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Watch & Learn: WANDERING SON #1

Who's ready to talk about gender roles?

I must confesses, the dialog about snails and puppy tails recalled GLEN OR GLENDA.
I must confesses, the dialog about snails and puppy tails recalled GLEN OR GLENDA.

Sophism recommended this show to me after I reviewed USAGI DROP, suggesting that I shouldn’t read anything ahead of time so I wouldn’t spoil the controversial surprise. Truthfully, my thoughts up until that surprise (which hits a little after the second commercial break) center on how, while this show had a gorgeous water color aesthetic, it reminded me of just how few things of interest there are in most middle schooler’s lives. I don’t know if anybody would want to make a show about my life as it is, now, but I’m sure there’d be even less people interested in dramatizing what my daily routine was like between ages 10 and 14. Going to school, watching TV, doing homework, playing N64 and going to tennis practice on some afternoons isn’t the stuff of intriguing drama, you know?

I was ready to opine about how this show meanders in the absence of a clear premise like USAGI DROP’s “Twenty-something dude adopting his younger, illegitimate aunt” concept, but the aforementioned surprise actually then presented a rather clean high-concept. You’ve got two young friends; one’s a boy who wants to be girl, the other’s a girl who wants to be a boy. Direct and simple. Not only would that fit neatly onto a movie poster’s copy, it also seemingly offers a younger, more down-to-Earth and gender-balanced riff on REVOLUTIONARY GIRL UTENA.

And I don’t know…

First, this pretty clearly seems like a story that’d be better suited for a stand-alone feature. Or, at least, it’s not something that can be adequately-evaluated in installments like this. Second, this feels less like a show to be enjoyed for what it is and more recommended viewing material that would precede some college symposium on gender identity, child development and whatnot. Honestly, I'm not adverse to material that doesn't involve giant robots and shape-shifting demons, but I'm not going to act like WATCH & LEARN is the venue for such politically-prone discussion. You users are certainly welcome to it, of course, but I'm less interested in talking about such serious topics here when they aren't filtered through the lens of at least some kind of abstraction or fantasy.

Watch this episode “What Are Little Girls Made Of?” here and decide for yourself.

Tom Pinchuk’s the writer of HYBRID BASTARDS! & UNIMAGINABLE. Order them on Amazon here & here. Follow him on Twitter: @tompinchuk

Sophismon Oct. 24, 2011 at 9:38 a.m.

First of all, thanks for checking the first episode out, even if it will likely be a one-time W&L. The main reason I suggested this show was to hopefully give it some extra exposure, which it desperately needs. The ratings were apparently dreadful in Japan, and not many people were aware of or interested in it in the US either. (Obviously the subject matter is pretty intimidating.)

I'll refrain from gushing over it too much, but I think it's fair to dedicate a paragraph or two to one of those few anime series that I'd have no qualms in recommending to people unfamiliar with anime in general. (Or those that dislike the repetitive character tropes, T&A fan-service, power-levels and moe.)

I must say that I disagree with this particular assessment of yours, Tom: "Second, this feels less like a show to be enjoyed for what it is and more recommended viewing material that would precede some college symposium on gender identity, child development and whatnot."

It's a tricky subject for sure, but I find it's handled here with subtlety and heartfelt honesty. Wandering Son doesn't have an agenda, and thankfully doesn't try to be an anime pamphlet on gender dysphoria awareness and tolerance. It ends up raising awareness and inspiring tolerance nonetheless though, simply by making you care about its characters for what they are. To me, that's what made this show so special. It also helps that I'm not even necessarily talking about the two main protagonists, as I thought Saori, Chi, Anna, Makoto and Doi were all extremely interesting to watch as the series progressed.

And to the people that haven't seen it yet: don't be scared of giving it a whirl. In my experience, you don't need to relate to transsexualism or anything of the sort to appreciate this show.

metalsnakezeroon Oct. 24, 2011 at 10:29 a.m.

I think you should watch more series shows like Wandering Son and Usagi Drop since it more force on those subject instead of mixing fights or silly jokes in to them.

damswedonon Oct. 24, 2011 at 1:01 p.m.

I enjoyed Wandering Son more than any other show this year.

Superevil225on Oct. 24, 2011 at 4:23 p.m.
Awwww~ This looks so sweet! *always has a soft spot for transsexual media*
silnon Oct. 24, 2011 at 6:38 p.m.

I have to admit, this might be my sleeper favorite show of 2011. You're really missing out if you skip this one, though you can be forgiven if you have trouble telling some of the characters apart for the first episode or two. They drop you right into the middle of the story, and it was jarring for me as a non-reader of the manga.

Wandering Son is really tasteful, but unafraid to touch on subjects that generally aren't portrayed in media, let alone anime. The atmosphere is warm, and nostalgic, but never saccharine.

It's not for everyone, I suppose, and if you're just not in the mood for this kind of show, then it can't be helped, but I can't say enough positive things about it. The characters make you root for them, not just make you feel sorry for them, or want to comfort them. You really just want to see them succeed, and find happiness, or in a few cases, grow out of their troubled phase. It's not preachy either, the way you might expect a piece of work tackling this subject. I never once felt that it had an axe to grind.

Moonshadow101on Oct. 24, 2011 at 6:47 p.m.

On Episode six now. They're really committing to the trans stuff. Your header, which mentions "Gender Roles," is somewhat misleading. At least to me. When I think of a show about mixing up gender roles, I think of a quiet boy who likes to sew (but is still entirely male) and a loud girl who wants to play sports (but is still quite female.) This show is focusing on two actual transsexuals, which is a much bigger deal. (Along with a couple of might-be-gay characters, who pop up pretty regularly in everything these days anyway.)

I'm enjoying it. Their exploration of the subject seems honest, and they haven't yet introduced a bigoted bully character to shit on the whole thing and make the show about how wrong it is to hate, which would be a much easier thing to explore. The bullying angle is touched on rarely, and without too much angst. Most of the bad vibes come from good old-fashioned jealousy. It's a sweet show.

Also, some of the schoolkids are doing a maid cafe' thing, which still freaks me out even though I've seen it happen in like three shows and one video game.

Darokion Oct. 24, 2011 at 9:25 p.m.

I've found very few shows that are the equal to Wandering Son this year, and it's easily one of the best series I've seen this year. Usagi Drop, Mawaru Penguindrum, and the beginning to this point of Chihayafuru are the only things remotely in it's league. It's a great show, with great characters, and mature handling of an easily mishandled touchy subject.

zaldaron Oct. 26, 2011 at 9:25 a.m.

To bad as it is the more serious topics that interest me and they don't have to be filtered through sci-fi for me to enjoy them. The politically prone stuff is what I would expect from a learn segement. Thanks for pointing this out...I may have to check it out.

Hexrapperon Oct. 29, 2011 at 8:30 p.m.
@Daroki said:

I've found very few shows that are the equal to Wandering Son this year, and it's easily one of the best series I've seen this year. Usagi Drop, Mawaru Penguindrum, and the beginning to this point of Chihayafuru are the only things remotely in it's league. It's a great show, with great characters, and mature handling of an easily mishandled touchy subject.

Excellent taste dude, bang on with the top shows this year. Nice to see those three spoken of when we had Madoka, Steins;Gate and this season Fate/Zero. 100% agree. Wandering Son actually wormed its way into my top five and is currently my third favourite anime ever. It completely blew me away. I don't even have a strong interest in gender identity issues beyond harem anime body-switching (I'm a guy damn it), but this show MAKES you interested and lets you experience those kinds of feelings.
 
Also gotta give props to its excellent soundtrack. I'm having a hard time deciding between this and Usagi Drop which soundtrack is best of the year so far. Although, if we're including insert songs, Penguindrum's Rock Over Japan takes the cake :)

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