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.

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Sweet Pool

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It’s amazing how visual novels have taken off in English-speaking regions over the last decade. Even so, one genre has had an especially tough time breaking through via official translations. This is the boys’ love, or BL, genre featuring male/male romantic relationships. JAST USA then announced their brand JAST BLUE to exclusively focus on these titles.

It was huge news and meant that games from the Nitro+Chiral catalogue would finally receive an official release despite being years old at this point. Sweet Pool is the first game available from the JAST BLUE brand. It’s one heck of an initial title to make available to English-speaking audiences.

The game begins with our protagonist Youji returning to school after an entire year off. He didn’t want to miss school — his poor health made it a necessary move. Fortunately he has one friend in class with him named Makoto. The two make quite an odd pair. Makoto’s playful behavior contrasts with Youji’s reserved nature.

As the school year begins it looks like Youji has hope for having a pleasant, if uneventful high school experience. Almost immediately, however, he finds himself in trouble. For some reason, it appears he is getting new symptoms from his ailment — and they’re far more distressing than anything that came before. The weird thing is that they somehow seem connected to interacting with his stoic classmate Tetsuo. Everything spirals out of control from there. Read more…