NANA, Vol. 20
written by Ai Yazawa
The proverbial battle of the bands is not going as planned. Under a cloud of scandal, Blast has had to break up, leaving Nana Osaki to make a go at a solo career without either her beloved Hachi or Ren by her side to comfort her. Trapnest, meanwhile, is imploding from within: Takumi crosses the line and does the unthinkable with Reira in the hopes of containing the damage, while Ren tries to kick his drug addiction before he becomes the center of the next tabloid scandal. Even as Hachi is about to bring a new life into this world, life as she has known it thus far is about to change dramatically—and permanently.
It has been over a decade since NANA, the epic tale of two very special young women both named Nana,began serialization in Japan, and the fact that it is still going strong is testament to a level of survivorship that few shoujo manga titles can match. And what is even more impressive here is the quality that creator Ai Yazawa has maintained—even, at times, developed—over the years. Most long-running shoujo series, not to put too fine a point on it, tend not to be quite so creatively ambitious as this one. In the twentieth volume of this now venerable manga, some of the most beautiful artwork in the biz is paired with an epic storyline which is, after a long wait, building to its emotionally trying, yet inevitable, crescendo.
Although volume twenty has significantly few pages than other recent volumes, they pack a really big punch. Yazawa’s illustrations are, as always, as singularly stylish as an avant garde fashion magazine, but there is a fewer comic intervals than usual, and the “look” is suitably oppressive and tense. She really does do an amazing job of keeping it all visually consistent, even though in many ways the mainstream mangaka is more correctly understood as overseer or director of a large number of creative assistant staff.
One of this manga’s signature motifs is the way in which its multi-stranded plot jumps back and forth in time. Besides the main storyline and the inevitable character “backstories,” there are also sections of the story that are set an unspecified number of years in the future, and indeed, much of the continuing dramatic tensions revolves around what happened to Nana Osaki and the rest in-between. The omniscient narrative voices of the two Nanas also originate from this future, and while at first as a literary device these were over-the-top bathetic, now, as the magnitude of the impending tragedy starts to resolve into clarity, the fraught, regretful, nostalgic tones nearly seem warranted.
Needless to say, this volume ends with the single event which is likely to begin the ripples which will bring this series racing toward its climax. Those who may have been worried that NANA was beginning to stall out and lose its way will be excited and reinvigorated, eager to revisit the story anew. Will the artist be able to sustain the momentum that she has built up here? Stay tuned!