What to do with this Wandering Son?
Most anime fans know what a trap is. It’s usually a pretty girl that’s introduced in an ecchi or servicing situation before the production team decides it’d be an interesting shock to show that the girl in question is actually a boy. The reverse-trap is similar, but with swapped genders and is less common given the prevalence of tomboys or outright tsundere. Wandering Son makes no jokes about it — the series is ripe with crossdressing and other gender identity issues that make for a fantastic drama backdrop.
Nitori Shuichi is a young, feminine boy that is just entering his first year of middle school. He tries his best to keep his interest in crossdressing as discreet as possible, but circumstances forced the information out into the open during his earlier school years, which alienated him from the rest of his class. He managed to make friends with two other girls, Takatsuki Yoshino and Chiba Saori. Takatsuki is a tall, tomboyish girl that also enjoys crossdressing, and Saori is also supportive of Shuichi’s choice of wear. At some point, Shuichi confesses his feelings to Takatsuki, only to be rejected, at which point Saori confesses to Shuichi and is similarly rejected. As a rift forms between the two girls over Shuichi, the confused boy finds himself being torn from his two closest friends at a time when hormones are raging, voices are changing, and gender identities are muddled.
Wandering Son starts out extremely strong with an interesting hook and a well-established love triangle from the get-go. Shuichi and his group of friends are all a little awkward in their own way, and it’s easy to paint them as the oddballs of the entire school. But that isolation is something that forces the characters to band together and showcase a level of understanding that is appropriate for the group’s collective uncertainty and timidness. The only character that seems to break this mold is the genki girl of the series, Chizuru “Chii-chan” Sarashina, who is not above crossdressing herself if she feels like it or picking fights with those who would belittle her friends. She keeps the group on their toes and out of a persistent level of sulk that would probably have ruined the anime.
I was surprised to find out that the author of the manga originally wanted to do a story about a girl wanting to crossdress and not a boy. After watching Wandering Son, there’s really no comparison from a societal point of view: being a guy trying to crossdress seems a lot more difficult than being a girl trying to crossdress. I was really awestruck by this simple difference; media typically seems to focus, prejudiced or not, on stereotypical female roles. To actually see a male lead struggle where a female lead would trek through more easily really enhanced the pressure felt when Shuichi struggled to come to decisions.
It’s not all sunshine and rainbows, though. There are a few darker moments that Shuichi has to overcome, particularly when he is at the mercy of other junior high kids. Nothing too bad, though a few choice words are thrown around that might make some feel a little uncomfortable. It may just be a translation or adaption issue, though.
Wandering Son cruises along at a very relaxed pace, which is uncharacteristic for series of its length (11 episodes). Yet, the time is used perfectly and manages to create conflict and resolve them at a leisurely rate. I was quite appreciative of the pacing, since it allowed me to focus a lot more on the characters and their inner workings. And believe me, there’s a lot going on.
This series touches on a lot of real life issues and can really make you think. For that reason alone I would recommend it, but it’s supplemented by absolutely fluid animation and a clean art-style a bit reminiscent of Bunny Drop. While the soundtrack isn’t anything special, the production team really seemed to know how to push just the right amount of silence to create a heavy, dramatic atmosphere without making it overbearing.
This drama might not make you cry, but it’s a definite eye-opener, and I doubt we’ll see anything like it for at least the next few years.
Character Ranking – Wandering Son
- Suehiro Anna
- Chizuru “Chii-chan” Sarashina
- Sasa Kanako
- Nitori Maho
- Nitori Shuichi
- Takatsuki Yoshino