Review – Wandering Son Volumes 1 and 2 by Shimura Takako

Title: Wandering Son: Volumes 1 and 2

Author: Shimura Takako

Star Rating: * * (Volume 1), * (Volume 2)

Genre: Graphic Novel, Transgender/Gender Identity

Volume 1

Cover - Wandering Son 1

When I heard that Wandering Son was about two kids, Yoshino and Shuichi, dealing with trans identity issues, it skyrocketed upwards on my to-be-read list. After all, there are not many stories dealing with trans realities in a positive and well-thought out manner, and I was super excited to see that this series was receiving excellent ratings. Unfortunately, volume 1 did little to endear me to the series as I thought that both the art and the story were weak.

The Wandering Son volumes are packaged in beautiful, oversized hardcover editions. Regrettably, the series would have looked better in the normal, smaller tankobon size. Takako’s art is very simplistic and sparse. While the printing is clear and crisp, by enlarging the pages so much, the blankness of many of them was emphasised, as well as the weaknesses of the character designs. While is it not uncommon for manga to have rather barebones backgrounds and similar character constructions, I felt that both were an impediment to my immersion in this story. I kept getting characters mixed up since most had the same, wide-eyed face, and even the hair styles weren’t all that different. Very little stood out to me in regards to the art, and I missed the detail that is often present in so many popular manga.

Wandering Son Example 1

Another major issue I had with the book was the way in which decompression was used. Decompression refers to the pacing of a graphic story. A decompressed story is one that moves slowly, and can take many panels to show small events or reactions. This particular technique is quite common in Japanese manga, and I usually quite appreciate the more sedate, but detailed pace. However, the decompression in this volume left too many gaps in the narrative for me to fully understand what was going on. Scenes would be quite detailed, but then the story would jump forward to a different day or week. Very little time was spent on transition scenes, and even though these can be less interesting or emotional, they are still crucial to a well-constructed story.

Finally, I am sad to admit that there was just not much happening in this volume. Yoshino and Shuichi are just starting to figure out that they may be different, and it is understandable that they need time to sort out their feelings. However, most of the manga is comprised of Shuichi looking distressed and uncomfortable while she stares at things. When dealing with an introverted character that is rather shy and withdrawn, an author has to work particularly hard to make their struggles engaging and understandable for the reader. In the Wandering Son, we don’t get that far into Shuichi’s head, and being pummeled with panel after panel of emotional angst that isn’t very well conveyed does not make me feel for the character, or want to know more about her journey.

Overall, volume one starts off with a very interesting and potentially powerful premise that unfortunately just does not pay off.

Volume Two

Cover - Wandering Son 2

Volume two is where everything really starts to fall apart for me. Technically, the book is a lot better than volume one. The story flowed a lot more smoothly, and I wasn’t getting lost between scenes. I still had many problems telling characters apart, but there were also more characters introduced that looked sufficiently different that the volume felt less same-y than before. Furthermore, the character development was more interesting, and Yoshino and Shuichi were doing more than just spending pages upon pages looking stricken and nervous. Overall, volume two was a much more enjoyable read except for one rather gigantic problem that ruined the entire book for me.

Trigger Warning: Sexual Violence

My issues with this book center on the two characters: Yuki and Shii. Yuki was actually introduced in volume one in a short, but disturbing scene. During Yoshino’s first public appearance as a young boy, Yuki hits on him rather directly despite the fact that Yuki looks to be in her twenties and Yoshino is a pre-teen dressed in a high school uniform. The scene was short, and I forgot about it until Yuki reappeared in volume 2. This time Yuki runs into both Yoshino and Shuichi wandering around as their preferred genders. She invites them over to her house, but tells Yoshino that she would love it if he came back alone one time. When the two kids come over again, Yuki expresses displeasure about Yoshino not coming on his own, and her partner, Shii, walks in just as she’s petting Yoshino’s face. He accuses her of having an affair with Yoshino, and the escorts the two kids out of the apartment. While in the elevator, he fondles Yoshino’s crotch and chest, acting quite surprised that Yoshino is biologically a girl. This leads both Yoshino and Shuichi to discover that Yuki is also transgender, and sets her up as a mentor for the two.

I have tried to come up with a positive interpretation for this scene, but I just can’t. Some have claimed the Shii tends to act spontaneously and was just trying to check to see if Yoshino and Yuki were having an affair, but that doesn’t excuse the fact that he sexually touched a minor. Under the law in my country, what he did is considered sexual assault, and the narrative even shows that Yoshino was quite disturbed and upset by the incident, yet these feelings were completely brushed aside. Given the disproportionate levels of violence perpetuated against trans and gender queer people, this supposedly gag-like scene is unacceptable. I was even more discomforted by the fact that Yuki was supposed to be a mentor for the two pre-teens despite her inappropriate behaviour.

Before I abandoned the series, I wanted to see what would happen with Yuki. In volume 3, Yoshino goes to Yuki when his classmates have found out that he and Shuichi are gender queer and have begun to mock and torment the two of them. Yuki acts completely inappropriately with Yoshino, asking to compare their panties, and wanting to bath together so that she can see his breasts. She encourages Yoshino to share a bed with her, and then she cuddles with him in a way that makes Yoshino uncomfortable enough to run away as Yuki is far too physically close, and saying uncomfortably intimate things. The two end up “making up” by the end of the chapter, and once again I was left feeling extraordinarily uncomfortable at the fact that a pre-teen was just molested by an adult who suffered no repercussions for her actions. For a manga that spends so much time delving into controversial and difficult concepts, it was a terrible error to write plots involving violence without unpacking them with the same care and respect as the other difficult issues approached by this series.

Final Thoughts

I was really excited to read Wandering Son when I heard that it dealt with gender identity issues. However, I wasn’t a fan of the story, and there are some extremely problematic aspects to the narrative that I just can’t brush aside. Violence, particularly sexual violence, is perpetuated against trans people all the time, and I cannot support or enjoy a story that uses this violence as a gag. Even if this is one of the few substantive stories about kids dealing with trans identities, the scenes in volume 2 make it a highly inappropriate and problematic read.

Advertisements

Review – The One by Kiera Cass

Title: The One (The Selection #3)

Author: Kiera Cass

Star Rating: *

Genre: Romance, Dystopia

Cover - The One

Synopsis

The end is finally here. America Singer was pressured into joining the selection, a televised competition between young women vying to be the next princess of Illea, and now she and Prince Maxon must sort out their feelings for one another as a rebellion intensifies in violence around them. Will America win Maxon’s heart or will she be going home heartbroken?

Continue reading

RRRs: Graphic Novels – Part 2

Continuing on yesterday’s thread of RRRs for graphic novels, here is part two!

1.       The Unwritten: Tommy Taylor and the Ship that Sank Twice – Mike Carey

Cover - The Unwritten Tommy Taylor and the Ship that Sank Twice

Star Rating: * * * * *

The Unwritten is one of my favourite graphic novels series, and this standalone prequel did not disappoint. Tommy Taylor and the Ship that Sank Twice gives readers a deeper glimpse into the mind of Tommy’s father. At the same time, a huge chunk of the Tommy Taylor story is revealed. Themes and plots that were hinted at in the main series are shown in detail, and this background helps readers make sense of what is happening to adult Tommy. I also really enjoyed seeing how the Tommy Taylor story was an amalgamation of so many different stories. A definite recommend for fans of the series!

2.       Blacksad – Juan Diaz Canales, Juanjo Guarnido

Cover - Blacksad

Star Rating: * * * * *

Have you ever wanted to read a set of noir mysteries about anthropomorphic animals? Well, you should because Blacksad is amazing. Canales and Guarnido capture the feel of the genre perfectly, and the art is absolutely stunning. I was amazed at just how detailed and carefully composed this volume is, and the mysteries themselves were enjoyable and touched on important themes including racism and political corruption. This incredible book is vying for a spot on my top graphic novels of all-time list.

Who could say no to this amazing art?

Blacksad Art Example

 3.       Uglies: Cutters – Scott Westerfeld, Devin Grayson, and Steven Cummings (Illustrator)

Cover - Cutters

Star Rating: * *

The Uglies is a four book series by Scott Westerfeld that dealt with a dystopia where everyone was made pretty, but brain damaged in order to maintain social order. The books starred Tally Youngblood, a girl who tried to protest the system, but kept finding herself used by those in power. It was an interesting and fun series, but I always thought that Tally’s friend Shay was far more interesting than Tally herself. This graphic novel series, therefore, was made for me. Grayson and Cummings retell the Uglies story through the eyes of Shay, a character that is actually quite a bit more active in her choices than Tally, and they do so in the form of a manga.

Cutters is the second volume of the Shay series, and while I enjoyed the first retelling, this one was not quite as enjoyable. The problem with a retelling is managing to keep the story interesting without repeating everything that went on in the original work. Unfortunately, Cutters loses this balance, and the story is choppy and feels incomplete. These narrative choices make it difficult to follow what is going on, even if you’ve read the original series. I also found the art to be a detriment to the story. In this volume, Tally and Shay are pretties, young adults who have undergone extensive plastic surgery to become aesthetically perfect. However, the manga style that this story is drawn in makes it hard to distinguish pretties from uglies! I would recommend this book for fans of the series, but I hope that volume three addresses some of these problems.

4.       Jim Henson’s Tale of Sand – Jim Henson, Jerry Juhl, and Ramon K Perez

Cover - Tale of Sand

Star Rating: * *

If I was rating this book solely on the art, it would have received a five star rating. The illustrations are gorgeous in their fluidity and delicateness. The story, however, is lacking. A dude is trying to make it across the desert and a bunch of weird stuff happens to him (including some racist caricatures). It’s not really a story so much as a collection of emotional vignettes, but since I felt no connection to the characters, it was hard for me to engage with these feelings. I’m glad this was a library read rather than something that I purchased since I am unlikely to reread it again.

5.       Habibi – Craig Thompson

Cover - Habibi

Star Rating: *

Craig Thompson is one of the super stars of modern graphic novels, and Habibi is widely seen as an absolutely stunning piece of work. I, on the other hand, loathed it and couldn’t even bring myself to finish. While the art is beautiful and detailed, showing that that the author spent a lot of time researching his subject, it’s also sexually exploitive, and the themes that the novel brings up make me very uncomfortable.

The story centers on the tale of Dodola and Zam, two refugee slave children who are attempting to survive on their own. Dodola is a highly sexualised character, often portrayed naked and in sensuous poses. However, she is raped multiple times, and engages in sex work to ensure that she can feed Zam and herself. Zam falls in love with her, and I had to stop reading around the point where he begins to fantasise himself as the one who is assaulting Dodola. It is rare that I don’t finish novels that I start, but flipping through the rest of this behemoth of a book showed me that Dodola was going to undergo more exploitation, and the way that it was presented made my stomach churn as her naked body was portrayed in a sexualised manner that did little to showcase the violence of what was happening to her. I was also very uncomfortable with the racist implications of much of the novel. All in all, this is one of my least favourite graphic novels, and I can’t in good conscience recommend it.

Review – Across the Universe by Beth Revis

Title: Across the Universe

Authors: Beth Revis

Star Rating: * * *

Genre: Young Adult Sci-Fi/Dystopia

Cover - Across the Universe 1 Cover - Across the Universe 2

Synopsis

Amy must make a choice. Does she chose to follow her parents into space, leaving behind everything she has ever known, or does she abandon her parents forever and stay on Earth? As she watches both her mother and father undergo the painful process of being cryogenically frozen, she decides to take the huge risk and sacrifice of joining the generational ship, Godspeed, heading to another planet on a 350 year journey.

Several hundred years later, Elder, the next leader of the generational ship, starts to realise that there is a lot more for him to learn about the secrets of the ship and its people. One of the most major questions he has is why are there dozens of frozen individuals on a secret deck of the ship?

The plot begins when Amy is mysteriously unfrozen, a process that almost kills her, fifty years before the ship is scheduled to reach the new planet. Elder can’t help but want to spend time with this strange new woman, and she challenges his insular beliefs about society and leadership with information about the history of Earth.

When more cryogenically frozen individuals start being murdered, Amy and Elder must work together to figure out who is carrying out these terrible crimes and why. While doing so, not only do they discover some horrific truths about the ship, but they are forced to challenge the foundational beliefs underlying the unique society that has arisen on Godspeed.

Continue reading