Wandering Son is currently the only manga by Takako Shimura to have been released in print in English. Although I would love to see more of her work translated and published, I am particularly grateful that it is Wandering Son that has been licensed for print release. (Fantagraphics’ large format hardcover edition is simply lovely, too.) Wandering Son is a beautiful series that explores the young protagonists’ search for personal identity and addresses issues of gender and sexuality in a very sincere, sensitive, and accessible way. Wandering Son often hits incredibly close to home for me which is one of the reasons that I personally hold the series so dear. I’m not sure how popular the series is in general, but it has been well-received by critics both inside and outside of Japan. The sixth volume of Wandering Son was initially published in Japan in 2007. Fantagraphics’ English-language edition of Wandering Son, Volume 6 was released in 2014.
As the school’s cultural festival approaches, the students are hard at work preparing for their classes’ projects. Chiba and Shuichi are trying to put the final touches on their script for a gender-swapped version of Romeo and Juliet despite some of their classmates’ well-intentioned interference. To Chiba and Shuichi the play is much more than a simple seventh-grade class production. It’s also a very personal expression of their desires: Chiba wants to see Shuichi in the role of Juliet and Shuichi wants to be seen as a girl. In some ways their version of Romeo and Juliet is a reflection of Shuichi and Takatsuki as the two of them are faced with challenging society’s established gender roles and expectations. Shuichi and Takatsuki’s bonding over the play is a source of immense frustration for Chiba. She’s in love with Shuichi, and Shuichi has feelings for Takatsuki, but Takatsuki isn’t interested in pursuing those feelings. The result is that there’s quite a bit of drama both on and off the stage.
For my part, I’m glad to see Shuichi and Takatsuki becoming close again after their relationship was disrupted by Shuichi’s confession of love. Thankfully, they were able to work through that and are once again able to lean and rely on each other as friends. This is particularly important for the two of them since they share so much in common. The additional support is something that Shuichi especially needs. At the beginning of Wandering Son, Shuichi was a very meek and hesitant person. However, as the series has progressed, Shuichi has grown, becoming much more assertive and confident and is now able to begin to express in words needs and desires. In a very touching scene with Takatsuki, Shuichi sums it up quite nicely, “It’s my wish. You as a boy…me as a girl…a happy ending for everybody.” It’s really the first time that Shuichi has been able to be so clear and forthright about the their situation. Happily, it’s not the last time that it happens, but it is a very formative and noteworthy moment.
One of the things that Shimura captures remarkably well in Wandering Son is the natural development of the characters and their relationships with one another. Wandering Son is a story about growing up and determining not only who you are as an individual but who you are in relation to other people; how people see themselves in addition to how others see them. Life itself could be said to be a performance. It’s particularly interesting then that in Wandering Son, Volume 6 so many parallels are made between Shuichi and Takatsuki’s real life and the very deliberately crafted Romeo and Juliet production. Through it they are able to reveal a part of themselves for everyone to see. It may not be a particularly subtle narrative technique on Shimura’s part, but it is a very effective one. The play echos their experiences, emphasizing specific aspects of their lives and relationships not only for the characters, but for the readers as well. Wandering Son continues to be an absolutely wonderful series. As always, I am very much looking forward to the next volume.