Hourou Musuko/ Wandering Son Anime (English)

June 22nd, 2011

Many of you have, over the last few years, written in to tell me about Shimura Takako’s series Hourou Musuko, Wandering Son, to ask me when I would review it, to remind me to add it to the News Reports.

As many of you have noticed, I have not reviewed it as of yet. The reason for this is relatively simple – while Hourou Musuko is undoubtedly a masterpiece, it’s not really Yuri.

But, it *is* a masterpiece and a masterpiece dealing with gender transitioning, which is something that manga and anime typically play for laughs at best, rather than handling it with any seriousness or sensitivity. So, I guess it’s time to review this series, already. ^_^

My problem now is – I don’t know what to really say about it, other than it is one of the very finest, most beautiful anime series I have ever watched.

Hourou Musuko is not the first time Shimura has dealt with gender in a story. Her Boku ha Onna no Ko was the first time I ever encountered her work. I was not overwhelmed by any of the stories in that collection – certainly nothing in it impressed me the way Aoi Hana did. But Hourou Musuko is something amazing, even compared to that.

Somewhere after Boku ha Onna no Ko ( the cover of which has a cameo as a poster in the Hourou Musuko anime,) Shimura reached deep into herself and found a real story – a touching story – a painful and beautiful story – about two young people grappling with the fact that they are born into the wrong bodies. Hourou Musuko is emotionally gripping in a way that very, very few anime ever can hope to be. Shu-chan, the mtf heroine and Yoshino, the ftm hero, are people I would gladly spend more time with.

Art, music, voice acting was all sublime. I can say nothing but “wow” about it.

In this short anime, there were two scenes that really stood out to me – the scene where Yoshino gives Shu-chan her name and said that she’d take his, which was so touching I honestly couldn’t speak for an hour afterwards. And the scene during the school festival, when the kids all go into another class’s horror house, just to be able to gain catharsis by screaming.

As for Yuri. Well, the anime begins with the 33rd chapter of the story, as Shu-chan begins middle school, so I believe we skipped one potential Yuri relationship. I will, when the manga touches upon it, mention it. In the anime, however, I’d like to talk about Yoshino and Saori. They don’t really have a relationship, but by the end of the anime, there is some very tentative movement in that direction, IMHO. Of course, as Yoshino is a boy, temporarily in a girl’s body, this would not be a lesbian relationship, even if it were to exist. As Saori had some feelings for Shin-chan, who also feels he has been given the wrong body, it seems to me that any relationship that developed between Saori and Yoshino could legitimately be labeled Queer. Shu-chan has a relationship with a girl that, as Niki points out in the comments, isn’t being perceived as lesbian yet, but is clearly another Queer relationship.

Because this series is a masterpiece, it did terribly in the TV ratings for that slot. This cannot really be a surprise, precisely because everything really is on a standard curve of deviation. That means that the good will be appreciated by less people than the average – and the stunningly excellent will only ever be appreciated by a few. Nonetheless, this anime was stunningly excellent and, as I contemplate reading the manga, for the first time, I find myself frightened by it a bit. It might just be too good. I have always managed my expectations of manga and anime, and don’t want to see my ability to find balance compromised. On the other hand, I don’t want to be disappointed, either. So, I find myself in the position of convincing myself to not expect too much, but also not to let Shimura’s fully blossomed genius ruin anything else for me.

By the time I finish the manga, I fear that all that will be left for me to read and enjoy will be Aoi Hana and GUNJO.

Anyway…if you haven’t watch the anime yet, do. It’s a masterpiece.

And then buy the manga, which is being put out by Fantagraphics. Don’t forget to buy an extra copy for your library – they *need* this book.

Ratings:

Art – 9
Story – 9
Characters – 9
Yuri – 0
Service – 0

Overall – 9

This, more than any series I have ever reviewed here is a LGBTQ masterwork. In the future that I want to  inhabit, it will be considered a classic.

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18 Responses

  1. Niki S says:

    Well, there is the fact that female-identifying Shu is in a relationship with another girl, who (eventually) is aware of and accepting of the fact that he’s not just *dressing* like a girl. I’m not sure if Shu would use the term lesbian at this point, but I’d say it’s more “Yuri” than male-identifying Yoshino/Saori, right?

    Not that the labels really matter in this series. Hourou Musuko is just beautiful and more… just… sincere than any series I’ve read/watched, I think. It’s incredible.

  2. Thanks for reminding me of that Niki – I added a comment in the review regarding your point.

  3. Dop says:

    Definitely a classic, and it makes me very sad that I’ll probably never be able to legally purchase an English-subtitled copy on DVD or Blu-Ray. I’d just love some company CEO out there to go “Hang it all, this is QUALITY! We need to show people that anime isn’t just robots, monsters, and schoolgirls flashing their knickers!”

    The series grabbed me right in episode one, in the ‘clair de lune’ sequence. Shu runs out of the house after a tussle with his sister, and as he runs through the night in a slip and a skirt he meets Yoshino on the bridge.
    She’s carrying a boy’s school uniform, and makes to hand it out to him, then pulls her hand back, saying “No, that’s not what you need” and gives him her coat instead, and puts a clover in his hair.

    With the music playing and the sakura petals falling, it’s just an achingly beautiful sequence that I was just transfixed by it.

    I’d still love to see some company take the chance. Market it at the LGBTQ community, market it as ‘anime for grown-ups’, let me give them my money, dammit!

    I’ve had the manga on order, and am so looking forward to its arrival.

    Masterpiece is right.

  4. oneplusme says:

    Hourou Musuko was undoubtedly one of the best shows we’ve had for many, many years (and IMO one of the tiny subset of things which probably could deserve a 10/10 rating) – better even than Aoi Hana.

    For my money it was the way it consistently managed to turn tiny details into achingly emotional gut-punches. The way Yoshino sits on the far side of the seat from his shopping bag when he’s forced to go out and buy a bra; or the when another girl compliments his figure at the pool, instantly twisting a scene that would’ve been fanservice anywhere else. Nitori’s happy dream of going to school as a girl was just heartbreaking in every way.

    As ever, Shimura deserves huge praise for being one of the very few writers to actually put happy adult characters into her stories. Seeing Yuki living happily with her boyfriend (in spite of her childhood traumas) was wonderfully uplifting (the same role as played by Orie and Hinako in Aoi Hana).

  5. Cryssoberyl says:

    Thanks for the review, and course I agree completely. Like the few other shows that approach this topic with earnest consideration, Hourou Musuko resonated greatly with me, and I could’ve gladly gone on watching it forever.

  6. Pam says:

    Great and long awaited review!
    I’m glad you discovered something you like.
    The anime was indeed amazing. When I watched it I thought “OMG! they did better than Aoi Hana!” then rewatched Aoi Hana and told myself that both were amazing.
    It’s really a pity that both these series didn’t reach a sufficient audience as they really are the material that can help society evolve for the better (I’m being optimistic).

    At the other end of the spectrum, Seikon no Qwaser got a sequel and definitely has Yuri in it ;)

  7. C. Banana says:

    I don’t know. The slow pace of Aoi Hana almost killed the series for me. How does Hourou Musuko compare?

  8. Miijhal says:

    It was really nice to see a series that treated transgendered issues seriously and respectfully rather than as a joke or as something that’s weird/disgusting. The series just hit so many notes with me, and I admittedly cried more than a few times because of how right it gets the feeling of being transgendered. It’s really an incredible work, and it was actually what made me a Takako Shimura fan in the first place.

    As for the Fantagraphics release of the manga, I’m definitely seconding the recommendation. Fantagraphics did a great job with it, and it’s worth the price.

    On the topic of Yuri, there’s also Sarashina Chizuru, who, while not in a relationship at that point, is pretty open about the fact that she likes girls.

  9. @C.Banana – It’s a similar feel – a look at a pretty realistic life, so there are no “action” scenes to keep it fast paced. Life moves rather slowly when you’re 13. :-)

  10. George R. says:

    You timed this review perfectly by accident. The first 2 DVDs of this arrived for me today from Japan. I agree with you that this is a masterwork. My relative liking of the anime and manga pretty well tracks Aoi Hana, but that could well be different for you. They’re all good, and this anime is stunningly so. One thing I miss in the manga is the beautiful soundtrack, but now it plays in my head. Thankfully that’s included with the Japanese DVDs.

    One of the things that touched me deeply in episode one was was Shuu running around town, dressed as a girl, enjoying herself and her life. The beauty of the neighborhood, the piano accompaniment, and Shuu’s simple joy at it all told me, “This is true; this is right; this is good.” Shuu’s pain when she is criticized for dressing as …for being a girl just strengthens that message. And the same applies to Yoshino.

    I find Hourou Musuko not only emotionally gripping as you say, but also emotionally true and sincere in a way only found in masterworks. Like you, I would gladly spend more time with Shuu and Yoshino, And the ED song are words I would wish to tell them: “I want to cry for you… I want to smile for you… I want to dream for you…”

    As I told friends when recommending Hourou Musuko: “Watch this one for the subtle touches and the things said without words, for they speak deep truth. And listen. Listen, not just with your ears, but with your heart.”

    And thank you for reminding me of the Fantagraphics release. They deserve our support for being willing to publish a work that is this good, and thus may have a tiny audience. I hope it does well for them. By rights, it should.

  11. Bruce P says:

    It took less than one episode for this to turn from a potentially interesting curiosity to one of my favorite all-time series. The beauty is overwhelming; the attention to detail is staggering. It’s wonderful how calmly and naturally the theme is all handled. It’s quite apparent that the folks who made it loved the series. I do too. Thank you for reviewing it!

  12. Anonymous says:

    So the manga’s already out in America?

    I’m slightly worried at this point – Amazon.co.uk keeps pushing back the release date. I’m pretty sure it was December 2010 at some point. Now it’s slated for 30 June and the second one for Aug 25. If they push it back any further the second book will come out before the first!

  13. Thanks everyone for the positive comments. You’ve proved once again that Okazu readers are definitely a cut above. ^_^

    @Bruce P – I’m with you 100% on that.

  14. Skull says:

    I really enjoyed your review ^__^, Hourou Musuko is an anime I’ve really enjoyed watching and now I’m reading the manga to find out that it is quite diferent from the anime. I mean the manga shows more things and in both Shuuichi and Yoshino’s stories so I’m finding it very interesting.

    Appart from this, I think Hourou Musuko is really able to show people how a transsexual lives his or her situation, showing actions that for many people would be normal, for them is very hard to do. Also there is this feeling about I have to hide my situation from people but in the other hand I want people to know who I’m and how do I feel.

    So, really I find Hourou Musuko a very interesting manga/anime which can teach everyone about this people feelings ^__^

  15. Catherine says:

    I disagree with “Yuri – 0”. What about Momo literally wrapping herself around Chi-chan’s arm wherever they go, the very incarnation of possessiveness and jealousy? I don’t think you need very thick Yuri goggles to see something there.

    Also – OK, this is subtle, but Yoshino’s longing for Shu seems Yuri. She often presses Shu to dress as a girl; the one time she gets physical with Shu (nuzzling her head) is after dressing Shu as a girl. In the near-final scene, when she says Shu is just a boy after all, she seems deeply disappointed (well, OK, she’s always disappointed) and maybe to have lost interest.

    But anyway, thanks for nudging me to see it – it really was wonderfully done. Why do good series have to end?

  16. Anonymous says:

    “Also – OK, this is subtle, but Yoshino’s longing for Shu seems Yuri.”

    ?

    Isn’t Yoshino really a guy?

    I haven’t read the book yet, but “Shu-chan, the mtf heroine and Yoshino, the ftm hero” sure makes it seem like Yoshino’s longing for Shu is heterosexual.

  17. Anonymous says:

    What a coincidence.. Just dropped by to see if you had any reviews on Dounika Naru Hibi/ Happy go Lucky Days and -wham- one more thing on this list.. Thanks again

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