April 7, 2010

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Nana Volume 5

Written by Ai Yazawa
Illustrated by Ai Yazawa
Viz

In the aftermath of going to see Ren's new band, both Nana's lives are mixed more closely with Trapnest than either thought possible. As relationships between the two up and coming acts become more complex by the moment, we learn that there's more to the history of Trapnest and Blast than meets the eye.

Can either Nana get a handle on their relationships or are they doomed to fall into the same traps they moved to Tokyo to avoid?

This volume of the series really threw everything into a blender, in terms of the character interactions. While Nana K's old relationship wasn't very good, she's apparently headed face first into a bad idea that could seriously impact on the nature of her friendship with Nana O and the other members of both bands.

Nana K's inability to know what she wants out of a romantic link is perfectly natural, and what happens makes perfect sense based on her situation. (Getting to "see" her reflect on her dating prospects was a nice touch, and felt quite realistic to me.) But dating within your group of friends is always dangerous, and when some of them are pretty famous, it makes it even worse. I can't see anything good happening for Nana K out of this, especially given the ominous retrospective voice we hear at the end of the volume.

Similarly, Nana O has made the also perilous decision to try and put things back together with an old flame. This also has the problems of being linked to friends and fellow band members (especially since Yasu's role in all of this is rather mysterious), and I don't think it's going to work any better.

Both Nana's are acting entirely in character, however, if you've been paying attention. Nana K looks before she leaps, and Nana O is driven by her need to meet or exceed Trapnest. Getting Ren back in a romantic way is part of that goal, and the rest of Nana O'sactions follow inline, even if they appear to be goofy to her friends. Nana K gets so focused on her goal of a relationship that she forgets about trying to build her own life on her own terms. To a certain degree, so does Nana O. It's a great progression by Yazawa, and a big part of why this manga is so good.

The scenes where everyone is happily playing games and drinking together belie what I expect to be major heartache down the road. After all, Trapnest's singer wasn't invited to the party, and given how everyone except Nana K and Shin have history (either known or concealed) together, it's a combination waiting to explode.

Yazawa definitely throws hints in that we're going to run into trouble soon, as Nana K knows she's probably doing bad things, Yasu is playing it all far too close to his stylish vest, and Nana O is acting very much like a person who's going to get hurt on multiple fronts. Not to mention that Nana K's friends are still acting in ways that aren't going to help her at all. Lying never gets you anywhere, and I think Yazawa is just about ready to drop a few bombs on her poor characters.

What makes Nana the series work so well, however, is that none of this feels forced. We've all either done or seen the things that are going on in this manga. It's very much how I remember things being in the early days of college. Five volumes in, this series works well because Yazawa gave us a compelling set of characters, just enough mystery about their plans, and pushes them together in ways that don't seem contrived. It's a great combination.

This volume of Nana might be the one with the most use of photo-realistic imaging so far. Yazawa does not shy away from this technique, using it just about every time anyone is outdoors. I'm not opposed to doing it, but it does throw me out of the story just a bit. Otherwise, the artwork is the usual combination of exaggerated poses and sharp lines. I still have a bit of trouble telling Shin and Nobu apart, but other than that, I like her presentation a lot. There's still quite a bit of fourth-wall breaking, too, in little signs and gestures.

One thing that puzzles me a bit is Viz's use of "mature content" labels. Does this one get a nod because there's implied sex? Seems I've seen that before without getting a warning stamp. Is it a value judgment because one is a clear booty call? I'm a bit confused and concerned as to their use. After all, this is the fifth volume. What's a concerned parent to do? Stop their child from reading after the 4th one?

Nana might be my favorite shojo manga series, and is definitely one that I'd point to as a shining star that shows what the genre is capable of. Yazawa's structuring of the narrative is perfect and her ability to make her characters grow, while still feeling true to their nature, works very well for me. I definitely recommend this series to everyone who's a manga fan and even for those who are not that want to see what Eastern comics can offer them. Eagerly looking forward to reading more!