Prior to watching Wandering Son, I had already noticed the past few years’ change in approach towards gender identity. I hadn’t given it much thought other than agreeing that if ‘he’ wanted to be seen as a ‘she,’ then who was I to disagree? Using the requested pronoun wouldn’t hurt anybody or inconvenience me, even if in my mind I still considered ‘she’ a ‘he.’ Nitori and Takatsuki helped me realize that my approach needed to go beyond the surface. Instead of just going with the flow, I should delve deeper and see how my own actions are only a drop in the ocean of human equality. Their characters, complex and conflicted, work alongside a strong script and aesthetic to tell a story questioning exactly what it is we’re made of.
I attribute the success of my empathy for the characters to the strong writing from start to end. For the most part, the human interactions between children and adults within and outside of their own demographics played naturally on the screen. I’m an only child, but the tense relationship between the Nitori siblings felt as real as any fight I shared with friends and family members of my own. Chiba’s quick reaction in class to any negativity towards Nitori Shuichi reminded me of my own rash actions at her age.
As strong as I find the writing to be, I also acknowledge its possible weaknesses. Several times throughout the series, thoughts and dialogue go far beyond what I would consider normal for middle school students. Their musings on gender identity sound too mature for their ages. At eleven, all I cared about was getting good grades and making do with the garage sale clothes with which my parents saw fit to fill my closet. If one of my girl friends came to me and asked me to think of her as a him, I would have shrugged it off and just considered her a tomboy. If one of the few boys I knew did the reverse, I probably would have reacted like Maho. Thankfully, I’ve changed a lot from my eleven-year-old self.
Even if I think the language sounds too unnatural from time to time, I also think including it in this anime is important. Younger people than me will undoubtedly watch the series, and will be confronted with ideas they may not have considered in the past. I wish I had something like Wandering Son when I was in middle school. Sex was taboo back then, but even more so was the idea of being something other than my assigned role as my parents’ daughter.
I would have also benefited from the kinds of friends who surround Nitori and Takatsuki. If I had watched Wandering Son and adjusted my understanding of gender identity, I still would have had to go against the tide of opinions from friends and family. It would have helped so much to know someone like either of the main characters, or their friends Ariga, Yuki, and Anna. I shudder to think of what may have happened to Nitori without any of these people. I may consider their existence in Nitori’s life unrealistic, but they provide the hope that is needed to push this story forward along with the hopes of those watching.
As much as I can yammer on about the story and characters, I would be remiss if I didn’t include the show’s art and sound. In truth, the art was probably part of what held me back from watching the anime at the start. I hadn’t seen anything like its water color designs. Since Wandering Son, I started noticing other series with a similar feel, including Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash (I dropped) and this year’s Tsukigakirei. Having tried both of those and realizing I liked how they looked made me doubt my sanity at the time of skipping Wandering Son. Now that I’ve watched the series, I can appreciate the way the soft lines and palette complement the story’s tone. Nitori looks just as comfortable in these colors as in dresses. The anime also avoids awkward CG at odds with the rest of the visuals (looking at you, Tsukigakirei).
Then there’s the music, with the first episode including a full performance of Debussy’s Clair de Lune. Overused the song may be, its watery image captures well the nature of our characters. Piano melodies continue to accompany the story throughout the show, evoking gentleness and sadness as needed.
I want to thank my Secret Santa for providing me with not only one, but three wonderful options for Anime Secret Santa. While I ultimately chose to only review one for Christmas Eve as required by Reverse Thieves, I do plan on watching the other two as soon as I can. Wandering Son had long been on my plan-to-watch list. This event gave me the push I needed. I was confronted with ideas I had never before given much thought. Nitori, Takatsuki, and their friends helped me think from a new perspective, one that embraces differences rather than condemns them. Humans are so much more than the nursery rhyme of sugar, and spice, and everything nice. We are indefinite in our definitions, unidentifiable in our identity.
Rating: 3 dango
- 0 dango – average and forgettable.
- 1 dango – very good in its category.
- 2 dango – excellent show that is worth a try.
- 3 dango – exceptional show one must watch.
Watch Wandering Son on Crunchyroll.
For more information about the Anime Secret Santa Project, please visit Reverse Thieves.