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Wandering Son Volume 1

About.com Rating 4 Star Rating

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Wandering Son Book 1 by Takako Shimura, from Fantagraphics

Wandering Son Book 1

© Takako Shimura / ENTERBRAIN

The Bottom Line

11-year old Shuichi Nitori is a sweet and shy boy. His classmate Yoshino Takatsuki is a girl who dislikes girly things. The two meet, and find that they have something in common: they're transgendered tweens on the cusp of puberty, and their lives are about to get really... complicated.

Gender-bending is not unusual in manga, but it's rare to see transgender identity issues depicted realistically, not just as a plot gimmick. With her spare, elegant art and slice-of-life storytelling, Shimura tells a sweet and sensitive coming-of-age tale that's worth sharing with anyone who has ever felt like a misfit.

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Pros

  • Tackles a rarely talked-about topic and presents it a sensitive, matter-of-fact style
  • The story unfolds at a leisurely pace, without over-explaining what's going on.
  • Simple yet elegantly drawn characters and page layouts let the story shine
  • A beautifully presented hardcover, with creamy paper to showcase Shimura's color artwork
  • Translation finds a nice balance between retaining its Japanese-ness and conversational English

Cons

  • All of the characters look androgynous, so it's hard to appreciate Shuichi and Yoshino's dilemma.
  • Most of the supporting characters are indistinguishable, and fade into the background.
  • The manga version of the story moves a bit slower than the anime adaptation.

Description

Guide Review - Wandering Son Volume 1

Fifth grader Shuichi Nitori comes from a middle-class family, with supportive parents and a slightly pushy but loving sister. He shouldn't have a care in the world — but Shuichi has a secret: he wonders what it would be like to be a girl.

Coincidentally, Shuichi meets and is instantly intrigued by Yoshino Takatsuki, a female classmate who seems disinterested in girly things. Eventually, the two tweens discover that they have something in common: they're about to embark on a very rocky journey through puberty.

When the story opens, Shuichi is beginning to feel twinges of discomfort with his identity as a boy. When Yoshino and his other classmate Saori point out to him that he might look good in a dress, Shuichi is surprised and horrified, then realizes that he finds the idea... intriguing.

Meanwhile, Yoshino's classmates have been addressing this "tall and handsome" girl like she's a boy. Farther along in her journey of self-discovery, Yoshino has been making excursions to another town, wearing boy's school uniform. Soon, she encourages Shuichi to join her in her cross-dressing adventures.

Tension builds as Yoshino and Shuichi take tentative steps toward expressing their gender identities. Their experiences offer them a walk on the not-too-wild side, but each move they make toward expressing their identity brings them closer to the inevitable: When will Yoshino and Shuichi's secret will be revealed to their friends and family? And what will happen to them when it does?

Gender-bending and cross-dressing is nothing new in manga, but it's rare to see it depicted so matter-of-factly, instead of using it for comic relief. If depicting transgendered teens is rare in manga, it's almost never depicted in Western comics. This is what makes Wandering Son so special.

Aside from their gender identity issues, Shuichi's and Yoshino's lives seem perfectly normal. Shuichi is not depicted as effeminate or a victim of bullying. Yoshino's androgynous style earns her more admirers than detractors.

By giving her two main characters middle-class lives and nearly frictionless relationships with their parents and classmates, Shimura conveys that Shuichi and Yoshino's urges to experience life as the opposite sex come primarily from within, and not from any past traumas. As a result, Wandering Son is a sweet and sensitive, albeit unusual, coming of age story.

Just as Shimura treats her two tween characters with respect, so does Fantagraphics' hardcover edition of this story. By presenting Shimura's simple, yet elegant artwork in a larger page format and reproducing her lovely color pages on thick, creamy paper, Fantagraphics has showcased this special story in a very special way. The thoughtful translation also finds a happy medium between conversational English and maintaining the Japanese setting of this story.

Wandering Son is a refreshing example of a graphic novel that gives readers a glimpse of a life rarely seen and a story rarely told. Worth a read, and worth sharing.

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Disclosure: A review copy was provided by the publisher. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.

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