The Nihon Review - Anime Reviews & Editorials

Wandering Son

Title: Wandering Son aka Hourou Musuko
Genre: Drama
Company: AIC
Format: 11 episodes
Dates: 13 Jan 2011 – 31 Mar 2011

Synopsis: Nitori Shuuichi, a shy and effeminate boy, has a fascination with feminine clothing. One of his friends, Takatsuki Yoshino, is a tall girl who would rather wear boyish attire. Neither has revealed his or her preferences to anyone but their close friends: Chiba Saori, a blunt girl who first points out Nitori’s femininity, Ariga Mako, an understanding boy who empathizes with Nitori’s situation, and Sasa Kanako, a bubbly girl who just enjoys getting along with others. The two are placed in the same class after entering middle school, but on the first day of class a tall, eccentric girl comes dressed in a boy’s uniform…

The Highlights
Scene composition: Minimalistic and precise; conveys more information than can be said.
Atmosphere: Slow and gentle; established well by watercolor palette and calm music.
Characters: Multifaceted and mature; they play off each other with ample doses of diversity.
Dialogue: Fluid throughout without being marred by poor exposition.

Sometimes a series touches upon aspects that are shunned in reality and exploited in fiction. How it goes about doing so can vary. Koi Kaze, like many well done dramas, pushes forward quietly but steadily, aiming to drive its story to a specific ending. It expects to endear the audience to the circumstances that its characters go through without forcing them to pass judgment. Hourou Musuko eschews this firm approach; there is no definitive end to reach or dramatic conflict to pull the viewers along. Instead, the story unfolds with a subdued air, portraying the struggles of the main characters as gradual changes that slowly creep into their lives.

Perhaps such a result was inevitable given its execution. Hourou Musuko’s pacing is slow and precise, doling out each event only when necessary. Minimalistic visual and auditory cues, be it the wonderfully soft watercolor palette or the light piano music, rein in any notion of urgency. Even greater restrictions are made on the narrative. Conversations flow naturally without any exposition. Characters act with motivations that are never completely explained. Nothing more is given to keep the audience informed or eager. And that’s enough. Hourou Musuko compensates with the sheer amount of information it doesn’t say. What can be inferred from the dialogue makes up for any explanation not given. Actions subtly express the internal conflicts that most of the characters face. Pauses are used to cloak scenes with the correct amount of tension, and many events imply not merely a single incident but an entire chain of them. If there is one thing Hourou Musuko remembers that many stories nowadays forget, it’s that not everything needs to be explicit.

What really drives the story, however, is the delightful cast. The show completely throws out anime stereotypes for realistic personalities, disregarding perhaps a shade too much maturity. Some characters are spiteful, some are perceptive, and others are completely eccentric. What binds this diverse group is the combination of a believable clash of personalities and the unique way each character adjusts to the same problems. It also helps that the voice actors breathe emotion into the dialogue at every moment, providing the correct personality for every character. Especially notable are the young voice actors who debut as Nitori and Takatsuki, although the stellar veteran cast that backs them helps substantially to ease these two into their fantastic roles.

As such, the story Hourou Musuko weaves is neither an impassioned call to awareness nor a trivialization of the transgender issue. It’s not viciously decrying the stigma of cross-dressing or depicting it as merely a passing phase. All it presents are the lives of a group of middle school students. There are no judgments to be made on them save two: their struggles with transgender identity, be it their own or another’s, define who they are, and despite that, in the end they are just like other teenagers, experiencing the same problems, hopes, and fears of growing up. The brush that Hourou Musuko uses to paint its characters and their situation does not build a story from ground up. It shows us the extensive and rich world of characters who exist beyond the scope of the story given and whose lives we see merely a slice of.

The Rating: 9

Reviewed by: Elineas

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