Nana to Kaoru Review

S&M and bondage, for many people I am sure that these two very simple words will conjure up tons of images to do with rope, being tied up, perhaps being humiliated and of course pretty kinky sex.

There are a lot of manga out there that you could classify as Mature or Adult and Nana to Kaoru is one of them. Now I have almost no knowledge or any real interest in Bondage or S&M, but I decided to take the plunge and read this manga. To my surprise, rather than being the hardcore S&M manga that I feared it would be, instead I found quite a cute and innocent romance story at the centre of a relationship, which featured bondage. What also surprised me is the lack of nudity involved, in fact in the current 53 chapters, while there are the obligatory cleavage and swimsuit shots there has yet been any real nudity (although a few pages from magazines and such have appeared), unlike other manga with the Mature/Adult tag.

The story starts off with an introduction to the main protagonists. We have Kaoru, a waster with an S&M fetish; he collects S&M gear and fantasies about having an S&M relationship with his childhood freeing Nana. Nana on the other hand is the classic over- achiever, she is essentially perfect in every way; good grades, good looks, good at sports and Student council Vice President. We are given hints that although they are next door neighbours (there bedrooms share the same wall, which plays a significant part in the story) they have drifted apart over the years.

While Kaoru deals with day to day life, simply getting by and spending his money of S&M gear Nana has a clear goal and career path, that of a Lawyer. In order to achieve this she must study very hard (To the point of having no hobbies at all) and has set her sights on a top university (not specified in the manga, I assume somewhere like Todai or Kyoto). Now, for Nana, her career path is immensely important, however she feels as if there is too much expectation and in fact too much for her to do in order to achieve this, she is essentially trapped by her won personality and achievements.

From here on we get the S&M, while taking care of some S&M items that Kaoru’s mother has hidden, Nana comes across a leather one-piece that for some reason fits her perfectly. Her first experience of S&M, although quite short seems to have a tremendous impact upon Nana, she even does better in school, as if the stress and expectations from everyone has miraculously been lifted from her shoulders. This is the beginning of the S&M relationship between Nana And Kaoru.

What is so fascinating about the interaction between Nana and Kaoru is how so very different, yet so very alike they are. As I mentioned Nana is the perfect student, too perfect, Kaoru on the other hand is the opposite; he wastes time, and is utterly obsessed by bondage and S&M, although there is the implication that he isn’t quite as stupid as people make him out to be. They are both attracted to each other, but because of his own hobby and how he views Nana, Kaoru believes that simply being near her will pull her down, essentially he views it as they live in totally different worlds. Nana on the other hand appears attracted to Kaoru and attempts to get him involved with her social group on a number of occasions. There are also issues surrounding Nana’s popularity, and yet having other people going after Nana never seems to be all that serious, I think this is largely down to the very personal and private relationship which we see being built between Nana and Kaoru, one that is far stronger than any kind of high-school romance.

There is also an innocence about both of these characters, even though Kaoru is obsessed with S&M he has no experience and often it can get too much for him. Nana is obviously innocent of S&M until the initial incident, however she is clearly drawn to it in a big way, so much so that she fantasises about what Kaoru may come up with for their next ‘breather’. Both get very flustered around the topic and it is this innocence that I think allows this manga to be as good as it is. Rather than being a hardcore manga about S&M and bondage it manages to negotiate this by showing us how the relationship between Nana and Kaoru develops from one of childhood friends to one of intimacy and secrets.

The manga does have quite a claustrophobic feel to it at times, largely to do with the settings. A significant amount of the ‘action’ takes place within either Kaoru’s or Nana’s bed rooms although there are a few other settings, such as the park, a fair ground, the school, shopping district etc, I am thankful of these because I honestly feel the manga would get too much if it only took place within the bedrooms or a school room. The characters faces are of special importance as well, in fact I would say that the characters faces are the most amazing element of the entire manga, they have such a wide range of facial expressions that tell us far more about what is going on than anything else.

There is also an element of comedy within the manga, this is very important to me, especially since the S&M play, along with Nana and Kaoru’s fantasies get increasingly wild during the course of the manga. Without an element of comedy I would honestly feel that it would all get too much and simply degenerate. The comedy is enhanced by both Nana and Kaoru’s attempt to keep their relationship a secret from everyone, this does end in some quite comic, and potentially disastrous situations with their secret nearly being exposed on multiple occasions.

I do have some reservations about the manga. Firstly I do think it dwells too much certain elements of S&M, although I can understand why. Also there are some other quite interesting characters that just appear then completely disappear, this in itself isn’t so bad, but these characters seem to be written as more than incidental. Also it does progress quite slowly, with several chapters showing a single scene, there are reasons for this, but I did find it to drag in places. And there is an awful lot of dialogue, which can often be quite difficult to follow because of how it is set out on the page.

Overall I enjoyed the manga, and although it centres on the practice of S&M there is a nice amount of comedy along with a wonderful romantic relationship, which is refreshingly different from shoujo manga. There innocence and the way in which Nana and Kaoru approach S&M is also quite cute, we essentially have a story about two peoples first steps into this ‘art’ and the impressions that I have got from the manga is that rather than being about the complete subordination of one to another it is a relationship built on trust. Without the trust between Nana and Kaoru their relationship would not exist, and this I think is at the heart of what to me is a very sweet little romance that simply happens to involve a lot of bondage.

While I know this wont appeal to everyone, and truthfully I wasn’t too keen on the story to begin with thinking that it would quickly deteriorate into something quite nasty, I would recommend that people at least give it a shot and make up their own minds. One small word of warning though, the manga does get a little more hard-core in places and later on, so if you really are not interested it would be simpler to stop early on and find something else to read. Although having said that there is no real nudity and no sex involved, something, which I think, we should congratulate Amazune Ryuta for.

As a final word, for anyone who enjoys this manga and perhaps wants something a little more, Aamzune Ryuta is also releasing another manga alongside this called Nana to Kaoru Arashi, this is neither a sequel or prequel, rather it seems to be another element to the story as a whole, it is however a little more hardcore on the S&M play. You have been warned.

About illogicalzen
An Illogical anime fan in a very Zen-like way.

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