It was the last week of pride month and was so random of me to wonder about the last anime I watched which included LGBTQ as a theme in it. It was banana fish, which was really great indeed. But this essay is not about banana fish, it is about something much deeper, furthermore about the issues, doubts, struggle, thoughts, and life about the people, correctly to say kids, who doubt themselves to be born into the wrong gender. This has been in my watchlist for a long time and never seen much people talking about this unnoticed piece of beauty. So, I thought to express my views on the entire show, more in an episodic manner, because it deserves it. I was always searching for a show that entirely dealt with and centered around characters of this type, and I am really glad to watch “Hourou Musuko” aka Wandering Son, based on the comic by Takako Shimura, and realized it would be a sin if I am not talking about it or make people in this community realize that such a show exists. Without further due, let’s jump into the episodic essay of Wandering Son.
*I recommend moving further only if you have watched the entire show as I’ll be discussing the series in depth. So, there goes the spoiler alert.
Roses are red, Violets are blue; The title of the first episode already tells us what is coming for us. As violets are used less frequently than roses for valentine, they are forever associated with one another and represent modesty, faithfulness, and humility. Meaning even though we see fewer people open about dysphoria (the case is even worse in Japan), the show tells us their love and nature is no way less significant than the cis-genders. A bold underlying statement that carries throughout the show. ” What are little girls made of ” – is the first dialogue that comes from a student, defining his thoughts, directed to the audience. We are introduced to Shuuichi Nitori a first-year middle schooler who wants to be a girl. We get to know he likes to cross-dress, with the help of his other two friends in the past.
And then we are introduced to the other character Yoshino Takatsuki, the girl who wants to be a boy. The past events shown tells us Nitori loves Yoshino, only to be rejected by the latter because she did not understand what love was back then. Nitori answers his own question later in the episode – ” sugar and spice and everything nice “. This tells a lot about the mentality of a boy who feels being a girl is something pure, cute and everything nice. Isn’t it how girls are viewed in general? , not to stereotype, but at least in Japan. Because we see a lot of cultural influences. Idols, models for magazines who always look cute, young and beautiful. The “cute” factor count is deliberately high in the show (to make a point), but we will talk about it later. On the other hand, Yoshino meets an adult-female friend (Yuki) and hangs out with her. We know not much except she is a helping hand for Yoshino, as Yuki puts it this way – “If only I’d had a friend who understood me like that when I was younger”. She is someone who emphasizes with Yoshino, understands her problem and be there for her. Towards the end, Yoshino states it isn’t as simple as wanting to wear boys’ clothes but she likes to take things slowly. This is an implication to viewers saying, “come see our life and try to understand us”. Then the scene shifts to Nitori asking the question – ” what are little boys made of”, himself answering – ” frogs and snails, and puppy dog’s tails “. This says a lot about as to how Nitori feels about what it is to be a boy. He is rather shy, his actions are girly and when he refers to a dog’s tail implying little boys are more an outdoor kind of species, does not straighten to will and thus difficult to handle, like a dog’s tail.
Hate, Hate, Despise; We get to know a lot about the side characters, and the other friend Chiba who helped Nitori with his cross-dressing in the past and secretly had a crush on him.
The relationship between Yoshino and Chiba becomes complicated after that, and this is not going to be an ordinary love triangle, thanks to the nature of the show. As much this episode centers around Chiba and her lousy attitude, we learn a lot about the characters in the classroom. Mako being another shy and supportive friend of Nitori. Sarashina (chi) the extrovert, who turns out to be an inspirational character for both Yoshino and Nitori, as she does not shy away to express herself in every manner.
The side characters all have their own importance and their actions also affect the protagonist of the show. The show puts a brilliant effort in dealing with a bunch of kids and their problems while keeping them interconnected. There is a scene during the P.T session when the guys change their dresses while Mako and Nitori stand separately at the corner. Nitori says boys smell and stink. That is why he likes to be a girl, the perfect and cute beings on planet earth. There is nothing wrong in wanting to identify with a gender where one feels comfortable, but as I mentioned earlier, the standard of accepting girls as in only being cute and stressing on it develops a wrong intention. But characters like Yuki, Sarashina, Chiba, Nitori’s sister all help bring the diversity in the show displaying variety in character traits and help to overcome this problem. After all, this episode ends with all these characters walking home together.
Romeo and Juliet; Chiba gives the idea of a gender-bender play for the upcoming cultural fest thinking of Nitori in mind. Nitori is asked by Yoshino to write a script and he takes it seriously and starts wondering a world where the genders are reversed. Now, this is where the direction triumphs. While Nitori is in his imaginary world, the storyboard goes from a red traffic signal to green (which has a girl symbol) and vehicles from both sides crossing each other, meaning the switch taking place, and Nitori stands there with a girl uniform now.
Nitori then questions himself if the world would be worried about such a change, but after seeing Yoshino with a boy’s uniform sitting opposite to him, he answers “or not worried at all”. Nitori bumps his head and the dream ends. In this case, the world can also be interpreted as the classroom, and how everyone around him accepted to change their gender and play for the cultural festivals. These small and subtle instances uplift the visual storytelling of this beautiful show. While in the nurse room, Yoshino says she wishes to be flat like Nitori, clearly she is not comfortable with the changes happening in her body. The hesitation is clearly visible in her face when Nitori asks why she’s here. Later we see Yoshino in a dilemma on whether she should start wearing brasserie so that it supports her chest. Of course, the other girls see it funny, but not for Yoshino. You see the pain of her not being comfortable with the undergarment and clings to the boys uniform. The next day Nitori observes some boys checking out the bra lines of school girls. Yoshino shows up in that scene, and despite admitting to him she does not like to wear one, she does. She smiles and runs away as Nitori notices it through her uniform. Such pain it should be for her whilst all that smile on her face.
I’ll Give You My Name; Swimming is fun, isn’t it? It should be, for middle schoolers. But it takes a lot of opening up for Yoshino and Nitori, at least physically in this case. Nitori stares at her chest, one part of him feels for Yoshino, or he might be simply wondering how it feels to have them (breasts). At least that’s what I understood from his stare. Yoshino visits the elderly girl (Yuki) who used to help her and finds a man (probably her husband). Yoshino asks the woman how he finds to live with her. Yuki responds he’s the one who understood her for what she was and never bullied her since childhood. Everyone is in need of that one person, to make one’s life easier. That’s all they need, just one person who understands, who accepts you for who you are.
Chiba is shown as a character who can’t control her emotions but shoots the right question at Nitorin as shown in the figure. I mean, who would expect such deep dialogues with a show filled with middle schoolers.
While in a cafe, Yoshino asks if Nitori wants a bra. When he replies that he doesn’t have the breasts for it, she encourages him by saying “it all depends on whether you want to wear it or not”. Now here’s the beauty again, Nitori replies that he is afraid of hitting puberty, and they shift to the traffic signal, again, but the color turns from green (this time there is a man in the sign) to red, cuts to a red woman sign in the washroom implying when he actually hits puberty his dream of being a girl can be in danger.
This show develops so many layers with characters who all deal with sensitive problems for their age group. When both Yoshino and Chiba offers Nitori to use their name, the former doing it first, it really puts Chiba off. This is the sort of love triangle I don’t dislike, it does not tamper the plot rather make it more complex. You see a boy who wants to be a girl and also wants to love a boy who is biologically a girl. While there’s this other girl who beats the sense and the harsh reality, pulls us viewers out of this beautiful world along with the boy, and asks this question – ” you just can’t become a girl, it’s all an act” and says nothing will change until he does an operation. How silly, unaware, selfish and yet the same time caring, wanting, a teen love can be.
The End of Summer; The script work for cultural fest continues during the summer vacation. Nitori’s friends get to know he cross-dresses when it was revealed by a friend of Chiba. This episode puts light on Mako and his friendship with Chiba. As I mentioned before, Mako is portrayed as a caring friend. When the draw for character takes place, Mako gets to play Juliet which of course doesn’t please Chiba, so instead, he is ready to give his role to Nitorin. Mako is what you call a selfless character. His problems are not primarily spoken or dealt with in the show. It exists but with Mako himself. He is always treated as a supporting character who is unable to speak out his problems.
Dream of a butterfly; Near Midway throughout the series, a perfect episode to be at the middle of the show – cultural fest. Now, this is how it goes in all shows, like a filler, or sometimes the same repetitive things happen. But here is where Hourou Musuko does it differently. It gathers all the character in one place. No matter how less significant role they’ve played until now in the show, it brings them together. From the popular model to Yuki (appears like a man in a suit), it’s an episode where you see the interconnected lives of each character present in this school festival particularly to watch the play. That’s how the episode is carried out throughout, and a strong foundation is set for all the faces and is now more familiar to the viewers. The second title says “dream of a butterfly” because we get to see Mako (was really happy to see this) overcoming his problems of acceptance, stage fear, and self-doubt. He was not as elegant as Chiba, but he pulled it through and that’s all it matters.
Rosy Cheeks; I can’t help but stop noticing the metaphors they put in the show. I keep on saying this, but just observe how they start an episode. After Nitorin is asked to sit down and another girl starts reading, the words go “However, I now looked terrible” pointing to a pimple in Nitori’s nose and shifts to the leaves of autumn, these words appear “and something red emerged on the tip of my nose”. Both mentioning the aging of Nitori and change of season, growing old. This much is said in the few opening seconds.
I expected the episode to revolve around the pimple and facial treatments, but it doesn’t. I am happy I was wrong. One thing leads to another, Nitori asks Anna for help, and hangs out with her, and finally confess his love. When Yoshino hears this from Nitori she grows distant. Isn’t it something that happens in every love story. And when Chiba hears it, what’s the result? One rejected girl and another rejecting girl (who now seems to be rejected) grow close together? Or is it that Yoshino now finally understood how Chiba would’ve felt because she wasn’t rejected before in the first place. Or it might be the mood swings due to her monthly cycle. Happy to see a show that really that discusses the “coming of age” issues in a bold manner. Chiba whom we thought only as a cold-hearted/ attitude girl, is shown to have a lonely side and one who’s always been antisocial.
Brand new me; It is Spring, a change in the season as well as to the characters. Classes change, students get mixed up and Nitori gets a new friend. It’s really pleasing when Anna says she feels Nitorin like a younger sister, yet he asks if he can kiss her. The unawareness of love of Nitori makes him even lovable. The karaoke was a genuine laugh moment. When things are revolving around Nitorin with three girls inside, but it somehow ends up as enjoyable session. “The brand new me” shows the change not only the change in Nitorin’s life but also the people surrounding him. Getting close to Anna has been positive so far. That also dealt with the stingy-ness between Nitorin, Yoshino and Chiba. And surprisingly Doi – the boy who used to be mean becomes a friend and they walk home together now. A new life indeed.
Green eye; This episode was a straight hit to the heart. Yoshino becoming “cool” for everyone’s eyes and Nitori can’t help but imagine what stops him. Also, we get to know Yuki is a transsexual who used to be a male. There’s a scene where Nitorin asks Yoshino if she’s wearing the lingerie she’s been looking up to, and she responds that she feels more comfortable, at least emotionally.
Regardless of what gender you are assigned to, or how the society sees you, it’s more important that you’re comfortable with yourself. Visiting chi-chan is an eye-opening segment, as we all understand how tough it is to be a boy and dress up as a girl. It would turn out bad, at least the minimum reaction would be a surprise even with the closest friends of Nitori. It is really hard to watch (for me) when he thinks how his parents would respond if he turns up in a girls uniform. Even if they accept it, there’s a shock factor for everyone, that’s how the societies view on gender is. And Japan really doesn’t openly discuss these issues. Even from a cultural standpoint, the negligence of such people in Japanese society is very saddening. The title also had these words “green eye” and I wondered why? I might be wrong, but here’s my interpretation – green is the most space taking color in the visible spectrum, and the color is so vast, it represents nature or natural. So it could be that the audience gets to see the Nitorin’s nature or originality, through their eyes, to see the real him. It is time for the reveal.
Better half; Isolation, bullying, hate and everything begins in the life of Nitorin. He’s teased for that one day he chose to be himself or should I say herself? One good thing was his fathers’ support about how he felt and his sister even though cold outside, still cares for her little brother. Nitorin wonders a lot about where he went wrong, or even if he was doing the right thing. Self-doubt strikes him as he turns back to see if it was really him who wanted to do things or was it all someone else’s will or manipulation. There’s a change in the appearance of Nitorin, he has a more girly look, a little longer hair by the sides that cover up the ears and grew taller. The wandering son has grown up a lot.
They Only Laughed at Me; There’s a lot of repetitive scenes in the pre-finale episode, with a few changes. We finally get to know the story of Yuki. It was always lingering in my mind if there would be any spotlight on her. Fortunately, we are given more than we can handle (in a good way). She identifies herself as a transsexual woman. Her story is even more depressing and washes you away with a tsunami of feels, only to end with an everlasting hope that appears in form of Shiina (the man she is living with). It’s really great she had someone like Shiina in her life. It was more convincing when they gave him a little backstory to define his character and justifying his love for Yuki. After listening to Yuki, both Nitori and Yoshino realize that no matter how much they pretend or feel they should belong in the other side of their assigned genders, there will be no change until they do something about it. Yuki’s will to live, despite everyone laughing at her, gets shut in home, until she meets Shiina again and undergoing a reassignment surgery might look like a little backstory, but that gives great weight to the character which takes a lot of time to establish in case of others.
Forever a Wandering Son; Confession. With all the things happening in the final episode, it was all about confession. When the three are back together like before, Nitorin reminds “we aren’t exactly back to the way we were”, and yes, because this is the brand new wandering son we’re seeing. They all grew up, slowly, yet they did. Yoshino says she looks bad in girl’s clothes and Nitori thinks boys clothes are no fun. Wonderful isn’t it? Nitorin still stays in the nurse’s office. He still fears if his voice would change. When Nitorin says he still loves Anna, earlier I thought it was just admiration, but I think this is the pure love we are talking about. It is clear that Anna cannot bring herself to “love” Nitorin, but she likes him for who he is. It’s the same way around, Nitorin loves Anna because she played a huge role in his life, for him, emotionally and as a supportive figure, the purest kind of love is what Nitorin is offering. Yoshino and Chiba see this from the classroom, but they are just happy for him. No more complex triangle love, it’s just three friends looking out after each other. I really liked the way how the finale cleared the relationship between the three of them. Towards the end, a student notices Nitorin’s change in his voice, he says “it’s fine”, and steps into the light from the curtains to perform the play “I’m a girl” as our forever wandering son.
Thanks for bearing with me till the end and giving it a read. I really wish there was more of this show. I wanted to see if Nitori and Yoshino finally become what they really want to be. The show is definitely not limited to two characters even if it looks that way, one of the strong points. The manga has ended and I could pick off from where the show ended. Nonetheless, I am very happy to experience such a show and for its existence. The mangaka took ten long years to complete this deeply and well sorted out coming of age tale. I hope more people can come out without fear for something they shouldn’t be, and stories like this be an eye-opener for many who still don’t understand the truth of such problems. It is the end of June, but that doesn’t mean the end of pride. Looking beyond months and years and times that may come upon, let us support and accept people for who they are and where they feel to belong.