by Shimura Takako; translated by Matt Thorn
published by Fantagraphics; $19.99 US
While I thought the first book of this series was a little slow to get started, this volume realizes the promise of the premise by showing us the daily lives of two teens with complicated identities.
Shuichi (a boy who wants to be a girl) and Yoshino (a girl who wants to be a boy) have settled into a pattern of indulging their true selves together. They dress as they want to be treated and visit other areas of town, where they’ve made an encouraging adult friend. She gives them a place to hang out and simply be, without worrying about what others think of them. In the rest of their lives, even the simplest requests — such as a school assignment to write about your dream — is fraught with danger, evasion, and deception. There are few people they can be honest with, for fear of their reactions.
Given the complications of their situations, the two are pretty lucky, with a school friend who likes taking pictures of the two of them cross-dressing and who is willing to stand up for them, although she fears being left out of their special relationship. Shuichi’s slightly older sister, though, may come to be more of a problem, especially when one of her classmates sees Shuichi dressed as a girl and becomes infatuated. The class trip shown in the second half of the book is also miserable, with a bully pointing out how Shuichi is different.
Shimura Takako’s young figures are adorable. They look unspoiled, with their future ahead of them, which puts their struggles into greater relief. Who would want such young, happy kids to be miserable? But that’s what they’re facing, once people learn of their true desires. It can be hard to remember how much the two are becoming practiced liars, and when reminded, it makes this reader angry that they’re in a world where that is necessary.
Every volume includes the unpleasant physical reminders of their birth sex, whether it’s getting a period or a wet dream or stupid boys trying to touch the girl’s chests during a trip on a twisty mountain road. I suspect, as the series progresses, those reminders are going to come more often and present more of a problem to deal with. Translator Matt Thorn’s essay at the back of this volume addresses the issue of being “Transgendered in Japan” directly, providing valuable information on cultural context, as well as warning us that the children’s lives may be very difficult in years (and stories) to come.
There is no more handsome manga than Fantagraphics’ presentation of Wandering Son. The larger hardcover suggests “important material inside”, while the creamy, soft paper is comfortable to touch and turn. The book opens with a few color pages that I found essential, since that section includes a character list. Shimura’s work is lovely, but her faces do look alike, all wide hopeful eyes. I found referring back to the cast descriptions helpful in keeping track of the kids and being sure I understood the subtleties of what was going on. (The publisher provided a review copy.)