We’ve covered Volume 1 and Volume 2 and I hope those reviews were enough to encourage you to buy and read Volume 3. The early volumes introduce us to Shuuichi, a boy who wishes to become a girl and Shuu-chan’s classmates, friends, enemies (among whom I have to count his sister, the aspiring model) and Yoshino, a girl who wishes to become a boy.
In Volume 4, the story remains complex and emotional as always. By this point, Shimura-sensei’s characters are finely wrought, so the tension in each panel is palpable. Manga scholar Matt Thorn has gotten out of the way of his own translations, so the story flows as smoothly as a story as jangly as this can possibly flow.
The children are just beginning to enter puberty, and their bodies are not necessarily their friends. In this story we see the complexity of sex, gender, gender roles and sexuality laid out in the messy mishmash that it is. After reviewing Anything That Loves last week, I found myself paying attention – for the first time – to Anna, another aspiring model and peer of Shuuichi’s sister, Maho.
Anna is not presented to us as a nice person. She’s mean to Shuu-chan…but then her introduction to him was dismissive and unkind and Maho is selfish, not supportive of her brother and uninterested in him as a person. (The last, admittedly, pretty common among siblings.) Anna, taking her cue from this, has teased Shuu-chan in an immature way – but also in a way that clearly indicates to the audience that she is interested in him.
It’s hard enough as an adult to understand the mechanism for “showing interest in” another person. As a tween/teen, there is pretty much no socially acceptable mechanism for this at all. Any expression of interest of any kind is grounds for teasing. And here is Anna, interested in a boy who would prefer to not be a boy….she’s got to be asking some questions about herself in the middle of the night. Is her interest in Shuu-chan in the boy-girl he is or the person he might become? There are no answers for this at this point, and as we saw in Anything That Loves – there may never really be an answer. Anna is immature enough to take her confusion out on Shuu-chan…which puts us in a bad place as readers. We might be sympathetic to her if she was merely angry at Shuu-chan for not being what she wanted, or at herself for having confusing feelings, but in her (and Maho’s) hurtful words and actions we’re seeing something that is way too close to bullying and bashing for us to be sympathetic at all.
Next volume they start middle school with the addition of the rigid gender-identifier, the school uniform. What, for so many shoujo heroines is a looked-for right of passage, will be for Shuu-chan and Yoshino-kun, a political and social statement. This gender/sex/sexuality/ thing is really complicated. I’ve already got my fingers crossed tightly for them and I don’t even have Volume 5 yet.
Art – 7
Story – 9
Characters – 9
Yuri – ?
Overall – 9
The best, perhaps the only real way to describe Wandering Son, is that it is compelling story-telling.