Up until now, Yazawa Ai's works have not received the greatest treatments in their manga-to-anime adaptations. Paradise Kiss and Neighborhood Story both received lukewarm reception from fans, and the same attitude towards NANA preceded its premiere. Just six months earlier NANA experienced a new wave of popularity after fans flocked into theatres to see the live-action feature film which included music tie-ins by Nakashima Mika and Ito Yuna, who played Oosaki Nana and Reira, respectively. Both singles hit #1, and ever since, Yazawa-mania has taken over Japan. Women and their boyfriends (who were dragged along on a movie date) are devouring the manga, which now has 15 tankobon to its name and is still running strong in Cookie magazine. The manga has now hit the Western shores as well. As April approached, eager fans were dying to know--will the anime hold up to the glory of the manga? In a word, yes. NANA has to be one of the finest manga-to-anime adaptations I have seen in years. The pace is slow, the style is there, the seiyuu are great, and the music takes a welcome center stage. At first manga purists might panic, because the first episode covers the second volume of the manga. Take heart--it is only the premiere episode. They jump right back to volume one by the second episode, and we get--step by painful step--the backstory of both Komatsu Nana and Oosaki Nana over the course of two episodes per girl. That is certainly more than the average anime series allows. (Okay, I'll admit I'm a little bitter that Peach Girl didn't get this star treatment.) Supporting characters don't get shafted either--which is key, because that is one of the things that make Yazawa's titles so strong--the rich cast of co-stars. Particularly memorable (at this moment) are Junko, Komatsu's far more down-to-earth, level-headed best friend, and Nobu, Oosaki's adorable, upbeat buddy who introduced her to the world of rock. Voicework in this series is lovely--showcasing plenty of qualified seiyuu that, in my opinion, all fit their part. Granted, Komatsu Nana's voice took me a moment to adjust to, but Oosaki's voice (Paku Romi of Full Metal Alchemist fame) was right on the money. The only dissappointment was that they couldn't get professional singers to voice Nana and Reira, but instead have seperate people (Anna Tsuchiya and Olivia Lumpkin) providing the singing voices. Of course, I must mention the music. It is great. Better than most anime I have seen lately. It isn't punk as you would expect however, but more of the rock that has been popular in Japan as of late. I personally don't find the speaking and singing voices of Nana to match, but maybe it is a personal gripe. The styles between Black Stones and Trapnest are distinctly different however, so that much is accomplished. But, as a matter of personal taste, the music in the live-action film was better ... and the flashback scene with Oosaki Nana and Ren just lacked emotional punch without "Endless Story" playing in the background. Finally, we come to discuss the lead characters, Komatsu "Hachi" Nana and Oosaki Nana. Normally characters with such different backgrounds would clash in several ways, and the conflicts of personality would be played up for entertainment and plot-driving purposes. But the two Nanas in this series mesh together like cookies and cream. The characters are also far from stereotyped. On the surface one would assume that Komatsu Nana is your typical ditzy air-headed shoujo heroine. She is air-headed, but not to such an extreme that it drives a wedge between her and the audience. She has made poor choices, but she is really trying to be a good girl! Oosaki Nana, on the flip side, could be dark and brooding and bitter. She could be a total emo-kid. But she laughs, she jokes, she has fun .... neither of these girls are a stereotype, and what's more, we all know someone like them. (Or maybe we are one of them?) Either way, the characters are delicately handled. Never in the series do we get an outright declaration of any characteristic--it is always subtlely hinted at in poignant, profound ways. Getting to know these girls is as tender a progression as getting to know someone in real life. I don't know exactly what I am in for yet, but if the current fanbase is any indication, I am in for one heck of a ride with this series, and it's about time that something came along to shake us up. NANA has all the makings of an anime great. And if the anime keeps going like this--keeping careful consideration of the manga fans in mind--then we have a real masterpiece on our hands.
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