Shuuichi Nitori is a 5th grade student who likes to bake and has always been something of a feminine boy. When he transfers to a new school, Shuuichi is mistaken for his 6th grade sister on his first day. Then he ends up sitting next to Yoshino Takatsuki, a tall, boyish girl who everyone calls "Takatsuki-kun." They both have secrets they can't let anyone know...
The series deals with issues such as being transgender, gender identity, and the beginning of puberty.
Hourou Musuko was selected as a recommended work in the manga division by the jury in the 10th and 17th Japan Media Arts Festival in 2006 and 2013 respectively. It was also nominated for the 2012 Great Graphic Novels for Teens list by the Young Adult Library Services Association.
The series has been published in English as Wandering Son by Fantagraphic Books in hardcover format since July 5, 2011, in Korean by Haksan Culture Company since January 15, 2007, and in Chinese by Ever Glory Publishing, but was discontinued after volume 4.
Hourou Musuko received an 11-episode anime adaptation which aired in 2011.
After having a tough time getting into the series and having to restart a few times, I raced through the second half of Wandering Son in a single day. Now I’m just lying here in a haze, trying to collect myself into a human being again. I feel like this writeup is a necessary step in the process. Let’s do this.
Wandering Son, or Hourou Musuko, is a manga about the self. This is an extremely introverted manga, with characters lost in thought, staying home from school, and mulling over their anxieties all the time. When a character makes a particularly bold decision, they’re often ridiculed
and punished for it. There’s always other stuff going on, but most of these bold decisions are about gender identity. This is a manga, perhaps THE manga in the eyes of many, about dysphoria and being transgender. The uniqueness of Wandering Son is that it starts our cast off in elementary school, right before the onset of puberty. This gives us a different perspective than many other trans mangas, which star college-aged characters grappling with their identity while being young adults. But wow, this is a uniquely brutal perspective.
At the start of the manga we are shown our main characters, Nitori Shuuichi and Takatsuki Yoshino. Shuuichi wants to dress like a girl and Yoshino wants to dress like a boy. Pretty early on, Yoshino’s identity issues are sidelined so the plot can zero in on Shuuichi - compared to everyone else, he’s suffering immensely. He’s trapped in a world that doesn’t know how to help girls like him, but even he doesn’t know that yet. However, his world seems to be built perfectly around enabling his crossdressing, from friends that keep encouraging him to endless school festivals revolving around gender-swapped plays. Unlike other mangas, our trans character here is not deeply repressed, which makes the relentless march of time all the more painful to watch.
Going into Wandering Son, I didn’t realize that we would see these kids grow up all the way from sixth grade to the end of high school. Instead of timeskips or focusing on a single year, our cast just keeps gaining years. You know how in a lot of anime and manga, high school graduation almost feels like a metaphor for death? For once, that implication actually carries some extra meaning. Puberty stops for no one, and with every passing year our protagonist Shuuichi will be less and less able to convincingly present as female. Throughout these 123 chapters, we see Shuuichi grow, not okay with any of the physical developments happening to him but unable to do anything. This is cruel and painful, especially as a trans woman who went through the exact same motions, just more internalized.
If you read through Wandering Son with the adolescence of Shuuchi as your guiding narrative thread, you will end up with a truly existentially depressing manga. Seriously, this perspective is more personally painful to me than anything even Goodnight Punpun can conjure up. It’s a good thing there are other, more palatable narrative threads woven throughout. Yoshino’s story, for one, never reaches these levels of anguish. Their classmates have fights and relationships and arcs. The adults in this story stand out a lot – more on some of them later. And last but not least, there’s a wonderful slow-burning romance throughout the second half of the manga. Shuuchi having friends and lovers through all of this is the authors’s greatest act of kindness throughout the story, reminding us that even people who are very clearly suffering still deserve and will find people who support them. This is a very important message for any dysphoric people who find this manga and want to use it as solace.
But still…this is not a very hopeful manga. At least it isn’t to me.
Shuuichi gets the girl, so that’s a happy ending, right? Except every little bit of subtext is arguing the exact opposite. Let me explain further. Shuuchi meets 2 adult trans women throughout the series. The first is young, pretty, and lives happily with her husband. This seems like the perfect role model for Shuuchi and any dysphoric readers! A beacon of hope that yes, it is possible to transition and live a great life. But she kind of stops being an influencing voice for Shuuchi, for whatever reason. Instead in the manga’s endgame we are introduced to an older closeted trans person. Living as a husband and father for all these years, after their wife’s death they took to crossdressing in her clothes. This character is totally unable to pass. In a sense she doesn’t care, although she worries immensely about how her young daughter will view her. Forgive my weird pronouns throughout that. Anyways, compared to the first trans woman this is a character we are clearly supposed to feel pity for, unable to pass in a world where passing means everything, and burdened with single fatherhood at that too. I would love to comment more on the specific hardships of transitioning at an older age, but alas I lack knowledge of that experience. This old woman shows up in the third-to-last chapter, so clearly she’s meant to represent something. As Shuuchi grows older and older we mentally associate him with her instead of the younger trans woman. Shuuchi’s love interest even makes a passing remark about being okay with dating a weird crossdresser well into old age, which is kind of cute but also reinforces that Shuuchi will never be able to truly transition and will be stuck uncomfortably as a man, feeling like a crossdresser instead of a “real woman”. This is immensely depressing. I’m lucky as all hell to have the resources and social ability to start transitioning as a young adult. Too see the subtextual conclusion of this manga boil down to “yeah, Shuuchi is forever stuck as a boy wanting to be a girl, but that’s kind of okay” feels like a punch in the gut. This is a very good author who is able to write to the trans experience impressively well for being a cis woman. However, for the love of me I can’t tell if she intended the ending to be this melancholy or if I accidentally extracted an extra layer of suffering out of it. It doesn’t matter, this is how I still feel at the end of the day. This is my ultimate takeaway from Wandering Son, and it’s what tore me apart. I’m sorry if my feelings are unrelatable or if my writing style was accidentally problematic or if my takeaways are just plain wrong. I wanted to make my wallowing as productive as can be and this writeup/explanation is what I settled on. So thanks for sticking through it.
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Wandering Son is good, I think. It’s not as deeply relatable for me as some other trans-themed mangas, but it’s still a worthwhile read with a unique youth perspective. It’s not fetishistic, instead it’s both sympathetic and cruel in oscillating doses. If you can relate strongly to the dysphoria stuff in this manga, then that’s wonderful. But don’t be fatalistic about your assigned gender, even if the manga seems to be towards Shuuchi. A happy future may seem impossible right now, but one day Things Will Be Better.
I would say if you've ever struggled with your gender identity you have to read this. If you've never struggled with your gender identity, you still have to read this it's so good.
Ok so, the review, i read this whole series over the course of two days and it destroyed me emotionally. I think the ways in which the two main characters struggle with their gender identities is shockingly real and hit incredibly close to home for me. I'm a trans girl and like I have never found a character who I can see myself so clearly in. I think the characters and their growth
and inner conflicts are incredible. This applies to all characters for me. I think the story isn't going to be for everyone as the pacing can be very slow, especially in the middle of the manga. But I think it does an incredible job of portraying real life. The art is pretty clean and the characters are all distinct enough. EVeryone's pretty cute and distinct enough that it's easy to tell everyone apart. This story just has such a heavy emotional effect, I'm still trying to come to terms with it. I seriously would recommend this manga to everyone, its truly powerful and it does an excellent job of exploring gender identity, puberty, transness, love and relationships, its so powerful!!!
Nitori has always been a bit of a girly kind of boy. He likes to cook, he’s sensative and has little in common with the other 5th-grade boys. He’s even cuter than his older sister, Maho, who wants to be a model. Saori Chiba is a classmate who seems to understand him, but mostly just likes dressing him up. He strikes up a friendship with Takatsuki, a tall girl who is very much a tomboy and who everyone calls “Takatsuki-kun”. They meet and befriend a gorgeous
woman, Yuki, who is actually a transsexual. All the while, Nitori is discovering how good he looks as a girl, and how much he likes it.
Hourou Musuko centers around elementary- and middle-school children, but is a seinen manga, targeted at college-age readers. Although the look back at school days relies heavily on nostalgia, the issues the characters are wrestling with are very adult. Nitori isn’t gay in the sense that he has no real idea of, or interest in, sexuality or romance. He is more interested in having friends, and likes acting and dressing as a girl. For both him and Takatsuki, their friends and families are loving and supportive, but there is some tension with the schoolmates acting in proscribed manners.
Things move slowly in this manga, focused on social situations and the feelings of the characters. It almost makes you think it’s sort of shoujo, but there’s little in the way of overwrought interior dialogue (or screentone, either). It’s a slice-of-life story and despite the sexually liminal nature of the plot, it still manages to capture the reader with distinct and heartwarming characterizations. The crossdressing makes me think of sexual roles versus sexual gender…and those two versus sexuality. Hourou Musuko is much more concerned with sexual roles in society than with mere titillation, which I liked very much.
Shimura employs a very clean style, but somehow manages to retain a sketchbook sort of look, making it look as if she had simply sat down and effortlessly sketched her perfectly cute faces–impossible, as those of you who do art well know. Art this effective is always the result of hard work, and it certainly shows here. Most of her panels leave out the background of any kind, once she has set up the scene. She is an obviously very accomplished artist, since her figure studies are realistic and foreshortening of limbs or bodies (a sure giveaway of an artist’s skill) is very well-done.
Kotonoha’s scanlation is typically of high-quality for them, the whites are white and the blacks are clean black. The typesetting is well-suited to the style of the manga, while being easy to read. I highly recommend downloading this one.
From the standpoint of a storyteller, the slice of life genre is the biggest you can use and because it's slice of life it can make for a long story. The problem however, is that the genre is almost always filled with generic things. You'll get a protagonist in a high school full of tropes, and despite what the writer might want you to believe, if you've watch or read slice of life then you've probably seen it all before. That's where Hourou Musuko stands out. While it is slice of life, it is more specifically the characters' life, which makes it one of few
manga in this genre that you can actually say you haven't seen before.
Despite being little more than its synopsis, Hourou Musuko has a very enjoyable story. This is because it is slice of life and surprisingly enough, it lives up to that point. When the story begins the characters are very young and naive, but as it goes onward they slowly grow older, and the hardships they experienced before leave a very imposing mark. When they approach situations that resemble these events, self-doubt manifested through the past billows upward, and makes them question if they should or could do it again. This is very realistic, which all slice of life manga don't need, but should have a little more of . It's a very character driven story, and Shimura's attention to character depth, makes it a very involving tale.
Because I'm not much of a visual artist myself, I can't exactly give Hourou Musuko's art any justice when it come to critique, but in my opinion it's suitable for the story. When done in color pages, it looks sort of like a water painting, and uses very pastel colors to go with the over all lighter essence of the story. Character design is simple and won't likely be how you remember them, but its clear that Shimura tries to make an effort, and she has admitted in one omake that her art isn't very good. This however is my critique, and while I can't say that it will appeal to the artist in you, I can say that its simpler look does a good job at giving form to its story.
The trait that undeniable ranks highest amongst all of Hourou Musuko's traits, is its characterization and and character development, which is important when going into a story like this. It is a manga that shows how far the slice of life genre can be taken when the mangaka isn't just looking for a plane to throw the characters into. What makes the story is the characters, and Shimura pays enough attention to all of them to make them stand out. It is not a cast of anime tropes, thrown into a typical setting but real people in a real setting, thrown into a fictional world. If you have a life that resembles any of the characters, or even if you don't it is possible to see a bit of yourself in them which makes them that much more endearing.
The enjoyment you'll find in Hourou Musuko is extremely high, if its not your type of manga then its likely that you won't read it but if you do you won't have to worry about drama being unnecessarily thrown in. Slice of life is an unfortunate genre that more oft than not, comes in two form. One is comedy which can be good sometimes, but is otherwise an excuse to make a story where nothing happens. The other is drama which goes out of its way to prove that it can be that. Again there are some dramas that are actually good, but its not hard to happen upon one that slings the drama into your face. At times, life can be hard, and at others it can make you smile, and if any manga I've read is a testament to that, then Hourou Musuko would be it.
The story is involving, the art suits it, the characters it portrays are very well done, and all of this only adds to its enjoyability. What adds to its overall score though is that it is a seinen, and unlike a lot of other seinen that are generally just gore and porn, Hourou Musuko has a reason for being classified as that. The reason it's a seinen is not just because it has things that can't be put in shonen, but because those things require you to think. You have to be mature to read it. This is of course debatable, but I implore you to give it a look before you make your decision. For being a rather well woven story,with a likable cast that drive it well, I award Hourou Musuko with a 9 out of 10. However it does have a lot of characters, and not all of them get enough time, which inevitably took away from the ending score.
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