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Tale of Tokyo Women Captures Readers' Imagination (June 7, 2005)

The Nana books have sold 22 million copies. (Shueisha)
Nana is the title of the latest hit manga to take Japan by storm, and unlike in most comic success stories, a large proportion of Nana fans are female. This series follows two young women as they experience the trials and tribulations of living and working in Tokyo. The first edition of the latest Nana book has sold 1.7 million copies, bringing the total sales of the twelve books published so far to a staggering 22 million copies. The girls and young women who read Nana appreciate the realism of the stories and find that they can relate to the two lead characters.

A Realistic Portrayal of City Life
Nana first appeared in 1999 in the monthly manga magazine Cookie (published by Shueisha Inc.), which is aimed at teenage girls. The stories were penned by manga artist Yazawa Ai. The plot revolves around the two heroines, both of whom have the first name Nana. There is 20-year-old Komatsu Nana, nicknamed "Hachi," who comes to Tokyo in pursuit of her boyfriend and survives in the big city by working a series of part-time jobs. Then there is Osaki Nana, who is striving to make her debut as a professional singer while also coming to terms with the emotional scars from being abandoned by her mother. The series gives a realistic portrayal of the two friends' travails, romances, and dreams as they go about their lives in Japan's capital.

The stories in Nana are about the realities of life. This is a big contrast to most other manga aimed at girls and young women, whose dream-like themes tend to revolve around fantasy and love. Nana's heroines are independent by nature and their lives are an emotional roller coaster of worry and sadness mixed with interludes of joy. They display both strengths and weaknesses. As for the men in the stories, they fall well short of the prince charming stereotype, riddled as they are with their own flaws and shortcomings.

This realism allows the readers to relate the gritty experiences of the two Nanas to their own lives. One of the secrets of the comic's success is that it assures readers that their own problems are not unique.

The manga has spawned a video game. (Yazawa Manga Studio / Shueisha Cookie, 2005 KONAMI)

Branching into New Media
When Nana first appeared, it was aimed primarily at teenage girls. But as its popularity spread, it quickly became a hit among women in their twenties and thirties, and now there are even some male Nana fans. Many manga become popular after they are made into movies or TV anime series, but in Nana's case the boom started not through slick publicity but simply through word of mouth. Largely through demand from fans, a number of projects are under way to take Nana into new types of media.

Video-game developer Konami began selling an interactive game simulating Tokyo life and featuring the two Nana characters in March. Players of the game experience the ups and downs of life in Tokyo. In the field of music, meanwhile, 13 artists - all keen Nana fans - have released an album titled Love for Nana. Nana fans can even keep up with their heroines while on the move through a mobile-phone-accessible website dedicated to the series called Mobile Nana. What is more, this fall will see the release of a Nana movie starring the popular singer Nakashima Mika and actress Miyazaki Aoi. When a temporary cafe themed around Nana opened for a month in the Tokyo district of Shibuya, long lines of waiting customers could often be seen outside its doors.

Global Ambitions
Anime and manga are among Japan's most prominent cultural exports. Yet while such titles as Yu-Gi-Oh! and Dragonball - favorites among boys and young men - have seen overseas success, titles aimed at a female audience have gone largely unnoticed outside Japan.

Manga publisher Viz, LLC is hoping to change that, however. In a project also involving Japanese publishers Shueisha Inc. and Shogakukan Inc., Viz is planning to release Shojo Beat, a monthly magazine produced in the United States and aimed at girls and young women, starting in June. The magazine's centerpiece will be the Nana series.

Manga watchers are eager to see how US readers respond to a story of two young women's travails in Tokyo and whether the United States will experience a Nana boom similar to the one that has captivated Japanese readers.

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Copyright (c) 2005 Web Japan. Edited by Japan Echo Inc. based on domestic Japanese news sources. Articles presented here are offered for reference purposes and do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Japanese Government.

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