Life Of "Wandering Son" Is No Fortunate One
The subject of transgenderism does not come up too often in the anime realm. For the most part when it comes to male characters wanting to dress like women (or vice versa) it tends to stay in a safe bubble where that is just as far as they'll go with their transformation. Not only does Wandering Son (or Hourou Musuko, as it's known in Japan) step away from this bubble, but also takes the issue and brings it to light via a middle school setting. As shocking as that might be, there is a tad bit of realism in putting a GLBT-based plot in an environment like this.
The premise is simple to say, but is complex to comprehend. Shuichi wants to be a girl, Yoshino wants to be a boy, and both like to cross-dress as the other sex whenever comfortable in their areas. The when, how and why as to their discoveries about themselves has so far not been revealed, but their closest friends know (or, at least, somewhat know) that this is who they want to be in life. While they are going through changes (some they want, others they wish wouldn't be happening) an awkwardness surrounds the two friends, as Shuichi is in love with Yoshino, and wishes to spend the rest of his life (as a her) with her (as a him). With a lot of hard work, determination and some support from friends the two friends do what they can to survive through school, and make sure that they can tackle on their changes head on, even if there are some hinderances.
It comes as no surprise that noitaminA is broadcasting Wandering Son; after all they're no stranger to the concept of transgendered characters. (Both Paradise Kiss and Moyashimon aired in the popular anime block.) AIC did a wonderful job with the animation; the show almost looks like it was drawn using a water-colored technique. The voice acting, on the other hand, is hit-and-miss. While Asami Seto's Yoshino sounds very natural I couldn't help but notice how many times it appeared Kōsuke Hatakeyama was straining himself while voicing Shuichi. (This is his first role, however, so this might be forgivable.)
In regards to the realism of the storyline and the progression/evolution of the characters, I'm not so sure I'm the right person to judge this aspect of the show. Sure it's entertaining, and there are a lot of really good heartfelt moments in Wandering Son, but I'm somewhat doubtful if they managed to capture what goes on in the mind of someone in the transgendered community. I have a couple friends that have gone through -- or still are going through -- these changes, but even then I only know what they tell me about this sort of stuff. I don't know if the anime really captures what's going on within the mindscape of someone whose transgendered, but at the same time what I do see in this series is entertaining, and it does look like they're trying to do everything they can to teach people about this sort of population.
From what I've seen in the first four episodes of Hourou Musuko it appears that they're doing something right with the way the storyline's convening. The animation's great, the majority of the characters are likable and the highs and lows of finding acceptance in middle school seem to be captured quite well. But do the characters of Yoshino and Shuichi truly represent the issues and challenges that real people in the transgendered populace experience? That's a question much better asked for someone who has experienced it.
*** ½ (out of five)
Wandering Son is available to stream on Crunchyroll.