Sunday, October 2, 2011
Shimura Takako's Wandering Son has been running for over one hundred chapters, since 2002. For people who have watched the anime first or read much farther ahead, it's going to be a little weird to read the beginning, when the core cast is smaller and still in grade school.
But whatever stage of its characters' lives it takes place at, Wandering Son is a quietly beautiful story with the makings of a modern classic.
Nitori Shuuichi, a quiet, introverted fifth-grader, is the new kid at school. Nitori makes friends with Takatsuki Yoshino, who sits in the next seat over, along with Takatsuki's cheery friend Sasa Kanako and the class loner Chiba Saori. Chiba quickly realizes that Nitori would rather wear girls' clothes than boys' clothes and acts supportive about it. She even suggests that the class play cast the boys in female roles and vice versa, to give Nitori a chance to dress in girls' clothes. Takatsuki, however, is the one who becomes closest to Nitori after they each find out that the other is transgender.
Nitori's class rehearses for their performance of Rose of Versailles (the choice suggested by their homeroom teacher, a Takarazuka fan), with Chiba playing Fersen and Takatsuki as Andre. Nitori initially gets cast as Oscar, but isn't butchy enough and switches to playing Rosalie. Nitori accidentally hurts Chiba's feelings by returning her birthday gift, an expensive dress. Chiba burns it in front of Nitori, then feels guilty about what she did and has a hard time facing Nitori for a while. Takatsuki sometimes rides the train far away to spend time in boys' clothes without being recognized, and starts to bring Nitori along. After bringing pads to school for the first time, Takatsuki also deals with the asinine "Neener, neener! So you are a girl!" reactions of a few boys. The performance of BeruBara goes off without a hitch (Shimura sure loves to have her characters participating in plays), and life seems pretty good.
I'm very happy with the treatment that Fantagraphics gave Wandering Son: a larger than normal page size, high quality paper, a hard cover, preserved color pages, an excellent translation, a pronunciation guide, and an essay on the translation. I'm interested in what else might be included in future volumes. Regardless of the extras (I'm not collecting this series for that), this is a beautifully-written, introspective coming-of-age story. None of the characters are types, and Shimura, thankfully, makes them easy to empathize with (who can't relate to having fights with friends at school and the crappiness that is early adolescence?) without feeling like she's trying too hard to make the audience like them. If I remember clearly, the next volume will prominently feature Nitori's (realistically) bratty older sister Maho, as well as Yuki, a transsexual woman who befriends Takatsuki and Nitori. (We only see Yuki briefly in this volume.)
Story: A can't-miss if you want to read a realistic coming-of-age story by an author who knows what she's doing when she writes GSM characters. A
BGM: "Oath Sign" - LiSA