NANA is a popular josei manga which delves into numerous adult themes. It centers around two very different girls who meet on the train to Tokyo, happen to share the same name, eventually become roommates and grow to share a very deep bond. Nana Komatsu is a cheerful ordinary girl with a colourful history of multiple heartaches and Nana Osaki, a band vocalist.
The manga portrays tangled, tumultuous and volatile relationships. A constant throughout the story however are Nana Osaki’s true feelings for Ren Honjo, albeit at times masked by her pride. When Ren leaves her to join a popular band called ‘Trapnest’ with a beautiful vocalist called Reira she felt they stole Ren away, not romantically, but as a lead musicians. However at one point she admits that she was determined to steal him back no matter what. In the manga it is even said that Nana Osaki would wait for Ren at the sanzu river. ‘When I’m dead sprinkle my ashes into the sea’ he tells Reira.
The manga shows drinking sprees and hangovers,lead characters smoke and one of the young band members engages in juvenile prostitution. Outside of this, the plot is riveting as we witness through their victories and suffering, an unraveling fate. Strong themes are touched upon through various characters,such as abortion, contraception, having an alcoholic father and wrist slashing as a form of self-harm. One of Nana Osaki’s fellow bandmates, Shin, was found in possession of marijuana. Shin was first put behind bars and later placed on probation. At one point in the manga we see the image of Ren holding white powder. ‘The countdown to the tragedy had already begun’.
Nana Osaki,a beautiful girl who was abandoned at age 4 and lost her only relative at 15 claimed at one point to have neither dreams nor hopes and thought of songs as a means for survival, a relief, coupled with a wish for credit and money. She also stated that at one point her sole desire was to have ‘the courage to fight’. ‘I wondered what would make me happier… Dying with Ren or dying on stage?’ Nana Osaki asks herself at one point.
At one point Ren asks Reira if someone she saw resembled a narcotics dog. As Ren’s addiction gets serious, Ren feels unwell in the car where it is suggested to him that he goes to the hospital instead of to the agency. Ren even thinks of quitting the band to avoid getting ‘Trapnest’ into trouble. Takumi a member of Trapnest and Nana Komatsu’s husband, suggests Ren takes a break from work to figure out ways of kicking his addiction. ‘If you don’t want to lose your lover forever return to his side now’ Takumi tells Nana Komatsu to tell Nana Osaki.
Takumi suggests to Ren if he would have difficulties working if his drug supply were cut. Ren states he is not confident curbing his addiction alone. Takumi notes that Ren becoming weak may be a side effect of the drug, he also notices his hands trembling. He also comments that he cannot be sent to a hospital due to the adverse media publicity hence had to be self-reliant for the addiction. We see Ren suffering pain from physical dependence, experiencing withdrawal symptoms. Reira is worried that Ren is in the bathroom taking drugs. He states he can’t play the guitar normally anymore without drugs. Reira asks Ren what she can do to help him quit his addiction and he replies that she should sing since she has the most talented singing voice in the world …but that Nana would have hated Ren being lulled to sleep by Reira’s voice.
Ren even felt too ashamed to meet Nana. He found it increasingly difficulty to function without drugs. Heroin may bring with it a rush and sense of euphoria as well as alternate states of alertness and drowsiness. At the same time ‘Trapnest’ did not want the media to catch on and expose Ren’s drug problem. ‘Ren once said to me that he would take me along with him when he dies. I don’t want to be abandoned’ stated Nana Osaki. Ren’s car slams into a building on the snowy road after he was speeding whilst being followed by journalists, leaving him to silently sleep forever in his hometown. The police did not find any marijuana or heroin in the crashed car.
The punk band ‘Sex Pistols’ are referenced in the story. It is a notable parallel that Sid Vicious, the bassist for ‘Sex Pistols’ is thought to have died of a heroin overdose.
Another character in the manga, named Miu asks almost rhetorically why people do things to hurt themselves. Nana Osaki eventually reached fame and was engaged to Ren but the dream they were having was likened to a firework display. She states ‘the loneliness I’m supposed to have tamed …starts to lash out without me being able to do anything’.
Drug misuse is only a small component of the story overall which is mostly driven by the personalities of the two Nanas and the interactions between band members, friends and relationships. Nana Komatsu and Nana Osaki truly cared for each other’s well-being. The soundtrack of the animated adaptation is perfectly fitting and apt with songs such as ‘Kuroi Namida’ (‘Black Tears’) and ‘A Little Pain’ that evoke lingering memories of the show. Both the live action and current animated adaptations which cover the initial story do not delve into Ren’s drug problem which features in later chapters of the manga.
Effects such as malaise, anxiety, depression, cramps nausea and vomiting can be seen during withdrawal. A noteworthy point was that Ren was trying to quit the vicious cycle without seeking medical attention. The cautionary tale emphasizes the need for harm reduction and shows the repercussions on work and significant others of drug use.