Wandering Son Episode 5 – She was Born in a Bottle Rocket
In the opening moments of episode five, as Shuu is making her way (her is the gender pronoun I’ll be using; see the episode 4 review for an explanation) to Saorin’s house, a bicycle passes with a man in his early twenties at the helm and a similarly aged woman riding along, whose long dress blooming in the wind as she rides by. Shuu recalls, in that moment, Saorin telling her she won’t become a girl by simply waiting around. Shuu’s decided who she is, sure, but was that the easy part? The bike rides off and Shuu stares down to see a boy’s shorts and scrawny a boy’s legs.
The bulk of episode five’s plot revolves around the gender-reversed rendition of Romeo and Juliet that Shuu’s classroom will be putting on. Until this episode, the play was to be written by Shuu and Saorin, but after a well-meaning, Saorin-enraging suggestion from their teacher last episode all of Shuu’s friends are now involved. They meet, probably much to her chagrin, at Saorin’s house to work on it, and over the course of two days hash out what Saorin, frustrated at seeing the more original first draft reworked, calls “just Romeo and Juliet with the genders reversed.”
In a lot of ways this is another Saorin episode. Being one of the original co-authors of the play and the sole detractor of its new written-by-committee(-of-youths) incarnation, she is the source of much of episode five’s conflicts. It is, in fact, beginning to feel as though the primary character of Wandering Son isn’t Shuu at all, but the furious young girl that finds nothing but frustration and disappointment around her while she pines after Shuu. That’s just fine. It’s a sign that the show’s writers recognize how interesting and compelling a character she is. So many of us have a piece of Saorin in the back of our minds, pointing out the failings of others, finding a nagging distaste for everything.
Halfway through the first of the two writing sessions, a boy shows up claiming to be Saorin’s boyfriend—something she dismisses immediately. After a moment he recognizes Shuu as the one “who loves to crossdress.” Since two of the people at the gathering had no idea (Chizu and Momo) this is a rather dramatic reveal for them.
This kind of scene, with both embarrassment and revelation, is tricky. Ideally the scene needs to be honest to the moment without being crushingly grim and maudlin (read: melodramatic). Most shows would play Shuu’s shame or reaction for comedy and achieve some tension relief. What Wandering Son instead does is create comedy in the giddy excitement of Chizu, who seems to think that it is the most wonderful thing she has ever heard. Unfolding the scene this way gives the viewer relief from the tension while maintaining Shuu’s dignity, allowing for the moment when, after some nervousness, Shuu admits to it, and takes a small step toward the moment she might find herself drifting along on the back of a bicycle.
After the play is finished the teacher decides that parts will be chosen by being drawn from boxes, which leaves the titular roles going to Saorin (Romeo, just as she wished) and Ariga (Juliet, and so he immediately starts avoiding Shuu as he’s afraid he’ll give her the part out of guilt). Ariga tells Saorin he doesn’t want the part, that Shuu should have it. Instead of insisting he do just that, she calls Ariga spineless for giving up, lashing out in frustration before running off to change the script so every character dies (no, really). While Shuu and the teacher manage to talk her down from this change, she reveals to Shuu that Shuu being Juliet was the only reason she tolerated so many changes. Without that there is nothing about the play that she likes.
The immediate question—why didn’t she let Ariga give the role up to Shuu? The show isn’t explicit, and one could chalk it up to her fury getting in the way of her reason. There is another possibility: while many of the characters struggle against indecision, Saorin’s tragic flaw is her refusal to abandon her dedications. She is incapable of changing course, and this perhaps led to her finding value in persistence, even if what she refuses to abandon are her old hatreds, or her hopeless love for Shuu. Evidence of this theory? Rather than give up her part, or simply not try hard Saorin dedicates herself to being a perfect Romeo, saying if she doesn’t she will hate herself. My takeaway is that the role she is given is the one she’ll dedicate herself to playing, even when it’s the harder thing to do.
There is much drama that flows naturally from a character making big choices, because it’s the moment that they accepts the necessary sacrifices inherent in any well constructed narrative conflict. In episode four Shuu resolved to be a girl for herself and no one else, no matter what. It was a powerful, dramatic moment. This episode had a few of those. It also had something else, a more subtle and nuanced kind of drama, that comes from what happens after—the process of dedication to the decisions we have made. The process that turns a goal into something that is real and can’t be undone.
You can watch the episode here.