Monday, December 3, 2012

Wandering Son by Shimura Takako

Wandering Son by Shimura Takako is an amazing manga series.The story is about Shuichi Nitori and Yoshino Takatsuki, a boy and a girl, respectively, who attend the same school. Nitori-kun is a boy who wants to be a girl, and Takatsuki-san is a girl who wants to be a boy. This is a realistic depiction of transgender and sexual identity issues in a coming-of-age story.

Nitori-kun is often bullied by the other boys so most of his friends are girls. Takatsuki-san and Chiba-san both know his secret, and both treat him differently for it. Takatsuki-san understands because she too wishes she were the opposite gender. She sympathizes for him because as a girl she can easily have a male hair style and wear boy's clothes without drawing attention, but Nitori-kun cannot wear girl's clothes so easily. Her mother buys her dresses, so she gives them to Nitori-kun. Chiba-san also tries to give Nitori-kun clothes, but he refuses them because Chiba-san knows, but she doesn't understand and treats his identity and cross-dressing as a game because she thinks it's interesting. As the characters grow the encounter complexities in their relationships and identity.

Takatsuki-san sees another girl dressed in boy's clothes and wants to be like her. She begins to wear boy's clothes and has her hair cut short (like Nitori-kun's). When her period begins she struggles against her biologically female self and her actual identity. She often comes to Nitori-kun's rescue and is often tougher than he is.

The characters all have an amazing depth to them. The story explores the issues that a transgendered individual may go through personally, with friendships, and with family. It is highly insightful and sensitive to the characters' emotions and personalities. The perspectives of different people are shared as well-- Nitori-kun's sister, Maho; Chiba-san and Chiba-san's mother; and two adult friends the protagonists share.

While the story is focused on transgender topics, I think that this is a wonderfully moving coming-of-age story and captures the complexities of sexual identity, friendships, and family that teens face. The simple art style captures details beautifully-- the shine of one's eyes when they're about to cry, the significant gesture of changing clothes from boy's to girl's clothes for Nitori-kun (for instance, him entering the restroom or a dress hanging on the closet), and the shared room of Maho and Shuichi and how they interact in the space.

There are only 3 volumes published in the US right now, but I look forward to reading more of this story.

I have used the male and female pronouns for Nitori-kun and Takatsuki-san respectively because the honorifics and translation follow this as well. According to Japanese law, one can request a gender change on identifying documents after the age of 20 (and various other conditions), so since both characters are minors they cannot yet legally change their gender. Additionally, throughout the volumes I have read they are discovering this identity, it is not yet clear if they identify exclusively male or female yet. Matt Thorn, the translator, shares information in volumes 1 and 2 about being transgendered in Japan and views regarding LGBT people in Japan that is highly insightful. From what I know, when a transgendered person refers to his or herself as male or female then others should do the same. I have several friends who are transgendered, so this is a topic close to me. 

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