Lately I’ve been feeling nostalgic over how I came to love anime, and from there how my partner and I set up this little blog. I haven’t been a stalwart fan from the start, reckoning when I was 20 that I’d gone off the stuff, but then at 23 I came back and realised what I’d been missing. All the wonder and optimism of the beliefs that love and friendship are the world’s greatest powers, and that with some self-belief you can start to achieve your big dreams as well as your little ones. I’ve gone over my introduction to anime through shonen, and how I’ve learned to appreciate it as far more than ‘boys’ shows’. I met my next stage as an otaku when I was 17, and I watched my first drama anime; the one that would become the first anime series I loved. NANA.
Seeing the jubilant, love-struck normal girl Nana Komatsu meet the distant punk rocker Nana Osaki, watching them stumble through their passion for music and each other, were my first experiences of a series’ soundtrack being just as integral to its narrative as the characters and their journeys. I was a choir girl then and, to me, music was belonging. It had brought me to my closest friend, and through her, I met my first love. He sent me NANA’s first ending theme, ‘a little pain’, to listen to in the hinterlands between us first meeting and getting together, and I was so touched by the song’s meaning, lit up with my own feelings for this new person in my life, that I knew I had to watch the show it was from. So he introduced me to it, and in these two women called Nana I saw different aspects of myself. The drifting dreamer who had a hard time making friends, and the ditzy romantic, ever falling in love in the hope of finding sanctuary.
It was the music that would mainly linger with me and inform how I remembered the show. Just as there were two battling bands, the Black Stones and Trapnest, let’s say the heroes and the adversaries, the characters in my memory were just as black-and-white. People who cheated on their loved ones were cruel and intolerable, and those chasing after their dreams were justified and could do no wrong. But after going back and watching NANA again with almost seven years more life experience, I’ve seen where I oversimplified, and the meanings to the music have developed too.
I’ve learned that promises between friends and lovers can’t all be constants, and that some bonds fray into misunderstanding, severance and betrayal. At first I saw NANA as a straight-up romantic tale, with the sadness along the way an incidental by-product of feelings not being shared. But, much more now, I recognise it as being about mourning and joy equally, the music reflecting that. The desperate passion of the first opening ‘rose’ is set against the tearful hope of its opposite ending ‘a little pain’, and the ecstatic ‘Wish’ against the aching sorrow of ‘Kuroi Namida’. The beauty and curse of being human is that we’re all capable of bringing about great pain and pleasure, not always intentionally, but still overcoming to make things right where we can, and redeeming ourselves. And now, to me, that is the meaning of NANA. Trying to work through being fallible and fragile for the people and promises that mean the most to us; succeeding, failing, taking the bliss with the sadness, and having faith that all of importance will remain part of our lives. All of this is concentrated down within the music, and so it helps me remember the lessons in what has been, and look to the future with hope.
And it isn’t just NANA that helps me retain this message. Now, I’m seeing the same one in different series, reminding me why I kept that space for anime in my heart. Last year, I stumbled across yet another uplifting series with amazing music that rephrased the old message, in amongst the spring simulcasts. Now I’m not sure why my partner and I even started watching it, but I’m thankful we did, because I can only see it becoming more special to me with future series. Though it’s about a high school concert band, Sound! Euphonium spoke to the dormant choir girl in me, reminiscent of all the excitement and drama that came with preparing for and performing in competitions. And this is just one of the series I’ll be talking about in my final blog in this trio, which brings it up to date with my anime-loving present self, first beginning to watch simulcasts – DanMachi, Ushio and Tora, School-Live! – with contented anticipation.