29 October 2006

Nana (ナナ, Episode 2. 2006)

恋?友情?奈々と章司 Love? Friendship? Nana and Shouji

The second episode of NTV’s adaptation of Ai Yazawa’s manga Nana takes us back to the very beginning of the story. Episode 1 was clearly designed as a teaser for the series of 50 episodes to come. From what I can tell this episode covers all the story information of the first half of Chapter 1. This chapter focuses on the character of Nana Komatsu, or Hachi, in the years leading up to the two Nanas meeting. Our first impressions of Hachi are guided by her as her voice-over narration leads us through her story of growing up in small-town northern Honshu. The setting is romanticized by the mountains that surround the town and by the lightly falling slow that seems to be a metaphor for lost love.

After a romanticized image of Hachi’s hometown, shown in a shot that tilts down from a clear clue sky, we are thrown into the darkness of her affair with a married man (emphasized by close-ups on his hand holding a cigarette and sporting a wedding band against a black background) in the spring of 1999 when she was a high school senior. She outlines how unlucky she had been in love prior to that fateful moment she met Asano Takashi at the cinema. During her high school years she dropped in and out of crushes very quickly: her art teacher, a guy who works at the video store, a cook at the family restaurant she works at, and even the pizza delivery boy. She even alters her appearance to try to suit the style of her crush of the moment. These past crushes are shown in manga form, with the camera panning slowly over the still images, complete with speech bubbles, as Hachi does a voice-over narration. I’ve noticed that some bloggers have objected to this format as a way of short-cutting story information, but in actual fact these scenes do not speed up or omit story detail that was in the original manga. In fact, it’s quite impressive how closely the anime adaptation is staying to the original text in this episode. I know that fans of Yazawa objected to how much cutting occurred when her manga Paradise Kiss (パラキス, 2000-4) was adapted by Fuji TV in 2005. The Nana animators have clearly decided to stick with the original story by fleshing out the character detail in much the same manner as Yazawa.

As I watched Hachi bawling in the bathroom of her high school to her best friend Junko I was worried that I would quickly lose interest in the story if the main protagonist were to turn out to be such a hysterical flake, but Hachi’s over-emotionalism is balanced out by Junko’s level-headedness. In the next scene, Junko has transformed from a typical high school girl (white slouch socks – I have never understood why Japanese high school girls wear them!! – and a school uniform complete with overly short kilt) into an elegant young woman with permed hair which she usually wears up. Hachi has cut her hair shorter but she is still going for the cutsie look. Hachi has now transfered to the local art college where Junko is also studying. Junko is suspicious of Hachi’s motives and upbraids her for coming to the school only to pick up guys. Hachi does a lousy job of disagreeing. That is clearly exactly why she has come to the school in contrast to Junko who actually has career ambitions for herself. Junko makes Hachi see that she doesn’t judge the male sex as human beings, only as potential partners, and has therefore never even had a male friend. In response to this revelation, Hachi determines that her new goal is to make first male friend. Cue the arrival of Shouji Endou, cute guy who is perfect for Hachi (also talkative, sensitive, and wears his heart on the scene).

Thus begins the will they/won’t they storyline suggested by the title of this episode. In this scene we are also introduced to Takakura Kyousuke, the deep-voiced, dreadlocked artist who quickly becomes Junko’s boyfriend. The most amusing scene in this episode is the drinking party they have a Junko’s place. Nana, determined to become pals with Shouji, drinks too much and narrates the entire sordid history of her loves and crushes to her new friends. Shouji and Kyousuke find it amusing, and encourage her to continue, but the party ends on a sour note as Nana breaks down into tears when she gets to her affair with Asano. The episode leaves us on a cliffhanger on the Shouji-Nana question but it is pretty clear that they are similar characters: they both wear their hearts on their sleeves and are vivacious, open personalities.

The author of this manga is a woman and she certainly knows how to draw female protagonists and situations that young women can identify with. Although Hachi can be a bit annoying, I think that young women can identify with her dreams of finding romance and true love. I am glad that Yazawa included the Junko character. Even though Junko can be bitchy and condescending at times, she at least is a strong female presence who has ambitions outside of romance. Her relationship with Kyousuke seems to happen upon her without her looking for it. I am curious to see how the Nana Oosaki character counterbalances Nana Komatsu. In the prologue, as well as in this episode, there have been hints that Nana will also deal with the topic of female friendship and affection between women. In the prologue, Hachi clearly felt an attraction to Nana. In this episode, she spontaneously hugs Junko in one scene, but Junko is uncomfortable with this display of affection.

Another interesting thread running through the story is the theme of superstition. The most common meaning of ‘Nana’ in Japanese is the number 7 and Hachi seems to believe that a lot of bad luck coming her way has to do with the number 7. At one point she speaks of her fear that Nostradamus’s predictions are coming true. She also often mentions daimarou (literally ‘great devil’ but often also translated at ‘demon lord’), whom she seems to think has it in for her. I am unfamiliar with the term daimarou but am curious about the colloquial history of such a figure in Japanese folklore. A cursory glance of the internet reveals that a number of anime and manga have had a character with the same name. I will look into it as I watch future episodes.

The DVD is available (no subtitles) for purchase here:

Nana / Animation

© Catherine Munroe Hotes 2006


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