Getting sentimental with Nana by Ai Yazawa

nana cover

One thing I hadn’t counted on when I started this blog was how nostalgic re-reading some comics would be.

I looked at Inuyasha a couple of weeks ago then while wandering through Forbidden Planet on Sunday my eye fell on an English translation of Nana by Ai Yazawa.

Now this manga is pretty old, I know because it came out in 2000 the year before I moved to Japan and it was just getting going then as a classic manga serial.

Nana – a cult manga in the making

The series was first published by in Japan by Cookie and ran for 22 volumes. It spawned an anime and two live action films, a PS2 and Nintendo DS game and a whole host of tribute albums and songs. It also won a raft of industry awards.

It first came out in English translation by Viz Media in 2007, which just shows you how long it can take for even the most popular Japanese manga to reach English speakers.

I have to be honest my Japanese was never really good enough  to understand every nuance of this story so although I enjoyed it at the time I was curious to pick up an English copy and re-visit it.

Turns out it was pretty much as I remembered it but now it is surrounded by a rosy glow of nostalgia, not just for those crazy, frustrating, amazing years in Japan but for my 20s in general.

A Story of two girls

Nana-Walking

The story follows two girls with the same first name: Nana Komatsu and Nana Osaki.

Nana Osaki

nana O cool singer

Nana Osaki is a punk singer with a tragic past, brought up by her mean grandmother and left to fend for herself from age 16, she finds her calling in being lead singer for a local band BLAST.

She falls in love with the guitarist, Ren, who despite his own tragic past, brags about being an abandoned baby and boasts about having been in the news since birth.

Ren and Nana O live together in the warehouse district where he was found as a baby. He is her family, until that is he gets the chance to join a just signed band in Tokyo. Nana O decides not to follow him wanting to push her own career first. But two years later she sets out for Tokyo looking to hit the big time. That’s when she meets…

Nana Komatsu

nana K relationships

Now Nana Komatsu is initially the weaker character. She falls in love at the drop of a hat, follows her friends’ ambitions rather than her own and is generally a bit of a mooch. But if you’ve probably known someone who was a bit like this, or if you are honest you were a bit like this when you were 20 at times.

After failing to get into university or a community art college in Tokyo she works a job in a video shop in her home town until she’s saved enough money to follow her friends. Then she meets her namesake and of course gets a total girl crush on Nana O.

The beauty of these two characters is that they are a little like John Lennon and Paul McCartney – you are either going to be drawn towards the nice one or the rebel but in reality there are aspects of both in everybody.

What else can reading Nana offer?

I would say though that Nana also provides some nice insights into Japanese life and how essentially young Japanese people are on an inexorable trajectory towards becoming their parents.

For example

The teenage punk bank BLAST has just come off stage – adrenaline pumping from their gig.

What do they do?

Get drunk or high and blow off steam by being anti-social and flipping off society?

No way, they politely go to an Izakaya for dinner, carefully observing Japanese custom by removing their heavy duty punk boots and lining them up before sitting at floor level tables on tatami mats.

Not very punk behaviour from a western point of view

nana O izakaya

But it is realistic

Young people in Japan in general just don’t do anarchy. Having spent two years teaching 14 to 16 year olds in a Japanese High School I can tell you they are the least obviously hormonal, rebellious or obnoxious kids you can imagine.

Of course though there are rough schools and kids that get into motorbike gangs.

It’s not Disneyland

Japan suffers its fair share of social problems that affect young people and lead them to try to find belonging and a sense of identity apart from the mainstream.

But for the most part making other people feel uncomfortable through your behaviour is just ingrained in their DNA as being completely unacceptable.

So who should try reading Nana?

This is a great manga for anyone interested in what life is like for young people in Japan (in the context of a fictionalised storyline of course but it is very much grounded in reality).

Or if you are in your 20s and you’re still struggling with finding yourself and your soul mate and you want a comic that reflects those issues.

Or if you’re in your teens and you want to see what’s waiting for you 😉

Or if those days are past – it’s still fun to look back

I enjoyed finding unlikely parallels between a Japanese 20 year old trying to make her way in Tokyo as a punk band singer and a Scottish girl once in her 20s trying to teach English in Japan and wondering where that road would lead.

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East of West Vol 1: The Promise – Apocalyptic sci-western goodness

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There are so many comics out there.

So many.

It’s hard to know where the next great story is hiding.

Often I look at the cover art as an indication of what the story is about and if it’s worth investigating.

I scanned past the cover art above at least half a dozen times.

Then someone said, “you haven’t read this yet??”

And I took another look.

Turns out you should never judge a book by its cover.

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First off credit where credit is due.

Writer: Jonathan Hickman

Artist: Nick Dragotta

Colours: Frank Martin

Letters: Rus Wooton

Publisher: Image Comics

You can read this in individual editions – there are currently 10 issues in total but I’d recommend starting off with Vol One: The Promise which collects the first five editions.

There’s a lot going on here and you’ll need at least the first five to see whether or not you’re going to like this.

If you love comics as much for the drawing and colours as for the writing then you are going to love Nick Dragotta’s artwork.

I haven’t dabbled in drawing let alone drawing comics for years but this made me itch to get out an inky pen and some good quality cartridge paper. It’s inspirational, tactile, beautiful and very, very clever.

Each frame is cinematic, epic in scale, considered, original and flows so beautifully.

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Oh and Death is riding an awesome cannon horse.

The whole thing is just the right mix of the familiar but with an original spin.

So let’s get the basics down.

You know the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse?

Well, this is a story about them.

But not just about them.

It’s about The Chosen.

They are the leaders of the seven Nations of America created after the Third Great Awakening at the time of the Civil War in 1862.

They’ve heard The Message.

And it says the world is coming to an end.

And they, along with the three horsemen (yeah, Death isn’t totally on-board with this plan) are intent on making sure the prophecy comes to fruition.

But Death got a little caught up in the mortal world.

Got married.

Decided he wasn’t ready to go along with the prophecy just yet.

And so the story goes on a roller-coaster ride of killing, destruction and dodging the dalliances of fate.

But at it’s heart this is a love story.

And that’s what made me care about this motley crew of characters.

It’s not just about grand, sweeping story arcs.

There’s some nicely explored human emotions in here too.

It’s not the first time a fictional Death has fallen in love (see Pretty Deadly for a totally different take on some similar themes) but it could be the first time he’s willing to betray everything he is supposed to be for the daughter of a Chinese warlord.

Read and enjoy!

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Memories of Japan: Inuyasha by Rumiko Takahashi

Inuyasha 3

I think it’s about time this blog had some manga.

And not just any manga.

Oh no.

This is my absolute, 100% favourite manga of all time.

Let’s go back in time to 2001.

I was living in Japan, land of green tea bubble gum and potato sandwiches.

And more importantly the home of comics.

I used to go to Kinokuniya in Shinjuku and just stand in awe at the thousands of pocket-size comics that I could never hope to ever read.

Well, they were all in Japanese.

And believe me that’s a pretty big barrier to overcome even with my super-genki daily study and kanji obsession.

But I did tune into a few manga that I loved to greedily pick off the station news-stands and pore over with my electronic dictionary.

My favourite of these by far was Inuyasha.

Inuyasha 1

First off I should mention that this manga is written and drawn by Rumiko Takahashi.

Probably the world’s most successful female comic writer and artist.

[Pause for applause]

She’s pretty damn fabulous.

But let’s get down to details.

If you aren’t interested in manga, never considered looking past the goofy eyes and adolescent storylines, why should you give Inuyasha a chance?

First off,  Inuyasha is a petulant half-human half-wolf demon who can be put in his place with a well timed “sit!”

There’s a lot of nice, well-timed comic moments in this.

Secondly, it features a Japanese schoolgirl Kagome, but she’s not a total sap. she’s actually the reincarnation of Inuyasha’s ex-girlfriend Kikyou who bound him to the tree after the shikon no tama (jewel of four souls)  shattered…And she rocks a bow and arrow.

Inuyasha 2

And so much more.

It’s a well developed universe you can really immerse yourself in.

The story switches between ancient Japan, a time of monsters and war, and modern Japan, a time of fragile normality.

You only need to know three things:

1. The story has a lot of charm and depth of characterisation

2. If you get into Inuyasha you are in for a great ride – there are 56 volumes

3. The monsters are awesome (in an inventive mythical way – you won’t get scared by Inuyasha)

I also loved the Inuyasha anime that used to play on a Monday evening on NHK I think. At the time I lived in Japan the theme song was Dearest by Ayumi Hamusaki. I heard it so many times and sang along to the TV that it became my party piece at karaoke.

So on that note for those of you who love a bit of J-Pop or just want to imagine ComicOpa drunkenly wailing out Japanese lyrics here’s the original with English subtitles.

Aaaah sugoku natsukashii…. (>.<)/

You can buy Inuyasha translated into English by Viz comics online and in most comic shops. I paid roughly £2 per volume in Japan so the price tag here is a little high for me.

But remember to check you local library and see what they have. Edinburgh has at least one volume on their system so you can check that out and see if it’s for you before you invest.