Wandering Son (vol. 8) by Shimura Takako, translated by Matt Thorn
Adolescence is difficult enough to navigate, but throw in a few gender-bender issues and you’ve got multiple challenges earlier generations probably didn’t (wouldn’t? couldn’t?) openly face. With all manner of identity awareness growing worldwide, Shimura Takako’s award-winning, internationally lauded manga series gently and insightfully reflects the gender spectrum on the page. Read the whole series to better understand that while some of the experiences here might be unique, these are all just kids learning to navigate, confront, adapt to swiftly changing feelings and bodies, hearts and minds.
This latest volume opens on the eve of the beginning of eighth grade with a discussion over who will wear which uniform. While Yoshino can’t bring herself to wear the boys’ jacket and slacks in full – unlike carefree Chii-chan who cross-dresses on a whim – Yoshino does manage to don a tie instead of the regulated girls’ ribbon.
The core friends are scattered across various classes, with new teachers and new friends, but they still manage to keep up with each other. Shuichi – the boy who wants to be a girl – is dating model Anna, his sister Maho’s friend. He worries how Anna might react when he finally admits that he likes to “dress like a girl,” a habit that drives Maho to distraction because she’s just not that thrilled about sharing her adorable clothes with him.
Yoshino – the girl who wants to be a boy – reluctantly, finally admits to missing Shuichi, and even asks Anna for permission to spend more time with her distanced best friend. Saori – unrequitedly in love with Shuichi – takes her place as the class curmudgeon, nursing a sense of betrayal but unable to disconnect. Curious classmate (and former bully) Doi sees Shuichi with gorgeous Yuki-san – a transgender mentor friend to both Yoshino and Shuichi – and demands to meet her, only to question his own feelings when he finally finds out who she is.
In subtle ways, creator Shimura uses the Japanese naming conventions to reflect changing levels of growing acceptance – or not – among the students. When Yoshino is referred to by her last name as Takatsuki-kun (with –kun being a predominantly male-only suffix), she is starting to ‘pass’ as the boy she would rather be.
That Shuichi’s name is never designated with -kun is also telling; he’s affectionately referred to as ‘Nitorin,’ but most often as just Shu, or even the diminutively affectionate ‘Shu-chan.’ His grandmother doesn’t bother to correct her friend who assumes she has two granddaughters upon meeting Shu and Maho together; his friend Makoto’s mother remarks to her son that “Nitorin’s more like a girlfriend than a boyfriend”; Anna even describes him as “a cute little sister” rather than a love interest. Shuichi, too, is clearly beginning to pass, as well.
As the year progresses, the teens steadily progress toward young adulthood. By the end of volume 8, Shuichi takes a significant step toward self-authenticity, perfectly setting up the next installment to be full of dramatic surprises. Volume 9 can’t hit shelves fast enough!
Readers: Middle Grade, Young Adult
Published: 2015 (United States)