Ink & Paint I: Nanaka 6/17

New feature! In addition to my regular book reviews and “cool story” alerts, I’m going to spotlight an item or two each month from the world of comics and animation that caught my interest for one reason or another, usually something a little off the beaten track.

Why comics and animation? Because I like them. Always have, always will. There’s something about the melding of art and story in these formats that speaks to me, often more profoundly than a live action movie. There are some stories you can’t tell effectively any other way.

I’ll try to explain what it was about each month’s feature that pulled me in–a good exercise for me because it’s frequently something I have difficulty putting into words.

So, here goes.

Nanaka6-171

Nanaka 6/17

Seventeen-year-old Nanaka has it all figured out–she’ll graduate at the top of her high school class, go to university, and marry her boyfriend, Nenji. Nenji’s a bit of a slacker, though, and he’s always getting into fights. Nanaka thinks he needs to get with the program and grow up. They have an argument, and a distraught Nanaka trips and falls down a flight of stairs. When she wakes up in the hospital, she has a strange form of amnesia–she thinks she’s six years old.

What does it mean to grow up? For children, it often seems like gaining a super-power, and when Nanaka was six years old, she saw it as a way to escape the tragedy of her mother’s death. If she just wished hard enough, she’d wake up the next day as a grownup, free of all the helplessness and uncertainty of childhood. When she regains consciousness in the hospital, she thinks her wish has come true, which creates all sorts of problems for the people who care about her.

This sounds like the setup for a silly, frothy sitcom, and there is a lot of comedy in Nanaka’s attempts to cope with the adult world from a six-year-old’s perspective. As the story progresses, though, it becomes something deeper–a dialogue on the meaning of maturity, childhood dreams, and unfulfilled expectations that carries a lot of emotional impact and was ultimately what held my attention.

Before the accident, Nanaka 17 wasn’t liked very much by her peers–she was a snobby workaholic. Her return to school as Nanaka 6 confuses everybody, but they find the new Nanaka on the whole a lot more likable and refreshing than the old Nanaka, and she helps them recover a little bit of their own childhood along the way. Even her enemies are reluctantly drawn to her side as her indomitable optimism and innocence frustrates every plan to take advantage of her seeming descent into ditziness.

Nenji blames himself for Nanaka’s injury and struggles valiantly to keep her condition a secret and help her live as normal a life as possible. In the process, he gains a new maturity and concern for the needs of those around him. In Nanaka 6, he rediscovers all the qualities that drew them together as children but were lost in her obsessive mission to grow up as fast as possible.

However, Nanaka’s problem isn’t as simple as it appears. When Nanaka 17 returns after a traumatic event, it becomes clear that there are two Nanaka personalities fighting for control, and only one can prevail. Nanaka 17 wants her life back. Nanaka 6 is afraid she’ll disappear forever. Nenji is conflicted. He loves both Nanakas and can’t bear to lose either of them. Nanaka 6 begins to understand that growing up isn’t as simple as waving a magic wand, and Nanaka 17 realizes her mad dash to adulthood has cost her something precious–she hasn’t become the person she wanted to be, and the new maturity she admires in Nenji springs from Nanaka 6’s influence, not hers.

The ending is bittersweet.¬†Something’s lost, and something’s gained, and life for Nanaka and Nenji will never be quite the same.

Nanaka 6/17 is a 13-episode series originally aired on TV Tokyo in 2003, distributed in the U.S. by ADV Films, and currently available for viewing online at the Anime Network website.

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