Behold an animation of watercolor styles, flowing frames, and detailed backgrounds. Every face in the crowd has a drawn personality, every side-character defined. You can hear Clair de Lune gently played in the background and feel the emotion of the character’s voices in the foreground. Although the anime I describe sounds quite positive and even a bit flowery, the premise the story revolves around is not for all. Proceed forward only if you have an open mind and enough patience to handle the story.
I present to you, Hourou Musuko, 放浪息子, or also known as Wandering Son.
Unlike the other two shows I have blogged currently, Hourou Musuko sets a consistent tone of bittersweetness that creates…a certain surrealist feel. Even though the colors may be light and the characters smiling, there’s this feeling to Musuko that makes you feel like there’s some sort of sadness in the air that you can’t necessarily see. Maybe it’s the good writing where every scene has a grounded purpose. Maybe it’s the premise that discomforts a majority of us. Maybe it’s the simple music that plays during every scene. Most likely though it’s a combination of all of these, to create what may be the saddest and most thought provoking series this winter.
What inevitably will be what turns people away and astray though is the plot and premise, in numerous ways. Unfortunately, Musuko’s first episode isn’t an easy watch to follow: it requires paying attention to the many side characters it attempts to introduce. Add onto that the relations between characters whom change at times and it becomes challenging to follow the plot. It’s hard following at least five important characters in a fairly quick scene. In order to fully understand the plot and characters, rewinding is inevitable. However, rest assured that the plot becomes easier to follow in the second half, where the show shifts focus to the main protagonists.
However, it is the nature of these two, hero and heroine, that will detract most viewers. It is the nature of the show itself and the topics it attempts to tackle that will cause many to not give even the first episode a chance.
Many animations deal with deep subjects. Death Note confronts death, the afterlife, morality. Lain addresses existentialism, the human connection, and memories. Musuko? It seeks to describe cross-dressing, puberty, gender crisis, and various amounts of subjects relating to identity and growing up. From an outer perspective, Musuko seems to tackle issues less metaphysical and more tangible. Issues that our society is only beginning to become aware of. However, it’s that tangibility and closeness to reality that makes Musuko a sensitive subject.
It’s not the first time that cross-dressers have appeared in anime. Hideyoshi from Baka to Test. Masaki from Sasameki Koto. Haruhi from Ouran Host Club. Tatsukichi from MM. Kampfer as a whole. Bridget from Guilty Gear. However, such characters were inevitably placed as part of a comedic act, their act of cross-dressing a sort of comedic aspect.
This is probably why Musuko is a wary anime to approach. Yoshino Takatsuki (Asami Seto), a girl who loves to dress masculinely, has a crush from a cross-dressing boy, Shuichi Nitori (Kousuke Hatakeyama). Both of them are entering their first year of middle school, within a society that does not look towards cross-dressing in a positive light. They are accompanied into their first days of school by…
Shuichi’s friend with a secret crush, Chiba Saori (Yuuka Nanri)
Shuichi’s sister Maho Nitori (Nana Mizuki)
Shuichi’s friend Makoto Ariga (Yuuichi Iguchi)
Classmate Momoko Shirai (Aki Toyosaki)
Cool classmate Chizuru Sarashina (Saeko Chiba)
Yoshino’s friend Kanako Sasa (Yoshino Nanjou)
…all of whom have their own problems concerning puberty, growing up, and identity. The first episode is quite ambitious in introducing all these characters straight from the start. However, as scene from just a few minutes, the side-characters have this sort of realistic personality that’s been lacking from many shows lately. They do not stand as side-characters cookie-cut and predictable, they have life of their own and issues that help drive the story. No doubt in the future will there be side-character focused episodes that don’t just serve as filler. It’s a good thing though that the first episode didn’t try to gain depth on all of them at once.
Instead, the first episode reveals the details surrounding Yoshino’s and Shuichi’s interests in crossdressing and their relationship to each other.
Not to get into too much detail, the story this episode revolves around is one of shame and awkwardness. It revolves around the steps the protagonists take concerning their hobby and the complications that tie into it. Basically, this episode sets up the problem that will undoubtedly be focused on through out the series: finding acceptance in an unacceptable world. The writing used to describe this is eloquent, using symbolism and still imagery to relay the feelings of rejection, both societally and individually. The bittersweet tone rings through the progression of their eventual first meeting with each other…for what seemed to be the first in awhile.
It is here that the visuals and audio take their course. It is noticeable the amount of effort placed into these two categories, each matching the mood of the scene nicely. The angles chosen are unique, the music acoustic and pleasantly…bittersweet. When one reaches the end scene, one may feel a bit of heartstrings pulled, sympathizing if only a tiny bit to the dilemma Clair de Lune and cherry blossoms exemplify. Seeing their innocent faces, watercolored and gentle.
In fact, the whole symbolism of the art style itself is interesting to note. The show focuses on the coming of age, the passage away from innocence. The drawings during most of the episode are soft and a bit faded, indicating a childlike innocence unaware of the world. However, as soon as the final climatic scene occurs, if one pays attention, the colors are more vivid, the images sharper and clearer, showing the excitement and burst of emotion the two feel at that moment. One’s desire to become cool, the other’s desire to become cute.
However, despite it’s merits, it still isn’t the anime for everyone, and I feel like that’s alright. The mellow tale it tells, reflecting realistic interactions and issues that are hard not to relate to. As one watches the series, it becomes less about cross-dressing, but more about the relationships that bond people together. I personally hope more people will follow this as word of it’s story piques people’s personalities: it will be a pleasure and a sadness to see these characters grow throughout their days away from innocence, in a bittersweet tone.