The Revision: Nana

Let me be immediately clear about my bias here — Ai Yazawa’s Nana is one of the best comics of all time. I do not care to argue about this one way or another. You should just accept this as fact.

Nana follows two young women both named Nana — Nana Osaki, a naively sweet romantic always looking for love, and the tough Nana Komatsu, who is pursuing her dreams of rock ‘n’ roll while nurturing her broken heart. The two end up living together in Tokyo and their lives become more and more intertwined. Nana K. is mostly the narrator but it’s equally about Nana O., if not slightly more so.

The cover of Nana Vol. 1 by Ai Yazawa, published by VIZ

To be clear, Nana is a complete soap opera. You have orphans! You have love triangles and more! You have unexpected pregnancies! Cheating! Teenage prostitution! Missing parents! Drugs! And even more! It’s a lot! But Yazawa balances all this with an emotional core that keeps it surprisingly grounded. These are just a bunch of young adults trying to figure out their lives. There is a genuine sweetness to everything, and while, no, glamourous lives of rock stars aren’t necessarily inherently relatable, these characters feel like real people.

Yazawa’s art is also beautiful and keeps the story moving quickly. Nana is dense but it’s also a breezy, joyful read. Yazawa has such a talent for using fashion to create her characters (everyone has a distinct style) and facial expressions range from over-the-top to subdued and sincere. Both in terms of the art and the storytelling, Yazawa manages to balance big emotions with smaller intimate moments. The plot twists are fun but this comic would not be so addictive if I didn’t care as deeply for the characters as I do.

Both Nanas always tend to land on their feet, but I appreciate the comic at least nods toward money struggles and that trying to be in an up-and-coming band isn’t always easy. It’s still somewhat aspirational but I like that the comic isn’t ignoring the harder day-to-day realities of life.

Nana is on hiatus — perhaps permanently because Yazawa is dealing with some health issues. All of it has been published in English by VIZ, although it’s mostly out of print (it’s still available digitally). I only read the volumes the first movie covers, which was actually a challenge because after I started it again, I didn’t want to stop. It’s that good.

Nana (2005, directed by Kentaro Otani) covers roughly the first 1,000 pages of the comic. Given how much material it covers, a lot of it is trimmed down. Both Nanas’ stories of what led them to move to Tokyo are reduced by quite a bit — in Nana K.’s case, almost entirely. It does cover the major beats of the comic, though, and does it well. Clearly, it can’t go as deep as the comic but it’s a heartfelt adaptation.

The casting of Mika Nakashima as Nana Osaki and Aoi Miyazaki as Nana Komatsu is essentially perfect and the two have great, friendly chemistry with each other. It highlights that for all the romance in Nana, the true love story is between the two of them. The rest of the cast does well and certainly looks the part, but the movie revolves around the two Nanas. Everyone else is mostly just there.

Nana is a good adaptation because so much of it feels pulled straight from the comic. The styling for all the characters is spot-on, as is the Nanas’ apartment. The movie even accurately depicts all the terrible hats Sachiko wears. It’s a rare instance where it’s the comic brought to life without it feeling overdone.

However, it’s hard for me to know how well this movie works without any familiarity with the comic. It does play like the greatest hits of the best scenes in the comic and while things diverge a tiny bit by the end, there aren’t too many surprises. I did like how Nana O.’s backstory with Ren (Ryuhei Matsuda) was revealed in flashbacks, though, because I felt like it gave the story a bit more dramatic weight. That’s really the only part I can see working well for those who haven’t read the comic.

But truthfully, I think the main audience for this one is people who have read and love the comic. Everyone who worked on these clearly loved for the comic and didn’t feel the need to change anything. It’s sincere in its decision to just let the relationship between the two Nanas shine.

It was clearly meant to be a film series (it was followed up with a sequel by a different directed and some casting changes in 2006 which I will review on Patreon) so the abrupt ending here doesn’t wrap up the story. There’s so much more Nana to come that two hours can’t really do it justice. Still, it’s a movie that’s a kind compliment to the comic that should make everyone want more. I know it did for me, but I always want more Nana.