Wandering Son, Volume 6

Wandering Son, Volume 6Creator: Takako Shimura
U.S. publisher: Fantagraphics Books
ISBN: 9781606997079
Released: January 2014
Original release: 2007

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.

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  1. This is one of those series that raises so many questions about the presuppositions underneath the story it’s self, such as “is the psychological wholeness of the characters the most important thing and if so why?” Along with other thoughts such as “simply because you self identify as an gender outside of you’re biology why is it right for you to change you’re genetically and predetermined gender?”

    I mean regardless if Shuichi and Takatsuki, do end up becoming there desired gender latter in life physically as well as psychologically chromosome wise and genetically they will always be female and male medical science can not change that. Than there is the whole question of as 13 should this type of behavior be allowed or encouraged. I get that the series is from Shuichi and Takatsuki’s perspective but how is this mind set normal?

    Or giving the fact that gender self identity is usually established by age three is it right to make a choice based on how you personally feel devoid from other objective standards? Also why is this something that should be supported by the readership?

    The presupposition seems to be that Shuichi and Takatsuki are not only in need of understanding (which any who is Transgender needs but understanding does not also mean tacit approval) but that this is a valid expression of gender identity again I ask why?

    Than there is the greater question of morality is it moral for someone to want to be other than their genetically per-determined gender? If so why? and how is this justified outside of personal feeling such as emotion which are not the best gauge for moral choices. How is this not to borrow a phrase from theologian R. Albert Mohler Jr “moral insanity”?

    In all this I’m not saying that Transgender people are not worthy of being treated with respect and basic human decency as image bearers of God but that it’s not right to mar something as basic as you’re gender for the sake of you’re own personal emotional comfort.

    Now this all may seem tangential to the review proper but ultimately when I see Wandering Son praised so highly I am often left bewildered by the effusive praise of so many.

    I am instead left with even more questions and concerns about what that praise says about our society as a whole. In the end the what and the why of the presuppositions one holds on gender if one supports the main conceit of this series right and those that disagree wrong and how did they come to that position? How is it justified outside of the “self” or “sentiment?

    In conclusion maybe this is too wide of a divide to be crossed and my presuppositions will never be able to make sense of this mind set yet ultimately I think that’s the point.

    As I have a completely different mind set hemmed in by Scripture as opposed to the predominately Post-Modern mind set that seems to be the zeitgeist of our times, and all I can do is try to be the best example of my world view and hope that it will have some sort of effect on those I interact with showing that while I may disagree I am doing so not out of blind bigotry but out of a place of love and concern for that person’s spiritual well being.

    • Sex and gender (and by extension sexuality) are actually incredibly complicated concepts and, in my opinion, incredibly interesting. A lot is involved: biological sex, cultural expectations, societal norms, historical context, personality and behavior, psychological and mental makeup, and so on. “Predetermined gender” is really more of a “best guess.”

      Even biological sex isn’t as straightforward as some people think. There is a person’s physical appearance, hormone levels, brain structure and chemistry, and chromosomes, as well as other aspects that need to be taken into consideration. Often these match up with one of the two main sexes, but they don’t always. Someone might typically be labeled “male” according to one of these categories while at the same time might typically be labeled “female” in another. There are many intersex conditions and people who cannot be definitively identified biologically as male or female.

      Gender and gender identity is largely informed by the society in which a person lives. The roles and expectations for a man or a woman in one culture are different from the roles and expectations found in another; some cultures aren’t even limited to the female-male binary. Those gender roles and expectations also change over time within the same culture.

      Have you had the chance to read any of Wandering Son? I think one of the reasons that series is so highly praised is that it captures so extremely well the difficulties encountered and the turmoil experienced by a person who, for one reason or another, does not fit into what is considered to be normal by the society in which they live. Whether or not the reader believes those feelings and emotions to be moral or immoral, they are experienced by people in real life. Wandering Son presents these struggles in a way that can be understood even by people who have not had to deal with them themselves.

      But, as you say, “understanding does not also mean tacit approval.” It is up to the individual reader to decide how they feel about the story, how it fits or doesn’t fit with their own view of the world (religiously, morally, philosophically, etc.), and whether they approve or not. I believe Wandering Son to be a valuable series because it encourages people to think about the very questions that you are asking—to think and talk about gender and the many issues surrounding it.

      That being said—I wanted to respond to what you said and I hope I’ve addressed most of your points—I’m not sure that the comments section of this review is necessarily the best place to have this conversation. I’ve always intended Experiments in Manga to focus on manga and other Japanese literature and culture. If you would like to follow up with me on this tangent into sex and gender, I’d be happy to continue the discussion via email.

      • Sure you have my email address so if you feel so inclined feel free to email me didn’t mean to derail it from your blog’s stated purpose. I still feel this is simply a matter of differing presuppositions, and while there are social aspects connected to gender as a concept it is ultimately a matter of genetics and where you’re source of ultimate truth comes from.

        It’s less a question of science (although that is a reason), and more one of world view, while there are exceptions to the clear biological aspects of gender such as those who are “inter-sexed” those are exceptions that prove the rule. In the end it’s not really about science or “personal identity “.

        Or even the objectivity or subjectivity of gender as a societal concept but the state of man post The Fall and that our mind outside of Christ is totally depraved and unable to think rightly.

        Now that’s more theological than sociological I know but ultimately that’s how I think and obviously where not going to agree on that but you respect me and hear me out I’ll respect you and hear you out. Look forward to hearing from you.

        Also apologies for using the comment forum but I didn’t know how else to contact or lay out my questions and concerns. Thanks again for being such a gentleman

  2. What evidence do you have that leads you to believe Takatsuki “isn’t interested in pursuing” Shu’s feelings? I read her responses in this chapter more along the lines of “I’m unsure of myself/what it means to be in a relationship”. Takatsuki =/= Sugimoto (though Shimura endows them with very similar attitudes); she hasn’t been around the block. She’s just a kid exploring her world.

    • Shu explicitly says that Takatsuki “blew me off.” At this point in the series Takatsuki doesn’t seem return Shu’s romantic feelings. Of course, that doesn’t mean that couldn’t change in the future. :)

      • In light of your other comment response, I feel horrible to discover I arbitrarily used the pronoun “she” to refer to Takatsuki-san. Do you believe this to be appropriate or inappropriate at this point in the story? Similarly, should we be referring to Shu as “he”? Shu’s intentions when it comes to gender seem pretty clear, but I wouldn’t want to jump the gun.

        • If Shu and Takatsuki were real people, I would ask them what their preference would be. But since they’re fictional characters, that is impossible.

          I know people who would vehemently disagree with me on this, but I think it is appropriate to rely on the contextual clues within the series itself. We can’t know what they would want because we can’t ask them. And it’s possible that neither “he” or “she” would be appropriate.

          At this point in the story Shu and Takatsuki are consistently being referred to as “he” and “she” respectively—even by each other—so I personally think it’s fine to follow suit and refer to them as such. Since it is a point of contention and I’ve seen arguments break out over it, when possible I often try to avoid using pronouns at all for Shu and Takatsuki, which can be notoriously difficult in English.

          • I just want to say thank you for avoiding pronouns in your reviews. I read this series in Japanese, so was not faced with the minefield of constant face-slaps that the English-language version ends up unfortunately being (and English-language reviewers generally take their cues from the official translation and use the same pronouns used there). It’s nice to be able to read your review and not flinch all the time.

            (It was not nice to click over and read that first comment, but that’s not your fault. It does mean I will probably not come back to see if you’ve responded to mine, though.)

            • Thank you! I do make an effort to try; it can be quite challenging when writing in English since it’s a language that relies heavily on pronouns. I haven’t read Wandering Son in the original Japanese, but would assume that since gendered pronouns aren’t as integral to that language that it isn’t as much of an issue.


  1. […] me happy, but both manga deal with queer themes. The first review was for Takako Shimura’s Wandering Son, Volume 6. Even though it can be a somewhat difficult read for me personally since the subject matter often […]

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