I am writing this in response to Scamp’s impressions of the first episode of Wandering Son (AKA Hourou Musuko), though it also stands alone. I shall copy the most relevant lines here to begin.
“Even the animation style feels like the artists are afraid of putting too much weight into the drawings, which leaves some of the character designs with these odd gaps in their heads where the artist was almost too afraid to touch the page with his digital brush in fear the design might come off to harsh. The dialogue is simplified to the extreme, using incredibly simple phrasing to convey highly complex emotions.”
“They’re also desperate to point out that this is a drama and hard hitting stuff will come along. It’s not hard hitting though, is it guys? Come on. It will be as hard hitting as a styrofoam.”
Sure, Wandering Son is being gentle, it’s being soft, and it’s…a very calm viewing experience. But I also think that this sort of storytelling is just as acceptable as hitting a story hard, whether it’s about hard hitting topics or not.
Should a story about the insecurities of middle school children really be hit hard and fast, fully and clearly fleshed out, filled with strong dialogue and plenty of sureness? Should it even address the topics directly? Full on?
I don’t think so. They’re newly in middle school. They’re trying to figure out their attraction to crossdressing. They’re going to come up against (and do come up against) the question of whether it’s wrong or not. They’re criticized by some and encouraged by others (which, frankly, surprised me). They have no idea what is going to happen, and they have no idea how they even feel about it. Of course they don’t. Why should they? They’re young, and society doesn’t feel the same way.
I think the narrative style suits that sort of confusion well. The story is told lightly, as the children probably even consider the concepts lightly in their minds. It’s not made into a huge deal, but it’s also quite clearly displayed.
Just as, in their heads, it’s a very clear aspect of their lives, but it’s also not what they can look at on a regular basis as a large issue. Or as something to focus on every moment. Or even as something to face head on.
The question of LGBTQ and the way society looks at it is not something middle school students can fully analyze on their own at that age. They can explore it, they can experience it and try to reason through it, and they can feel the impact of society and what it does and does not accept.
But they’re middle school students, and they have a lot to learn. They are not sure of themselves. They match the writing perfectly from this angle, and I loved watching things unfold slowly the way they did because of this.
Whether it will continue to stay this way as the show goes on, and whether it will be able to reflect the characters’ thoughts as the series continues and probably changes, I do not know. But at this point, I think the show has succeeded in this aspect.
And since the show is taking on these topics, and it is trying to handle them seriously, I don’t think you can knock it for treading more lightly that it might normally. In this era of anime where serious topics get turned into jokes or mentioned in passing, a show that takes these on and even addresses them from the viewpoint of children needs to handle it seriously, but since they are children, it should also be gentle.
Because aside from our usual anime children with overflowing confidence, big dreams they are always chasing, and…whatever other traits they’re boldly being handed, confused kids are gentle.
Or they beat people up, but that’s not quite in with the Wandering Son style.
On a related note: why does everyone seem to think this anime needs to be humorous? Or that all anime needs to be humorous? It doesn’t joke, so it’s not good? It’s one episode in, it’s introducing its story, and you’re calling it out for not amusing you enough?
Not that the show is perfect or anything, but it had an excellent first episode, and I find the complaints against it to be somewhat frivolous. People being biased against the style?
Well, I love it. The rest of you can walk along: this narrative style is beautiful.
If you can’t keep focused on it for 20 minutes without wishing for humor or something to break the narrative, that’s sad for you, and I hope you can recover from this unfortunate illness of the attention span.