Wandering Son, Vol. 7

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.

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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.

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.

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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.

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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.