By Shimura Takako. Released in Japan by Enterbrain, serialized in the magazine Comic Beam. Released in North America by Fantagraphics.
Childhood and growing up is all about making big mistakes and then trying to deal with them, or make up for them, or (most often) realize that you can’t really make up for some things. This volume of Wandering Son definitely feels like that’s what’s happening with Takatsuki, who lets a secret blurt out in an impetuous moment and then has to deal with the fallout. Meanwhile, Nitori seems to have moved on from Takatsuki himself, as he’s started to date – and no big surprise who it is. This may be a heartwarming cutting edge coming of age manga, but if a girl says she hates a guy in Book 4, she’s going to be dating him in Book 7.
We’ve focused mainly on Nitori and his desires, but Takatsuki is the other half of this story, and her gender issues have not gone away. It’s harder for her to accomplish what she wants, though. There are little victories, such as leaving her ribbon off at school or binding her chest to hide her growing breasts. But there’s also Chiba, who proclaims her dislike of Takatsuki but can’t stop dealing with her. Takatsuki is not helping things either. Her revelation that Nitori is dating Anna is pure spite, and she knows how Chiba feels, so should not be surprised at the devastation that follows. It ends up forcing the two of them to deal with each other more directly, though. I wonder if Takatsuki will follow Chiba’s suggestion towards the end of the volume.
Meanwhile, as noted, Nitori and Anna have started going out. They’re very cute together, though Nitori’s gender issues have not yet really come between them, and it’s critical to note that he goes out with her and confesses to her as a male. He’s really come a long way, though, and I feel happy for him. All is not sunshine and rainbows, of course; puberty brings its own problems, in this case acne, and the fact that some cleansers simply work differently for different types of faces. And there’s Seya, forced together with Nitori on a skiing trip, who’s still having issues with how cute Nitori is and dealing with the reaction to that.
And I keep coming back to Chiba. She actually stays home for a considerable period after the Anna revelation, and is considering dropping out entirely. All of Nitori and Takatsuki’s friends seem to grate on her these days, and I am reminded what a difficult thing it is to get everyone in a young peer group to get along, or even communicate with each other properly. Things are looking up as she goes with the class on the ski trip, but even there she can’t really stop trying to influence people to change the way she wants them to change, something I think she has regretted before and will regret again. She’s a giant mess, and still my favorite character in the series.
Wandering Son is a nostalgic look back at what it was like to go through childhood, and if that sounds painful and discomfiting, it’s probably meant to be. But there’s a lot of warmth and affection here as well, and we long to see the cast struggle, make more mistakes, and continue to move forward. Highly recommended.