This week’s anime review is the title Hourou Musuko, or Wandering Son, which aired from January to April 2011. The series is written by Takako Shimura, and debuted in the popular anime block noitaminA. With a beautiful pastel/watercolor art scheme, the show is, at its heart, a story about growing up, and dealing with gender confusion issues. The story deals with its two main characters, Nitori Shuichi and Yoshino Takatsuki, the relationships they form with the each other and the people around them, and the various issues they confront due to their own unique issues and how it affects their surroundings.
Hourou Musuko is primarily a character driven story. That is to say, the main focus of the show is the characters and how they interact with the world around them. Being as it is a normal slice of life show, the setting isn’t anything too fantastical. It’s modern day Japan, though no place in particular. It seems to take place in that eternal slice of life land in Japan where nearly every modern day and natural convenience is within walking or biking distance. The city is a few blocks that way, the mountains are an hour’s hike away, the beach is visible from your house, and there’s a gorgeous bridge plus riverside combo that you seem to walk by every sunset on your way back home from school. That’s the kind of place Hourou Musuko takes place in.
That being said, the setting here is only a surrounding for the characters to act their lives out. And the characters themselves, they’re what’s important. There are two main characters, Yoshino Takatsuki and Shuichi Nitori. However, between the two, if there could be a “main-er” character, it would be Nitori. The two of them are close friends, and share a unique relationship based off some of the most important issues of the show. Nitori and Takatsuki, both in Junior High in the anime, are two kids that suffer from gender confusion issues. Specifically, Nitori dislikes his own masculinity and prefers feminine habits and actions. This manifests itself in particular by him borrowing his sister’s clothing to wear. He is often caught by his older sister, with whom he shares a simultaneous violent and somewhat caring relationship (though much more on the confrontational/violent side). Having an older sister myself, I can understand the dichotomy in the relationship, to a degree. The rest of Nitori’s family (his father and his mother) do not know about his cross-dressing tendencies, so that seems to imply that his sister shows some degree of consideration.
In addition to his sister, the other three people who know about Nitori’s predilection for cross-dressing are his friends, Ariga Makoto (his only male friend, who shares his interests), Chiba Saori (who encourages his habits), and Takatsuki Yoshino (acting as sort of an opposing sex foil for Nitori). The four of them, including another character, Sasa Kanoko, have been friends since elementary schools. When they enter Junior High, Nitori and his friends meet, and become friends with Sarashina Chizuru and Shirai Momoko. Nitori’s relationship with the all of them, and a few of the other characters in the show, define how he grows as the show goes on.
Makoto fills a special role in Nitori’s little group of friends, as being the only other male in the group. He, like Nitori wishes to be a girl; however his reasons are a little different than Nitori’s. Unlike Nitori, Makoto is romantically interested in men, particularly his teacher. His personality is quiet and he’s a good listener, so oftentimes Nitori will try to vent his problems to Makoto, who he believes is one of the only people that would understand him). Along with Makoto, Sasa fills a similar niche role between Chiba and Takatsuki, who, from the beginning of the anime, dislike each other. Sasa tries to be friends with everyone, which is difficult as the group starts to splinter because of Chiba and Takatsuki’s dynamic. Unlike the other characters introduced in the show, Sasa goes through the plot without ever encountering any sort of hardship or problem.
The relationship dynamic between Chiba and Takatsuki, with Nitori in the middle, is one of the bigger focuses of the story. Chiba and Takatsuki dislike each other, despite being friends at one point in elementary school. Chiba is a stoic character, yet she is interested in Nitori and his cross-dressing, to the point of giving him her clothes to wear. Of course, she is also romantically interested in Nitori. However, Nitori likes Takatsuki, and this is the crux of the issue between Takatsuki and Chiba. Takatsuki, like Nitori, holds a certain amount of resentment towards growing up and becoming more feminine, so she tries to take all the measures she can to avoid seeming girly, including coming to school in the boy’s uniform.
I cannot stress enough that Hourou Musuko is a character-driven show. The characters are complex (to a degree), and the interactions between them are what shape the show and its plot. To that end, the plot of the series can be seen as meandering and without end. As the anime was adapted by an ongoing manga, this is unavoidable; however the issue is particularly noticeable in this series. Because the series is a kind of coming-of-age story, the daily interactions of the characters are important, yet unless you like the characters; it can be difficult to sit through. To that end, it’s like real life. Sometimes conversations are just boring. And because the series is adapted from a manga, and made to end in twelve episodes, what little plot the series had is compressed in some ways, stretched in others, and overall incomplete. For example, the overarching plot of the anime series is this Romeo and Juliet play done by Nitori’s class for the School Festival, but with a twist. In an attempt at thinly-veiled subtlety, the roles of Romeo and Juliet are performed by the opposite gender, and this new rendition is written by Chiba and Nitori. However, while that may be the main plot of the anime, it’s not particularly important or even necessary. In fact, all it does is create a series of situations from which character interactions can occur, and that’s the real driving force behind the show.
Plot and characters aside (as those are the two biggest factors for any of my reviews), what’s left for the anime to present are the visuals (in terms of art, design, and animation) and music (specifically the opening theme, ending theme, and background music). As a note for this review and all future reviews, my artistic experience is pretty much nil. I’m a terrible artist and as a result, more than the other sections of my reviews, the art section will be particularly subjective and may even be technically wrong at points. Insofar as visuals are concerned, I really like the style Hourou Musuko was presented in. The art seems to be reminiscent of some sort of watercolor or pastel style, and the light colors really do the series justice. As the tone is light-hearted and generally unobtrusive, bright, vibrant colors would have been distracting. The gentle theme of the series combined with the gentle colors and art style chosen complement each other really well. As for the character designs themselves, there is nothing really special about them. That being said, there isn’t anything particularly bad about them. My pick for favorite character design from this show would be Suehiro Anna, a girl introduced as one of Nitori’s sister’s modeling friends and eventually a romantic partner for Nitori himself. There’s this one episode in particular where she and Nitori (who is cross-dressing) go out on a date, and the theme is glasses-wearing students, and I kinda have a thing for glasses so Anna looks pretty cute there. Anyway, lastly, for animation quality… There isn’t much by way of movement in the show, and it’s not as if there are any large fights that need well-choreographed or well-animated movements, so there isn’t much to say about the quality. I mean, it’s not as if it’s terrible or something, it’s just there’s nothing in particular that’s special to animate.
The last section I’d like to cover for this review is the music for the show. I’ll start with the most obvious segments, the opening and ending themes of the show. The opening theme, Itsudatte by Daisuke, at my first impression, is kind of generic. I didn’t particularly like it, but I didn’t have anything against it. Furthermore, I have never heard of Daisuke. That being said, I have gotten the single since and I really like the b-side, Aishi no Lily, but that doesn’t have much with Hourou Musuko. The video for the opening theme is just a little bit odd though. It’s more boring than even I would expect, knowing full well what I was getting into with this series. It’s just panning over some static pictures of the classroom that Nitori goes to. The characters aren’t even shown. I will say that I do like the font styling and color they used for the credits in the opening, but that’s about the only thing I like. Moving on to the ending theme, I enjoyed this quite a bit. It’s called For You, and it’s by Rie Fu, who is more well-known than Daisuke (by me, at least). She’s done the first ending theme for Bleach (Life is Like a Boat) and one of the ending themes for D.Grayman (Anata ga Koko ni Iru Riyuu). For You is a pretty song, and I love the TV size version they have for the anime. The lack of instrumentation in the beginning is really nice. The lyrics don’t really have anything special to do with the anime from what I can tell (I suppose you could stretch it so it does), but the accompanying video is nice (if simple again like the opening, at least there are human characters) and it uses that same neat font. Overall the video is nothing special except relatively, however. The music though is really nice, so that’s a plus. Finally, for the background music for the series… I recently acquired the OST, and going through it (I haven’t seen the series since it aired) I only recognized about two tracks. While that may not seem stellar by most measures, that’s pretty good for me. It’s not the best sound track I’ve ever heard, by far, but even having two slightly memorable tracks is pretty decent. The music itself is soft and unassuming, kind of like the art style. It’s gentle and there are several acoustic guitar and piano pieces sprinkled throughout the series. Again, nothing stellar, but not terrible.
Now at the end I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the manga of Hourou Musuko at the very end here. The anime catches a lot of flak for starting the series at around volume four or five of the manga (basically skipping the entire elementary school portion, where Takatsuki and Chiba are friends and eventually have their falling out) and indeed a few major characters were almost totally omitted from the anime. In addition, the manga is still continuing after the anime has ended, kind of making the meandering plot problems the anime suffers more pronounced. However, looking at the anime for what it is, it’s not terrible the way they did it. In fact, I rather liked the way they handled it. While the play may be as subtle as a brick to the face, I think it was important for them to choose that as the major plot point for the series (some people just need a brick to the face to drill the point home) and there was simply too much content (as weird as that is to say) in the previous volumes to fit all of it in. Now, this makes the anime a little odd for the manga reader (I must confess I read the manga after watching the anime) but I believe it’s still enjoyable in its own right. Rather than a supplement for the manga, Hourou Musuko should be looked to more as a standalone show in its own right.
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