Short Take: Wandering Son, Vols. 1-3, Shimura Takako
This review was originally published on Pol Culture.
In the first three volumes of her manga series Wandering Son, Shimura Takako invites comparison to the celebrated young-adult fiction writer Judy Blume. Her two protagonists are Shuichi and Yoshino, whom the reader meets in the fifth grade and follows into their middle-school years. Yoshino is a tomboy. She prefers short hair and boy’s clothing--she hates wearing dresses--and she’s willing to use her fists on male classmates if they dare to anger her. Shuichi is her best friend, and in many ways her opposite number. He’s a boy who loves dressing in girls’ clothing and accoutrements. He also has a propensity to cry in front of others. A good deal of their friendship is based on Yoshino’s willingness to indulge his proclivities. She even takes Shuichi dressed as a girl out shopping. Shimura handles a sensitive early-adolescent subject with considerable grace. She captures the doubts--and the joys--of the two characters as they explore and come to terms with their cross-gender tendencies. And she of course confronts the inevitable tensions Yoshino and especially Shuichi’s behavior creates with their families and peers. Dramatically, the tone is just about perfect. Shimura never lapses into the sensationalism that mars so many (alleged) slice-of-life manga stories. Her grasp of the subject is just about perfect as well. She fully understands the nuances of non-traditional gender identifications, such as their not necessarily denoting homosexuality, and she’s true to how they play in social terms. Yoshino’s transvestism is largely accepted while Shuichi’s is not. The series thus far--it will eventually run thirteen books--is a perceptive, amiable, and moving piece of work. The English translation is by Matt Thorn.