This week, another #AniTwitWatches season came to an end. You can guess from the title that we watched and have discussed the anime version of Wandering Son. It’s a series that I’ve been wanting to watch for a while, but never got around to for one reason or another. Once again, this watch along has done some wonders for me in that department. It’s an anime that covers some concepts that I don’t know a lot because I am an outsider to the trans community. Believe me when I say that I can’t help but feel woefully inadequate to even discussing this topic, but I am going to try my best with this one anyway. I’m not trans after all and that’s the best that I can do. Sigh, I’m kind of glad that we are starting Perfect Insider next because we need to get out of this SOL anime with heavy topics for at least a little bit. I hope Perfect Insider turns out ok.
Wandering Son is an anime centered on dysphoria and how the people around the character and society think as they are going through it. It is directed by Ei Aoki of Re:Creators, Fate/Zero, Aldnoah Zero, and the recent ID:Invaded fame and adapted/written by Mari Okada from O Maidens, Gundam IBO, and Annohana fame. Two of the most unsubtle people that I’ve ever seen working behind the scenes of this very subtle and soft anime with the emphasis on small character moments and introspection that I’ve seen in a while honestly. Is it possible that two similar forces of bombast are able to make something in the alternative direction? It seems like it and this anime is proof of that. I wonder if there are some others that can show this point too.
This series focuses on characters in the opening stages of middle school where puberty usually hits and pre-teens and teenagers start worrying about who they want to be. Shuichi Nitori is character who was born as a boy, but has found herself wanting to be a girl instead. At the same time, Yoshino Takatsuki was born as a girl, but desperately wants to be a boy instead. It fits his character a lot more, that’s to be sure. These are two characters that had a failed start of an actual relationship in elementary school where they were friends first and Shuichi confessed her feelings for Takatsuki. A lot of tension happens from a moment that we don’t see between these two and their friends’ group.
Yes, there are other characters in this list as well. Takatsuki and Nitori are the two main characters, but a certain aggressive and straight forward member of the “love triangle” is Saori Chiba. A girl that doesn’t really like authority, says her mind all the time, focuses on the past a lot, and has a crush on Nitori still despite everything going on. Sasa is the character who tries to keep the peace between Takatsuki and Chiba even if she ends up failing in the end. Chizuru Sarashina is the seeming care free character who just does she wants usually, but is more thoughtful then previously realized. Lastly, Makoto who always supports Nitori in whatever he wants to accomplish or encounter here until his own story arc happens.
I can keep going with all of these characters because there is a large cast for a one cour show. Maho is Shuichi’s single minded, perfection seeking sister and amateur model who is very older sister like to Maho. She has a tendency to yell and beat Shuichi a lot for stepping out of her assigned role Maho set for her in her own mind. She also comes with all sorts of modeling friends of some play important parts in the show as it goes forward and a “not” boyfriend that occasionally shows up from time to time. Somehow, Wandering Son is able to actually get this large cast of characters arcs somehow even if they are smaller arcs in the background or have their one moment in the son. At a minimum, you can at least get a strong feeling for who these characters are and what they want to do.
That is and isn’t a problem when it comes to the main characters. They don’t seem as interesting to me compared to everyone else for some reason. Yes, I do think that Yoshino and Shuichi are characters that have their own arcs of finding confidence in wanting to become their gender of choice. That in itself takes up a time and is a struggle. For sure. I also appreciate that they go on dates wearing what they want to wear and you can see them struggling with who they want to be mentally and physically through how the show is directed. At the same time, I feel like the show itself decided that it needed to move things forward by inserting more characters into it at times to push conflicts faster. Yes, these are characters that have their own stories, but I don’t think Shuichi would have considered what happened in the end game without those side character’s insertions.
There is also the fact that Shuichi and Yoshino are a part of different sorts of clubs in this anime, but they don’t seem like they effect their lives that much either. Ok, there was a play that Shuichi and Chiba wrote together for the most part before the rest of their group came in and Shuichi and Chiba join the drama club afterwards. It doesn’t really help flesh them out that much. While the story is focused on Shuichi and Yoshino as the central characters with all of these other characters interacting off of them, they don’t seem as interesting to me because they don’t feel like as complete people to me because we don’t see that much of their interests. Then again, that could be part of the point because that is something which was pointed out in the anime itself and their true genders and how they get there is taking over their minds. That is one thing that I feel like I am always going to be at odds with myself with a little bit, but generally ok with because of the length of the anime.
From a character and a world perspective, I do think that there is something important that I do need to mention on. I don’t think that Wandering Son is as candy coated trans dysphoria exploration at all. This was something that was a topic for our discussion and I feel like I need to say some things. It’s not candy coated mainly for the reason that Shuichi and Yoshino presented themselves to the world in the genders they were born with until ending momets. That is something society wants them to do. When characters like Chi and Yoshino showed up to school in male uniforms, people thought that Yoshino was just copying Chi. He never specifically said “I am a boy” to anyone. Shuichi showing up in a girl’s uniform and going “I am a girl” is when the transphobia from her class really appeared against her. Something that works along with how the story has been told. You know, for the most part. Shuichi is pretty brave, isn’t she? That’s kind of the point, isn’t it?
Ok, let’s mention some other issues that I have with anime and how Wandering Son kind of annoys me in some ways. Yeah, it’s character things again. In general, I am not a fan of characters being playing a role in a story instead of just being a character. A role is a way a character is supposed to act in order to make some things happen in certain ways, which means they are train tracked. It also means they are probably boring and possibly rely on tropes more than necessary. A character has wants, desires, things they like doing, things they hate, dreams, and whole lot of things. I do think that Wandering Son was on that border of character and role a lot in some ways when you have “this part in this play should have been played by this person”. That’s only one example by the way and that one was avoided for the better honestly. You know, for a lot of cast members. Not all of them though, just some of them.
On top of all of that, I think the most interesting thing about this anime were the bold choices made when adapting it. You know, because this story is from a manga? It’s not something I read, but it’s immediately obvious for those who have watched an anime before. I can’t think of many anime in my mind where we jump into the middle of a story or a situation and the characters already know each other. There is a reason why a lot of series begin with characters meeting each other for the first time. It puts you into the character’s journey too. Being put into an anime where all the characters know each other pretty well already makes you the complete stranger to the story itself. An interesting choice that the anime just goes with and can cause a very questionable experience when you watch the first episode. Especially since the cast is so huge and no one repeats their names at each other because there is a sense of familiarity that you don’t have. I did some google searches like “Wandering Son characters” and used the top results to help me. Might have to recommend that.
Ok, quick visual things. I do like this anime’s water color aesthetic and great character animation and framing that tell you what is going on from where the camera focuses itself. The grabbing of one’s uniform at their collor that tell you that the character feels uncomfortable to subtle character interactions in place settings, to even giving characters a moment to breath or see their depression in moments when they dive into the water. It really is a very interesting, visually told story. It really helps share a lot of information when you don’t think the show is doing much. Yeah, the beginning is slow on a character writing level, but the character animation can really carry the show a lot. It also helps that the visual character designs feel right? There is a good balancing of gender traits that really sells you on the show’s sense of dysphoria for its characters too.
I do want to say that I did enjoy watching Wandering Son quite a bit. It is a good show and that’s where I set my marker. The over hype is possibly a problem that helped me push it back a little bit in terms of my personal scoring. I do think that Wandering Son directly pushes for looking at things that not many series do. Dysphoria and people living through the transitions is something important in today’s world after all and trans people are constantly attacked for not fitting in some rude people’s beliefs. Still, I can’t say that something is perfection just because it covers things that many other series don’t. I know that there are probably people going through dysphoria and see themselves in this series more than I did which is why they might be scoring this better. Absolutely valid. At the same time, I don’t have that experience so I need to judge the series on whatever is presented in front of me. It’s a good show that has some problems stopping it from being a great show in my eyes. Length, too many characters, etc.