Kaoru is a 17-year-old virgin who has an S&M fetish. He has always dreamt about an SM relationship with his childhood friend Nana, who is looked upon as perfect and is always the target of boys' eyes. Their relationship has somewhat deteriorated through the years, due to them hanging out with different people and because Kaoru is not taking his education too seriously.
One day though, Kaoru's mother gives some of his S&M toys to Nana for safekeeping. Nana finds the leather one-piece that Kaoru bought and tries it on but accidentally locks herself in it and doesn't have the key!
Kaoru frees her of the one-piece, but then Nana realizes she may like Kaoru's hobby more than she thought. Subsequently, the two of them start engaging in so-called "breathers." These breathers are intended to relieve Nana of stress that originates from her attempts at keeping her grades and name perfect.
Personally, it was a 10/10, but I know that most people aren't going to enjoy it as much as I did, so I'm going to rest on an overall 8/10, but I won't budge further. >_>
A few years ago, there was one night where I didn't really feel like watching a new anime and was caught up on my current manga, so I was clicking on any random manga that showed up in front of me and skimming through it to see if there was any interest. Nana to Kaoru just happened to be one of those. The content is pretty adult, so it's
not going to be widely accessible, so I'm betting that most people won't ever find it. If you do, PLEASE RE AD IT.
The art is honestly pretty horrible. The scenes pack impact, but that's partially due to the content in them. The facial art specifically is pretty bad, but if you can get past the dark lines and any of the other problems with the art, you will absolutely enjoy this manga.
There really isn't an overlying plot for this series. The events that happen aren't building towards anything major, and while I personally find that unappealing when I pick up a new series, this is a special case. Each separate event has importance, each separate event is tense, and they're the type of events that don't need an overlying plot. In the case of this manga, the overlying plot is the 'romance' genre itself.
'Breathers' are, in this case, simply just bondage sessions, and are what bring the two main characters together. As childhood friends, they grew up and separated over time, belonging to different cliques in school and expected to go separate ways throughout their life. Stress relief is one aspect of the breathers, but it shows that the simplest of desires can bring two completely different people together, whether it be a release of stress, lust, or just a shared secret. But the greatest part about "Nana to Kaoru" is that fact that it'll take it one step further.
As a romance, it's intended to bring the OTP together, and it does... kind of. With the content, it does give that 'illicit love' type of feeling and is really tense, which is great. But even deeper than that, it shows that the connection between them isn't physical as bondage would represent, but emotional. It shows the inner workings of what bondage can be, not just what we would normally just think it is.
If you're looking for something that'll make you take a step back and re-evaluate yourself, read this manga. It's not going to change you as a person, but it may help change the way you think about things.
I was always hesitant about starting Nana to Kaoru. Not because of its S&M premise, but because I already had doubts about MC first chapter in, and whether he'd be able to actually do anything. Alas, in the end, I picked it up, and now my journey is over. And, if I'm honest, somewhere in this manga is a great story about young people exploring their sexuality and dealing with who they are, with some really powerful scenes, but, despite all that, this isn't a good story by any stretch.
The main problem with it is that it runs in circles. Although this is more
prevalent in characters department, it also exists in the general narrative. Until the very end, the story is always in the 'push and pull' mode, meaning that very little development actually occurs over its 160 chapters. Starting with around the midway point in manga, the story slows down considerably to the frustrating levels, and more and more random points are introduced into narrative for the sole purpose of creating drama. Much like some characters, these plot points overstay their welcome and never really go anywhere, making it appear as blatant filler more than anything else.
As the story follows Kaoru and Nana, there were far too many times when the story wasn't about the two of them for considerable stretches of time. It's not as though there was no need to develop side characters, but the problem was that not even the main characters were developed at that point. The story attempts to introduce classic 'coming of age' elements into its narrative, but then uses them only to induce cheap drama rather than to actually deal with them properly. The main point here is the possible separation after graduating high school. It's a classic storytelling device when you want to give a shove to the character development, but here it's only used as means of creating dramatic scenes until the very, very end.
The best part about this manga is no doubt art. It's detailed, albeit inconsistent at times, and it really breathes 'story' in and of itself. Facial expressions were for the most part on point, proportions were adequate, and some panels simply oozed life on their own. Still, it's muddled with ton, and I mean TON of pointless speech boxes and bubbles that add nothing except distract from fantastic art. There isn't really much else to say, as one of the reasons I was able to finish this story is the art in the first place, so kudos.
As for the characters, they are definitely the worst part of the whole thing, while they should be the best. Specifically, side characters are an utter bother in this manga, and their influence on main duo, Nana and Kaoru, is anything except good. Much like certain plot points, they're used whenever the writer wanted to introduce cheap drama to increase the stakes of story.
Specifically, the secondary love interest(?) for our main guy is absolute chore to read about whenever she appears. She destroyed the dynamic between the main duo, and while her character served the classic role of giving 'the push' to the main duo, she was never a cause for any actual, positive change between the two. She was there to offset the gigantic tits of Nana, and to provide a few, cheap dramatic moments in storytelling.
While there are other side characters, very few of them, if any, get more than a chapter of development, making them all feel like static images rather than the characters. With that said, the central focus, for the most part, is about our main duo, let's get on them.
Nana is perhaps the best part of this manga, no doubt (and not just because of her huge oppai). Out of everyone, she receives the most development, which actually pushes her character forward rather than have her run in circles. She's actually a strong character who knows what she wants, and, when push comes to shove, is decisive about it (unlike someone else that I'll talk about soon). While I wouldn't call her character spectacular, considering those by her side, she really stands out by leaps and bounds.
Now, let's talk about the character that put the final lid on my enjoyment of this manga: Kaoru. There's a very simple reason why Kaoru just can't carry the show: it's because I simply can't see him as a Dom in a relationship. He's the exact opposite of what a Dom should be; cowardly, indecisive, afraid, insecure... while I'm not saying that a character with those characteristics is bad, it doesn't work in a manga of this type. There are about 2 times in the entire manga where he acts like a proper Dom, and even that is offset shortly after with his regret over those actions.
He's far too hesitant for a character that's supposed to dominate someone as strong as Nana, and, until the very end, he doesn't change much, if at all. He, perhaps, exemplifies the greatest problem Nana to Kaoru has: it's a by-the-books vanilla love story with S&M gimmick that works against it. Strip away the 'breathers', and you've got yourself your basic love story, that's all. Kaoru is a standard rom-com protagonist, Nana is a standard main girl, there's a love rival, far too much drama because characters can't voice their thoughts... everything, really.
S&M here is used as a means of 'binding' two leads together, and that's really it. While it does play part in some pretty decent character moments, for the most part it's a gimmick. One specific 'breather' stretches out for like 4-5 chapters where nothing actually happens. It's just an excuse to see woman act like dogs, and that's really it.
The hesitations of Nana can be somewhat excused, seeing as she's a sub, but with Kaoru it's impossible to overlook them. His character keeps spinning in circles for whole 160 chapters; 'Nana is mine', 'I can't stay by her side', 'I want to stay by her side', 'I don't', 'How do I tell her I love with without telling her because it's embarrassing despite all the shit we've been doing together', 'I can't tell her because I'm unworthy'... it just keeps going in circles, never stopping.
Hell, even when not faced with Nana but with other characters, he can't voice out a simple 'NO'. And there's the problem; in every day life, he's just a hesitant coward, which often sips over into their S&M sessions, and I'm left there wondering 'oi, is this guy really a Dom? I don't think so...'.
Despite all this, overall, I enjoyed my time with Nana to Kaoru quite a lot. Again, if all pointless drama filler was cut off, if side characters weren't all annoying to boot, and if main guy just wasn't who he was, this would have been a great manga. Alas, it is what it is. A box with a pretty wrap, but also pretty much empty inside.
Nana to Kaoru, oddly enough, is a look into proper, Real Life BDSM. It includes things you tend not to see, like the fact that it doesn't have to be about sex. Care and attention has been shown, not only for the idea of prep work, but the psychological aspects have been shown as well. There is no pain without wanting to go there, and limits are gradually pushed.
In short, this is a must read for anyone that has the wrong ideas about what BDSM is.
This is one of those manga that is so special, considering its genre, everyone is waiting an anime adaptation.
(EDIT: Anime is a disaster. Really. Do not watch it.)
Outstanding ecchi, no-nonsense flow of plot, and no otaku "desu" crap, make this an addictive read, with no over ratings whatsoever. My fellow MALers, I proudly present, somewhat underrated but exceptional, Nana to Kaoru.
If your imagination was tickled by the synopsis, then you're on the right trace. It is as interesting as it sounds, as original, and even offers more - unlike the very common "plot per chapter" thingy we encounter, this manga offers a lot
of continuity, rarely any real closure of a chapter, and brilliant plot twists and surprises. Once you start reading, you simply get so into it, you can not stop. Maybe you'll even pay a visit to Wiki to learn some more about S&M, which is very nicely presented here (I think.) - this manga could easily serve as a manual to anyone interested in S&M, or even get you interested.
What you will probably notice soon is that there is a lot of work put into details, but especially facial expressions - mostly because they actually mean something to the plot itself. But of course, the rest of the manga deserves it's rating as well - the surroundings, the clothes, the people - everything was made in details. What also caught my eye, is that every character design is different - there isn't that much of a similarity among the females, like in many other manga or anime, where they usually simply change the haircut and eye shape, and consider their job done.
Just like in any other story, the characters are making half of it. So what do you get with a girl who finds herself enjoying the perverted ways of a childhood friend? Chaos in her head, of course (and not to mention the chaos in his). The ways the relationships progress and the pasts are revealed is not too fast and it always reveals something interesting to nibble on. (hehehe. nibble.)
As for the supporting cast, they are not lacking personality either, nor are put in the corner - every once in a while, they get their 5 minutes of fame. Or shame, depending on the situation.
This manga is such that, once you start reading it, especially those who don't know the ways of S&M, or are looking for something refreshingly new, you can not stop - it is that interesting, not to mention funny and amusing. While I wouldn't be afraid to put the "psychological" tag on it, it doesn't really go that deep, so you can still enjoy it without much thought.
This immediately became one of my favorite manga, I finished 36 chapters in two days, and can not wait for further releases. To anyone who appreciates ecchi, or to those looking for something different, Nana to Kaoru is a right choice.
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