Friday, August 29, 2014

Manga Review: Wandering Son (volume four)

This review is late in more than one sense of the word, can you believe I placed a hold on this volume back in December, shortly after I reviewed volume 3, and even though I was first in line I didn't get the call saying the book was in until July? I know that libraries are big, complicated systems with procedures to follow but that's flat out ridiculous, I had assumed that if the book was already in the catalog it wouldn't be long until it was on the shelves. So, yet again I am behind in the series and it has to once again gently remind me why I'm so frustrated about it.

Wandering Son (volume 4) by Shimura Takako

Shuu and Yoshino continue to navigate their lives and, while no life is simple, their gender dysphoria makes it more complicated and confusing still. More changes are on the horizon for these two, they and all their friends will be starting middle school soon which is a very different place from elementary school.....

As noted in the summary, volume 5 is where the manga finally rejoins with the anime so this is still "all new" material for anime viewers, although given how many years it's been all of the story feels new to me. Of course, having a story that follows two gender-questioning children from elementary through, I believe, high school is new in and of itself and even if it wasn't for that I'd still be singing Takako's praises for just how well she writes all of her characters. Based on what I remember from that age and what I see in the kids I work with, the kids I babysit, and my own cousins, she perfectly nails that combination of having real problems and worries and exaggerating other things for the sake of giving yourself something to worry about. I loved Shuu's Cinderella sequence where they get so wrapped up in wrongs committed by their sister that even nice things that happen afterwards feel like tragedies. It didn't feel like Takako was mocking Shuu in the process but rather writing a sequence where the audience would sympathetically nod along and remember all the times they did something similar.

While Shuu certainly got more page time than Yoshino in this volume, which I think has been the case from the beginning, I really like how Takako has also been giving the side characters more time on-screen as well so that their own struggles and personalities can become more fleshed out, it's hard to develop characters after all if they're surrounded by cut-outs. I especially liked the one girl who was clearly unhappy with how hard it is to be friends with two people who are fighting, especially when you feel a sort of obligation to one of them since they don't have many other friends. It was also nice when the other characters didn't tell her to just cut off one of them but how Yoshino went and apologized citing that she didn't want to make this friend be happy, it's too mature for an elementary schooler (and possibly some adults) but I liked that moment none the less. And I'm happy that the adults continue to be a part of this story, Shuu and Yoshino's parents aren't the biggest minor characters but the story knows that elementary school kids need their families and rely on them so much and shows that, while soft and pastel colored, Takako understands realism amazingly well and uses it to both lift the reader up and to quietly break their heart.