Back in winter of 2011 I caught the anime version of Wandering Son and really enjoyed the show and was curious about how it compared to the manga (especially since the anime skipped the first arc of the manga which sounded like a weird choice). The first volume has been out for over a year now and honestly the reason I didn't pick it up is because I usually buy my manga either in bulk at a TRSI sale (by which point I've already hit the free shipping quota and don't need any more and this is the only comic by Fantagraphics that I'm interested in) or sometimes in ones and twos at a local Barnes and Noble and I've never seen Wandering Son there. So, in short, money is once again a factor so yet again I'm thrilled to come across this at my school's library and hopefully plenty of other people check it out and read it too.
Wandering Son (volume one) by Takako Shimura
Summary: Shuuichi Natori is a lot quieter than most boys and Yoshino Takasuki comes off as a tomboyish girl to many people around them but neither of those statements reflect who they really are. Both of them are transgendered children (people born as one sex but mentally identify as the other) but are only beginning to understand that idea themselves and how it affects every part of their lives.
The Good: There is a lack of transgender (and genderfluid now that I think about it) characters of any age or gender in fiction and I can't think of the last time, if ever, I saw characters like that so young (or even more than one in a single story, outside of webcomics I'm drawing blank for multiple transgender characters). Some people might find it unrealistic but I've been reading some news articles over the years, especially in the last year or so, and talking to friends I have and it sounds like no, kids really do know themselves well even at a young age and given how slowly Takatsuki and Shuu put into words what they're feeling I thought it was realistic enough (plus, of course someone in that situation is going to start seriously considering gender identity earlier than someone who doesn't have that pressure). Takatsuki and Shuu really are interesting, intriguing characters and even if the story is a bit slow I like reading about them and I would like to at least read the manga up to the point where the anime started.
The Bad: My biggest problem with this volume was that it was really hard to tell when the chapters started which is a bit of an odd problem. A lot of times there would be a couple of pages that looked like the start of a new chapter and then a random image (a shot of a character who doesn't appear in the scene at all, a title page, etc) and I was always thrown wondering if that image had any relevance to the story and if the pages before and after the image were set at different times (hence the use of an image to separate them) or what was going on. Other than that that the pacing was fine but that's kinda a big problem and I had to re-read a number of sections multiple times to try and get a grasp on the story and the story itself isn't terribly complicated. Finally, I can see why the anime choose to jump into the story at a later point since not much actually happens in this volume. It takes a lot of time to set up, doesn't really deal with a lot of the cast (and one thing I liked about the anime was how it showed a lot of variety in that way people act contrary to/within gender ideals) and it just feels a bit flat. I feel like it might be a good idea to recommend that people read the first few volumes close together (admittedly I haven't read the others that are out in English yet) or even show them the anime first since this is a bit slow going and I think that would turn away a lot of people who'd otherwise like the story.
The Art: Apologies on not posting a picture of the cover tonight, apparently photobucket is throwing a hissy fit and won't let me upload anything. In any case, as the manga-ka herself notes in the back of the book, the art is pretty simple both in regards to character designs and backgrounds (although given that this particular part of the story is nearly 10 years old I have no doubt that's changed at least a bit). It was a little hard to tell some of the characters apart (the simple backgrounds didn't bother me as much) but hopefully just getting used to the art style will help me out.
When I was looking around for this series I came across a few statements that made it sound like not only does the art improve quickly but the plot picks up very quickly as well which does make me more likely to keep reading the manga. Of course, given that the anime isn't licensed in the US if I want to own this story at all I'll have to buy the manga, guess I need to make more of an effort to put a few volumes in my future shopping trips.