I went away for a long weekend last week, and when I packed my carry-on bag there was only one book that was an automatic entrant for inclusion. That was, of course, "Nana" Volume 10. Once I was at the airport, itself, I sat down and read it... and then promptly read the entire book a second time. Yes, it really is that good a series.
"Nana" started off with a simple enough premise: two young women moving to Tokyo meet on the train and discover that they have the same first name (Nana) but are otherwise completely different. Through a twist of fate they end up renting an apartment together, in a typical odd-couple fashion. Nana Osaki is a punk rocker used to the tough reality of city life, looking to rebuild her band. Nana Komatsu is a small-town girl who's desperately looking for love and gives her heart away freely, often with dire consequences. (And thankfully, Nana Komatsu soon gets nicknamed "Hachi", which makes it much easier to then talk about the two of them!)
If "Nana" continued to just run with that basic premise, I'm sure it would have still been a fun series. But as "Nana" progressed, Yazawa showed that she had a lot more up her sleeve. Trapnest, the wildly popular band that Hachi idolizes, has Nana's ex-boyfriend Ren as a member. And even as Nana tries to form a new band, Trapnest comes into both of the women's lives, as Hachi learns that hero-worship is not the healthy way to start a relationship when she falls for another member of Trapnest.
"Nana" is in many ways the coolest prime-time soap opera you've never watched. Relationships start and stop, often with great drama involved. There's an unwanted pregnancy and the resulting engagement that springs from that. Music labels try to use tabloids to get free publicity for their bands, even if it happens to destroy people's lives in the process. Characters flee the country. You know, that sort of thing. But the thing is? It all works here. One of Yazawa's big strengths as a comic creator is how well she can bring her characters to life on the page. No one's ever simple and straightforward, and with each new facet revealed to the reader it makes the situations that much more interesting. Even the villains of "Nana" in this latest volume all have realistic motivations; you can see where they're coming from and on some level sympathize with them (even if Nana and Hachi aren't exactly going to be in a great position as an end result of these schemes).
Yazawa's art is slick and polished as always; she's got a beautiful ink line that seems to just flow and slide across each panel. When I was reading "Nana," a friend looked over my shoulder and said, "I never knew piercings could actually be so beautiful." I got what he meant, though. She brings a real beauty to her art; even if it's things you wouldn't personally care for in real life, it somehow just looks attractive. Then again, considering that Yazawa's previous series was "Paradise Kiss" and starred a bunch of fashion designers, I guess it shouldn't be much of a surprise that everything looks so sharp in "Nana".
In Japan, "Nana" is one of the best-selling comics in the country, with each new volume resulting in huge billboards and advertisements everywhere. Once you read "Nana" for yourself, you'll quickly realize why. This is great, great stuff; it's wonderfully addicting, and once you've read one volume you'll be scrambling for more. Definitely check it out.