Back to a review, this time another manga I read. I discovered this one when I was linked it from reddit as a trans positivish manga but with trigger warnings. It’s an interesting one to dive into, so let’s get going.
Wandering son mainly follows two main characters. Shuichi Nitori is a young boy who has always been effeminate and gradually begins to experiment being a girl. Secondly is Yoshino Takatsuki who is a young tomboyish girl who begins to experiment being a boy.
The first thing to say is that the pronouns for this manga are a bit tricky as each character changes their gender identity a few times through the series as they explore what their gender means to them, their friends, and their families. I will be spoiling the ending later but will warn you when we get there. Shuichi also goes by two nicknames; Shu in boy-mode, and Nitorin in girl-mode. Shu is an easy abbreviation of their name, but Nitorin is a kind of cutesy variation that would usually be associated with a young girl. Yoshinio tends to be called Takatsuki-kun which is an honorific mainly used for boys.
The story is quite a complex one as it follows Shu mainly while they try to come to terms with their gender. They start the story as male but feminine and as they go on they explore being more and more feminine, including crossdressing. Shu is in a fairly young level of school, I believe about 10 or 11 when it starts? Shu is in year 5 of elementary school which starts at 6 years old, so that’s my math. It ends roughly when they start college so around 19.
During this time a lot happens; Shu meets friends who encourage them, and bullies who don’t. Shua nd Yoshiko keep a journal that they pass between them for a year or so until a bully in their class discovers it and parades it around the school which Shu finds especially difficult as it has writing in their about times they’ve gone out dressed as a girl.
Some of the main themes, though, are the changing and realistic personalities and emotions. Characters who start off as firm friends get hit with an emotional realisation (maybe that they’re getting excluded or left behind) and so become hostile to the confusion and sadness of those. Some of them then reconcile later, some don’t. Some of the bullies later realise the childishness of their ways and become first begrudging then firm friends in later years. It all feels very human with a the reader having a good idea of everyone’s emotions but as in real life the characters themselves not always understanding each others’ motivations.
Some high points, beyond the good representation of people.
During the story Nitorin’s growth is really interesting. They start with a little bit of crossdressing at home by trying on their older sister’s clothing. This begins to escalate as they start going outside and then further when they go out with people they know (as with Takatsuki-kun in the image above). This will feel very familiar to a lot of trans people going through a transition as we begin to gain more confidence and find that just loitering around the house in gender-affirming-mode (doesn’t roll off the tongue as well) isn’t enough.
There’s also moments towards the end of the series where Nitorin and one of their friends who is a bit more open about wanting to be a girl both start going through puberty. As they are both biologically male there are times when their voices begin to crack, they start getting bigger, and there’s a genuine fear in both of them that they will become too big or “manly” to be able to keep passing. Oh boy is this a mood, but really well portrayed as they try to hide the inevitable or work around it, or just wish it wouldn’t happen.
Nitorin and Takatsuki-kun also meet a post-op transsexual later in their story called Yuki. She originally meets Takatsuki-kun believing them to be a boy and takes interest in them and Nitorin when she finds out they’re biologically female/male respectively. She keeps in touch with them, providing advice, and encouraging Nitorin occasionally. What I liked about Yuki’s portrayal is that Japan doesn’t always have the best track record for dealing with representation of crossdressing, drag, or trans issues (see Haruhi’s dad in Ouran High School Host Club for an example….) but Yuki is portrayed honestly and positively. She does run a gay bar, because it’s one of the few professionals trans women are allowed in media, but even that isn’t the typical skeezy dive.
There’s a fun side story throughout where Nitorin begins dating a girl called Anna who works at a modelling agency (we’ll get more onto that in a moment). Anna is tall, beautiful, educated, sophisticated, and finds Nitorin small and cute. Their relationship has to be kept a secret as the media would quickly pick up and harrass both Anna and Nitorin were it to be discovered. During their relationship Anna eventually does find out that Nitorin crossdresses and encourages it, wanting to go on dates with them in girl-mode. This continues throughput their education and their relationship is genuinely sweet and touching.
Lastly I would be remiss if I didn’t mention some of the cover and insert art, which is a gorgeous style of hazy lines and pastel colours, I’ll leave a picture below to convince you:
The manga in general itself was a bit hit and miss for me, but it was a style I eventually got used to. I think what put me off most was some of the expression work just coming out a bit vacant, and the strong use of thick black lines and whole black panels that make parts feel dark and claustrophobic.
The last point I’ll make before I move onto negatives is a kind of middling one, the series does get a bit into sexuality and sex, but it’s not a forerunning theme. Towards the middle of the series the characters are going through puberty and begin to experiment with masturbation, but it’s not done in a gratuitous way. There are some really poignant moments when they fish and are left with a strange mixture of emotions at what they’ve done and the body they have doing it with.
So now onto the negatives, and there’s a pretty big hole in the story I’ve not filled in; Nitorin’s older sister (by 1 year) Maho Nitori. Maho and Nitorin share a room at the start of the series on a bunk bed, but eventually the room gets separated with a curtain so they can have some privacy. Maho is the one Nitorin knicks a lot of their clothing from and also the one who is all to do with the modeling agency.
Maho dreams of joining the modelling agency that Anna is part of purely because of Maiko, the “top model” in this particular agency who Maho is basically fangirling over. She attends an audition with Nitorin and they get through preliminary before Anna tells Maho her desire to join just to meet Maiko is childish and silly, which strikes a bit of a nerve. After joining and Anna softening up though the three become fast friends, fulfilling Maho’s dream of being a model with Maiko.
What’s the issue then? Maho is such a bitch. There, I said it. Throughout the whole series she belittles and insults Nitorin, and repeatedly brings it back to the main arguments made against trans people; you’re gross, you’re a pervert, you’re not a real girl so stop pretending.
There is a reason for this, towards the start of the series Maho gets a crush on a boy in her year called Seya and invites him home. Unfortunately he arrives just as everyone else is out an Nitorin is full girl-mode and he himself develops a crush on Nitorin before realising they’re biologically male. This Maho sees as an affront to her own “genuine” femininity and from here on out attacks Nitorin because she’s terrifies they’ll be seen as cuter than her. This drives her to continue at the modelling agency and to keep putting Nitorin down to prevent them presenting female.
The fact it’s coming from a genuine emotional place doesn’t help or make it better. She is truly vile through most of the series and the backup from their parents is very “oh kids will be kids”.
So what’s the verdict?
It’s a good series. A good representation of the troubles that a young trans questioning person will experience in life, and unfortunately that can get a bit too real at times. The characters are relatable and realistic, and the drama feels fitting for the age groups. Definitely give it a read, though do be prepared for your blood to boil at times.
That’s all fo this time! Next up, maybe something that isn’t a manga??