NANA Teaches Readers How to Mourn a Friendship

Whether the series is ever truly "complete" or not, the lessons it imparts aren't a waste.

Do you remember the time you met your best friend — that feeling of apprehension initiating conversation wondering just how much of your true self to reveal? Time has a way of undoing things, including friendships. But endings also mark the opportunity for new beginnings. Making friends comes with figuring out what kind of a person you want to be and shaking off old toxic habits. On the surface, NANA is a mid-aughts anime awash in provocative punk fashion and checking all the boxes of the shoujo romance genre. But at its heart, it’s a series about reveling in those blossoming friendships and reeling from their fallings-out.

NANA, originally created by mangaka Ai Yazawa, follows the titular Nana Komatsu and Nana Osaki during their lives as roommates in Tokyo. While Komatsu is a mild-mannered and often scatterbrained woman moving solely to be closer to her boyfriend, Osaki is a sardonic frontwoman striving to exit her boyfriend’s shadow through her own band, Blast. In proper punk rock style, NANA is an anime that screams how nostalgia is a liar — while also being mature enough to recognize that time spent in love is not time wasted.

The show is chock-full of moments of burgeoning friendship and romantic undertones. Though the pair’s eventual falling out is ultimately the center of attention, dealing with themes of communication. With each step Nana and Komatsu take in their relationship, they both can’t help but regress in how they communicate with each other. It all stems from how they handle toxic behavior stemming and stave off loneliness.

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Komatsu is nicknamed “Hachiko” by Osaki to avoid confusion with her similarly named companion. But the name is also a reference to the legendary Akita dog of the same name, who loyally waited for his master that never returned to Shibuya station. Komatsu is dutiful to her own detriment, quickly falling in love with any man she lays eyes on, and emotionally dumping the baggage onto her mother figure/friend, Junko Saotome. That is until the latter character grows resentful of constantly doting on Komatsu.

As a result, Komatsu overcorrects her toxic behavior. She grows hyper-considerate of others to the point of not communicating with those closest to her for fear of bothering them too much.

Osaki is the inverse. While she scoffs at the thought of being “tied down” by a relationship, she also fears being alone. To compensate, she develops a toxic sense of control over her friends which often manifests in gross emotional manipulation. Because Osaki is too prideful to be a better friend to those she cares about, she becomes controlling and territorial out of fear they will eventually abandon her.

This complicated pair didn’t always have the dream relationship. When they believe so, that’s the nostalgia talking. They were roommates for six months. During which time Komatsu made her business into Osaki’s — without considering whether she was emotionally available to be her soundboard. Osaki would also undertake any means necessary to keep Komatsu within the confines of her friend group. When Komatsu grew out of her role as Osaki’s loyal Hachiko, and became more independent, the two naturally began to grow apart. Exploring this familiar disintegration is where NANA excels.

nana manga

Many twists along the way are soap-operatic clichés, but the anime takes time to pick up the pieces of viewers’ hearts by allowing Osaki, Komatsu, and the rest of the cast to unravel where things went wrong. Often these resolutions are only temporary, however, and characters fall back into the same pitfalls that got them into trouble in the first place.

At their core both women want to feel needed. It helps draw them together. Yet their at-odds methods of battling loneliness cause them to careen out of each other’s orbit, becoming satellite friends rather than close confidants. Mix that in with romantic entanglements involving the bass players from rival bands and plenty of trouble brews in apartment 707.

For those hoping for closure between Komatsu and Osaki, at time of publishing, NANA is still on an indefinite hiatus — joining greats like Vagabond and Hunter X Hunter. Although these stories are in different genres, the way each tale remains unfinished has its own, certain beauty.

Part of adulthood is accepting decisions friends make in their own self-interest. Osaki and Komatsu are different people with differing dreams of achieving their own autonomy. Komatsu wants to be needed; Osaki wants to make it as a singer on her own merit. The anime leaves a lot unanswered as to how that friendship ends. And the manga obviously can’t provide much refuge in its current state.

Hiatus aside, Osaki and Komatsu’s relationship is not tantamount to writing “have a great summer” in a high school yearbook and making blank cheque plans for the year. From what the anime and manga have implied, however, there is still a chance for these two to reciprocate the love they so desperately need to communicate to one another.