LGBTQ Manga: Wandering Son, Volume 5 (English)

June 27th, 2014

wson5One of the most maddening things about human relationships is our frequent inability to escape from previously established patterns of interaction with people. We return home to visit parents to find them – and ourselves – slipping into well-worn and often dysfunctional habits of communication and behavior.

As Nitori Shuichi begins 7th grade in Wandering Son, Volume 5 (Amazon | RightStuf), I couldn’t but help feel as if I was reading a return to old habits and relationships. Chiba’s still angry, Mako’s still perceptive in an awkwardly adult way, Sasa’s still energetic and Nitori and Takatsuki are still fighting battles on multiple fronts. A few relationships have changed, but many have not and the tensions they create fill the book with chapters that look eerily like the shadows of earlier chapters. But, even as I say that, I realize I’m being ungenerous. Everyone – especially Nitori and Takatsuki – have indeed changed.

Which is why I almost found it frustrating that the plot complication of the gender-switch play was introduced…again. Yes, it works for this class and yes it allows the characters to work some stuff out, but don’t you wonder if the rest of the kids in the class thought, “Really? Again?!”

And the super awkward obsession of the teacher is, well, just straight up freaky. Now I’m wondering if any of my teachers looked at me and thought of some past person they knew instead. (-_-);

The issue of the gendered uniforms is subsumed in Chizuru’s wearing of the boy’s uniform because she feels like it, while Takatsuki, who desperately desire to do so, does not. And Nitori is almost reflexively denying the desire to wear girl’s clothes, but Mako rightfully points out that they may not be able to get away with it for much longer. Puberty creeps ever closer.

In all sincerity, I am reviewing this volume for the last scene in which Chiba, in an unusually lucid moment, asks Nitori if he likes Takatsuki as a boy who likes a girl, or as the girl he wants to be liking Takatsuki as a girl. I’d also add the possibility that Nitori as a girl could like Takastuki as a boy. Not surprisingly, Nitori cannot answer that question. It’s a tough one and the answer to it is the primary reason I’ll read the next volumes.

Ratings:

Art – 8
Story – 9
Characters – 9
LGBTQ – 8

Overall – 9

I find this series deeply uncomfortable reading, but I keep coming back. I want to see how this plays out.

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7 Responses

  1. invalidname says:

    It sounds like this is getting to the material covered by the Wandering Son anime series? Finally?

  2. Kushieda says:

    I watched the anime and liked it quite a lot. It covered many issues I never thought about as a straight male. From the gender identity, to the bullying, to the emotional complications that went into Nitori’s cross dressing.

    I haven’t picked up the English manga mainly due to the steep price tag (at least on the first 2 volumes, I haven’t looked at prices on them since).

    If it’s not too personal to ask, how does the manga make you feel uncomfortable?

    Also, would you recommend the manga to those who have watched the anime? From your review, it sounds like the themes keep getting replayed in the manga with some character growth, but otherwise it’s slow development.

    • That’s a good question, actually. The manga goes into more detail than the anime and continues on after it, so it’s worth reading. The volumes are hardcover and very nicely put together, so not inexpensive. but they make a nice looking set.

      I have several reasons for finding it uncomfortable, but the primary one is that the world is not a tidy place and watching Nitori and Takatsuki dealing with their issues in public means they occasionally are shown being treated poorly, or being unhappy and we are required, as the audience, to watch. I should clarify, it makes me uncomfortable for the characters more than for myself.

  3. microbry says:

    Actually the anime series starts off in media res later in the manga, at the point they first enter junior high school. So I believe this volume corresponds to the start of the anime. This was a bit confusing for non-manga readers as the show gives no context as to who the characters are and what their prior relationships were, being straight from the manga. If you haven’t read the manga, you have to pick up on the clues from the dialog over the course of the series.

    There’s a whole mess of scenes that won’t make complete sense in the first episode if you don’t know who’s who yet. It was a strange decision and I wonder if that’s partly why the show had such low ratings, sadly. The difficulty curve for entry was above average.

    I really admire the manga for starting when it did…some folks say the characters are too young, but it resonates for me and my personal experiences.

    • Thanks for clarifying. The show had low ratings for many reasons, the number one most important one is that the anime-watching audience in Japan is creepy adult males who give excellent rating to upskirts and big tits and aren’t looking for nuanced takes on gender and sex. It’s a depressing fact, but it’s the fact.

  4. microbry says:

    Very true, although I’ve also somewhat cynically suspected some negative backlash to the whole Noitamina block that particular season due to some ill-chosen, bragging comments made by the director of the other series in the block (“Fractale”), essentially all but daring fans to NOT watch the show, literally betting his job (for the immediate future)on its success.

    I think Wandering Son may have suffered from some fallout from that as well, as the season of Noitamina got its lowest ratings ever. If fans were avoiding watching Fractale as a knee-jerk reaction to Yamakan’s theatrics, than why would they bother to watch the other show it was paired with?

    That said, I’ve read (recently and somewhat to my surprise) that Noitamina is generally marketed more as an “alternative animation programming block” supposedly skewed more toward female viewership (although it seems like largely a mix of seinen and jousei material to my eyes). This might have been another “turn off” for normal viewers of the block as Fractale, the starting show, looked more like typical otaku fare (trying a little too hard to look like Ghibli or Nadia, perhaps, but still). But this isn’t the only time Noitamina has veered that direction (albeit maybe one of the first instances).

    In any case, I do think the material in Wandering Son itself, either way, was just too subtle and challenging for average viewers. I do kind of wish the anime started from the beginning, but if they knew they were likely to only get a single season made, I’m glad they chose a specific cross section to focus on, and did it so well.

    Back on topic, I’m really glad Fantagraphics is publishing it in hardcover the way they are, as this is good material for any library.

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