Wandering Son Vol.1 was an eye-opening read for me, full of opinions and options I had never considered before, and that I’ve already watched the series means nothing to how much I’ve enjoyed the manga. The first volume serves as a reintroduction to Nitori and Takatsuki, the young boy and girl who wish they were the other’s gender, and for those who’ve never seen the series, will not confused or disheartened. Looking at volume 2, we are presented with a new dilemma: now that I know how I’d like be, there’s the world to deal with. If Vol.1 was a masterclass in people not wanting to accept the status quo within their own minds, Vol.2 shows the uncertainty of the waiting world. The way that Nitori and Takatsuki fumble forward with no plan is painful and endearing. They know the two of them are better together but there’s the problem of dealing with classmates, family and teachers. It’s not easy and well done to Takako for not short-circuiting the process. It’s not easy writing characters in distress but it’s wonderful to read it. If you can recognise the character’s pain and sympathise despite your differences, it proves you’re human and so is the author.
First of all, I think I’m beginning to understand Chiba-san a bit better. She comes across as a weird pseudo-Christian in the first story and, in the TV series seems to be suffering from a breach between her and the other two, but in this I’m getting a lot more insight. She helps Nitori the most but she remains friends with Takatsuki. She helps seal a rift between her and Nitori
by not getting hung up by the exchange diary class exercise. Nitori and Takatsuki want to invite her to their diary exchange but they are unsure about asking and worry about having to invite Sasa-san, a classmate, into the circle. In the end, Chiba decides life’s too short and just does her own diary exchange with Sasa. There is a bit of tension when she invites Nitori to take some of her dresses but he hesitates and she remarks that he only will take Takatsuki’s dress. I think Chiba is worried she’ll lose Nitori to Takatsuki. Hmm, I don’t know what to tell her, I really don’t.
One character that I’ve fallen in love with was seen in passing in volume 1 and makes appearances in the TV series is Yuki. A transgender women, she lives with her boyfriend Shi. She is amazing with a demeanour the belies how serious a catalyst she proves to the children. After struggling with her identity throughout school, she finally broke free after her coming of age ceremony and ended up living with her boyfriend Shi, a childhood classmate. It is from her that the two children learn to be themselves, if only amongst themselves. Yuki’s and Shi’s apartment becomes a haven to them. While their families love them and would probably tolerate or even encourage them to be themselves, they can be understand and explain themselves with Yuki and Shi. I’m not saying that the whole world is miserable to them, I’m saying they can relax at Yuki’s. Also, the point where Shi is introduced to Nitori and Takatsuki properly is both hilarious and somewhat, um, I’m trying to search for a word that means weird but that everything is cool. Can’t find one so I hope the previous will suffice.
The emphasis in this volume seems to be on Nitori rather than Takatsuki. Takatsuki is not ignored, just that Nitori is the focus rather than the subject. The impasse his sister Maho comes to when she realises that the boy in her class likes Nitori in his girl persona is interesting. She doesn’t criticise, she just laments the fact. Actually, she encourages the confusion by giving the boy, Seko, a picture of Nitori dressed as a girl. I don’t quite understand why she did that. It’s not like Nitori will do anything about it. Curiouser and curiouser. However, the main event that dominates the book this time round, is the class trip. This trip is about Nitori, pure and simple. On the trip, he is embarrassed by one of the boys on the excursion. I want to curl up and die every time I read him getting up earlier than the others and waiting in the hall for the girls. It makes me angry and hurt that people can be made to suffer like this, this social death of a thousand cuts. When I was younger, I endured teasing and bullying at the hands of some small minded bigots who thought they could get away with it. My mother defended me on school business and took all comers but at the end of the day, it’s just you in your mind with all the fears, paranoia, the why me’s and the how come’s. So when Nitori declares in a quiet moment “I want to go home”, I’m there. But the resolution to the crisis comes from an unexpected source (or maybe an expected source, now that I think about it) and Takako tackles it with an amazing amount of dignity and doesn’t cheapen it with false emotion or sentiment. By the end of the chapter arc, Nitori has the courage to know what he should say.
Are there problems with this volume? Maybe, but they are cosmetic rather than structural. The artwork still leaves me a bit confused if the person on the page is not a main character. The child sitting next to Nitori on the bus, I don’t know if that’s the same child who teases Nitori on the trip. Arrgh, ‘tis maddening! But other than that, I cannot find fault. So much of what we read is a kind of literary false economy. We put in so much and get so little out of it. Wandering Son asks so little of you and you get so much out of it. While I’ve never understood what LGBT people have to go through on a daily basis, I respect the struggle that a person goes through to be able to say “I am Who I Am, without fear or favour.” It is a wonderful, sweet, heartbreaking window into being different, young, unsure, afraid and human.
(Disclaimer: In referring to Yuki, I stumbled into a problem, namely which gender to refer to Yuki as having. In some info on the series, Yuki is referred to as a transgender man while on Wikipedia she is referred to as a transsexual woman. So in the light of the fact that I am ill-equipped to assign values to what gender I should refer to a pre-op transgender or a post-op transsexual person, I will not get into a conversation about how I should refer to characters and people within this grouping. In my mind and book I have seeing Yuki as a woman, referring to her as a woman in conversation, reading characters in Wandering Son referring to her as a woman so therefore she is a woman in my eyes and I will refer to her as such from here on in. Thanks to Brian, Ed, Linda, Sean and Erica for help wading through this minefield.)
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