Home > Episode Reviews, Wandering Son > Wandering Son Episode 8 – A Tower Tumbling

Wandering Son Episode 8 – A Tower Tumbling


“There are no events but thoughts and the heart’s hard turning, the heart’s slow learning where to love and whom. The rest is merely gossip, and tales for other times.”

-Annie Dillard (Holy the Firm)

In a crowded shopping district Shuu confesses to Anna some small piece of who she really is. Tells Anna, her current girlfriend, “I crossdress” (I want to apologize for the confusion that has arisen here from my decision to refer to Shuu as she). What happens next? Does it become a comedy mess, Anna wildly misunderstanding the entire concept so that goofball dialogue may ensue? Is it melodramatic soul-crushing emotional defeat for Shuu, Anna reacting with horror and disgust—a microcosm of supposed societal pressures for normality and gender conforomity? Or does a heartwarming exchange happen instead, in which Anna not only accepts, but champions Shuu, reveals her own secret yearnings for just such a person? No. Anna just chuckles a bit, both amused and curious, and then decides to follow her curiosity.

To paraphrase Bear: in a show as well acted and animated as Wandering Son it’s notable how little chemistry Anna and Shuu have

Fictional drama has trained us to expect certain things. Confessing ‘abnormality’ will breed initially bad reaction, even among good and accepting people. Perhaps even life has trained us to expect this as well. This is not what happens in Wandering Son, and the argument can be made that the anticlimax that plays out does feel real, but I could not disagree more. For what anecdotal evidence is worth, genetic girls were often just as curious and fascinated by world’s gender boundaries as was the occasional genetic boy who found himself lost on the wrong side.

My theory on the nature of Shuu and Anna’s relationship, that what Shuu feels for Anna is a girlish infatuation with the confident model persona Anna exudes, is reinforced here. Shuu doesn’t know if she wants to kiss Anna. There is a pressure here, but it is not really the societal pressure to conform. Rather, it is Shuu’s own desire to somehow correctly navigate through the rites of passage just as the rest of her peers are. To figure out which rites are for her, where she might most belong, and how she can push past the estrangement that she feels.

Even Wandering Son’s most peripheral characters exude oddly lifelike traits that gleefully contradict clichés. Doi is not mean spirited, just indifferent

Accentuating this dynamic is the introduction of Shuu’s old elementary school bully. Not as a force of cruelty, though, but instead seemingly neutered and generally harmless. Early in life bullies represent for us a simple version of societal expectations, and without intention they end up molding the framework of how we will respond when our thoughts or actions derail from expectation.  Quickly though, after learning what shame is, it is no longer necessary to be mocked. Boundaries are rarely invisible, and the need to belong is insidiously demanding.

***

Yoshino hunches over as he heads to school, hiding the tie he is wearing with his girl’s uniform (again, apologies for my choice to refer to these characters by the gender they want rather than the one they got). The teacher who notices as Yoshino dashes by isn’t upset, or disappointed—he is impressed. What would have been another didactic example of society exerting unfair demands on youth is instead a reminder of how secretly proud we adults are of youthful dissent.

I absolutely love Yoshino’s subtle cowlick. It’s character perfect

By all dramatic measures Yoshino has met almost no resistant for her gender explorations. Instead his mild rebellion is mitigated to just a tie by his concern at being seen as impersonating Chizu, his (not at all gender confused) female friend who often shows up to school in a boy’s uniform. Worse than the idea he will be rejected by his school peers for his gender identity is the idea that his very real expression of who he is will be dismissed as mere attention seeking.

Yoshino, just the same as Shuu, is exploring the boundaries of gender, and the associated societal rituals that map it, to find his place in procession. All his drama is framed in this episode by a flashback wherein Saorin encourages him to not keep his hair so short. This is not her insisting on his ‘acting like a girl.’ Saorin understands, better than Yoshino, that the societal ideal of boyhood is not goal Yoshino’s transgenderism. Yoshino, too involved in her own mess of internalized doubts and frustrations, can’t see what Saorin learned quite well: we are not representations or archetypes or caricatures—we’re ourselves or no one at all.

***

Saorin doesn’t know how to handle what she sees: Shuu on a date with Anna, in public, dressed as a girl. It is this moment that hurts more than all the rest. Later she will tell Shuu Anna is absolutely perfect, and she will mean it. Jealousy may have been the force that simmered Saorin’s pain since Shuu rejected her and started dating Anna, but it is no longer an adequate description of what she feels.

Saorin is in the midst of dealing with her pain the way she always does: frowning, and then trying to ruin someone else’s day

What Saorin feels is inadequate. Until this moment Saorin had assumed that no matter who Shuu was with only she loved the whole Shuu—the real Shuu. Now Saorin could no longer dismiss Anna as simply dating the boy she thought Shuu to be. Anna is a better girl than Saorin is, and so she is better at helping Shuu along on the journey to womanhood. Saorin believes this to make her, in Shuu’s life, entirely unnecessary.

In Wandering Son’s premier there was a touching flashback where Shuu, Saorin, and Yoshino are taking pictures together in Shuu’s bedroom. It was juxtaposed in that episode against the mess their friendships became. The flashback is in this episode as well. It represents the moment that they each want to return to, the time before they became so adept at getting in the way of their own happiness.

You can watch the episode here.

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