(Recommended by Sango.)
I’ve had this series on my radar for a long while now, what with its unusually high average rating and episode count. It seemed to exude a confidence not many anime series outside the Shounen tag contain. A rare case of a four-cour series, and a Shoujo no less, its popularity as both an anime and a manga are astounding within the ani-community. Of course, the episode count was what kept me away all these years, though I always wondered when and where I would eventually take the dive. “When” became June 1st and “where” became my basement. Alright then.
The most prominent thing about NANA is that it is, in every sense of the word, a typical Shoujo. Female leads with male sidekicks, lots of emphasis on love, romance, and introspection; lots of screen filters, and character design is very tall and lean. There is very little difference on a base level between this anime and, say, Lovely Complex. One thing that differentiates it, however, is its relative lack of comedy and heavier focus on a mature-minded setting. Characters (save one) in NANA are adults with adult responsibilities and (mostly) adult mindsets. Instead of worrying about school exams and school hierarchy, they worry about paying rent and accomplishing their dreams out in the real world. Without even doing anything, one can immediately appreciate the change of pace within the genre.
Of course, execution is far more important. It’s my pleasure to say that NANA executes itself well on a variety of levels, most prominently with its characters. There’s not a single character who appears more than a few times that doesn’t feel fleshed out and entirely human. Both likable and developed, one can only dislike them for their established personality, which is especially the case for me. Some characters are more tolerable than others, with actions that may differ from the opinions of each individual viewer. One cannot say, however, that any such character isn’t in some way layered with their line of thinking as justified by their person.
With that said, I could spend the entire entry going over each character and what they bring to the table. Instead, I will only go over three characters: Nana, Nana, and Yasu. Yes, I meant to put Nana twice, as for those unaware, the two female leads in this series are both named Nana. One is a bubbly, hopeless romantic who dreams of being loved by her prince on a white horse. The other is a rough and tough rock star who oozes charisma and punk attitude. Both get their time in the sun for long periods of time, but the bubbly Nana seems to be the more major of the two in terms of screentime. Both give ample opportunity to twist the story to their whim through their actions, resulting in a reasonably paced drama of both sweet ups and painful downs… for some time.
I really did not care for Hachiko (Bubbly Nana’s nickname) for a good part of this series. I toiled with whether or not I should criticize her borderline insane indecisiveness as a critical or personal flaw until finally settling on the latter, as her character is prominently established as a bit of an airhead. Her decision-making and constant need for love and attention causes a ton of unwarranted drama later down the line, along with her constant moping and crying—good lord, does she cry a lot! She falls for the worst of men (as she notes herself) and is way, way, way too emotional for me to empathize with. Even so, for the first twenty episodes, she was within a degree of likable exuberance that made this tolerable.
Rough Nana (No nickname) is similar only on a more conservative level. Her dependency is often hidden behind lies and hesitation. Her assertiveness is a defensive mechanism for how much tragedy she’s faced throughout her life. She’s almost a tragic hero, though her current situation isn’t comparative to her past life. This Nana is a far more interesting character, which makes it nice that she’s focused on more later on when Hachiko becomes a walking depression and drags the mood of the anime down to Hell with her. Still, I wish there was more within the time focused so prominently on Hachiko that the series could’ve delved into her perspective. For a while, she almost feels like a secondary character, with the last ten episodes or so made for Nana to become the star of the show, which is nice, but a little too late. She’s somewhat more cliché than my description of her implies, but it’s handled almost so naturally that it’s scary.
Finally, Yasu is the greatest character in this entire anime because he is “me irl.”
What the series truly lacks that makes it less than an absolute recommendation is the way the drama is handled. For those gamers out there, recall to how frustrating it is in video games where everything is smooth sailing, only to have a boss show up and wreck havoc on your party without even trying. Those random, huge difficulty spikes that make you throw down the controller in frustration. NANA does this, too, except with quantity of drama. Around the point where Hachiko becomes associated with a certain band member, the series changes its up-and-down approach to down-and-out and repeats it tenfold. There is far too much drama at the midway point of this anime. It creates this trapping, uncomfortable aura of melodrama that suffocates the viewer, and eventually dulls their emotions to the point where they forget how to care about the characters’ harrowing situations. They cry too much, they falter too hard, they echo soft, insightful whispers for no one to hear. When one has too much to cry about, they eventually adapt to becoming apathetic.
This becomes quite apparent upon the final episode of the series, as while it would leave many within a state of disarray, I felt only a twinge of emotional purging. It ended with somewhat of a hiss, something that lets one know it’s there, but not where or why. The finale is rather open-ended, especially for a number of important (and not so important) characters. In what should’ve been an emotional farewell, I felt rather indifferent.
I could also comment more about the art, but it’s Shoujo. Look up any Shoujo manga/anime ever. There’s your art for NANA. I mean it, there’s very little differentiation on that part. Animation, however, is fairly good for the time. It has more of a color palette than those within its time, as well as a variety of different ways in expressing characters’ emotions. And for a 47-episode series that hardly ever shows signs of wear and tear, that’s rather impressive.
As it stands, it’s a good, but not great series. Somewhat overstays its welcome and relies on drama a hair too much for anything more than a satisfying watch. It has effort and a grand atmosphere for the first-half of its run, and a number of likable and developed characters. What it lacks is the drive to finish in the same way it began, with creativity and a passion for reigning itself in. Sometimes, the biggest statements don’t have to be long, grandiose speeches. After all, to most, “I love you” are the only three words needed for true happiness.
Personal Score: B-
Critical Score: B
The rating for this title and all others can be found on MyAnimeList.