Review: Hourou Musuko/Wandering Son [Mark II]

So about two years ago, I wrote a review on Wandering Son when it ended. Recently I went back and read it, and I wasn’t satisfied with it. I rewrote it in my current style, and am much happier with it. At first I wasn’t sure if I was going to post it, but I’ve decided that I don’t care enough to hide it, so here you go.

Wandering Son is one of those rare shows where anime decides to tackle a complicated subject in a mature way. It’s always interesting when most of the shows out are about action or drama or romance, then suddenly a show comes along that says, “Alright, now let’s discuss TRANSSEXUALISM.” Now, before starting, I have to address some things in regards to society and such; if you’ve already watched the show, you probably already know these things. Even if you haven’t seen it, you might still know this stuff. But I’m going to say it all anyway.

First off, transsexual does not literally mean “people who’ve had a sex change”, nor does it imply people who are gay and just get sex changes so they can hook up with other people of the sex that they used to be. No, it just identifies people that aren’t really comfortable as whatever sex they were born as, it has nothing to do with attraction. This can either be a biological thing, or it can be in regards to gender, and not agreeing with the roles males and females are assigned in society. However, now that sex change operations are possible, we automatically associate the word with people who’ve had the operation. The more common terminology that’s used now is “gender identity disorder”. In fact, there’s even a subcategory called “gender identity disorder in children”. It’s when kids get discomfort because they feel that their bodies are “wrong” or meant to be different.

Might this convenient terminology and description have anything to do with Wandering Son? I’ll give you a hint: YES.

You see, the reason kids get their own category is because they can get the roughest cases. When you’re growing up is when you get bombarded the most by family, friends, society, and mass media about what each gender should act, look, and even think like. If you grow up feeling differently from what you’re being taught to be biological facts, and how not falling in line with them makes you “weird” and “different”, it can seriously mess with your head, and potentially even traumatise you.

But anyways, hopefully I’ve addressed the topic enough, because I want to start the actual review.

As the intro made obvious, the story is about two kids that have gender identity disorder, Nitori and Takatsuki. …That’s about it. There’s no real overarching story or anything, it just sets up those two, along with some other characters, and follows them around as they do stuff. Considering the themes of the work, it makes sense that the story is character-driven rather than story-driven.

As for these other characters in the show, they cover pretty much every different kind of reaction and opinion on their gender identity disorder there is. Some of them are okay with it, some of them aren’t, some are indifferent, some think it’s cool, some think it’s disgusting, some may have personal experience with gender identity disorder themselves, etc. Having all of these perspectives gives the show more depth. Just like in real life, nothing is really black and white, especially when it comes to opinions on a topic. Sure for some people it can be a matter of liking it or disliking it, and there are characters like that in the show, but for most people it’s not that simple, and there are a ton of other factors at work.

Something else that added depth to the show that people may not have even realized was the animation. Now, I normally don’t talk about animation when I review things because of how basic it usually is. There’s different styles of animation, sure, but for the most part it’s a case of, “How do we show this character going from Point A to Point B?” “Well, just have him walk there.” And that’s about it. The animation just gets the job done. Everything else about it is just personal taste.
For example, most people say Kyoto Animation are the kings of animation, but there are times where I can’t stand how large they make the eyes on the characters sometimes. That and the few times they really slip up with their animation it tends to be pretty bad and pulls me out of my immersion. Another example is how most people – even those who don’t like the show – say that Sword Art Online‘s fight animations are really good, but I don’t really like that kind of gooey, blobby animation style during fight scenes where limbs will stretch or shorten and such during their actions. I prefer the character models to stay in normal ranges during fights.

Where am I going with this? Well the animation style in Wandering Son actually serves a purpose. It was drawn very lightly, uses almost only light colours, and they sometimes didn’t even completely draw some of the people and objects in the show. It gives the show a look of fragility, and looks a lot like drawings you’d see in a children’s book, which helps remind you that these are just kids that are dealing with these issues. It reminds you of the innocence that these kids have, and how they can’t understand why some things are seen as wrong and others right. The animation actually adds to the atmosphere, which is really the only time you can factually say that the animation is good.

But the best part of the show actually has nothing to do with the main characters or the themes. It’s the character, Anna.

The first few times you see her, she seems to just be this emotionless, boring girl. She even does two actions that might make you wary of her, those being when she teases Nitori for a bit by taking his script before realizing he’s getting genuinely upset, and later when she gives him the weird phone strap. But a little more than halfway through the show, you find out this isn’t the case. Anna’s just someone who doesn’t open up easily. She just goes through life, doing what she deems she needs to do, and not much more than that. But when she does open up, she’s actually one of the most talkative, nicest people you could meet. She was easily my favourite character in the show, and maybe even one of my favourites in all of anime.

However, the show also has the character, Chiba, who’s quite possibly one of the most annoying characters ever. She’s okay at first, because I can understand where her bitterness is coming from; I mean, she was close friends with both Nitori and Takatsuki, fell in love with Nitori, but he rejected her and confessed to Takatsuki. It’s your classic one-sided love, and when you’re that young, it can be pretty rough on your emotions. My problem with Chiba is that she never develops, even when it seems like she should. She’s constantly butting heads with people and causes a good chunk of the drama in the show, but she never seems to grow from any of it. There are a few occasions where she seems to be learning right after some of the drama has ended or when it’s near its end, but an episode or two later and she’s right back at it. She pretty much passed my tolerance line after one part where she acts like a total bitch to Anna for no good reason since it’s something she should have been over by that point in the story. My guess is that the author just couldn’t decide on many other ways to create drama between the characters without using Chiba.

The show also kind of loses focus on its main themes around the middle of the show. That’s not to say it’s completely abandoned, there’s still parts dealing with gender identity disorder and judging people and such, but it seems to take a backseat and the show focuses on “normal” drama instead. At least half the show deals with the characters writing a gender-bender play for the festival, and instead of focusing on that itself, it chooses to just have normal drama develop between the classmates. I wouldn’t necessarily say it was bad, but it felt like the show was pushing its main messages to the sideline a bit too much.

Only one other thing about the show rubbed me the wrong way, and that was its excessive use of overdramatising what the characters say. I don’t mean that in a general sense, though, I mean there’s a visual technique that they abused the living hell out of for the entire show. That technique is when the characters will be talking to someone or saying something in their head, but right when they’re about to finish, the visuals cut to a black screen and all the other audio disappears while the character says the last word or words. This is something that’s done to put emphasis on the last bit of what they’re saying, usually because that means there’s a double or hidden meaning for it, or because it foreshadows things to come. It’s a fine technique to make use of, but the show loves using it way too much. In episode eight or nine, I counted them using it about five times. Five times in just one episode! That’s when it stops being useful, and starts being pretentious.

But those are honestly the only problems I had with the show. The show even managed to get back on track with its themes by the end of the gender-bender play, and it had a strong ending. Most of the open plot threads got wrapped up, with a hint of things to come in the future for the story. There was one plot thread they left open, which was the class’ thoughts on Nitori, but I feel like that was intentionally left open regarding the messages of the show. No real resolution came because it’s not something that even exists. What happened happened, and nothing will change that.

What makes a show like Wandering Son so strong is how it uses children as the lens through which you see these societal issues. For one, gender identity disorder is something that children get, but more importantly, it takes a child’s innocence to highlight the hypocrisy and double standards in society. It takes someone that hasn’t been completely assimilated into society yet to be able to look at it and say, “…Wait, why is this wrong?”


One Comment on “Review: Hourou Musuko/Wandering Son [Mark II]”

  1. Oyo says:

    It’s really refreshing to see someone who actually realised the show was about transsexual kids. You wouldn’t believe the amount of people I’ve seen saying Nitori is a ‘confused feminine gay boy’, even though throughout the show she only shows attraction to girls (barring Takatsuki). Plus, if someone comes out of the show thinking of Nitori as a boy then they’ve clearly missed the point.

    Chiba gets more development in the manga, but yeah, generally she stays pretty static. I get the feeling her personality is just meant to be stubborn as heck.

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