Wandering Son Manga, Volume 4 (English)

July 30th, 2013

WanderingSon4We’ve covered a few volumes of Shimura Takako’s Wandering Son, published in English by Fantagraphics here on Okazu, but it hasn’t been featured regularly.

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.

Ratings:

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.

10 Responses

  1. Salion says:

    Hmm … is the title supposed to read ‘Volume 4′?

  2. Chris Driggers says:

    Thanks for this review. This manga (and Aoi Hana) were my introduction not only to manga, but to the LGBTQ community. I feel like reading this was the first step for me to start a process of understanding and self reflection that has already led me to some great places.

    This manga has helped me understand my LGBTQ friends better, and opened up friendships that I would never have experienced otherwise. For that reason, I will always have a special place in my life for Shimura-sensei’s work.

    • Excellent, Chris. All the stuff I’m reading recently makes me thinking more about perspectives and experiences that are not my own – and honestly that is exactly what I want from books like this and Anything That Loves. It’s good stuff. Thanks for reading! ^_^

  3. Grisznak says:

    Wandering Son was released in the USA? Damn, you’re lucky. I remeber watching this anime and it was great. Probably best japanese work, along with “Claudine”, that touches those matters.

  4. Rachael says:

    For a transgender woman who is also a lesbian or bisexual relationships can be extremely tricky and mentally challenging for both people involved especially at an early stage when there’s been no medical transition. This is of course true for straight trans women, but it adds an extra layer of confusion in a sapphic context.

    There have been at least a few cases of closeted lesbian cis-women ending up in relationships with closeted trans women, there’s actually a fairly nice yuri manga anthology that has a two part story on that subject the name escapes me at the moment. I’m pretty sure there have been no actual studies commissioned on this, but I’ve seen enough incidental occurrences that you have to at least consider it in the case of Anna, especially since Shuu-chan isn’t closeted even if she (I’m going to use identified pronouns, since that’s considered proper in the transgender community) isn’t closeted.

    However, I personally have been in at least one relationship where my partner was avowedly heterosexual and tried to fix me, and block my transition (my first relationship after coming out, but she knew who I was at the start) so this isn’t always the case.

    It’ll be really interesting to see how things go for Shuu-chan and Yoshino in volume 5. Thanks for your review.

    • Jamie says:

      Just curious if the manga you were thinking of is Kashimashi – Girl Meets Girl. As another lesbian transgender woman, I know it made me Happy to read, and the main character was /way/ too content with their Sudden Gender Change to have not likely been trans in her soul already. There was an anime made from it as well which was very sweet. :)

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