I originally wrote this for another publication, which went belly up before they released an issue. Sad but true….

Nana, Ai Yazawa’s rock-and-roll manga soap-opera , has a fairly simple premise — two young women, both named Nana, head to Tokyo to seek their fortunes. The narrative quickly accelerates, though, with an ever-expanding cast of characters, all portrayed with a dizzying intensity and depth.

Which is to say that, though you definitely don’t want to start reading Nana with volume #13, you definitely do want to start reading now now now so you can get to #13. This far into the series, every relationship has layer upon layer of meaning, with every new detail causing the committed fan to flap and sputter spasmodically. For example, in #14, we learn that rock-solid, reliable Yasu engages in the occasional indiscretion — and we know him so well that we (like his bandmates) are left (literally, in my case) with our jaws hanging open. Yasu…it can’t be! There…there must be some explanation! Surely, surely, it will all be explained in the next volume….!

Or, a little more subtly: it’s been clear for some time that Nana Osaki, the tough rock star, has an intense (albeit nominally platonic) crush on the ditzy Nana (“Hachi”) Komatsu. And it’s also been clear that Hachi’s often-cruel-but-never-heartless fiancé Takumi treats Nana O. as, to some extent, a rival. But in issue #13, for the first time, we see, in a flashback, that Takumi actually consciously knows how Nana feels about Hachi — a revelation which makes him seem both sweeter (he touchingly reassures Hachi that she and Nana will remain friends) and more cold-hearted (because if he knows how much the two women mean to each other, why is he such a dick to Nana?)

Did I mention that the art is amazing? Stylish clothes, beautiful poses, and faces so expressive they’ll tear your heart out. Nana’s stricken expression at the end of volume #14, her body stiffened in shock, contrasting pitifully with her cheery giant-heart-over-the-bustier jacket, while Yasu sits beside her his face drawn in sympathy…. That — that — right there! is reason enough to start reading at #1, and keep reading until the sad, sad day when Yazawa decides to stop writing them.

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