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Wandering Son (Hourou Musuko) PDF Print E-mail
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Thursday, 07 April 2011 00:00

Wandering Son

Every so often a series comes along that sounds like it may be just okay, but then confounds expectation and turns out to be something rather special. The first of the outgoing season's two contributions from the noitaminA block, Wandering Son is just such a show...

Shuichi Nitori is a boy who wants to be a girl - a secret that so far, only his childhood friend Yoshino Takatsuki knows about. Shuichi has a tendency to cross-dress, and gets quite a bit of attention as a girl (he pulls it off well), but he also knows that it's perhaps not quite right. That said, Yoshino has a similar problem of her own - she's a girl who would feel much more comfortable as a boy - and while Yoshino's less daring with her feelings (no cross-dressing for her yet) she's always been able to trust each other with their feelings. Now, they've started middle school together - which may turn out to be the greatest test for their friendship...

First off, put all thoughts of "it's a trap!" to the back of your mind. Yes, Shuichi has a cross-dressing habit - he's a girl in a boy's body, to a certain extent, and throughout the series he's certainly experimenting and asking questions of himself about what he wants to be. There's no escaping that, and the series makes a point of exploring that side of his personality and the consequences of it, particularly towards the end of the series. But in a lot of ways that's just an amplification of teenage experimentation, made a bit more of an issue for dramatic effect - and it's clear through the series, too, that when it comes to romantic involvement, Shuu's as keen on getting himself a girlfriend as anyone else his age. It does make him more of a curiosity, though, less bland than the average male lead these days, and that can only be a good thing.

Along with Shuu, this slice-of-life series follows a group of his close friends and family as they each work out their own places in life. There's big sister Maho, who loves her little brother (even when he's trying out her clothes) but doesn't know quit how to show it; Maho's friend Anna, who becomes Shuu's romantic interest; Makoto, a classmate who also seems to be wondering if he was more cut out to be a girl than a boy; Yoshino, who swings the other way; bundles of energy Chi-chan and Sasa; and Saori, whose brutal honesty can at times be a bit much for her friends. They're a group of people who have been around each other to know how each other tick, friends who for the most part can be relied on - even though they do still have the occasional row or personality conflict that takes some sorting out. The appeal of watching them comes from the character interactions, the ways they bounce of each other with their problems and thoughts, with Shuu and Yoshino and their problems in coming to terms with who they want to be being at the core of that.

It also scores highly on presentation, with a simplistic, bright look to it that contrasts the weighty issues that some of the kids are dealing with - it's beautiful to look at, with some equally good music to back it up (the closing song in particular, Rie Fu - For You, is an extremely good tune). A lot of the time it's also quite uplifting to watch, too - although there one story arc near the end of the series, when things begin to fall apart a little for Shuichi, where that changes in quite a dramatic way.

So. What it is: a tale of friendship and self-exploration. The period of time covered is a snap-shot of the kids' lives - this was going on before we dropped into the story, and it's still a work in progress as the series ends, but its still a fascinating little glimpse into their lives.

What it isn't: Exploitative. There have been quite a few shows over the past year or so where the "trap" character has been the object of humour and / or attempts to get the male audience to fall for them (Hideyoshi, anyone?) - Shuu could certainly be considered a "trap" character, but he's never treated in that way by the series. Instead, the situation is played straight, that this is something he's having to work out for himself, and the way it isn't made light of is to the show's credit.

I hasn't too sure what to make of Wandering Son when I first read the premise, which was heavy on the "Shuu wants to be a girl, Yoshino wants to be a boy" aspect. In the end, that turned out to be part of the series, but not all that it was about - there's plenty else going on here, all beautifully presented and told with its own flair, and in the end it's a joy to watch. One of the surprised of the Winter season, and well worth checking out.

Rating - *****