Thursday, March 3, 2011

Wandering Son (Episodes 4 - 6)

(For a review of Episodes 1 - 3, click here. Some spoilers may be lurking.)

It's hard to recall the space in the timeline of anime where transgenderism transformed from a dramatic plot device into a comedic plot device. While odes to Takarazuka such as Princess Knight and The Rose of Versailles viewed such a situation as an internal struggle versus a societal struggle, manga such as Ranma 1/2 and Futaba-Kun Change! turned the situation into a comedic one. Still between those shows and titles, the troubles and concerns of dealing with dueling gender identities were still there.

However, somewhere along the track, the train broke off its course. Things got a little hotter with the likes of Revolutionary Girl Utena. Anime and manga started to explore the sexual hijinks that occurred from transvestitism and gender-swapping (Pretty Face, Kampfer). Needless to say, some boundaries have likely been pushed a bit too far without exploring the true confusion and pain that comes from the fear of rejection regarding gender identities.

While Wandering Son has carefully extracted its story from the middle of its manga chapters, the show has embraced the vital portion of the story, Class 1-3's re-imagining of Romeo and Juliet for the culture festival. The idea of reversing the gender roles is a secret desire for Shûichi and Yoshino, as both of them express their wishes to play the lead roles. In a very tender moment, while out shopping for clothes, Yoshino and Shûichi make a promise to exchange names in the future.

However, there are many other influences surrounding them that make such transitions harder to envision. Saori still seems to have a rather strong attachment to Shûichi, noting that she would want to play Romeo opposite Shûichi's Juliet. However, the lottery for determining roles actually gives the lead to Shûichi's friend Makoto, who expressed his own desires for the role. With Saori ready to destroy the script with changes into a darker story, Makoto frets over his role, but both learn to swallow their pride and nerves, respectively.

What we manage to get out of these three episodes surrounding the play are glimpses into those surrounding this pretzel of a relationship. We get clueless jealousy from Saori's "boyfriend" Ninomiya, who thinks he could be a cuter alternative over Shûichi. We get conflicting intentions from Anna, a model friend of Shûichi's sister Maho, who might have some sort of thing for Shûichi. We even get some background surrounding the two adult friends of Shûichi and Yoshino's, tranvestite Yuki and her lover "Shii-chan", as they visit the cultural festival.

There are plenty of glimpses into Shûichi's shyness and desire to become a girl in the future, but we're not yet seeing the same for Yoshino just yet. Her desires to hide her developing figure are the only motivation we see just yet, but we also get a small hint at the pain from such conflict inside her, a scene with Yoshino coiling into a ball underwater during a free swim. Perhaps this is the hint at rebirth that she desires, and I hope we see a lot more regarding her own will to change.

It's good to see some time taken to show the innocence behind transgenderism, but there are also those careful taboos that lurk. While Shûichi is rather introverted in his optimism about becoming a girl, often crossdressing in a public that doesn't recognize him, we get that fear and insecurity of those taboos from Makoto, who must play his role before friends and family. While it's likely the show will not end in disaster, there is also this uncertainty that the show may glorify transgenderism too much, and that likely will define Makoto's role—he will be that voice of doubt while Shûichi lets Yoshino speak for him.

Having read portions of the manga, it's good to have Wandering Son use Romeo and Juliet as its focal point before leading into relationship concerns and the overall verdict the series provides on transgenderism. With something so traditional being inverted, perhaps we all will take a look at anime as a genre and wonder if its view of gender identity needs to be inverted and returned to a more dramatic posture. Perhaps it is its use of softer outlines, softer soundtracks, and softer characters, but Wandering Son is doing a brilliant job at scaling back the absurdities of transgenderism back to simpler times.

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