Hourou Musuko: wandering through an unusual adolescence

I find Hourou Musuko (aka Wandering Son) rather difficult to write about. What does one say about a story about a boy who wants to be a girl, and a girl who wants to be a boy? My knowledge of gender identity disorder is sadly lacking, although I really appreciated how the J-drama Last Friends tried to deal with it, but no matter how much I read, I find it difficult to empathise. I don’t really want to go down the route of approaching this series through a feminist lens, which is what I’d expect some viewers to do. But that’s not really what this series is about, is it?

Oh Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?

One thing that most viewers – and people in the industry too – would probably agree that this adaptation of Shimura Takako’s manga achieved everything it could given the limitations it faced. A subject that few people would probably be able to empathise with; the restrictions of adapting a 70+ chapter (at the time they’d started planning it) into a 12-episode series. The latter in particular, caused a bit of controversy at the start, as manga fans debated over the pluses and minuses of plunging into the middle of the story. However, having only viewed the anime at the time, I think they managed to pull it off without causing too much confusion – writer and series composer Okada Mari deserves much credit for her exemplary work here (although, I’m sure the other important decision makers such as the director contributed greatly to this too). That decision, to adapt only a proportion of the manga, could have resulted in a direction-less mess, but I feel that the creative team made an excellent choice in choosing to focus on some of the most important parts of Nitori’s development. The narrative was ultimately driven by his journey from being a shy kid who was questioning his desire to be a girl “disgusting…I’m disgusting” to someone who could speak what was on his/her mind, and accept the kind of person he/she was. Of course, more development has occurred in the manga since then, but I’ll leave that for everyone to see themselves.

It really is amazing, how people can grow through hardship…

The love that everyone involved really shines through. From the director to the voice actors and the in-between animators – nothing they produced seemed out of place, and all the little details, such as the reflections in the mirrors, the unique features of every single face in the crowds, subtle changes in expression, or the nudges that some characters give to each other. One criticism that has been directed at the manga is that the characters are a lot more mature than they should be. To me, that bit of joking around between Anna and Maico really captures what kids and teenagers are like, and helps balance the strange maturity of the others. The music, the colour palette, the subtle shifts in tone that some people may not have noticed – I certainly didn’t, until it was pointed out in one of the commentaries. The culmination of all these parts just captured the mood of the manga incredibly well. In fact, I would say that it gave this series something that the manga, because of it’s static and B&W nature cannot: life.

It’s sooooo childish…but at the same time, so real.

However, despite all of these positives, Hourou Musuko didn’t even rate a mention in my year review last year. Thinking back over it as I rewatched the entire series recently, I think I understand why. The characters…were just really difficult for me to empathise with. Largely due to the fact that I don’t have a gender identity problem, but also because they are less than half my age, and because their growing pains are something that I never felt. For whatever reason – being at an all girls school may have been a factor – I never really understood how they could fall (and out) of love so quickly. Most pertinently, however, even though his development over the course of the series was excellent, I never really felt that I understood what Nitori was going through, never understood why Nitori wanted to be a girl. Can such a feeling ever be understood if one isn’t confronted with a similar problem?

Each one is different – can you imagine the effort that must have taken?
Admittedly, Hyouka proves that KyoAni is still at an entirely different level…

There is one last thing that I want to mention. The fact is, no matter how much I try – and I’ll be the first to admit that I probably don’t try that hard – I cannot really understand what real life transgendered people go through. Whilst the gender identity issues depicted in Hourou Musuko do present important questions about our society and the way our sex is used to predetermine what gendered behaviour is “normal” for us, I could not understand the fuss that some people made about using the male and female pronouns to refer to Takatsuki and Nitori. I mean, Nitori himself uses a masculine first person pronoun – boku! And Takatsuki uses watashi, which is more often used by women than men! And it gets even more confusing when they decide to continue using masculine pronouns with Nitori’s friend, Makoto, who arguably also wants to be a girl! Personally, I think I’ll leave it until they really make the complete change to living as their desired gender.

The transient girl and the transient boy: where will they go from here?

In the end, Hourou Musuko really was an interesting watch. And I do somewhat look forward to seeing what becomes of Nitori and Takatsuki in the manga. Will the former go through with the physical change? And will the latter learn to live with his/her body? But I still wonder if this story will stay with me after it is finished, or if it will just become another barely remembered part of my hobby…

About karice
MAG fan, translator, and localization project manager. I also love musicals, travel and figure skating!

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