Hourou Musuko (Wandering Son) tells the story of Nittori Shuusuke as he begins the difficult transition through puberty. Shuusuke and his friend Takatsuki are both uncomfortable with their assigned gender, and prefer to adapt the mannerisms and clothing of the opposite sex. Horou Musuko explores the growth of them, their friends and their classmates.
The strongest aspect of Hourou Musuko is the cast – for a show of only eleven episodes, the number of characters is astronomical, and all of them are well-developed. The creators did an amazing job at utilizing the limited time to the fullest extent for character development. One very effective technique which I haven’t seen to such an extent anywhere else is quite simple in principle: in a scene with multiple characters, one character will say or do something, and the rest will react simultaneously. Nearly every show has scenes like this. But usually all the characters have the same reaction. This is where Hourou Musuko stands out: instead of reacting the same, the scene is set up so that the characters can, no, must, react differently based on their personalities (see the image below: count five completely different reactions). From casual interactions in scenes like this, we can, in a short amount of times, glimpse deeply into multiple characters simultaneously. This technique helped Hourou Musuko to develop such a large and strong cast in a short amount of time.
The other thing which makes the characters stand out is that they treat different people differently. This is obviously true in real life, but anime often neglect this, having characters interact with their close friends, family and complete strangers in the same way. But consider Maho, Shuusuke’s sister: she treats her brother like a creepy little brat to his face, tries to get her friends to cheer him up behind his back, acts like a fashionable teenager with her modelling friends, and is shy and demure with her boyfriend. Maho’s relationships make her feel like a real person instead of a cardboard character cutout.
The script flows extremely well, which, for a show that jumps around between scenes and characters as much as Hourou Musuko, is quite an accomplishment. The decision to skip over the beginning of the manga turned out well, since it allowed the show to use its limited time to cover the more interesting parts. This may have the effect of leaving first-time viewers of the series a bit lost trying to figure out who all the characters are, but stick with it, you’ll figure it out in a few episodes and be grateful for the choice in the end.
Plot / Script – 9 / 10 – Smooth, timely scripting, particularly in the many scene changes, which are nearly unnoticeable in how little the flow is interrupted.
Characters – 10 / 10 – A large, strongly-developed cast: approaches Simoun in ambition as a character study.
Production – 9 / 10 – Unique, beautiful style – I especially love the faces and the shininess of the hair.
“Honest” is one way to put it, but Shuusuke could really use some scolding from Akira. His re-confession scene was embarrassing enough for me, and I was only watching. He and Ana have a great relationship, which I feel is quite realistic for middle schoolers just entering puberty. When I was that age, I remember it seeming like everyone was swapping boyfriends and girlfriends every week or two. They aren’t really sure about their feelings either- Ana is confused about whether she sees Shuusuke as a boyfriend or a little brother, and Nittori isn’t sure whether he sees Ana as his girlfriend or a girlfriend he goes clothes shopping with. Most anime dealing with romance tend to make the main conflict a “he loves me / he loves me not” rather than anything this nuanced.
Shuusuke also experiences an awkward moment with Chiba smelling his hair, reminiscent of her first attempted rape, but Takatsuki makes the save. Poor Chiba.
The creators couldn’t fit everything in the manga into eleven episodes, but they still did a great job at having a conclusion of sorts. Shuusuke and Doi work on the script together, planting the seeds of forgiveness, Mako confesses his jealousy of Shuusuke and is forgiven, Ana begins to respect Shuusuke’s cross-dressing, and Shuusuke accepts the changes to his body and his voice. Shuusuke begins to be accepted for who he is by his friends and classmates, and begins to accept himself and his male body, making for an uplifting and optimistic ending.
My favorite thing about this show is still how unique the characters are: in their reactions to events, how they view the world, in everything. And their reactions aren’t surprises at all. The characters have been explored so thoroughly that they feel like real people you would know, who act exactly as you would expect them to. I mean look at everyone’s reaction to Takatsuki’s class’ “Wish Upon a Star” event, shown above. Sasa smiles happily and, a few seconds later, tries to draw out Chiba. Chiba complains about how idiotic it is. Nittori stares with his mouth open, dumbfounded. Chi is excited and begins wishing fervently. And Momo tries not to break down laughing. All of these reactions are exactly what we’d expect, and it’s because of scenes like this that we know so many characters so well in the span of only eleven episodes. Not a second is wasted, as in the space of a few seconds, the creators flesh out five characters in unique ways simultaneously.
Last, we got some bonus cross-dressing. (Also, I’m confused… I thought the last episode was a combination of 10 and 11, but now this is 11?)
This was Maho’s episode of awesomeness. In spite of staying in bed and telling Nittori she’s not going to school because she’s too embarrassed of him, she is actually really worried about him and even tells Anna to go cheer him up. Her ambush hug of Seya (whose support of Nittori is equally admirable) was great too. It’s rare that we get a show with so many characters of such depth. The only other show I can think of which has so many well-developed characters is Simoun – but there they had over twice as much time to do it in, and tended to focus on only a few characters at a time. In Hourou Musuko each episode is divided more evenly between all of the characters, so it needs to pace things tightly. It never wastes time – every moment is well spent in showing something new about the characters.
Chi was also awesome in this episode. I would have expected Takatsuki or Sasa to come cheer up Nittori, but having Chi go together with Momo was an excellent choice. Her optimism and Momo’s embarrassment at being seen as a “freak” make for an interesting combination. Chi’s response to Momo that she already was a freak was nicely done as well, especially with Makoto’s comment.
And Shuu is beginning to stand up for himself, even telling Doi that he hates him. Still, I don’t think Doi was really trying to be mean – he is just insensitive.
Apparently this episode was a combination of episode 10 and 11, which will be separated and longer on the blue ray release (not clear as to why). It was patched together quite well and I could hardly tell that anything was missing. I assume they will spend some more time on Shuu’s breakup in the full episode though, since this was only seen as a flashback. The setup of multiple short segments does lend itself well to adding and removing bits and pieces.
This series doesn’t like to leave any character undeveloped – in this episode, we get a deeper look at Doi, Nittori’s one-time bully. We also see both Takatsuki and later Nittori work up the courage to crossdress to school.
The best thing about this show is still how complex all the relationships of the characters are, and how they all react differently. Takatsuki and Yuki both dislike Doi and think he’s bullying Shuusuke, even though Shuusuke is willing to give him a chance. I think they’re being a bit unfair though, Doi isn’t really being a bully. Doi’s reaction to learning Yuki was a man wasn’t all that surprising – you would think that Yuki would get that all the time and would have learned to tolerate it a bit. Doi’s suggestion that Nittori go to school in female clothes probably won’t turn out well, but I don’t think Doi did it for that reason. I think he genuinely thought that Nittori was cute.
Unfortunately, barely any Chiba and Anna appearances this week. We did get a nice scene where Chiba adjusts Takatsuki’s collar though, like a wife before her husband goes off to work.
Hooray, somebody else understands how awesome Chiba is! This show has a lot of characters, all of whom are quite strong and well-developed, but Chiba stands out as my favorite. She’s just so refreshingly selfish and honest. There’s none of this do I / don’t I and no effort to put up with anything that bothers her. Characters in anime (and Japanese culture in general, from my impression) seem to always be concerned with appearances and politeness. As a rude, obnoxious American I do not share these values and love the way Chiba tells it like it is.
I’m also enjoying Ana’s character from this episode. Her relationship with Nittori is so cute. I wish there were more shows with middle schoolers who entered actual relationships and acted like… middle schoolers. Oh, and bonus points for the glasses.
But she loses points for talking in the bathroom. Talking at a urinal is bad enough, but from inside a stall…?
This show is moving really quickly, which is both a strength and a weakness – there’s no risk of getting bored, and they’ll be able to fit more into the short timeslot, but some parts need less time spent on them than they deserve. There were a few things I seemed to have missed / forgotten at the start of the episode – I hadn’t realized that a new school year had begun, and didn’t remember why she was skipping school again. But the creators have been doing a great job at fitting as much in as possible – the show flows really smoothly in spite of how much they’re stuffing into every single episode.
Chiba once again had the awkward quote of the episode award. And Nittori’s awkwardness-breaking attempt was hilarious.