by Satomi Ikezawa; adaptation by William Flanagan
published by Del Rey Manga; $10.95 US
Yaya’s so afraid of being left alone that she puts up with two horrible “friends”, Seri and Moe, who abuse her, play tricks on her, and make fun of her. When she was younger, she was teased for standing out, a terrible thing in her conformist culture, so now she gives up in order to fit in. Since her mother passed away, Yaya has been too afraid to pursue her dreams of singing. Her only outlet for her creativity is being a fan of the goth-like band Juliet. On Sundays, she dresses up and joins other fans who share her interests and demand nothing else.
When pressured or in danger, her other personality Nana comes to the fore. Nana’s self-assured, independent, and quite handy for humiliating those who deserve it. She protects Yaya from unwelcome advances and has wonderful adventures like jumping on stage at a concert. Unfortunately, Yaya doesn’t know she exists.
Of course, there’s a cute boy to complicate things. Moriyama shares Yaya’s love of music and likes her for herself, which means Seri and Moe are trying to separate them. Those two false friends make themselves feel superior by making fun of anything anyone else likes. They’re so miserable in themselves that they can’t stand to see anyone else happy.
In book two, Moriyama and Nana get a chance to talk after one of her typically violent outbursts. He’s impressed by her fighting skills but concerned about her lack of positive influence. She’s reacting to outside stimuli instead of making her own choices.
Meanwhile, Yaya is becoming more and more concerned about her memory blackouts and skipping school to avoid putting up with Seri and Moe.
Book three opens with a significant dream, where Yaya kisses the lead singer of Juliet. Aside from being realistic for her age, this fantasy illustrates why girls have such crushes: to prepare them for relationships with real-life partners. The singer is her ideal, but she can only love him from afar. (Plus, the character design is terrific, a kind of Japanese David Bowie-circa-Labyrinth.)
Except, since this is a comic, maybe “afar” isn’t all that far away. Yaya meets a mysterious older musician who’s fascinated by Nana, providing competition for Moriyama. Nana’s singing career also takes a step forward, and the relationship between fans and the objects of their adoration is explored in several ways.
In book four, Moriyama’s biggest fan Hano starts at the same school Yaya attends. Hano’s jealous of Yaya’s friendship with Moriyama, and she also wants revenge on Nana for protecting Yaya from her.
Like Seri, Hano’s a user, pushing Yaya around. Unlike Seri, Hano confronts challenges head-on, making her a more prominent protagonist for Nana. She also plays dirty, using her father’s talent agency star connections as bait to put other girls in dangerous situations.
As the consequences become more extreme, Nana’s physicality becomes ever more prominent. She takes a construction job and even performs outrageous feats of strength when needed to protect Yaya.
As book five begins, Yaya seeks answers to her questions about her blackouts from Moriyama. He can’t enlighten her, though, because Nana appears to protect Yaya from the knowledge. Moriyama’s the only one who seems to prefer Yaya to Nana.
Hano offers to cancel the contract she trapped Yaya into, but it’s only a ruse to force Yaya into another dangerous activity, using her fear of heights to torture her. The result is an outrageous but impressive helicopter skydiving sequence over Tokyo.
Following that, a single-chapter story pits Nana against a molester, a creep who uses crowded trains as cover to fondle girls. Then it’s back to the music scene, with Yaya helping Moriyama’s band out at a club show, which leads to the two of them sharing secrets.
In book six, Moriyama’s trying to advance his relationship with Yaya while avoiding both Nana and his ex-girlfriend, who’s inconveniently returned. The ex-girlfriend meddles with Yaya, trying to convince her to stay away from the boy they both like for fear of him getting hurt. More importantly, Yaya and Nana are finally forced to confront each other.
The series concludes with book seven, in which supporting characters reappear and dreams come true. Plus, Yaya finally gets the good talking-to she needs. I was also impressed by the translator’s notes at the end, where he briefly discusses his goals and this manga’s themes.
The pages are busy, with art, text, sound effect characters, and their English translations over top. Nana is drawn with much more attitude and more expressively than Yaya, as suits her, although I did sometimes get Yaya and Seri confused. The Del Rey books have a very attractive presentation, with thick paper, solid binding, and extra material that explains cultural differences.
Yaya’s other personality is the kind of fantasy figure most teens wish they knew or could be — a kick-butt girl who stands up for herself and takes no prisoners. With Nana’s help, Yaya will learn to value herself and her own special abilities.Manga Updates § *Nana Book 9 — Recommended § *Nana Books 1-7 — Recommended Series § *Nana Books 12-14 — Recommended § *Nana Book 8 — Recommended