Talentless Nana Volume 1 Review
Synopsis: An academy on an island in unnavigable waters. There, students trained tirelessly, to fight back against the enemies of humanity. The protagonist, a student newly transferred there, also sets out with the intention of eradicating all enemies of humankind. An unpredictable, intellectual suspense story of justice and evil.
Review (Warning: Spoilers to Follow):
Talentless Nana is trash……the kind of trash you WANT to dive into and bury yourself in. The kind that serves up all kinds of twists and reveals that leave your head spinning and your fingers turning the pages nonstop. It had me so engaged I ended up reading the entire series (or rather everything that’s out so far) within just a couple of days. If you’re like me and have enjoyed the campy yet delectable entertainment offered by titles like King’s Game, Real Account, etc, this review is for you.
Talentless Nana kicks things off in a disarming, mundane, even bland manner, introducing us to Nanao Nakajima and his underdog life as he is mocked by classmates for his lack of skills. Nanao lives on an Island of talented individuals, people endowed with super powers, yet Nanao’s skill pales in comparison to his peers. Some readers may dismiss Talentless Nana early on for its hum-drum beginnings, coming across as yet another tale of a high school aged underdog growing into heroism. But that’s where Talentless Nana’s secret genius starts to shine. How it sets up expectations and then throws its readers and its story into a tailspin that often ends up completely opposite of your preconceived notions. Without spoiling too much, Talentless Nana is actually about one character having to constantly outwit everyone else while also carrying out a deadly and complicated secret mission. This premise is ripe with potential, offering endless shock, suspense and twists as said character struggles to balance their sinister mission while maintaining an air of innocence by constantly misdirecting everyone. If that’s enough to entice you, stop reading this review and go read the manga instead as the twist is best experienced as blind as possible. If you still aren’t sold on it, keep reading.
Talentless Nana fools the audience by presenting what feels totally wholesome and typical. Yet another tale of some ‘loser’ protagonist who has all kinds of insecurities and doubts about himself, further hampered by bullying from his classmates. Along comes Nana Hiragi,a cute, new transfer student who is perky, chirpy and friendly, set to pull Nanao out of his gloomy life and turn him into the charming hero. That’s the story for the first 86 pages anyway. Heck, the manga might even deceive you further into believing that Nanao is the protagonist once it reveals that he is Talentless, aka does not display any super powers, the name given to the special mutant like supernatural powers all the kids in his class have. Though one can also argue that the volume cover art makes the actual protagonist super clear. But there’s no arguing that the laser focus on Nanao Nakajima works well in misdirecting the audience, setting up what feels like a predictable innocent high school romance and a hero’s journey from belittled, struggling loser to a righteous and dashing leader. In fact, it isn’t until the last 10 pages of the first chapter that the audience finally gets a taste of Talentless Nana’s darker, more edgy plot, that of seemingly innocent newcomer Nana and her web of lies, deceit and murder.
The shocking reveal of Nana’s true mission being to eliminate every single one of her supernaturally-abled classmates is not only a major, central twist but also seems like a monumentally impossible task when we also discover that she herself is actually just an ordinary human with not an ounce of supernatural ability. It ups the stakes and brings on a new level of risk and danger. Then when the story reveals that the other new transfer student, Kyouya Onodera is actually there because he has strong suspicions about the island and the school actually being a big cover up, that gives Nana an outright enemy she has to eliminate. Except then we get an even bigger twist about Kyouya Onodera himself that makes Nana’s task all that much more difficult and complicated, showcasing the series’ dedication to constantly escalate matters.
Every chapter of Talentless Nana ends on a cliffhanger. It takes some real creativity and zany writing to pull that off chapter after chapter. Having read far ahead, even when some elements may seem cliched or predictable, sometimes the author will then spring a new surprise or twist that re-contextualizes previous events, making everything feel fresh and new again. Having the cast of the story be teenagers with unique powers makes for fun characters as well as interesting plot twists and developments. Since the story holds back from outright revealing the powers of each and every character, and also makes it clear that each power has some form of penance/compensation that is also never outright revealed, the author and the story gets immense freedom and creativity to toy around while also keeping an air of mystery and suspense.
While I have been gushing with nothing but praise for the series, I cannot deny that there are downsides. The most obvious caveat is that you have to enjoy campy psychological thrillers. If you pick this up expecting an intelligent narrative, you’re going to be disappointed. That’s not to say that Talentless Nana doesn’t have impressive twists and turns but there’s just no denying that it has strong traces of campy and contrived plot elements. Also, trying to fit a twist ending for every chapter means sometimes these twists may feel weak or at least the build up to them might. If you are someone who is familiar with these kinds of twisted psychological tales or enjoys trying to guess the outcome, you might get bored once you start to correctly and regularly predict the outcome. And because this story is ultimately centered around Nana and keeping her murder spree under wraps, she is practically untouchable. No matter what the story throws at her or what kind of dire situation she finds herself in, her survival and success is basically guaranteed. Nana has the thickest of plot armour defending her from any real consequences and some readers will scoff at how sometimes she manages to get herself out of what seems like inescapable and condemning circumstances through contrived twists or other people’s sheer idiocy or ineptitude.
So, should you pick up Talentless Nana? If you’re always down for a twist filled thriller and embrace the cornier elements jam-packed in a cliffhanger ending every chapter, then dive into the series ASAP. The author does a superb job of capitalizing on the creative freedom that leaning into the more over the top side of storytelling allows you, while also avoiding going full camp. Despite having murder as a central element, it’s not extremely gorey or bloody, avoiding depicting some of the more brutal deaths up close. The author also does a decent job of sneaking in set up for certain reveals, making the reader feel that proper thought and planning has gone into the story rather than the author just wildly smashing in twists for the sheer sake of it. It may not charm anyone who prefers their thrillers to be more cerebral and ‘classy’ but if you wish to see just how many twists can be fit into one story, you may want to give Talentless Nana some of your time for a guaranteed wild and ridiculous ride.
Talentless Nana is available digitally via Crunchyroll.com.