Monday, June 16, 2014

Wandering Son: Volume 01 by Shimura Takako, Traslated by Matt Thorn

Description: The fifth grade. The threshold to puberty, and the beginning of the end of childhood innocence. Shuichi Nitori and his new friend Yoshino Takatsuki have happy homes, loving families, and are well-liked by their classmates. But they share a secret that further complicates a time of life that is awkward for anyone: Shuichi is a boy who wants to be a girl, and Yoshino is a girl who wants to be a boy.

Stats: School Manga, Volume 1, 208 Pages, English Publication by Fantagraphics, July 2011.

My Rating: 4 STARS

Wandering Son is a beautifully drawn hardcover manga, that feels a lot like what you would normally expect from a graphic novel. Whenever I think "manga", I think of things like Inuyasha and Fruits Basket, but among all the shojo and action fantasy romps we also have books like this one. Wandering Son is a quiet book. It's a slice of life look into the lives of two main characters, Nitori and Takatsuki. What makes this book unique is that Takatsuki is a girl who wants to be a boy and Nitori is a boy who wants to be a girl. The pair become fast friends near the end of their fifth grade year when Nitori becomes a new student. They don't know each others secret, but when the truth is shared, together they begin on a journey of self discovery and friendship.

I found this first volume really rather fascinating. The issues that face transgender people are complex and never before have I seen this complexity approached from the perspective of very young, young adults. Puberty is an awkward time for anyone, but what happens when you are experiencing all of those changes in a body that doesn't reflect who you are? Self discovery takes on even more weight when you're also reconstructing what gender really defines to who you are. What I really ended up enjoyed about Wandering Son is that this first volume didn't turn these events into huge melodramatic moments. As I said earlier, Wandering Son is very quiet, very restrained, and because of that these issues are presented in a very real and genuine way in moments of wanting, not dim the lights and play your violin sort of moments.

I know that this is a manga that I will become more and more attached to as I read on. However, that doesn't mean it didn't have some issues right from the starting gate. Confusion was my primary emotion for the first 80 pages. It was hard for me to keep track of the characters. There aren't that many of them, but because of the art style a few characters look very similar to each other. This manga also chooses to honour the norm in Japan that characters are referred to by their last names, which I've seen done before and can normally follow pretty well, but here this only added confusion. Trying to figure out who was who was hard at first, but it did get easier the more the characters interact and the character info page at the front of the book certainly does help. Also, as someone who has already read volume two, let me say this problem does begin to fix itself as the series becomes more confident in its characters and who they are.

I am very happy that I found this series and am really interested in seeing how the characters progress on their journey.

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