Wandering Son Manga, Volume 1 (English)

July 17th, 2011

Wandering Son, Volume 1 is my vote for manga most likely to cause a quiet revolution without becoming a best seller.

As you know, if you pay attention to any manga news at all, Wandering Son  by Shimura Takako, is the story of two young people as they realize and deal with the fact that their gender does not match their bodies. In Volume One, we are introduced to the cast, and to the general situation in which Shuuichi and his classmate Yoshino start to deal with puberty and the disconnect they feel about their selves and the bodies in which those selves reside.

This past week I was pleased to be part of a discussion of this book at the Manga Out Loud podcast. I hope you’ll listen to it, as we discuss both the book and the anime in some detail.

The story itself is gentle…as I say in the podcast, almost tentative. This territory is difficult for many people to accept and the manga audience is not, for all that it enjoys stories of gender switching as comedy, as socially liberal as many might think. Shimura takes her time…and ours…to introduce the idea that a body may not be the right one to be in.

As a result, Volume 1 might feel a bit timid to those readers who are more used to Aoi Hana. Having just come off reading Volume 6 of Aoi Hana, I found myself a little surprised at the tentativeness of these first chapters…and then suddenly I realized that this manga is nearly ten years old. The strength Fumi shows was not born overnight and Shuuichi and Yoshino are younger than she is. After talking with the folks on the podcast, I realized what a profound revelation this series will be to people for whom this is an entirely alien discussion. And I’m utterly blown away by how deft and masterful Shimura has become in the last decade.

In conclusion, I’m going to cheat and quote Ed Sizemore from Twitter, when he said, “Wandering Son doesn’t just open up doors of perception for me, but makes me want to learn more about the real life experience of transgender people. To see world through their eyes so I can relate to them better.”

There will be no Wandering Son cosplayers, you won’t find Wandering Son figurines or headbands at conventions. But in these pages, Shimura can bring the thoughts and experiences of the transgender community to people who have never before thought about life from Shuuichi’s or Yoshino’s perspective. That is the revolution contained in the pages of Wandering Son.


Art – 7
Story – 8
Characters – 9
Yuri – 0

Overall – 8

I hope you will all consider buying a copy of the manga for your library (or request that it buy a copy, if it still has the budget to do so.) Let’s change the world, one manga at a time – starting with this one. I’ve already got a copy for my Libary. ^_^

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16 Responses

  1. Justin says:

    I’ve been looking forward to reading it since I heard it was coming out here. Now I just have to find a bookstore…and get paid :D

  2. Hafl says:

    There will be no Wandering son cosplayers…

    That almost seems like a challenge to me. I fancy I’d make a decent Mako-chan.

  3. Zefiris says:

    There will be no Wandering Son cosplayers

    I already saw two, actually, at a german con!

    Transgender folk like to cosplay as well, after all. (not making assumptions that they were, I talked to them for a bit. The characters were picked precisely due to the transgender part)

    I think this manga could really help making some people think. It’s quite well done indeed, and the anime is getting good reviews over here for a reason.

    If it were available in german, I’d make a local school library get it for sure (I have the power to make them pick specific books due to connections, after all ^_^)

  4. Kayden says:

    I thought that “Wandering Son” portrayed the thoughts/fears of transgender kids quite well (I identify as genderqueer/trans and I remember thinking/doing similar things when I was growing up).

    I’m really looking forward to volume two ^_^

  5. Ellen says:

    If there aren’t any cosplayers, it’ll be because that subset of cosplay is known as crossplay. The age of the characters is more likely to discourage players — every cosplayer shudders when they see a pic of Sailor Bubba.

  6. @Hafl – I’m glad to hear it. I was being a tad flippant when I said that. I should have remembered that in fandom there are never, ever any absolutes. ^_^

    @Ellen – There’s no sensible reason to consider crossplay as something separate from cosplay. It’s just a subset. In Japan, they have even even further subsets of crossplay, like older men who like to dress up as school girls.

  7. @Kayden – If you are interested, I’d really like your opinion on Volume 2. I’m hoping to get someone from the Trans community to weigh in with an opinion. Send me an email if you’re interested in writing something up.

  8. Travis says:

    Another trans Hourou Musuko fan here (and Shimura Takako fan in general). I’ve read up through the most recent chapters and have yet to be disappointed with it.

    This is definitely the best manga about trans people that I’ve read (not that it’s a huge genre). Unlike the others, it doesn’t ever feel like the author is just repeating what they read on Wikipedia about trans people, and while it does stick pretty much to The Trans Narrative and I really wish it were more queer (though I hold out hope that either Takatsuki-kun or Nitorin will be allowed to be something other than straight, since of the four trans characters, it’s already well established that Mako-chan and Yuki-san are straight), it is still totally my happy place, and I get excited when each new chapter comes out.

  9. treeofjessie says:

    so. i like hourou musuko. i love pretty & delicate stories like that. but i find it to be REALLY trans*phobic at times.

    i am sick to DEATH of all this “born in the wrong body” rhetoric. nobody is born in the WRONG body, you are born in YOUR body. dysphoria doesn’t make your body someone else’s. this kind of talk completely erases trans* people who like their bodies and do not wish to undergo reassignment surgeries or take drugs or WHATEVER. these are choices that a LOT of trans* people make (both binary confirming trans* folk and those who are binary non-confirming – read up on adult model buck angel for a good start on educating yourself here), and all this “wrong body” talk invalidates those choices. it’s awful. and it oversimplifies the trans* experience in ways that i am extremely uncomfortable with.

    there is no such thing as a WRONG body. whose body is incorrect? your body is YOU.

    this sort of talk (and a LOT of the writing in HM) is not only gender binary enforcing in some really disingenous ways, but it also serves as an erasure of those who identify as genderqueer, two-spirit, androgyne, or otherwise outside of the gender binary.

    it’s time to stop catering to the comfort levels of cis folk; they can turn their google fu on. they have their own responsibility to educate themselves. coddling them with dumbed-down misinformation isn’t helping their understanding, and it’s insulting and HARMING the trans* community in ways that make it completely unworthwhile. misinformation helps no one, and can (and often does) lead to further destructive behaviour.

  10. I’m genuinely fascinated by the polarity I see here.

    I find it hard to understand treeofjessie’s comments that this story is transphobic, since it clearly isn’t “phobic” about anything…but it may not reflect your experience or understanding. Your comment highlights the fact that even something that 80% of readers think is beautiful will not resonate with 100% of reader.

    I remember doing a review of a series in which crossdressing was used as a comedic plot complication. I did not like the manga, and was accused of being trans-phobic as a result, despite trying my best to separate out the trans issues from the rest of what I saw as a really not terribly good manga.

    There is no perfect. But, as far as imperfect goes, I know that the trans folks I know have said similar things to the feeling expressed in this book. As the trans folks I know are not trans-phobic, I’m inclined to lean to the side of “this series gets it right.”

  11. Kayden says:

    @Erica – I’m not a very good writer of reviews ^_^;; but if you’re ok with that, I’d be willing to send you something when volume two comes out.

    As for whether the book is transphobic… well, that’s really up to the reader’s interpretation.

    I kind of understand what treeofjessie is saying. Not all trans people want to be/identify as one sex/gender, but most of the time, society regards “trans” as merely “feeling like you were born in the wrong body”. Such a perspective is simplistic (and insulting to some) because it ignores/overwrites the experiences/voices of genderqueer/trans people who live outside the sex/gender binary (eg. intersex persons, people who believe in a sex/gender spectrum rather than a binary, those who believe that sex/gender cannot be pinpointed at all, those who live as a third sex, those who see themselves as genderless, etc.)

    In that sense, one may interpret “Wandering Son” to be “transphobic”, because it repeats the same, old story about being “born in the wrong body”.

    I suppose it’s kind of like when a cis-woman comes out as a lesbian and people automatically assume that she’s either “femme” or “butch” (and that she’ll date according to her “role”). Not every lesbian uses the femme/butch label and some find the terms limiting/offensive because they follow a heteronormative perspective. After all, couldn’t two femmes pair up? Or two butches? What if you don’t feel like a butch or a femme? What if you feel like neither? Or both? What if you just wanted to be known as yourself and no one else?

    In that sense, the use of the terms “butch/femme” may be regarded as limiting/offensive/homophobic because it reproduces heteronormative perspectives.

    However, some lesbians take comfort in using the terms “butch” and “femme”. Maybe those are the only queer terms/roles that they know. Or maybe they want to acknowledge the (North American/Eurocentric) history/histories of lesbian women, and as a tribute, they continue to use “butch/femme” to honour the efforts of queer people of the past.

    Which side(s) are right? Which side is more politically correct/less oppressive? It’s really hard to say. After all, everyone’s entitled to an opinion, and no label/interpretation/depiction is ever perfect.

    Personally, I like “Wandering Son”. I think that it presents the curiosity/fear/nervousness of trans/questioning kids quite well. (In comparison to my own life experiences, the story feels very realistic).

  12. Miijhal says:

    “There will be no Wandering son cosplayers…”

    Heh, I’d actually like to do a Sarashina Chizuru cosplay at some point. T’would be fun.

    “I remember doing a review of a series in which crossdressing was used as a comedic plot complication. I did not like the manga, and was accused of being trans-phobic as a result, despite trying my best to separate out the trans issues from the rest of what I saw as a really not terribly good manga.”

    That kind of amuses me. For the most part, I find the whole, ‘LOL THEY’RE DRESSING LIKE WOMEN ISN’T THAT CRAZY’ thing to be transphobic. Frankly, most manga I’ve read with transgendered characters both portray the issues in the most offensive ways possible and tend to be overall mediocre, even awful, series.

    Which is probably why Wandering Son is such a special series to me. It goes beyond just portraying them positively, and makes them the focus of the stories, bringing out the complexities of the issue and accurately portraying the awkward, frustrating feeling that things aren’t as they should be. I can think of three or so other manga that portray transgendered issues even close to as well as Wandering Son, and none of them are quite as heartwrenching and touching as it is.

  13. @Kayden @treeofjessie I think what I’m trying to say here is that this series is quite specifically about one kind of trans experience; these two kids who *do* feel that they ought to be the other gender. It is *not* about two genderqueer kids, or any other experience regarding the continuum of gender identity. It’s impossible for any one thing to be everything, so by rejecting what is a rather lovely book about one thing, for not also being something else is, in my opinion, a bit delusional. I don’t see that this book can honestly be considered trans*phobic* just because it is not inclusive of ALL versions of trans identity.

    Aoi Hana was hardly a reflection of every lesbian’s life or desires, but there’s no grounds to call it homophobic because it was one person’s story and not another’s.

    @Kayden – Yes, please, if you would write something up for me when V2 comes out, I would appreciate it very much!

  14. Anonymous says:

    I agree totally with your statement about it causing a quiet revolution.

    I am not proud of it, but many years ago before I started reading Hourou Musuko, I admittedly was not very understanding of transgender issues or people simply because I just couldn’t understand how they couldn’t be satisfied with their own bodies. But after the urging of a friend to read it, I did, and I never looked back.

    Is it weird to say that a manga has caused a person to change their minds about something? I thin Shimura is a genius. I think it’s because we got to love Shu and Takatsuki as people that we can come to care for their problems that we’re open to understanding and realising what a heart-breaking situation it is to be in a body that is not “yours”.

    I’ve subsequently since have been supporting LGBT issues amongst my peers and in university, and I like to think that this manga was my gateway for doing so, especially for the T in LGBT.

  15. Armand says:

    Wandering Son is special to me as well. I’m a gay trans guy and I see a lot of myself in Takatsuki.

    Though I’m not entirely sure about the “non-binary erasure” thing myself. Japan is a country where gender dysphoria is seen as a medical condition and not an identity like it is in the US. Plus I think it’s really ironic that people complain about transphobia in a series BASED ON TRANS CHARACTERS. I’ve seen a million times when one or more characters is not white/male/cis/straight that someone somewhere is going to complain about their being “problematic”- whereas the white, straight, cis, male characters can do basically anything and get away with it because they’re the default for “human being”.

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