Friday, April 22, 2011

Anime Review: Wandering Son

Wow, sorry for not posting yesterday, was traveling yesterday and didn't realize just how long that was going to take so I didn't have anytime to write up a review. Also, I was planning on reviewing the films I saw at the Banff Mountain Film Festival but I forgot to bring along my flyer which said which films were playing (I only saw five of them). So this week the schedule is going to be a little strange, I'll get that review up Monday and then the next film review Tuesday to get back on track, please just bear with the weirdness, it's almost exam time so everything is about to get weird for me.

So, the anime I'm reviewing today (which, funny enough, should have gone up today anyway) is the other noitaminA show this season, Horou Musko/Wandering Son based on the manga of the same name. I've never read the manga (it should be released here soon so I've held off) but I squeed when I heard this was being animated because honestly there are times when I look at a lot of the anime coming out in Japan today (male, otaku oriented with a weak plot, suspiciously similar character designs, and large amounts of fanservice which just don’t interest me) and I moan and lament about what anime has become. And then I come across titles like this and go “wait, a story about transsexual kids, a topic that is barely touched upon in ANY  literature*, in my favorite timeslot (noitaminA) PLUS by the same manga-ka (Takako Shimura) who did Aoi Hana/Sweet Blue Flowers, one of my favorite series? …okay, you had me at ‘transsexual middle school kids,’ Western literature, WHY ARE YOU NOT THIS AWESOME?!?”  

Wandering Son

Summary: Nitorin and Yoshina are entering middle school but they aren’t your "normal" middle school kids, Nitorin is a boy who wants to be a girl and Yoshina is a girl who wants to be a boy (ie, they’re both transsexual). Middle school is hard enough on it’s own so add in that, romantic and friendship problems and you’re left with a story that is all emotion and character–driven drama, one that will tug at most people’s heartstrings.

The Good: Middle school is tough enough if you're cisgender so there is plenty of natural-feeling drama to start with and the story is very careful to avoid going overboard with the melodrama. The characters have their triumphs and their failures, people who support them and people who mock them, and the story feels very real because of all of that variety. Even though this show is dealing with big issues, it doesn't need big problems to elicit an emotional response from the audience. By the end of the series, even the hint of the character going through even more trouble will draw the viewer in for another episode.

The Bad: One problem with the story, that can’t be changed easily because of the way that the story goes, is that all the kids are much more mature about the issue of transsexuality than many adults are (although some adults today could stand to be more mature and accepting of the matter). While all the emotion and drama in the series are real there are times when the characters are too calm, too understanding of the world around them which disrupts the flow, in some areas the kids are just too perfect to be kids. 

The Art: The art has a rather distinctive style to it where everything seems slightly washed out with watercolor like colors. The art evokes a gentle feeling in the story, perhaps to contrast with the more mature themes going on (however, since the art is based off of the manga art and Aoi Hana had similar art as well this may just be the manga-ka’s style with no deep reasoning behind it). The backgrounds are surprisingly realistic looking but again, everything is slightly overexposed and washed out so the focus remains more on the characters, not the physical world surrounding them.

The Music: The opening and ending aren't translated on crunchyroll but the little bits of Engrish in the ending theme are perfect for the series. “I wanna cry for you….I wanna dream for you….” In a sense it sounds like the song is the watcher or the friends of the main characters singing about the series, how they want to help them get through all these situations and not shoulder these burdens alone, it’s a very sweet song. The opening is more upbeat but, without a translation, I don't have anything else to say about it.

In a nutshell, THIS is what I expect out of noitaminA, shows that would never get shown on other channels because of their mature-thinking content, not because of gore or porn but because most audience would hate to even think about transsexuality. The anime actually starts 33 chapters into the series (skipping the entire elementary school arc) so I'm even more excited for the manga coming out so I can see just what we missed, although I doubt the anime will ever come out in the US (I will buy it in a heartbeat if it is though). Oh, also, "episode 10" on (where this is streaming) is actually a compilation of episodes 10 and 11 and "episode 11"  is actually episode 12, noitaminA is only a 11 episode timeslot, which wasn't going to be enough to tell the story, so the producers had to play around a little to show the whole story, can't wait to see the full versions of 10 and 11 when they come out on DVD in the fall.

*in all my reading, not counting anime, I can think of two, maybe three transsexual characters, one in one of Tamora Pierce’s books (Bloodhound) and one I barely remember (it wasn’t until years later that I understood that the character wasn’t just a crossdresser but actually transsexual, I think I read this is early high school which would explain it, I knew very little about non man/woman relationships at that point and even less about people do deviate from societies’ two gender standard) Luna by Julie Anne Peters. Ironically enough, I can think of a few other anime that featured prominent transsexual characters (Tokyo Godfathers and Shangri-La being the first two to come to mind) but this is the first anime I’ve seen where these characters are The Main Characters and this is very much their story.

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