Nitori Shuichi and his older sister Maho are starting at a new school. Before he’s even entered his fifth-grade classroom, Nitori has already been mistaken for a girl. He is indeed a beautiful boy … and the teacher is not the first to make the wrong assumption about his gender. When Nitori is seated next to Takatsuki Yoshino, a tall lanky girl, the two immediately become friends. Androgynous Takatsuki is already referred to by some of their schoolmates as Takatsuki-kun, a suffix usually used for younger boys.
The two share a similar secret: Nitori wishes he could be a girl, while Takatsuki longs to be a boy.
One of their classmates, the beautiful but unpredictable Chiba Saori, recognizes Nitori’s feminine side and surprisingly encourages him to cross-dress. As the fifth grade prepares to celebrate the sixth grade’s graduation with a dramatic production of a popular manga-turned-theater piece, Chiba suggests a gender twist that certainly plays to both Nitori and Takatsuki’s preferences. Let the show begin …
The creator, Shimura Takako, is a well-established manga artist recognized for her LGBT focus, certainly not your usual manga fare. In the series’ debut-in-English, Shimura treats both protagonists’ journeys of self-discovery with gentle honesty; her characters are wide-eyed and adorable, uncertain and searching. Shimura is well aware of harder times ahead as both children mature: the book opens with older sister Maho’s concern that her pretty younger brother will be bullied at the new school, and as the book nears its end, Takatsuki suffers rough teasing by some of her male classmates when they discover she’s begun menstruating. As if in preparation for upcoming challenges, Shimura makes sure to surround her two heroes with a supportive network of family and quirky, curious friends.
On an interesting semantic note, Shimura’s choice of names for her two protagonists is cleverly descriptive. Nitori translates as ‘two birds,’ while Shuichi is something like ‘to master/cultivate one’ – so Nitori has two possibilities, but he must choose one. Takatsuki means ‘high or tall Zelkova tree,’ while Yoshino is not written in kanji which leaves room for many potential interpretations. ‘Tall tree’ is aptly descriptive of Takatsuki, but that the tree is actually a Zelkova – a popular choice for creating bonsai – suggests a potential danger for Takatsuki of being stunted in the future, her personal growth inhibited by influences beyond her control.
In its original Japanese, Wandering Son is up to 11 volumes thus far, and was adapted into a 12-part anime series that aired earlier this year. The U.S. publisher, Fantagraphics, promises to release at least the first seven volumes-in-translation (vol. 2 is due out in November) – here’s hoping for the full set!
Readers: Middle Grade, Young Adult
Published: 2011 (United States)