Nana Review – A Drama Classic That Isn’t Dramatic Enough

Nana is one of those acclaimed anime that everyone seems to know the existence of, but very few people have ever actually watched. The fact that it’s almost 50 episodes long is a bit of a turn-off in of itself, but even the people who have seen it barely discuss the thing anymore. Very few “favorite anime” lists that I’ve read actually include it. It’s up there with Great Teacher Onizuka, Hajime no Ippo, and most of the Major anime in terms of high-ranking MAL darlings that the majority of MAL users will go “oh yeah, I’ve heard how good this thing is. Better put it on my PTW list that I’m never going to clear out” or “that was a really good show. *Forgets about it after a few months*”.

Said lack of enthusiasm along with the fact that it’s a relatively long show directed by Morio Asaka aka that flowery director who’s so slow-paced in his storytelling that even the stuff of his I’ve actually liked ended up feeling underwhelming in the end, is the main reason I never watched Nana. But part of said reason was just that I wasn’t interested. I never even cared enough to learn what happens in the show other than the fact that it was about two women named Nana who become friends and deal with relationship issues. And as much as I like the Paradise Kiss anime, part of its appeal was that it was really short. Eleven episodes, which admittedly made manga fans a bit grumpy considering an important male character and some story details got shortchanged as a result, but if it meant less boredom caused by dead space, than I was all for it.

But even with the huge amount of summer anime I keep up with riding my ass like a sexual metaphor that I’m not going to elaborate on because it would be too nasty even for me, I had free time to surf Netflix for new shows to get into. And after my failure to get into the Netflix originals that I tried, along with browsing the anime selection and noticing Nana was on there, I decided it was as good a time as any to watch it and ended up finishing the show in less than two weeks. You have no idea how much free time I sacrificed regarding other activities I could have been doing – like finally playing Bioshock Infinite for one – to accomplish that, especially since I don’t actually love Nana. Not that I don’t think it’s good. It is. But if you were to ask me if I wanted to rewatch in the future, I’d just shove my Paradise Kiss DVDs in your face, and not because I managed to get those really hard-to-find DVDs for a relatively cheap price and want to brag about it. Not just because of that, anyways.

And yes, it is the pacing that’s the problem. I’m okay with taking a break in-between dramatic moments in order to set them up so that they’d actually have some impact, but not breaks that go on this long. The very first episode of the anime introduces our two twenty-year old protagonists, a happy go-lucky idiot named Nana Komatsu and a rock punk chick named Nana Osaki, by having them meet on a train during their move to Tokyo and end up becoming roommates due to various circumstances. I was expecting the next episode to showcase the two getting to know each other whilst revealing their motivations for moving to Tokyo in the first place, until I read the Netflix summaries and discovered that the next five episodes would flashback to their pasts in a “how we got here” sort of way meaning we wouldn’t get any meaningful interaction between them until half a one-cour series has passed. And to top it all off, they rehash the opening episode in Episode 6, which makes me wonder why you needed a prologue to begin with. I mean there’s hooking the audience and then there’s just baiting them with cookies for breakfast. It’s an extreme, but by no means the only example of this sort of pacing dragging the show down. Certainly not the worst example from the show either.

Not that the downtime is dull. It’s just pretty average. If you’ve seen one story about a quirky female trying to make friends and ends meet, then you’ve seen Nana’s light-hearted stretch of episodes. The only thing that makes it tolerable compared to most go-nowhere shoujo series is how despite Nana K trying her hardest to be independent, she’s completely dependent on others, which becomes increasingly problematic on the people surrounding her as well as herself throughout the series. This leads to a decently engaging climax ⅓ of the way through the series when said hypocrisy pushes her boyfriend towards another woman, but I couldn’t quite shake the feeling that I had just watched a romance movie that was the first part of a trilogy and stretched out to three times the length it needed to be.

It wasn’t until Nana O’s circle of friends, including the band of which her former boyfriend is a member of, shows up that the average-to-engaging ratio started to tip more towards the latter. But even then, it has its slow moments. Whilst I appreciate Nana for having buildup so that I could actually care for the “will they or won’t they” part of the story rather than act like a man in his forties who’s desperate to lose his virginity, I could have completed an entire workout routine in the time it took for the buildup to go somewhere whilst still having enough time to cook some meat afterwards.

The absolute nadir of the experience was with the story’s final arc, where after Nana K makes a mistake that causes her and everyone to face their own demons in a heart-wrenching string of episodes that rivals Kids on the Slope’s final stretch in terms of emotional intensity, the show then spends the next ten episodes trying to have the characters go on with their lives with each episode having about 3-5 minutes of compelling drama and 17-20 minutes of “whilst I like these characters, this doesn’t further the story in any real way” I know a bunch of people were sour on Kids on the Slope for skipping an entire volume of the manga – amongst other things – but please explain to me what showcasing the actual process of Kaoru moving on from wrecking his entire life would actually add. Sometimes, some things are best left to the imagination and you just need to end the thing right then and there.

And just to make things worse, nothing even comes out of all that buildup other than a reaffirmation and closure of old plot threads that whilst engaging, don’t really lend any sort finality to the show as a whole. Without giving too much away, there’s this weird and unnecessary use of time skip before it cuts back to the present with the characters just acting like they usually do, even when major events occur. And whilst a hard decision is made in said finale, said decision is undercut by the timeskip showing that everything is going to be alright in the future, rendering it completely pointless. It feels like the anime ended right in the middle of the story, and whilst I understand that Nana’s source material hasn’t concluded even to this day – although the chances we’ll ever get a conclusion from the author at this point are about as likely as Iggy Azalea ever being relevant again after her breakdown – you could have at least had made some sort of big deal out of things. At least achieve a small last-minute accomplishment? No? Alright then, but don’t expect me to read your manga in order to find out what happens next. Especially since there’s a certain car crash that happens later on that I think I’m better off pretending doesn’t exist.

Am I banging too much on how unnecessarily long I found this series? Well it’s the most unique thing I can say about it, because like me, even if you don’t know what happens plot-wise, I’d be very surprised if you didn’t have any idea what Nana was actually about. The whole story is somewhere between Beck Mongolian Chop Squad and a Seo Kouji manga in that the majority of the characters are working towards making it as a punk band whilst dealing with all sorts of heartbreak and truths regarding how complicated relationships can get. All the characters are adults and even the more assholish members of the cast are likable, which automatically makes Nana better than those works. And it doesn’t hurt that it focuses more on the latter than the former, which I prefer because my interest in the inner workings of how a band operates is virtually nil whilst my interest in the inner workings of how a relationship works is higher than the peak of Mount Olympus.

Whilst there are some weird plot contrivances to further the story along, complaining about that in a drama is like complaining they’re emotionally manipulative or comedies are funny. If you don’t like the very idea of them, then you shouldn’t be watching anything from the genre to begin with. You don’t see me watching Bollywood movies for a reason you know. And whilst some of the plot points are eerily reminiscent of Suzuka, they work here because the drama fires in all cylinders rather than play favoritism towards one weak direction. Everything that happens is a result of the characters’ personalities. Events that happen to one character also affects those around them, causing all involved parties to face themselves along with their circumstances. Nobody is a true bad guy, even when it’s clear that one side is more wrong than the other. Even the high school kid who demands money from the girls he sleeps with is a lot nicer in practice than he sounds right no–get out of that chat room! I swear he’s a decent guy…sort of.

And most of all, the romance and relationship stuff is ultimately just a tool for larger issues. Sure we’ve seen said issues addressed before: responsibility, personal luck, inner demons, etc. But those sorts of issues are never going to stop being relevant anytime soon, no matter what your age is. And as long as that remains true and they’re explored in a way that reminds us of said truth, I’m always going to find the stuff that Nana represents intriguing. That is why Nana continues to be remembered as one of the anime greats despite not being popular in this current generation of anime fans. Which makes it all the more frustrating that the show is to romance stories what Hikaru no Go is to sports stories and Monster (sans conclusive ending despite the ambiguity of it all) is to crime stories.

As well-written, decent-looking (although Nana’s actual animation is pretty terrible), nicely dubbed, and overall enjoyable these Madhouse productions are, my desire to ever revisit them is severely tempered by their long lengths and the inevitable dead space and repetition that comes from this sort of serialized storytelling “should have been a movie” format. Maybe if the comedy during Nana’s lower-quality stretches was funny, the pacing wouldn’t have been so much of a problem. But all the jokes come from “How to write shoujo comedy 101”, which is about as funny as a kid from a PBS show throwing a tantrum during the middle of a Lifetime drama. Sure it sounds like a good laugh on paper, but so does page 67 of the Kama Sutra. And don’t blame me if your partner never wants to sleep with you again after that experience.

13 responses to “Nana Review – A Drama Classic That Isn’t Dramatic Enough

  1. Its a solid enough review. Although my experiences with it are very very mixed. Everytime I watched an episode I found myself thinking “I wish I was re-watching Kids on the slope/Nodame/honey and clover” and throughout to this day can’t get out of my head how Paradise kiss blows nana out of the water. I felt parakiss, in less time actually managed to be more dramatic, I got more into the characters and it was more grown up than Nana. The ending stays with you alot better in parakiss. Parakiss is one of those few things where years on I can keep remembering it off by heart.
    Nana is an effective drama, but I found it very drawn out and honestly in parts anger inducing. I wouldn’t recommend the film adaptations, as while the first one does condense the first half of the anime well , the presentation is empty and dull, the acting is serviceable at best.

    • Paradise Kiss cut a bunch of stuff from the original manga out, especially regarding that one guy who is classmates with the main, yet he barely does anything. They also thought the ending was rushed for reasons I don’t bother to look at. Lot of anime fans don’t have problems with pacing if they like the characters.

  2. Come to think of it, given that you got those paradise kiss dvds, I assume you’re about to start rewatching it? I hope to see a review of the series on here if you can.

  3. So… the thought that came into my mind after reading this is review is, “Will Flawfinder place it as his one of his most favorite animes?”.

    I haven’t watched it due to its very high episode count (Mushishi and Clannad are the only animes I watched past 2 cours) but I hope I can do it for some time. A disclaimer, my perception about NANA is a blank slate given that I haven’t seen anything from it. I want to watch it personally to see if the high MAL ranking is justified or just similar to the pretty but very inconsistent Your Lie in April.