Wandering Son, Vol. 6

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

Wandering Son has ended in Japan at 15 volumes, so we are now sure that we’re entering the middle third of this story. And things sort of simmer along here. There are no major crises this time around, as we slowly develop some of the things that started in the prior volume. Chiba and Mitori continue to rewrite Romeo and Juliet to suit their tastes and desires, though in the end neither one really get what they want. Nitori makes a confession to Takatsuki, but finds the answer far more ambiguous than he’d really like. And remember when I said Chiba was now stoic rather than emotional? Yeah, nevermind.

wanderingson6

Chiba continues to be the character that most interest me, which meant this volume was particularly suited towards me, as she stomps through it like Godzilla (Ariga even notes at one point that she walks angrily), taking offense at everything and particularly the fact that people’s feelings may not match up with her own. She gets a boy who likes her here, but the feeling does not seem to be mutual, and she’s more determined than ever to get closer to Nitori, even as he tries to get closer to Takatsuki. Both succeed about the same amount, which is to say not at all.

Speaking of Takatsuki, she’s still going through her own issues. The bra thing is really bothering her, and someone talking about wearing a chest wrapping may provide a solution. In the meantime, though, she clearly cherishes her relationship with Nitori, but gets uncomfortable when it’s made explicit that he likes her, something that I suspect will bounce back on her in a bad way in the future. They are really cute, though, going on picnics together and dates where they can each dress as they want to. It’s very cute, and very safe. Nitori is getting bolder as well, trying on his sister’s bra and panties despite his feelings of guilt – it reads as uncomfortably as it sounds, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

As for the rest of the cast, Ariga gets the most development here, as he ends up being cast as Juliet opposite Chiba’s Romeo. He seems to be the one who understands her the most, and tries occasionally to calm her raging emotions, though his success rate is low. It’s not helped by his own poor self-image, which drives Chiba nuts as she demands he have more confidence in himself. We only see bits and pieces of the play, but it’s good to see that after a bad start, he grows more confident in the role as he goes along.

Other things to note: I liked Sasa being asked about love, and noting that she hasn’t really loved anyone like that, both because I felt it realistic and also because it does sort of close her out of her immediate peer group, all of whom are dealing with crushes of one sort or another (I loved her reaction to Ariga noting he’d felt this way “a few times”). Sarashina hasn’t really advanced much beyond ‘being loud’ and ‘saying the wrong thing at the wrong time’, but I’m sure we’ll get more in the coming volumes. She does get the best gag, though, as Maho’s fellow models wear semi-obvious disguises and go to her culture festival, and Sarashina notes Anna is “the mean one”, to Maiko’s amusement.

Wandering Son continues to be a heartwarming series that is not afraid to focus on the awkward moments of teenage life and put them under a microscope. If you aren’t reading this series, you’re really missing out.

Wandering Son, Vol. 5

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

Switching to a new environment can be crippling to a young person, particularly if they’re going through a lot of other things as well. So it is with the cast of Wandering Son and middle school. Nitori tries to continue to define himself while also discovering something he’s genuinely good at, Takatsuki discovers she’s no longer the only one in the room doing what she does, and Chiba finds that even if she’s gone from overly emotional to overly stoic, she still has difficulty dealing with anyone. So, in other words, it’s an excellent depiction of anyone’s life in middle school.

wanderingson5

We also meet some new cast members, who basically fly into Takatsuki’s circle of friends and explode like a bomb. Sarashina also sometimes wears male clothing, but it’s nothing to do with gender identity and more to do with her being an eccentric loudmouth who does whatever the hell she wants. Naturally, Takatsuki is drawn to her, as not caring about what people think is something everyone else in this book has trouble getting past. She also has a best friend, though, Shirai, who clearly is very close to her, and is very unhappy with this new girl making advances on her… um, friend. There are no yuri overtones here, really, but Shirai certainly exhibits all the classic signs of jealousy. She’s written a little flatly, so I hope we find out more about her later.

As for Chiba, you really want to reach out and give her a hug, but there’s no way she’d let you. She can’t get over her own feelings of hatred/jealousy towards Takatsuki, and attempting to suppress all emotion is not working out very well when everyone around you is giving you an excuse to go off like a rocket. So the answer, clearly, is to be antagonistic to *everyone* – even the girls in a higher grade than her, a definite no-no in Japanese society. I really hope Chiba can eventually move on past her repressed and upsetting anger, because right now she’s on a very dark road, and given she’s only 12 or so that’s depressing in itself.

Meanwhile, our hero and heroine are both facing the realities of puberty. Nitori and Ariga record their voices on tape, so they’ll be able to remember what they were like before they change. Nitori is a little upset at the idea that he won’t be able to dress as a girl anymore. Takatsuki is having an even worse time… her sports coach is demanding she wear a bra to practice, another reminder that her gender is trying to impose limits on her. The two of them finally make up, sort of, in a touching yet somewhat sad scene as they both worry about the future. Nitori, however, seems to get an idea for it, and begins to start writing a story based on his own experiences. I like the idea of Nitori’s insecurities and dreams fueling his creativity, and wonder if Takatsuki will be able to help in the process besides just having her life give him ideas.

All in all, this was an excellent transitional book in the series. As we settle into middle school, things are bound to get even more awkward, and I hope our cast finds the strength to make it through.

Wandering Son, Vol. 4

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

In my last review, I noted that all the characters were just starting to reach that age where love would come into the picture, and wondered what would happen when it arrived. Well, that moment is here, and the answer is simple: a trainwreck of feelings and emotions. There’s actually not as much regarding Nitori and Takatsuki’s gender identity disorder here, but there doesn’t need to be. Takako-san has set up all the characters’ wants and needs in the first three volumes, and now can send them careening everywhere confident that we’ll follow along.

wanderingson4

This is not to say that everyone is embracing these new-found feelings. Nitori and Anna’s feelings for each other, for example, almost read like they’re out of Bob’s Big Book Of Manga Cliches. Anna is clearly attracted to Nitori, but is still a bit weirded out by Notori’s gender issues, so this tends to come out as abuse. Honestly, I wasn’t expecting Anna to be as utterly tsundere as she is here, given this is a very realistic, subtle work. And Nitori is also attracted to Anna, but she’s sending all the wrong signals, so he just ends up frustrated. And then there’s Takatsuki to consider…

Sometimes friends fall out, particularly in the elementary school/middle school years. The tragedy of what happens with Saori is that she can see it – hell, she excoriates herself for it, quoting from Anne of Green Gables again – but still can’t help what her heart feels, and this causes her to lash out at Takatsuki. Meanwhile, Takatsuki’s relationship with Nitori is all over the school – there’s a rumor they were seen kissing, and it won’t quite die down. It’s getting to the point where Nitori and Takatsuki are starting to dream of each other… erotic dreams. Takako-san’s subtleties excel here, as you clearly know that we’re seeing wet dreams without there being anything racy or suggestive.

In the end, almost everyone ends up unhappy or unfulfilled here, which is not a surprise given the age of the protagonists. Saori seems to have shut down (the unwanted attention she’s getting from a male friend at church isn’t helping), and the others are simply trying to keep it together. The other friend in their little group, Sasa, barely appears, but it’s noted a couple of times they want to try to stay on an even keel for her – she seems to be the heart of the group. There is, however, one romance that does work out, and fittingly, it’s for a slightly older couple. Maho is finally able to get over her own shyness and panic, and she and Seya become a couple. (His own feelings for Nitori-as-a-girl are still an issue, of course.)

So another solid volume that really makes me love these characters even more. My favorite part of the entire book was probably a chapter where Nitori, frustrated by his sister, Anna, and everything going on at school, decides to run away. Not being able to afford to go anywhere, though, as the day progresses Nitori just ends up at a zoo. In the end, the day passes and on Nitori’s return, no one realizes he’s even been gone. Nitori’s imagination and emotions are further along than his maturity level, and it’s causing him great pain. Will middle school help to guide him? Can’t wait to find out.