By Shimura Takako. Released in Japan by Enterbrain, serialization ongoing in the magazine Comic Beam. Released in North America by Fantagraphics.
One of the things that impresses me most about this manga is how much everything seems to be in flux. Nitori and Takatsuki’s gender identity disorder is the most obvious, but nothing else seems to be clear-cut at all, just as kids feel right around middle school. In this volume we see their secret get revealed to the class, and though a majority of the fallout focuses on Nitori and Takatsuki’s feelings, we also get to see how it affects people like Sasa, who’s just concerned that her friends are all pulling apart, or Seya, who’s falling for Nitori without really knowing the truth, but whose feelings continue to be an issue even after he finds out.
We also meet a new character, Makoto, who takes a surprisingly large role in this volume. He’s surprisingly mature, being a bit more confident in his desires, more ‘intellectual’ in his speech and manners (watch his cutting remarks to Maho when she’s about to insult him), and no doubt also far more emotionally fragile than he lets on. He reminds me a bit of Saori, but she still wears her heart on her sleeve. He’s also shown to be quite attracted to Nitori, which is something we haven’t really gotten into given the age of the protagonists, but no doubt will as the manga advances. What will happen when sexuality starts to come up?
I was pleased to see us moving beyond the school in this volume, with Maho dragging her brother along to her modeling audition. I continue to enjoy reading about Maho, a very ‘bratty big sister’ character whose head you can nevertheless easily get inside. Loneliness and lack of self-confidence lead to some of the more impressively awful scenes in the book, as she sets up Seya on a ‘not date’ with her brother dressed as a girl. That said, after Makoto dresses her down, I think she’s starting to think more about what she’s doing. The final scene, showing her and Nitori defending each other against the overly pushy modeling crowd, is quite heartwarming.
Then there’s the scene with Takatsuki and Yuki. This is a manga that takes place in a slightly lighter, fluffier world than reality, so things don’t turn too dark, and there’s a sense of ‘easily forgiven’ to the whole thing. At the same time, though, Takatsuki’s panic and fear is palpable on the page, and reminds you once again that these are just *kids*. Yuki’s behavior also ties in with Maho’s earlier, and the modeling girls at the end, in that they’re treating Nitori and Takatsuki as objects, even if it’s unconsciously. Takatsuki, who’s already upset that they both got found out but that Nitori is taking the brunt of the class’ reaction, is especially upset by this. Neither she or Nitori are dolls that people can play with as they please, or substitutes that they can live vicariously through.
It took a while for me to get around to reading this volume, but as always I was immensely impressed when I finished it. As I said, this isn’t quite ‘reality’, but it still handles everything realistically, and shows the emotions that everyone goes through. The middle school years are a giant state of flux, and therefore a great place to examine the gender issues that Wandering Son does. Roll on, Volume Four.