Welcome back, I hope you enjoyed yesterday’s blackout. As you may have guessed from my many years of writing about it here, freedom of expression is pretty much the one issue I consider to be the single *most* important issue there is. Obviously, as I discuss copyrighted materials here, and post covers and the like, it’s critical to me that no one decides that my blog or any of its content must be blocked. Framing SOPA and PIPA as saving American jobs is especially nasty, as it is those very same corporations that supported these bills who have systematically undervalued, underpaid and outsourced the creative efforts of the people who make the material they lay claim to. Of course I support creators’ rights and their copyright, but SOPA and PIPA have no stronger provisions for creators.
As with LGBTQ content and purges to supposedly “save the children,” I feel as if we must be extra vigilant with any designs to block Internet access. Thus, the blackout. Thank you for bearing with me.
In any case, today we come back with a bang! A brand new Guest Reviewer, Kayden L, is joining our ranks. When I reviewed Wandering Son, Volume 1, Kayden made some great points in the comments about the spectrum of transgender and genderqueer life, and so I requested Kayden review Volume 2. And here we are. ^_^ Please welcome Kayden and enjoy this guest review!
Ahoy, everyone. My name is Kayden and I identify as a trans/genderqueer individual, and here’s my review of Wandering Son…
Time seems to be moving quickly in Volume 2 of Wandering Son. Already, Shuichi is heading into the 6th grade, but as the characters soon learn, age comes with increased social and gender pressures.
When Yamazaki-sensei tells the class to write an essay on what their dreams are, we find that Shuichi experiences “censor’s block” (rather than writer’s block). After struggling with the assignment for several nights, Shuichi submits a paper that says, “I don’t know yet. I’m sorry”. As readers, we know that Shuichi has a dream – “to be a beautiful woman” – but the portrayal of Shu’s self-policing is one of many examples of Shimura-sensei’s excellent storytelling skill. Through Shuichi, readers are able to get a glimpse of the closet in which many LGBTQI people hide. Seemingly irrelevant day-to-day decisions, such as the simple task of writing about one’s hopes and dreams for the future, become difficult for many closeted individuals who feel like they may be ostracized, ridiculed, or harassed for having personal wants, needs, preferences, and/or goals that deviate from social norms.
Luckily, Shuichi is able to find full acceptance with Takatsuki-kun (Yoshino) and Chiba-san (Saori), and it is within this the tiny community of friends that Shuichi develops a positive outlook on identity. That community is slightly expanded when Shuichi and Yoshino, dressed as a girl and a boy respectively, go out on one of their excursions and befriend Yuki (the woman who flirted with Yoshino in Volume 1). Initially, Yuki believes that Shuichi is a girl and that Yoshino is a boy, but she eventually learns the truth and becomes a sort of mentor, along with her boyfriend, Shii, to both kids by offering emotional support; adult approval of who they are; and a safe physical space in her apartment, where they can be themselves. Perhaps most importantly, Yuki tells the kids to have pride in their own selves: “You must never become discouraged or afraid… you two are just too good for that”. When a classmate harasses and calls Shuichi a faggot during a school trip, it is Yuki’s words that inspire Shuichi to find the strength to stand up against the bully.
Shimura Takako’s Wandering Son is a beautifully drawn and skillfully executed story about being different and how people struggle with being alone. It is an excellent springboard for LGBTQI discussion, and I believe that its universal themes (eg. finding your identity, being bullied, growing apart from friends) can appeal to everyone, rather than just LGBTQI audience.
Naturally, the story does not reflect all trans/queer experiences, but when I read this series, I get nostalgic because I see my younger self in Yoshino and Shuichi; I remember doing, feeling, and thinking the exact same things. I take my hat off to Shimura-sensei for capturing a trans/queer experience that feels genuine and honest.
For any of you who are interesting in reading Volume 2, I tried not to reveal too many things… so if you want to know Yuki’s secret, or find out how a family member reacts when Shuichi’s secret is discovered, you should give Wandering Son a try. Also, there’s an essay, written by manga scholar Matt Thorn, at the end of the book that’s titled “Transgendered in Japan” that may be of interest to some of you.
Service: 1 for Yuki’s “cradle robbing”… and for what her boyfriend did in the elevator
Overall – 8
Thank you Kayden for another perspective on what I agree is a stellar series!