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Wandering Son Episodes 10 and 11 – How Strange it is to be Anything at All

April 8, 2011 1 comment

All art is communication. Novels, films, paintings… they are all communicating, or attempting to communicate, something. I don’t that mean all things seek to make a point, but that they do impart something, even if it’s just a feeling. The best art is probably set apart in its ability communicate—in some quite way—the ineffable.

I believe that with these we can form messages of two intents: messages we make for the world—or for some part of it—and messages we give to the world, but make for ourselves. Some great works of art were made to allow the world to understand, exquisitely and soulfully, the message. Other works, just as powerful, were unconcerned with the world’s understanding, and forced us instead to inhabit them.

So this is where I am supposed to state my theory on which of those kinds of art Wandering Son is, but I don’t really know. This explanation was not building up to that; this explanation is about my critique. Not just art, but all writing is communication. Instruction manuals, forum posts, a letter… are all to say something. Everything we do communicates with the world, creating out of words, paints, shapes, actions … a message.  So I’ve approached reviewing these final episodes with a lot of trepidation. The episodic review format is not well suited for quality in-depth critique in that only so much can be said about four hours of content, especially given the languid pace of Wandering Son. I’d spent a lot of those words trying to communicate a certain feeling to anyone reading, and as of episode 9’s review I felt I’d accomplished that so I was really disheartened by the prospect of phoning in a final piece. So instead, I’m doing this one for me.
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Wandering Son Episode 9 – Catching Signals That Sound in the Dark

March 24, 2011 4 comments

On an elevated crosswalk Shuu asks Yoshino about the bra he wears that flattens his breasts. In the trans-male community this is called binding. It is the first real step most transmen take toward transition. Shuu asks Yoshino if it is uncomfortable, but he says it’s comfortable—emotionally, at least. Implicit in this statement is his argument for a transition (a transition that he has not decided on or—in any formal way—declared) despite all obstacles: there are awkward aches and lingering pains that are more nagging and more demanding of relief than the discomforts of a body contorted.

So when Yoshino, at the episodes outset, goes to school dressed in a boy’s uniform that is why. It is because the specter of being dismissed, or mocked, or trivialized became less haunting than the alternative. Since he is not the first one to do this, as has been discussed as early as the first episode, the reaction from classmates and faculty is either positive or indifferent.
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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.
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Wandering Son Episodes 6 and 7 – [The Trumpet Solo at the End of Communist Daughter]

March 10, 2011 1 comment

I am transgendered. My life is the basis for my interpretation and critique of Wandering Son. Perhaps there is a part of me that would like to say my experiences better qualify me to review this show than anyone else who views it, but they don’t do that at all. What I see in Wandering Son is not more accurate, it’s just more me. Perhaps if the show had heavier pretensions, or its writers penned in more message-laden monologues… but it is far less handholding and far less condescending than that. It remains close to reality in that it has no clear truth, and no moral to hand us.

Wandering Son has been building slowly toward episode six: the inevitable episode that would cover the Cultural Festival, and Shuu’s class’s production of their gender-bending rendition of Romeo and Juliet.  The last few episodes have seen the tensions building, and the pieces all falling into place for this midseason climax. If you’ve been following up until now, you know that in the last episode rolls were assigned for the play at random, leaving Saorin as Romeo as she hoped, but Ariga (rather than Shuu) as Juliet.

Ariga is the show’s other gender-confused boy. It’s up in the air at this point, but the way Ariga had spoken about boys and who he was it had me believing that he was less of a girl-on-the-inside (transgendered girl) and more of a boy-who-likes-to-dress-up-and-be-seen-as-a-girl-on-occasion (crossdresser). This, though, is beside the point, and after this episode is beginning to feel like an unfair judgment to pass.
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Wandering Son Episode 5 – She was Born in a Bottle Rocket

February 24, 2011 1 comment

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.”
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Wandering Son Episode 4 – I Will Float Until I Learn How to Swim

February 10, 2011 1 comment

Last week’s episode had me a bit concerned. I was worried that the show didn’t understand its strengths and would lose focus. It is perhaps, on some meta-fictional level, appropriate for Wandering Son to be unsure of itself or exactly what it is. For an anime that is so filled with understated drama and subtle character development, it is often in relatively uncharted territory.

A bit like its characters, Wandering Son is struggling to be both honest and likeable despite being different, and sometimes these goals seem at odds. What is true for the heart of a character is not always good or interesting drama. What may put people at Shuu’s school at ease does not necessarily align with how he wishes to be seen. Yet what draws people to Shuu—and lets us so readily empathize with him—is that he is earnest in all of this. Wandering Son is much the same, and episode four served to remind me that for all its follies Wandering Son is one of the most honest shows about childhood I’ve ever seen.
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Wandering Son Episode 3 – Two-Headed Boy

February 3, 2011 2 comments

Perhaps you read and you know that, for a variety of reasons, I was rather smitten with Wandering Son. It was something quiet and gorgeous and unique. It still is those things, but episode three has misstepped in ways that have either simply disappointed me or left my faith in the show a bit wounded. It’s my failing as a critic to be unable to discern which. There will be some nitpicking here and I will acknowledge a few undercurrents of frustration that I have had since the show began. They did not make my initial post for size reasons so I was saving them for a future post. Well, this is that post.
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