Wandering Son

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An effeminate boy who’d rather would have been born as a girl, a masculine girl who’d rather be a boy, and a student who comes to her first day at a new school dressed in a boy’s uniform just because. The number of anime titles dealing with gender identity in a realistic and non-comedic way are extremely few and far between. But Hourou Musuko (Wandering Son) does exactly that.

The plot of Hourou Musuko consists largely of what you might expect from a slice-of-life anime – a group of young teens attempting to carve out a niche for themselves amongst their families and peers while discovering the joys of navigating through puberty and school life.

What makes this series stand out from the countless other anime doing exactly the same thing are the characters themselves. Shuichi, a cute but unassuming male who begins to cross-dress with the encouragement of his friends is nonetheless still attracted to girls and worries about the physical changes his body will go through.

Yoshino, a tall and more emotionally charged girl prefers to dress and act like a boy but doesn’t like to draw attention to herself, and refrains from cross-dressing unless she travels outside of her home city. Then there are personalities like the outgoing and impulsive Chizuru, who occasionally dresses as a boy as a gesture of independence but seems perfectly happy just the way she is.

In short, everyone in this show is unique in his or her own way, yet also comes across as far more down to earth than many, if not the majority, of those presented in other slice-of-life titles. While Hourou Musuko does have its humorous moments, it avoids straying into primarily comedic fare as with other anime involving cross-dressing as a main plot point such as I My Me! Strawberry EggsPrincess Princess, and Ouran High School Host Club. At the same time, Hourou Musuko also miraculously steers clear of any real melodrama.

The artwork of this anime is reminiscent of watercolour; soft and almost fuzzy around the edges, which lends the series a very gentle tone despite the serious nature of its themes. You won’t find any unnatural hair colours or enormous eye size here, and in that sense it’s perhaps vaguely akin to the work we’ve seen come out from Studio Ghibli.

Hourou Musuko is not for everyone but for those after something touching and heartfelt but just a little off the beaten track, I strongly suggest giving Hourou Musuko a try. At the very least, you’ll finally be watching something that doesn’t stoop to using gender reversal as an oversexed plot device.

Don’t Sneak

milkboys Anime & Cartoons, Mixed & Random 11 Comments

Patrick Haggerty grew up the son of a dairy farmer in rural Dry Creek, Washington, during the 1950s. As a teenager, Pat began to understand he was gay—something he thought he was hiding well. But one day, after performing at a school assembly, Pat learned that his father could see him much more clearly than he realized.

Is it OK to replace one kind of representation with another?

milkboys Anime & Cartoons, Films & TV 4 Comments

In summer 2019, Netflix will release its remake of the ‘80s- and 2000s-era anime classic Saint Seiya: Knights of the Zodiac, a series about five cosmic warriors defending Earth against vengeful Greek gods.

The original Japanese program featured a gentle male character named Andromeda Shun. He had long green hair, wore magenta armour, was very emotional and always tried to resolve conflicts without violence, despite being a skilled warrior. As such, some Saint Seiya fans viewed Andromeda Shun as queer or at least challening the idea of what a male warrior has to look and act like. However, Netflix’s remake will change Andromeda Shun’s gender to female, upsetting many fans.

Andromeda Shun fanart by じょぼ

Last month, the show’s producer Eugene Son explained his decision to change Andromeda’s gender in a series of tweets, stating, “This one is all on me.” The series has other strong female characters, but Son wanted to make one of the Knights female to avoid an all-male cast of protagonists.

“Thirty years ago,” he tweeted, “a group of guys battling to save the world with no girls around was no big deal. That was the default then. Today the world has changed. Guys and girls working side-by-side is the default. We’re USED to seeing it. Right or wrong, the audience could interpret an all-male team as us trying to make a STATEMENT about something…”

Interestingly, fans seem divided over the gender-swap. Some don’t particularly mind the female inclusion, but others feel it betrays the subversive spirit of an “openly emotional, pretty, strong, non-macho male lead.”

Netflix has previously tried to elevate strong queer and female characters. But its attempt to be more inclusive here has proven controversial. While many agree that making the cast of a show more diverse is a good thing, they question if erasing the only character that could be read as queer or gender-non-conforming to make space for a different kind of representation was the most sensible choice.

nakedyouth

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In nakedyouth director Shishido takes us on a journey through the uncertainty and excitement of young love. This gentle short film quivers with sexual tension, which is linked to the natural world…

 

Backstreet Girls

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Back Street Girls, originally a Japanese manga series by Jasmine Gyuh that was released in 2015, will be turned into an anime.

There’s two sides to every story, and in the case of Back Street Girls there’s two sides to the leading men, too: yakuza and idols. After a trio of hapless yakuza make an unforgivable mistake, they have two options: Commit honourable suicide or go to Thailand for gender reassignment surgery so they can become a popular idol trio. 

Once a yakuza, always a yakuza, but these three are going to try their best to make their boss loads of money as idols. To get in the groove, two flavors of promos have been released. First up we have the hard-boiled (yet still bubbly) gokudo version (above), followed by the idol version /(below). The only real difference is the voice acting in the back half of each promo.

The series premieres on Japanese television on 3 July. It will air on BS11, Tokyo MX, and MBS. It will likely also be part of anime streaming service Crunchyroll.

Yuri!!! on ICE

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The story of Yuri!!! on ICE revolves around Yuri Katsuki, who carried all of Japan’s hopes on his shoulders to win at the Gran Prix Finale ice skating competition, but suffered a crushing defeat. He returns home to Kyushu and half feels like he wants to retire, and half feels like he wants to continue ice skating.

With those mixed feelings swirling inside him, he confines himself inside his parents house. Suddenly the five-time consecutive world championship ice skater Viktor Nikiforov appears before him, and along with him is Yuri Plisetsky, a young Russian figure skater who is already defeating his seniors. Viktor and both Yuris take up the challenge on an unprecedented Gran Prix series.

Yuri is a young figure skater considering retirement after he plummeted from world championship level to failing to qualify at nationals over the course of a single season. He goes home for the first time in five years in poor physical and emotional condition, reconnecting with his family and trying to reconnect with his love of skating – not realising everything is about to change.

yuri-on-ice-fanservice

We often get sports anime at the start of an athlete’s career. Picking up with elementary school Yuri as he first discovers skates then comes to surpass his friends, or middle school Yuri struggling to balance training for regional competitions with studying for high school entrance exams, or high school Yuri working his way up to his first national championship – any of these would have made for a solid anime. Instead, we meet Yuri when he is 23, at a crossroads and in a state of doubt. To the people of his no-name hometown he is a proud success, but to other skating professionals he is a failure; he is aware of both opinions, and they are equally painful to him. To start an anime with this kind of everyday, relatable complexity is pretty rare, and it is handled expertly.

The storytelling works by gently layering multiple elements, characters and settings to build up a world in which a story happens rather than spoon-feeding information to the audience. Throwaway comments in normal conversations hint at reasons why Yuri might have stayed away for five years, or what he sacrificed by leaving. There is occasional exposition given in voiceover or through SD imagery, but it is quick and lightly handled. As a general rule, the animation is used to convey both character details and set an atmosphere, supporting and elevating the storytelling, which is strong and sophisticated to begin with. The script sets up and subverts expectations, making a fairly slow-paced drama less predictable and even more satisfying to watch.

yuri-katsuki

Despite frequent use of cartoony facial expressions and visual gags, Yuri’s world is one of the most grounded of the season. His world is full of people who feel like people, not archetypes, with full lives which continue outside Yuri’s view. There are female characters of different ages, all with individual personalities, styles and mannerisms, none of whom are sexualised.

yuri-plisetsky

This episode gives a lot of information on story, backstory and characters in this episode, but its focus is tight: Yuri is in a slump and needs to find a way out of it. To add stakes and complications, his idol, exceptional Russian skater Victor, has no idea who he is. His idol’s younger teammate told Yuri in no uncertain terms that he should retire, but Yuri knows that if he retires he will never get another chance to skate on the same ice as Victor. However, his performance has dropped so dramatically he may be forced into retirement anyway simply by failing to qualify for anything. Also, didn’t he love this once? What happened?

Review by Anime Feminist