments in this part of the story, Yazawa still takes time to keep the jokes moving. I already mentioned Nana K's fevered imagination, but we also have Nana O debating who it's better to hit--the cheater or the cheater's girlfriend, comments about the relative ages of the characters, and of course the 4th-wall breaking that occurs in both the main story and the bonus material at the back. Just as in real life, the fun is mixed in with the pain and sometimes even happens at the same time.

Yazawa's art seems to get better with every chapter. Her linework is very sharp, and the dress of the characters is detailed and elaborate, especially for the scenes involving shows. She uses exaggeration in just the right places and I'm getting used to the photo realism for outdoor shots. Nana O seems just a bit more human this time, with a lot more vulnerable looks, but otherwise, it's very consistent from volume to volume. I really like the design of her characters as well. Everyone new that we meet fits into the world well, without looking like a carbon copy.

I'm really drawn into Nana as this fourth book comes to a close. It takes a bit of time to build but now that we're rolling, I hang on just about every page to see what's going to happen to the Nanas next. This is definitely a top series for me, and I hope that if you aren't reading it yet, you'll start soon. You'll be glad you did.