~by Takako Shimura
I have been looking forward to Wandering Son, Volume 2 by Takako Shimura with great anticipation. The first volume in the series was one of my favorite releases of 2011. Fantagraphics' editions of Wandering Son are beautiful, oversized hardcovers printed on high quality paper; it is obvious that great care has been taken with the series. Wandering Son, Volume 1 has been very well received, which thrills me. It is not very often that a comic (from any country) deals with gender identity in such a sensitive and accessible way, which is why I am so incredibly happy that Wandering Son is being translated into English. The series is over ten volumes in Japan and is still ongoing. The second volume of Wandering Son was originally published in Japan in 2004. I sincerely hope that the series continues to receive the positive attention it deserves from English-reading audiences so that Fantagraphics can continue to release more volumes.
Shuichi Nitori and Yoshino Takatsuki are two middle-schoolers who share a secret--Shuichi, a boy, wants to be a girl while Takatsuki, a girl, wants to be a boy. The two friend often sneak off together, Shuichi wearing a girl's sailor suit and Takatsuki wearing her fathers' old school uniform. Very few other people know of their secret and the two of them are very lucky to have each other. Even their families are unaware or don't take the clues that are discovered too seriously. But even though the friends of Shuichi and Takatsuki's who know of their secret are accepting and supportive, they both must deal with teasing at school. Shuichi in particular is having a difficult time; Takatsuki's tomboyish attitude is still acceptable at their age while Shuichi's more docile nature (although he is growing to be more confident), is beginning to become suspect. Children can be exceptionally cruel to each other.
As Wandering Son progresses, Shuichi and Takatsuki's support system slowly expands. Their classmate Chiba, who comes across as a little strange in the first volume, proves to be a fantastic ally. (One particular scene towards the end of volume two just about had me cheering out loud.) Yuki, the woman that Takatsuki meets while dressed as a boy in the first volume, also returns, becoming a friend to both her and Shuichi. But not everything is sugar and spice in Wandering Son, snips and snails make their appearance, too. Both Shuichi and Takatsuki come from very loving families, but some of their actions are still hurtful without their even knowing it. Takatsuki's mother still buys her daughter dresses that she has no intention of wearing. Shuichi's parents unintentionally dismiss his dreams in passing. As Takatsuki and Shuichi grow older, their lives increasingly become more complicated.
I really do love Wandering Son. The story has a quietness to it that hides the intensity of its emotion. While gender identity is an important part of Wandering Son, it is not the only aspect of the story or of the characters. Shuichi, Takatsuki, their friends, families, classmates, and teachers all come across as real people. The connections between characters transcend gender, too. Friendships are developed and strengthened by common interests and standing up for each other. Yuki and her boyfriend present an uncomfortable problem--Shuichi and Takatsuki's parents and teachers are understandably concerned about the two suddenly having grownup friends who they are reluctant to admit to how they met. But Yuki is, and will be, a very important person in their lives. Also included in the second volume of Wandering Son is an brief but excellent essay by the series' translator Matt Thorn, "Transgender in Japan," which helps give further insight into the series. I can't recommend Wandering Son enough and am really looking forward to the next volume.