This review first appeared in The Comics Journal
Every volume of Ai Yazawa’s shojo manga series *Nana* has at least one sequence that will break your heart. In #5 it occurs towards the end. Ditzy protagonist Nana Komatsu is about to have a one-night stand with Takumi, a rock-star on whom she’s had a long-standing crush. While she’s in his hotel room, she gets a phone call from her roommate, Nana Osaki. Up till this point, Nana K. has been trying to convince herself that she’s got the situation under control, that she’s fine with NSA sex, and that the whole thing will be a fun and memorable experience. But while on the phone she realizes she doesn’t want to tell her friend what she’s doing. We cut from a cartoonish Nana O. laughing airily to a more realistic close-up of Nana K.’s stricken face. She seems to become fully aware of her sense of shame at the same time as the reader does, and under the pressure of that recognition, the narrative slows down. The buttons of the cell-phone loom incongruously, and images of Nana O.’s eyes drift and dissolve into scenes of Nana K. in bed with Takumi. Nana K’s self-consciousness, her helplessness, and her dreamlike alienation from her own actions all seem frozen or crystallized by an overwhelming but ambivalent longing: for the rock-star Nana K. is having sex with, for the roommate she’s just lied to, for an abstract, unachievable love. It’s a gorgeous moment, blurring the boundaries between prose and poetry, pop and art, with a surety that’s rare in any medium — and one that is, alas, almost unheard of in comics, at least on this side of the Pacific.
Update: Perennial Hooded Utilitarian commenter and fine-writer-on-his-own-hook Tucker Stone has a comixology column up about Nana and my other favorite manga series Parasyte. Check it out.