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January 6, 2012

Bento Bako Bonus: Wandering Son volume 2

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Written by: Kristin
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Title: Wandering Son
Author: Shimura Takako
Publisher: Fantagraphics
Volume: Volume 2, $19.99 (HC)
Vintage: 2004 by Enterbrain, January 2012 by Fantagraphics
Genre: Drama, slice-of-life, LGBT issues

[Volume 1 review.]

Volume two opens with a few lovely color pages (looking beautifully water colored) helpfully noting the series’ main characters, then jumps right into the story and a new complication. Nitori and Maho’s grandmother gives them some New Year’s money, enough to do a little shopping. Maho immediately decides to spend it on clothes, but Nitori takes a little more time before he finally decides to take the plunge and buy a long-haired wig. With his new wig on his head, Nitori and Takatsuki take one of their excursions dressed in reverse clothes again, and run into a surprising face. Yuki, the girl who hit on Takatsuki while she was dressed as a boy in the previous volume, reappears and happily introduces herself, then invites them to her place for some homemade sweets. Back at school, Nitori and Takatsuki’s class is tasked with writing a short essay about their dreams for the future. The volume focuses mostly on Nitori’s struggle, and as he wears the girl’s school uniform he has at his house one afternoon, a friend of his sister Maho comes to deliver something, and falls in love with the “mystery girl” at first sight. When Maho finds out that the guy she likes is interested in a girl he saw at her house, the strange circumstance gets her wheels turning and she puts the pieces together, eventually discovering her brother’s secret. Other than being annoyed that the guy she likes finds her brother attractive, she’s surprisingly unfazed by her discovery. Later, Nitori and Takatsuki visit Yuki’s  house again, but are interrupted by a surprise visit from Yuki’s boyfriend, Shiina. Shiina, thinking Yuki is cheating on him (with Takatsuki, no less), becomes suspicious and rather brusquely cops a feel on Takatsuki’s crotch. Surprised by what he doesn’t find there, he questions Nitori’s gender too, then fills the shocked pair in on a little secret about Yuki. Yuki is actually a he (She is a post-op transsexual maybe? I’m not sure….). With this revelation, Nitori and Takatsuki suddenly realize that they’re not alone in the world. Excited over this connection, Nitori decides to start up an exchange diary with Takatsuki so they can share their feelings and experiences. When Sasa and Chiba find out about it, the two friends agonize over whether to include them, which would mean revealing their secret to Sasa. Saddened by being left out, Chiba decides to start an exchange diary with Sasa, and the two begin to forge a deeper friendship. The school trip is up next, but Nitori and Takatsuki get a nice pep talk from Yuki the night before, where she encourages them with her own story about hitting puberty and meeting Shiina on their own school trip in sixth grade, and gives them some good parting advice – “You must never become discouraged or afraid.” Unfortunately, Nitori’s trials start immediately, as his seat partner on the bus is a rather obnoxious bully. He’s bothered by the same boy again over dinner, and later in the men’s bath is accosted by the boy and his friends who tease him about his voice and appearance. Mortified and upset, Nitori takes to leaving the boys’ room at night and sitting in the hallway alone. Fortunately, during the day he is able to spend time with his friends, and they even receive a surprise visit from a certain excitable duo. The volume wraps up with some very helpful notes from translator Matt Thorn on LGBT life in Japan.

This volume is absolutely wonderful. It has an overall very gentle feel to it, but it’s punctuated by moments of cruelty and sadness. In the previous volume, Takatsuki was dealing with her first period, a harsh reminder that no matter what, she is undeniably female. This time, Nitori is introduced to the concept of wet dreams, though he doesn’t experience one himself, and he doesn’t fully understand it yet. I don’t think I’ve ever read a manga that dealt with such issues, at the very least not with such honesty and seriousness. It’s a rare thing to get such simple realism in a manga, and Takako handles it exquisitely. Yuki is so painfully embarrassed during her flashback in her youth; her mortification can easily be felt. The words from her teacher are heartbreaking – “It just proves that you’re a boy….” – and I remember Takatsuki having the same reaction when she got her first period. That Takatsuki and Nitori have someone who understands them, who has gone through what they’re going through and overcome it, who is happy and confident, is really uplifting, and it certainly gives both kids strength and hope. Shiina and Yuki are kind of weird, but I love that Takatsuki and Nitori have them as friends. To two young teens (well, I think they’re around 12, actually) who are struggling with their sexual identities, having these older friends who understand and accept them makes a huge difference. Unfortunately, I can see some problems arising from these youngsters having adult friends; I can’t imagine their parents will be thrilled, and already Takatsuki has gotten into some trouble for being out late at night (and told “It’s all right for Shuichi. He’s a boy.”). The most heartbreaking moments in this book come when Nitori is bullied by a classmate during their school trip. The other boy asks rude questions, acts like a complete jerk, leads a near physical assault on Nitori (“We’re gonna check if you’re a girl or not.”), and starts calling him a faggot. Poor gentle Nitori can’t even stand being in the same room, and begins leaving the room at night to avoid him and the other boys, sitting alone in the hallway. However, my favorite part of this volume results from this situation. When Nitori is called a faggot by the boy right in the cafeteria in front of everyone, the typically quiet Chiba stands up for her friend and dumps her tray of food onto the bully’s head. I love her to bits for this. Thank you, Chiba, for being awesome. It’s great that Takatsuki and Nitori have each other for support, but it’s also great that they have a friend their age who knows their secret and supports them. I want to hug both of these kids and tell them that everything will be OK, and fortunately Yuki basically does that in the story. I’m hoping for the best for these two, but it’s going to be a difficult journey, for sure. It won’t only be a difficult journey for our main duo, however. Although Chiba’s exploration of Christianity was disappointingly absent this volume, there’s a distinct feeling that as Nitori and Takatsuki press forward on their journey of self discovery, Chiba might get left behind. When she learns about the exchange diary, Chiba immediately realizes that although they are her friends, Nitori and Takatsuki have a special bond that doesn’t include her. That broke my heart, but it’s nice to see that she takes the opportunity to forge a deeper friendship with Sasa. This series can be really harsh at times, but there are some great heartwarming moments, as well. That’s what makes it great.



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