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Manga Review: Wandering Son Volume One by Shimura Takako

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Wandering Son Volume One is a manga by Shimura Takako, and it was published in North America by Fantagraphics Books in 2011. I don’t see a rating listed anywhere on this volume, but I would personally recommend Wandering Son to manga readers who are 13 or 14 years of age and older.

The central focus of Wandering Son is on two fifth grade students: a boy named Shuichi Nitori and a girl named Yoshino Takatsuki. Shuichi is a feminine-looking boy and Yoshino is a tomboy who doesn’t like to wear dresses. Shuichi has just started at a new school, and Yoshino is the first friend he makes in his class.

Over the course of this volume, Shuichi comes to realize that he really wants to be a girl, so he can wear dresses and other girl accessories. While Yoshino has known that she would rather be a boy, she hasn’t exactly been very open about this with her peers. However, she opens up about it to Shuichi, and the two of them share their secrets with each other.

Shuichi has to deal with a female classmate named Saori Chiba, a wannabe Christian who is a little self-centered. She likes trying to have Shuichi dress up as a girl for her own enjoyment without realizing Shuichi’s secret. Yoshino, meanwhile, has to endure teasing from one of her male classmates.

My 14-year-old daughter and I both read this manga volume, and we were both impressed by what we read. My daughter told me that she appreciated the fact that this series is touching on topics that a lot of manga series she had read prior to this one wouldn’t even touch, such as transsexualism, gender identity and the beginnings of puberty. I really have to agree with her sentiment, but I would also add that I also appreciate how Takako handles these subject matters in such a realistic manner.

Takako has created some endearing characters that readers come to care about as they read the first volume of Wandering Son. Readers can feel for these characters as they’re heading toward adolescence and all the confusion that surrounds that time in a person’s life.

If there is a “weak spot” to Wandering Son, I would have to say that it would be in the art. Takako tends to rely on very minimalistic backgrounds for the panels, and sometimes characters aren’t drawn with a lot of detail. However, this minimalistic art style isn’t enough to distract the reader from the story that’s being presented.

When Fantagraphics published this volume, they made sure to include a Japanese pronunciation guide, as well as a guide to the Japanese honorifics that are used in Wandering Son. I appreciated having these items included, and I thought that both of them were rather helpful to me as a reader.

Overall, Wandering Son is a well-executed manga series that tackles some LGBT issues. After reading this volume, I can see why the Young Adult Library Services Association nominated this series for its 2012 Great Graphic Novels for Teens list.

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About Lesley Aeschliman

Lesley Aeschliman is a freelance writer who began writing on a full-time basis in 2007. She has served as the Anime editor at BellaOnline.com, and she also writes and maintains two blogs: Lesley's Musings... on Anime and Manga and AeschTunes.
  • I have to admit that when I was started reading the first volume of Wandering Son, I was getting a little confused, too.

    Since writing this review, I’ve read the second and third volumes of the series, and I will be posting reviews of those volumes at a later date. The start of the second volumes sees the two main characters starting the sixth grade, but after that, the time skips don’t seem to be nearly as bad.

    Sorry about all the Ranma, but I have reviews written up for all of the volumes that are sitting in my “write ahead” queue. In addition to Ranma and Eandering Son, I have reviews for at least one volume written up for eight additional manga series that are in currently sitting in my “write ahead” queue.

    And thank you for reading my reviews. 🙂

  • Hushpuppy

    Yay, something that isn’t Ranma! (I’m going to pretend I didn’t see that bishie host club nonsense; it will only end in crocodile tears.)

    And, again, thanks for reviewing another thought-full series. It’s been on my reading wish-list since Jan last year, but was lost in the spaghetti of my mind.

    Reading *very* slowly and several times through the first chapter, I found it very difficult to follow exactly who was who was where and why. Main character introduction; a confused teacher; a sister colliding with a teacher; homeroom introductions; some unaccounted for time later, visiting a class-mate; more relatives; who exactly is happy to wear that dress?

    The characterization differences are so minimal, and the scene changes so swift, I was still trying to figure out the homeroom teacher when the main character’s elder sister was skipping off into the sunset with said class-mate’s unwanted clothing.

    Chapter two introduced yet more uncertainty. Dream sequences and gender-swapping honorifics; bullying and peer-pressure; curiosity and insecurity. And just as soon as the pace of the story started to slow down…

    Have six months passed so quickly? It’s only chapter three! And… the Rose of Versailles, the archetypal shojo manga.

    Just how far and how fast is this manga going?

    Only three chapters in, it would be wrong to start making comparisons, but I can’t help but think that Strawberry Panic! took so much longer to put all the characters on the stage in a production of Carmen and then brutally unmasked them (kamen, pronounced similarly to Carmen, is Japanese for mask). The characters in this manga have been thrust upon us with little or no development, and nothing to like or dislike without knowing what drives them. They don’t have masks to hide behind, and the roles they play are so hollow.

    Hmm. Chapter four ends at page 100. Did I miss the play or lose the plot? At least the characters were becoming more familiar. Oh, well. BTW, Happy New Year!

    I do realize some manga are less linear than others, and sometimes the reader is expected to fill in more gaps, but the pacing of this story is very confusing. It is so tempting to skip the next 12 volumes just to see what mid-life crises their children are currently experiencing.

    At which point I wonder about the author’s intentions. I’ve read enough rambling manga to accept that plot and character development are often optional extras to the central theme. The first four chapters appear rushed and too intent on creating divisions between family and class-mates without establishing any background. Most likely, I was expecting too much just from the number of volumes already published: a much slower pace, a more considered introduction, and more than stereotypical characters for this type of manga.

    I’ll look forward to any reviews you do of future volumes but, for the time being, this one goes on hold.