TV Taught Me Who to Be
November 12, 2021 / Sonali Menon
The line between reality and fiction is thin, but where the two begin to converge is when your mind starts to race and identity comes into question. This question unexpectedly hit me after I saw myself in the anime “Nana,” and it made me ask, “does life imitate art, or vice versa?”
My best friend and I are like black and pink, respectively. Kou has an enigmatic edge to her. No one can deny her assertiveness and headstrong ability to keep her priorities in check. I am her contra. My heart is basically tattooed onto my sleeve: incredibly legible and lacking mystique. I am also the antithesis of assertion, to the point where it has become an unspoken rule that Kou orders for me in every coffee shop line. But, at the same time, Kou is made of a delicate web of complex and ever-changing emotions – this is why we’re friends.
Kou is the type of person to tilt their head back and let the happiness pour out of them each time they laugh, and I am the type to keep my eyes fixed to the ground with a hand covering my mouth each time I laugh. Whether it be a bad or good day, we are always able to make each other laugh. We navigate this world through different lenses, but together our eyes see the full spectrum of color.
When we went our separate ways for college, we kept our friendship alive by watching TV shows through Zoom. One day in March, my TikTok and Twitter feeds were flooded with people talking about the anime “Nana.” Memories flooded back to me of my time as a child watching the show for the first time after first discovering anime. I had a faint memory that the story followed two young women with the same titular name. The two were aesthetic opposites, but met on a train to Tokyo and soon became close. I had passively mentioned the show to Kou one night on a call, and we decided we would eventually watch it together.
The first night we watched “Nana” together was one of the strangest experiences either of us have ever had. It took us four hours to get through seven episodes, counting the multiple times we needed to pause and scream over how eerily similar the anime's characters were to us. Each scene we paused was immediately accompanied by one of us saying, "that's you," to the other. Every plot point in those first few episodes felt as if they’d been pulled directly from our lives, almost tauntingly.
The most notable similarity for me was when I realized that I was exactly like the character Nana Komatsu: a hyper-feminine, dependent, and hopeless romantic art graduate – and Kou mirrored the character Nana Osaki: an independent, loyal, and strong-willed musician – to a scary degree. They were literally pink and black, down to their hair colors. The friendship between the two Nana’s was so similar to Kou and I’s that it made me wonder, “Did I subconsciously base my entire personality on this show when I was younger? Did I just craft a persona and casually forget about it?”
Oscar Wilde famously said, “life imitates art more than art imitates life.” After watching Nana, I suddenly felt as if I had grown self-aware in a thought experiment. The media we consume certainly does impact our perception of certain situations, but this simple explanation didn’t feel like an answer to my question. It could not have been purely coincidental that some of my life experiences played out exactly like plot arcs in the show. The personality similarities between me and Komatsu could be chalked up to imitation as a child that later cemented itself in my personality.
One explanation rests in the fact that I have always been a media buff. When I was in the third grade, my friend’s mother said that I watched too much TV. While I was offended back then, in hindsight she was right. Making friends has never been a skill of mine. I have always been introverted and anxious, something I obviously wasn’t comfortable speaking up about as a child. So, after lonely days at school, I’d come back home and plop myself on the couch with an iPod in hand to be comforted by stories of friendship and adventure on blurry, illegally downloaded movies and TV shows on Youtube. The characters in TV shows became my version of imaginary friends, and I would daydream about my life being filled with the tropes I saw on screen, praying that these dreams would one day manifest into real life. And eventually, they did. when I first met Kou.
It had seemed as if all the pennies I had thrown into fountains as a kid paid off. I was able to live out a true friendship, and I hadn’t realized it back then but it was a friendship I had idealized in my head as a result of TV shows. I never knew fluidity before knowing Kou. She structures her life around key principles like her career hopes and life dreams. Yet, these structures in her life allow her to be a free spirit and a dreamer. Every moment with her felt like a dream as we talked about how we wanted to trot the globe together after she graduates med school because she was “most definitely gonna be loaded with cash.” afterward as she always loved to remind me. We would share our dreams of living our lives like Lana Del Rey songs and bringing out our favorite movies to life. Every plan made was made together. Kou is truly my person.
The question of, “does life imitate art or does art imitate life,” exists in the same vein as, “Which came first: the chicken or the egg?” It’s theoretical, so there is no concrete answer. After weeks of thinking, I’ve finally arrived at an answer. I had spent years immersing myself in stories for one reason: comfort. Art can imitate life at times, but I think in this case life was imitating art. Wilde had said it best himself that when we see things ``what we see, and how we see it, depends on the arts that have influenced us.” Therefore, art changes our perception of things based on what we want to see. So, when we find beauty in nature it's because we already had a positive emotional reaction to a similar medium of art. My love for the show Nana as a child made me gravitate towards Kou because she subconsciously reminded me of it. And, my love for the show was only strengthened by the fact that all it did was remind me of Kou. ■
by: Sonali Menon
graphics by: Zayana Uddin