Saturday, November 19, 2011

More Shimura Takako Goodness: the Hourou Musuko anime

This series was a joy to watch... and re-watch. Even though I was initially surprised by its not opening with the beginning of the Hourou Musuko manga's storyline, I think that change was a good move. Like the Aoi Hana anime, the Hourou Musuko anime feels like it was made by people who really respect the source material they're adapting, and that's all that any fan could hope for.

Nitori Shuuichi and Takatsuki Yoshino (who became close friends after each found out that the other is transgender) are entering their first year of middle school with their friendship on the rocks because of a love triangle involving their friend Chiba Saori (the first person who recognized that Nitori prefers girls' clothing). Chiba likes Nitori who likes Takatsuki who doesn't like anyone.

Nitori and Takatsuki quickly repair their friendship, and Nitori gets over Takatsuki and starts dating a model named Anna. While Nitori's preference for girls' clothes doesn't bother Anna, it evokes hostility from Nitori's older sister Maho, the only member of Nitori's family who knows. Thankfully, Maho's bark is worse than her bite. She's much more supportive than she likes to think she is. Conversely, Anna breaks up with Nitori after Nitori shows that she really wants to live life as a girl (as opposed to being a boy who dresses in girls' clothes as a hobby he'll eventually tire of) by going to school one day in the girls' uniform.

Predictably, even though no one kicked up a fuss about Takatsuki and the flamboyantly eccentric Chizuru wearing the boys' uniform to school previously, Nitori couldn't reach the school gate without being sent to the principal's office- and then sent home. Nitori's mom doesn't freak out as badly as she might have (Yuki, the transsexual woman who acts as a friend and role model for Nitori and Takatsuki, got disowned by her family), but Nitori's dad deserves the Parent of the Year award for his reaction.

The biggest theme in this show is coming of age, as Nitori and Takatsuki have to deal with (and becoming more capable of dealing with) their bodies changing in ways that they really don't want for obvious reasons. Ironically, Chiba becomes closer to Takatsuki than Nitori because her still-unrequited feelings (compounding her general awkwardness in dealing with people) make it harder for her to comfortably interact with Nitori. By the end, Nitori, Takatsuki, and Chiba are friends as a group again, and the bullying reaction to Nitori wearing girls' clothes to school dies down. (I'm really glad that the bullying Nitori goes through isn't as bad as it would be in real life, although I'm also glad this series acknowledges that worse can happen via Yuki's school background.)

So yeah, great series. Great character interaction and development, freaking gorgeous art, and perfectly cast seiyuu. I thought it was a nice touch that Hatakeyama Kousuke, the seiyuu who plays Nitori, was more or less the same age as Nitori when the series was made. And regarding how yuri-relevant this series is...

This is the hardest part of writing this review- not helped by the fact that there's no way not to directly address it on this blog and my chronic over-thinking of things. Nitori = girl. Nitori likes girls, e.g. Anna. I would say that Nitori's bisexual, since the idea of liking Takatsuki as a boy didn't put a damper on her feelings for him at all. (Being rejected did.) Anna might be also. I will be shocked if she and Nitori don't wind up together in the manga, considering how long she has been set up as The Love Interest. At one point in the manga Nitori even brings Anna to Yuki and her boyfriend Shi-chan's apartment, which feels a lot like a Meet the Parents visit. (Despite my speculation above, whatever they are- bi, gay, straight, queer, pan, unlabeled, etc- doesn't affect my opinion that they're cute together.) She basically dumped Nitori at the end of the anime for being too much of a girl, but later in the manga, she seems to be gradually, gradually gravitating back towards the idea of them having a relationship. At this point, I don't feel like I can label Anna's feelings "yuri" (I don't think she would either), but I can confidently do so for Nitori, just as I wouldn't label Yuki's feelings for Shi-chan "yaoi." And to be completely honest, even though Nitori is a girl and her feelings for other girls are lesbian, I do agree with the idea that as long as she's in a male body, any relationship she has with, say, Anna, isn't straight, but isn't really lesbian either; the queer label makes the most sense to me. I'm convinced that Momo has a crush on Chi-chan also, although I'm much less confident that that will work out. (Or that Momo's even aware of it.) And there you have it. Like the rest of Shimura's work featuring GSM characters, Hourou Musuko has an unambivalent "There is nothing wrong with liking whoever you like" message, which we can all agree on.

Massive over-thinking on my part as a reviewer aside... this series is poignant and brilliant and lovely and you should at least try it.

Story: A
Art: A
Overall: A

This will be my only post this weekend.


yukimi87 said...

I have to confess that, even if Hourour Musuko is probably my favourite manga series with Monster and 20th Century Boys, I still haven't watched the anime. I planned on watching it, the same way I watched Aoi Hana's, but people reviewed it so unfavorably and my best friend watched the 1st episode and dropped it after I had recommended the manga to him. Still it's not any excuse and a fan should watch the anime XP

BEing the devil's advocate, there are 3 reasons why I think Hourour Musuko is harder to adapt than for example Aoi Hana even with all the sensibility displayed by the animation group. I know many of these have been probable subverted or averted (too much Tv Tropes).

1) Main reason, the sheer amounts of flash-backs. Soemtimes you don't knwo the result of what's happened until several issues later and it perfectly works in the manga and makes it grat but it's very difficult to adapt to the anime format and it makes it harder to understand the story.

2) The fact that the character express themselves through thoughts, dreams and diaries frequently. Anime works better with dialogues and if the thoughts part gets minimised, some nuances get lost.

3) Transexual in TV in Japan are a joke... literally. Either they are a comedy recurse or it's just a phase that they must outgrow(like the S-class relationships with lesbians but worse because it's seen as something perverted that onyl sexual deviants do T_T). I know they tried to be loyal to the riginal but I also hears there were mixed feeelings and doubts about te ending...

I hope I make sense, it's 3 AM here and I'm sleepy. I'm sure the anime is actually very cool and I'm looking forward to see it. I will critisize it, of course, and claim the manga is best XP but that's because I love the manga too much :P

yukimi87 said...

PS: Still I think it's very good it got an anime because people need to knwo there are transgender people out there, that they struggle and that they are as normal as anyone else.

Also, it would be nice if they understoof that transgender people also can have a variety of sexual preferences...

Katherine Hanson said...

@yukimi87- I thought it was excellent, but I can understand how a slice-of-life drama, no matter how well done, wouldn't be everyone's cup of tea.

I thought the anime did a good job of avoiding confusion and resolving things in a timely manner. (Granted, I don't feel like the manga has an especially large number of flashbacks.)

Internal dialogue still counts as dialogue. I don't see how it would be any harder for the audience to understand a character if they think, for example, "What beautiful weather," rather than say, "What beautiful weather" out loud. And the meaning of the dreams seems pretty straightforward.

Transexuals don't really have it worse than lesbians in Japan, but I don't want to play "Who Has The Least Privilege?" GSM (gender and sexual minority) people in general tend to get crappy depictions in the media there, out of what little they get. If you haven't read this, you might find it interesting:

"mixed feeelings and doubts about te ending..." <- I'm not sure what you mean by this. Do you mean people had mixed feelings about the ending as an adaptation, or dissatisfaction at where it stopped, or the mixed feelings were because of some other reason?

Yeah, I'm being defensive. :P I just don't see why discussion of an adaption has to be framed in terms of "The manga versus the anime! Which one is inferior?"

But if you like the manga, I do think you'll enjoy the anime.

"it would be nice if they understoof that transgender people also can have a variety of sexual preferences..." Yeah. Saw a comment on Crunchyroll once where someone was like, "lol Nitori, dude, how can you date a girl if you want to be one?" (I'm paraphrasing, but that's the gist of it.) Made me facepalm hard.

yukimi87 said...

I don't blame you for being defensive :P and I really shouldn't be commenting until I saw the anime. It's just that my best friend stopped watching because he was confused so in that moment I made the first 2 points in my mental list and decided to expose them here as a theory. So, yep, don't take it too seriously.

I tend to prefer the original medium to the adaptations because the author who imagined the story for the manga, visual novel or anime knows best how to tell the story because he knows bits that the rest don't and especially if the adaptation starts before the original ends, but this might be my personal bias. The difference is never big and each medium has diferent quirks and advantages. Watching all the possible products might give you a bigger understanding of the series or show you aspects you hadn't consider before.

About the ending, I repeat that I haven't seen the anime and this is simply hear say. I read that a large number of people who weren't knowledgeable about LGTBQ in general got the impression in the last episode that Nitori has accepted growing up and being a boy O_o I know that the ending couldn't mean that but it seems the message was a bit too ambiguous for that people.

Well I have to leave know to vote in the General Elections of my country T_T I feel useless because the conservatives are going to win anyway OTL

One last thing, as you can see my typing is way subpar, I hope it doens't bother you too much :)

Katherine Hanson said...

@yukimi87- No worries, I can understand you perfectly well. :-)

I tend to prefer the original also. But I judge adaptations by how they fare as adaptations. If every trace of either the Hourou Musuko manga or the Hourou Musuko anime were to be shuttled into the sun and wiped from existence (even if the Hourou Musuko anime covered the entire span of the manga after it was completed), I would still choose to save the manga/Shimura's original vision, but that doesn't mean that I don't value the anime as an excellent adaptation.

"got the impression in the last episode that Nitori has accepted growing up and being a boy" <- Nope, that wasn't it. Nitori doesn't want to be a boy at the end, but rather, recognizes that the changes that come with puberty (voice changes, etc) are coming whether she want them or not and she's more capable of dealing with them.

And good luck with the elections. ^^;