Flawed, but Valuable
If asked to explain my thoughts on the 2011 anime, Wandering Son, I’d say that it is a flawed but valuable piece of animation history. It’s rare to see a work attempt to tackle gender identity (in this case what it means to be trans) in a serious, whole-hearted way. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that this is the only anime that I’ve seen where this isn’t a joke, or trumped up drama piece. It’s honest, if anything, and for that reason, the series deserves your time.
The story of Wandering Son is about a boy named Nitori, except that isn’t exactly right because Nitori wants to be a girl. Their journey to figuring out just who they are, and the eventual acceptance of themselves is what this show is all about. It’s a slow-paced story, but one that needed to be told.
Remember, this show came out in 2011 and was based off of a manga that was even older (2002) so this is kind of progressive for its time. My cynical self sees this kind of representation in media becoming more popular, but it very rarely comes off as genuine. At times, it even comes off as distasteful even. Yet, for all it’s flaws, Wandering Son is still my number example for this kind of representation in media.
Which leads me to explaining the anime and how it was adapted, because this background is integral to understanding what this show is. When adopting the manga, the team made the bold choice to start in the middle of the story and it doesn’t cover a lot of the harder hitting stuff. Instead, this is a coming of age story about accepting one’s self with some minor hints of romance.
Truthfully, I can’t think of a better way for this story to be adapted as it hits on the core theme of the original story while managing to stay within the very slim restrictions that 11 episodes allow for. In short, it was a great idea. However, it presents some issues.
Since the story is starting in the middle, there’s a lot of lifting that needs to be done by the viewer. Character relationships are established, events have occurred off screen, and the show just runs with it. Now it isn’t uncommon for a show to start “in media res” like this, but this can lead to confusion in some viewers.
The biggest reason for this is the cast is HUGE, and it only gets bigger over time. Some characters simply don’t have a lot of time to shine as a result, which can lead to a lacking experience. Furthermore, it can be difficult to keep everybody straight. While not an issue for me personally, I know this is an issue that several have experienced.
In addition to this, it also means some things are simply left unresolved or up to the interpretation of the viewer. There’s a lot of reading between the lines and subtly in Wandering Son’s story. While I think this is fantastic, it can be irksome for some because it can feel like not much is happening episode-to-episode.
If you’ve read my stuff for a long time you’ll know I don’t usually reference the source material, but in this case it simply is unavoidable. While I don’t think the anime is worth outright dismissing, it sets out to do one specific thing, and to that end I believe it achieves it with some artful direction that works around constraints, I also recognize that this may put off folks from checking the series out altogether.
Wandering Son’s world is portrayed in a painterly way with a watercolor aesthetic, that compliments that relaxed tone of the series. While drama does ensue, it’s never trumped up or exaggerated. These are real issues that real people face. In fact, as I hinted at just a moment ago, it’s actually almost too ideal a look in some ways.
This comment really only lends itself to a discussion of the anime though, as it’s focused on telling Nitori’s story. Or rather, a very small piece of it. That’s why I would almost recommend the manga over the anime itself.
Until some other work can come along and fully capture the sliver that Wandering Son offers here, this will remain my go-to show for how to handle representation in media. It’s flawed, but genuine. For that reason, it’s a beautiful piece that attempts to convey a different perspective with respect. I can only hope that another anime can come along and do it even better.
IMPORTANT EDIT NOTICE
Above is what remains of the original article, which was about twice as long as it currently is. WordPress had some pretty big issues with this article for some reason, and as a result, half of the content was lost without my knowledge. If you read the article within the first hour or two, you would have noticed several duplicate paragraphs among other issues.
As a result, I recognize that this article may read somewhat disjointed and lack in the usual depth and quality you come to expect from Jon Spencer Reviews. If I remembered the parts that were missing (and where they went), I would add them back in but unfortunately I do not, nor did I save an outside draft of this particular article. The alternative being the article just gets removed. However, I feel it still reflects the general idea of what the original piece was going for, even if it is a bit wonky in the presentation.
A big thank you to one of my readers who contacted me regarding this error. I am very grateful for that as I would have likely missed this for several days, if not longer, had you not contacted me. Additionally, a thanks is due to YOU for your understanding in regards to this particular article.
I know this was a more vague look into Wandering Son but I hope the sentiment was able to reach you. Let me know your thoughts in the comments below. If you like my stuff, please consider becoming a Patron or making a one-time donation via Ko-fi. You can find links to those things by clicking the corresponding button below. Thank you for reading and I hope to see you again soon!