Gravitation

This is the first manga series I read!  Inspired by an article in the New Statesman magazine, I searched out the first volume and then read through to the twelfth and last.  Written and illustrated by Maki Murakami, it tells the story of Shuichi Shindo and his band as they rise to stardom.  Shuichi is in love with the romance novelist Eiri Yuki.  The two men form a relationship which is odd since the aloof Yuki is hard to like.  Their first meeting came when Shuichi’s lyrics blew out of his hand in a park and were picked up by the writer.  His response that the work was rubbish hurt the aspiring singer but the enigmatic figure intrigued him enough for him to pursue him, a decision that led to their relationship.

The story of the ups and downs of living together is told across the twelve volumes along with the complementary plot of the success of the band which Shuichi formed with his best friend Hiroshi Nakano.  As with most of the manga and anime that feature late teenagers, the parental presence is reduced so that decisions about moving in with a famous romance novelist can be made without reference to parents.

The manga was a lot of fun, especially in the early episodes.  Later stories stretched the patience somewhat but, having started, I was determined to finish.  ‘Gravitation’ led me to explore other manga series and anime so it has a special place in my hinterland as the starting point for the further discoveries.

 

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Wandering Son 7

The manga series continues to impress.  Mostly, this is because the experience of a young boy who wants to be a girl and a girl who identifies as a boy are played out slowly over many volumes.

I have reached volume 7, published in English by Fanatagraphics.  Shimura Takako’s words have been translated by Matt Thorn so that we can people like me (who don’t read Japanese) can understand the story of Nitori and Takatsuki and their ongoing conflicts with identity.

Conflict is probably too strong a word since both children would be very happy if the world around them was more accepting.  For Nitori the first signs of acne bring new concerns about his growing body.  The pupils at the school embark on another gender bending play and the ski trip provides another backdrop for the young people to try out their identities.

The story works for the most part because the two main characters are so sweet.  Their friendship group is something of a mixed bag and I have to admit to finding some of the girls around them both a little melodramatic.  On the edge of the story is Seya, a boy whose interest in Nitori is confusing to them both.  As this unfolds, the complications of gender, identity and friendship should further intertwine.

The ‘Wandering Son’ manga series is in my hinterland. What’s in yours?

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Wandering Son 6

This amazing manga series of identity and diversity continues as the two main characters continue to grapple with the issues most school children face but with the added confusion of their gender identity.

In this volume the youngsters decide to put on a performance of ‘Romeo and Juliet’ but with boys as girls and girls as boys.  Shuichi is the boy who wished he were a girl.  As the series has progressed, we have seen the first stirrings of romantic feeling.  But, as the object of his affection is Yoshino Takatsuki, a girl who identifies as a boy, it is unclear to him whether this is a boy’s growing feelings for a girl, a boy for another boy, a girl for a girl, or a girl for a boy.

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Love is all around in this volume as Shuichi’s sister has a date with her boyfriend at the beach.  Her parents will not allow her to go on her own so she needs Shuichi to go too. This is awkward since the boyfriend mistook him for a girl when they first met.  Yet high on Shu’s list of worries is what will happen to his body as it goes through puberty.  He takes a great deal of interest in the hair on his father’s arms and legs and he is concerned about his voice.  Yoshino, meanwhile, is most concerned about the changes in her chest area.

The pace of this manga series is slow but this gives characters time to develop and time for us to see that the pressures of adolescence are greater for children who feel born into the wrong gender.

‘Wandering Son’ is in my hinterland.  What’s in yours?

Wandering Son 5

This manga series is the most thought provoking one I know.  The story of the boy who wants to be a girl and the girl who wants to be a boy attending the same school continues into a fifth volume.  The issue of gender confusion has been covered but, as each volume is published, we see how this central problem of identity continues to affect the two growing youngsters.

BlogWandSon5Shuichi would love to wear a girl’s school uniform but must wear the black boy uniform expected of him as he starts Junior High School.  Takatsuki must wear the girl uniform whereas the boy clothes would suit the person she believes she is inside.  Japanese school uniforms are based on European military styles of the 19th Century.  The boys and girls have completely different looks.

One girl, called Sarashia Chizuru, enters Junior High with her long hair and feminine looks.  She is wearing a boy’s uniform though and carries off the look well, despite the stares and whispers of her peers.  Her confidence highlights Takatsuki’s own timidity and makes her question what she wants.

Both Shuichi and Takatsuki are growing up and the pain this brings them, both trapped in bodies that don’t match their gender identity, is sensitively explored.  The characters around them continue to show that more normal concerns of young people also have to be negotiated but Shuichi’s sister’s feelings about her brother’s cross dressing come to the fore in this volume.  She cannot hide her embarrassment when she thinks his dressing will affect her potential love interest.  When the boy of her dreams calls round to offer her sympathy for being off school with a cold, he catches her stripping Shuichi of his dress.

This manga series, by its very length, takes a more nuanced view of gender identity than would be possible in one volume.  There are more to come.  How it will end is unknown to me.  Happily, I hope!

‘Wandering Son’ is in my hinterland.  What’s in yours?

 

Wandering Son 4

I love this manga series about a boy who wants to be a girl and a girl who wants to be a boy.  I was surprised that the series had so many volumes since I could not see how the central story of gender confusion would be developed but, of course, we follow the two main protagonists: Yoshino Takatsuki, the girl who longs to be a boy; and Shuichi Nitori, a boy who is mistaken for a girl because of his androgynous looks and who feels he is a girl inside.

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The youngsters are growing up and, on the cusp of adolescence, there are even more confusing issues to deal with.  Love is in the air.  The class decide to follow their success of the play ‘The Rose of Versailles’ with a gender swap version of ‘Romeo and Juliet’.  Obviously, Shuichi could play Juliet and he wants Yoshino to play Romeo, even if class mates such as Chiba want the part for herself.

The big question facing Shuichi is: does he want Yoshina as Romeo because he is a boy attracted to her as a girl or because he is really a girl and is attracted to her as boy?  Whichever it is, the added pressures of developing bodies have to be faced.  This series is worth following to see how the ‘boy’ and ‘girl’ grow up.

‘Wandering Son’ is in my hinterland.  What’s in yours?

 

Wandering Son 3

I read the third volume of this manga series wondering what else might be developed in a story about a boy who wants to be a girl and a girl who would rather be a boy.  Having read two volumes where this theme was explored in a sensitive but extensive way, I wasn’t sure what other points could be made.

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In this volume, Shuichi (the boy who wants to be a girl) and Yoshino (the girl who wants to be a boy) face the bullies at their school. What they thought was a secret kept to just themselves is exposed and the reaction from their peers is hard to accept.  It is heart- breaking to see Yoshino in a dress, her attempt to fit in.

In the background we have Shuichi’s sister who is desperate to be a model.  For some reason she drags her brother along to the casting sessions.  We know this can only lead to trouble for her… and him.  Added to this we have a story where a boy asks Shuichi out, believing him to be a girl. This is a date he accepts.

It is hard to know which pronoun to use for each character to be clear but also to the person they know themselves to be.  What I do know is that this manga series handles a sensitive subject with care and does not rush to a denouement.

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‘Wandering Son’ is in my hinterland.  What’s in yours?

 

The Gandhi Manga

I often trawl through the Graphic Novels section of the bookshops, ignoring the super hero stuff, trying to find an interesting gem.  The term ‘novel’ does not fit properly because there are so many non-fiction books in the graphic form.  Joe Sacco’s journalism is an excellent example of this.

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In my book shop search, I came across this work by Kazuki Ebine.  It is a biography in manga form covering his life from a shy young boy to non-violent opponent of the British Empire.  The formative years as a law student in London and a lawyer fighting for equality in South Africa are also covered.

As the book is a distillation of a long and complex life, it can only provide snapshots of the important events.  For example, his time in London (four years of training) is covered in a few pages.  The book made me realise the importance of his South African experience, though, in terms of the training ground it proved for his later fight for independence and in terms of his awakening to issues of race and equality.  He passes from suited son of the Empire to dhoti wearing irritant over the course of the book.

This is a good introduction to an important life story.