Book Review: Wandering Son, Volume 1
Wandering Son: Volume One is a graphic novel written and drawn by Shimura Takako, and published by Fantagraphic Books. The book is about two fifth graders, both who are exploring their respective gender identities. The Wandering Son series spans over 11 volumes (and counting) though only the first two volumes have been translated into English, with the third volume to be released soon (I couldn’t find an exact release date, though you can pre-order it on Amazon.)
First, this book is a manga. It was originally written in Japanese and then translated into English. So it reads right to left, and there are several Japanese honorifics used throughout the story. It was a little confusing at first, but it wasn’t too hard to figure it out as I read, and there’s a handy guide in the back to help you out.
So the story revolves around Nitori Shuichi and Takatsuki Yoshino. Since in Japan, the surname is pronounced before the first name, in the story the characters are referenced as Shuichi and Yoshino by family, or Nitori-kun and Takatsuki-san while in school.
This is a story about transgender youth. Shuichi is a transgirl who is still very secretive and confused about her gender identity. Within the first chapter, Shuichi dreams that she has long hair and is wearing a dress, laughing with her girlfriends. But she is exposed, her wig torn off, and she wakes up in terror. It’s heartbreaking, not only because of the longing that she has, but because she’s only in fifth grade, and she’s having to go through this basically alone, with not even the assistance of adulthood to help her through.
Shuichi quickly meets Yoshino in her class. Yoshino is a transboy, and a little more forceful about it than Shuichi, though he is still living as a girl, just as Shuichi is still living as a boy. Near the beginning of the book, Yoshino gives Shuichi a dress for Maho (Shuichi’s older sister) which sparks Shuichi’s dream about passing as a girl. Yoshino later reveals that he regularly dresses in boy’s clothes and takes the subway pretty far from his house, just so he can walk around and have people acknowledge him as a boy, an acknowledgment that he does not receive at home or at school.
The art is pretty minimal, with most of the emphasis on the people rather than backgrounds. It can sometimes be difficult to tell the characters apart, especially when there is no dialogue. But the story flows very nicely, often using black panels with only text to convey a dramatic moment. I feel that Shuichi is developed a little bit more than Yoshino, though this could only be because this is the first volume. There are many different things that are explored throughout this story, such as Yoshino going through puberty as a female-bodied person (hint: it’s about periods) and a supporting character’s spiritual journey as she explores Christianity.
Some of the most poignant parts in the story are demonstrations of the fear that Yoshino and Shuichi have of being “discovered.” Since they are able to share their secret with each other, there is a level of trust and openness that they have that you can tell is lacking when they interact individually with other people. But it’s when the two characters are shown alone, daydreaming or thinking, that their vulnerability and fear is put right there. A panel of Shuichi dreaming of a version of herself with long hair wearing a dress, or Yoshino gazing longingly at a men’s style jacket really encapsulates the pain and confusion that these characters are holding onto.
I don’t want to give too many plot points away. Suffice it to say, this book seems a sensitive but surprisingly realistic take on transgender youth. Being a huge comic and graphic novel fan, I’ve had problems finding stories about anyone on the queer spectrum. And no, Nightcrawler being gay does not make up for the dozens of other ways that The X-Men franchise fails to not be shitty. So I was pleasantly surprised to find this book. I’m going to start reading Volume Two, and waiting for baited breath for the rest of the volumes to be translated and released.