Wandering Son, Vol. 2

By Shimura Takako. Released in Japan by Enterbrain, serialization ongoing in the magazine Comic Beam. Released in North America by Fantagraphics.

In Volume 2 of Wandering Son, as you would expect, we begin to discover that just because you have someone to share your dreams does not necessarily mean that they become easier to achieve. Shuichi gets more of the focus here, and he’s starting to realize just what he’s getting into with his desire to be a girl. His sister is angry and suspicious of him… while at the same time being fascinated about dressing him up. Classmates are being cruel as only children can. But it’s actually a simple classroom assignment to write down what you want to be when you grow up that almost breaks him this volume. The future is scary.

In volume 1 it was Saori that drew my attention, but in this volume it seems to be Maho, Shuichi’s sister. She’s clearly presented unsympathetically at times, and I get the feeling that things will only get worse in that regard. But I love how things are never as cut and dried as “good guy” and “bad guy” in this series, especially with the children. After all, Shuichi may be the hero, but Maho is having to deal with being a young girl as well, not to mention her brother is dressing up as a girl, to the point where one of her classmates starts to fall for Shuichi. The characters develop from their situations, which is all you can ask for in this sort of work.

Meanwhile, the young woman we met in Volume One, Yuki, gets her own secret revealed. It’s not particularly surprising to me – I was more surprised that she was unaware of Shuichi and Yoshino’s identities. Yuki’s boyfriend, though, does lead to one of the funniest (and most cringe-inducing) scenes in the entire volume, where he looks at Yoshino suspiciously and then decides to verify her gender. Yoshino’s reaction made me laugh, but at the same time, I’m amazed she didn’t slug him… or run off. Yuki notes that it’s very rare to have two friends like Shuichi and Yoshino are. In addition to the transgender issues, the core of each volume is, of course, the friendship they have, and I hope that it continues to develop.

The second half of the volume is a class trip, and shows us that Shuichi is having difficulties with the other kids in his class. He’s so softspoken that he tends to get picked on, and one boy in particular is pressing him to see just how far he can take it, calling him “faggot” and mocking him on the bus. You don’t have to be familiar with transgender issues to understand what’s going on here (though this being manga, I would not particularly be surprised were that bully redeemed a ways down the road). Then there’s Saori, who, unlike Shuichi and Yoshino, can’t just sit back and let injustice go. She’s reminded of Anne of Green Gables, a book which most Western readers will know, and it leads to a truly wonderful scene. I like Saori, but given her high-strung nature I worry that she’s going to have even more trouble growing up than our two leads.

As with the first volume, the second one ends with an essay by translator Matt Thorn, this one dealing with transgender and homosexuality in the united States and Japan. (Neither Shuichi nor Yoshino’s sexuality has come up in the manga yet, but I’m fairly certain it will at some point.) Matt’s essay is excellent, noting the similarities and differences in the prejudices among cultures. Wandering Son, of course, will be dealing with family, and friends, and classmates. It’s not really going to have the option of viewing transgender issues from a distance the way a lot of Japanese folks can. Let’s hope Shuichi and Yoshino can weather the storm.

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