Nana is one of those things that’s actually easier to think about than a lot of anime, because it transcends the genre(s) in a specific way.
Yeah, it’s animated and from Japan. So far as I know that makes it anime by definition. But it’s not built like a traditional anime. That may be why I discovered it on a list called “Anime for people who don’t like anime”.
Nana is the story of two women named Nana, Nana Oosaki and Nana Komatsu, who head to the big city (Tokyo) in order to Make It In The World. (Insert image of Mary Tyler Moore tossing her beret in the air here.) They meet on the train, get to know one another because the train is delayed, then coincidentally find themselves looking at the same apartment a few days later. Boom. They move in together.
Nana Oosaki is trying to make it big with her band, Blast. (Or Black Stones, if you prefer. The band changes their name for professional reasons.) She’s also trying to get over a breakup with her boyfriend Ren, who left Nana’s band to hook up with a hot act called Trapnest. She has the usual problems of a young musician, including, like, you know, eating.
Nana Komatsu is looking for a new life in the big city. Oh, and there’s the boy she likes, Shoji, who moved to Tokyo before her.
Simple enough so far, right? Well, now let’s put an edge on this blade:
The trick is the two of them are in an animated series but they aren’t anime characters. Yes, Nana Komatsu is looking for Shoji (who, of course, is cheating on her), but back home, while she was in high school – I repeat, high school – she was the mistress of an older man whose name she did not even know.
See it going off the rails? Buddy, you ain’t seen nothing yet.
Nana Oosaki gets back in touch with Ren and they resume their affair despite being in rival bands. But as much as she wants him, there are times when she looks him in the eye and says, “It ain’t happening tonight, bud. I’m not protected and you won’t, so no sex for you.” When he tells her he wants children, she wonders if there is something wrong with herself for not agreeing. She even discusses it with her doctor.
Oh, and it’s hinted that Ren has a little problem with one or more needle drugs.
Nana Komatsu, jilted by Shoji, takes up with a number of attractive young men, including Nobuo from Nana Oosaki’s band Blast and Takumi from Trapnest. Not being as smart as Nana Oosaki, Nana Komatsu becomes pregnant and has terrible morning sickness.
Morning sickness. In a cartoon.
Who’s Nana Komatsu’s baby daddy? Could be Nobuo. Could be Takumi. But when Takumi offers to marry her, she goes with him, despite the fact that he’s a nasty sack of crap and Nobuo is a pretty nice guy.
Meanwhile, Shinichi from Blast is sleeping with Layla from Trapnest, but since he’s a male prostitute – yes, you read that correctly – she is paying him, but she’s so inexperienced that he gives her a half-off rate … or at least that’s what he says, because he can’t really have real feelings for her …
And on and on …
See what’s really going on? It’s really a SOAP OPERA!
Being a soap opera and not an anime per se, that means there are numerous plot lines going on at once:
Blast’s rise to fame
Trapnest’s rise to fame
Will it work between Nana Oosaki and Ren?
Will Nana Komatsu find true love?
What’s up with Shinichi and Layla?
Is Blast drummer Yasu secretly in love with Nana Oosaki?
Can Nana and Nana stay friends?
What about Ren, the needle, and the damage done?
What about Mai, the Blast fan club president fixated on Nana Oosaki?
All these plots and subplots going on at once make Nana structurally different from other anime.
Here’s an example of what I mean from my fave, Black Lagoon. Black Lagoon has two overarching plots, Rock’s development from salaryman to gangster, and his relationship with Revy. The rest of the story is divided in arcs driven by one additional subplot each: Roberta the deadly maid, the killer children Hansel and Gretel, the counterfeiter Greenback Jane, the Tokyo plot with Washimine yakuza clan.
That’s it, the two main plots plus one side plot.
But in Nana all that stuff is going on at once. The rise of each band is constant; it runs through basically every episode. That’s two plots. The romances, or search for romance, by each Nana is constant. That’s two more plots. Plus there’s the relationship between Nana and Nana.
Five plots MINIMUM that run continuously through every episode. Plus all the outside stuff.
Nana works because it’s not really an anime. In truth, it could quite easily have been a live action series. Animation contributed nothing to the story except for a single sight gag.
Nana is really a soap opera, and the needs of a soap opera series are different from the needs of an anime series. Most narrative forms require resolution…I mean, Cowboy Bebop has a distinct end, right?…but the soap opera genre resists resolution because it has to keep going. I mean, while Nana only made it to 45 episodes, there are soap operas who have run every weekday for 45 years!
Now, if you’re waiting for me to tell you this is an EASY thing to do, you’re nuts! Juggling all those plots at once – reminder, FIVE major plots running simultaneously – is a B and a half. I wouldn’t try it if you paid me.
No, wait, I’m a writer. I wouldn’t try it UNLESS you paid me.
But that’s what makes Nana jump out. It’s Japanese. It’s animated. But it ain’t no anime.
I always look at comments and feedback, and I’m sure I’m not the first to see what I’ve seen, so have at it. Just keep it clean and keep it on target…no personal attacks, okay? Thanks.