Sunday, August 5, 2012

Comics Review: Shimura Takako, Wandering Son, Volumes 1-3

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 so on--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 altogether--is a perceptive, amiable, and moving piece of work. The English translation is by Matt Thorn. Click here for the publisher’s webpage for the inaugural volume.

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