Disclaimer: I'm making this post in hopes of bringing some attention to this overlooked show. This is my first discussion thread, so I can't guarantee I'll do the series justice.
What is Wandering Son?
Wandering Son, (Hourou Musuko
in the original.) is the story of a young boy named Shuichi Nitori, who wants to be a girl, and his friend Yoshino Takatsuki, a girl who wants to be a boy. The series deals with issues such as transsexuality, gender identity, and the beginning of puberty. It started out as a manga series, written and illustrated by Takako Shimura and is still running. The anime consists of 11 episodes, with a 12th episode planned as an exclusive feature of its DVD/Blu-Ray release.
Embedded below is a trailer for the anime, which will serve as a showcase of the beautiful style and animation. We'll discuss what makes this show so wonderful after the preview.
Wandering Son Trailer
Why is it special?
Well, for starters the subject matter is powerful and interesting enough on its own, especially seeing as how it's one very rarely addressed by the entertainment industry. The closest the anime genre itself even gets is with a multitude of gay characters and cross-dressers, but plays these mostly for cheap laughs. In contrast, the characters in Wandering Son are not mere caricatures, and while the two protagonists are nearly defined by the struggle with their gender identity, this is not all there is to them, nor are they preachy mouthpieces for the author's agenda. Suffice to say that the best compliment I can give it is: You don't need to be gay, a transvestite or a transsexual to identify with these kids.
Being a slice of life story, there's little to no plot, and yet it doesn't lack focus. It boasts a sizable cast of characters, and it manages for the most part to flesh them out incredibly well without setting an episode aside for each one. Instead, their interactions just naturally culminate into very believable character development, making them instantly likable and easy to relate to. This is particularly impressive when you take into account how much ground the series covers in less than a dozen episodes.
It also doesn't hurt that the show's production value is stupendous. With an art style and filtering meant to evoke the manga author's watercolor covers, pastel color palette, white vignette and delicate line art, Wandering Son is a visual treat. The animators also did a good job with actually expressing character emotions, without resorting to the usual anime bag of tricks, such as big sweatdrops, funny faces or chibis; it's not a big deal, but it's definitely appreciated.
The soundtrack on the other hand, sadly, doesn't fare too well. The instrumental pieces are appropriate, but utterly forgettable. And when the first episode employs Debussy's "Clair de Lune" in one scene, it ends up emphasizing just how mediocre the original pieces are in comparison. And let's not get into the abomination that is the opening theme... the less said about it, the better.
It's not uncommon for reviewers to criticize the maturity of the cast, which is composed mostly of children; bringing up how they act too much like adults despite their young age. While I can agree to some extent, I don't think it detracts from the story, and will raise a counterpoint that for all their supposed maturity, the cast still behaves very much like confused, insecure and clumsy teenagers.
In the end, it all boils down to this: Wandering Son is an underrated and overlooked gem.
Who are the characters?
One thing that some viewers might have trouble with when giving this show a shot, is memorizing the cast's faces and names. This is due to both the androgynous character designs and the avalanche of introductions in the first episode, which starts in media res
; effectively 5 volumes into the manga's timeline.
So in an effort to remedy some of the potential confusion beforehand, let's go through a brief summary of the main characters. From left to right, these are...
Standoffish and stoic, she tends to convey what is on her mind, disregarding how others may take her words. While it's not unusual for her temper to get the better of her, she's nevertheless a sensitive and caring girl. Saori is often emotionally affected by circumstances involving Shuichi, due to her feelings for the boy. She's a Christian, though she only attends mass when feeling guilty about her behavior.
Mature for his age and able to think calmly and objectively while providing advice for his friends, Makoto gets along well with boys and girls his age, and is Shuichi's only close male friend. Makoto frequently plays the part of an onlooker to the events occurring in the other characters' lives.
One of two protagonists, is a young, effeminate boy who often cross-dresses to assume the role of the opposite sex. He is described as cute by many of the other characters and, due to
his feminine face and slender build, is easily able to pass as a girl. He tends to have an obedient, dutiful attitude, with occasional outbursts contrasting with his usual quiet nature. Due to his personality, it is easier for him to associate with girls his age, and he has few male friends.
An energetic, outgoing girl, she's well-liked by her classmates and thinks of herself as everyone's friend. Kanako becomes easily distressed when her close friends quarrel among themselves, often assuming the role of a mediator between them.
The other protagonist, is a tall, masculine girl who prefers to dress and act like a boy. While she usually refrains from dressing in traditionally feminine clothes, such as skirts or dresses, she abstains from anything which would draw too much attention to herself. However, she does on occasion dress in a male school uniform and go to neighboring cities where she impersonates a boy. When teased by others, Yoshino is prone to getting emotional and known to get violent depending on the situation.
Described as a free spirit, someone who enjoys doing unconventional, sometimes outrageous things, Chizuru frequently acts without thinking, and as a result projects a childish personality. Her reckless behavior sometimes gets her in trouble with other characters, although she quickly becomes ashamed when realizing the consequences. Saori in particular strongly dislikes her impulsiveness.
She is a classmate and a clingy childhood friend of Chizuru. Momoko constantly hangs around her and is visibly annoyed by others socializing with her friend, which due to the latter's outgoing nature, is a constant occurrence.
Not included in that picture, but relevant to the storyline, (At the very least more relevant than Momoko.) we have a handful of characters that also play important roles. I'd rather cut down on the list though, for drawing too much attention to the other characters is likely a tad spoilerish.
Where can I access it?
Wandering Son can be watched legally through the anime streaming service Crunchy Roll
for free. (A premium account is required to watch it in HD.)
The manga series is to be published in English by Fantagraphics Books, but the release date for the first hardcover volume has yet to be announced.