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Review Aloo - Wandering Son [Dish #66]


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Review Aloo - Wandering Son [Dish #66]

Posted September 10th, 2016 at 9:19 AM by gimmepie

Review Aloo - Wandering Son

Welcome readers to what is apparently the first anime review in the Aloo series. I could have sworn I already reviewed Charlotte before but apparently not.

Anyway, I'm going to be completely honest here - at first I was not going to review this anime. It deals with issues that I have never experienced, never will experience, that I'm woefully under-educated about and that I am in no way qualified to comment on among other more familiar themes. In the end though I have decided I'm going to attempt this review because I really enjoyed this story and what it was trying to do and want to share it with people.

Wandering Son is something quite unique among the anime I've watched. It's got the typical setting of a group of young friends in a school and is very much your typical slice of life/drama anime in a lot of ways, but chooses to use this genre to take a look at young people dealing with gender identity problems and burgeoning sexuality as well as your typical tropey aspects of growing up like struggling to maintain friendships, bullying and early romances.


As an aside this is an amazing piece of music.

Plot
The anime begins with a group of children entering their first year of junior high school (I assume this is the same sort of thing as middle school here). It's a pretty standard affair at first as the relationships between characters are quickly established, but there's some notable differences to how this normally goes. Whilst we do of course have the group of close friends who attended the same school previously and the two new additions to the group, the original group is already undergoing turmoil among themselves. Following this we quickly learn that the rift is caused by an unfortunate love triangle (of course), but that this situation is further complicated by two members of this particular three-sided shape desiring to be the opposite sex.

As the plot progresses, we watch as the main protagonists Shuichi and Yoshino attempt to come to terms not just with each other but also with their true selves and how this relates to their changing bodies. We play witness to the tension questions of gender identity raise with friends thanks to the characters' interactions at school as well as with family thanks primarily to Shuichi's interactions with his sister and later somewhat with his parents. The series takes us through a series of events such as first relationships and experiences with bullying whilst constantly giving us an insight into the lives of characters who aren't who they should be.

That being said, the actual plot of this anime is fairly average. The vast majority of the event that occur throughout the series are in every way standard to the genre and are only unique because we view them from a perspective rarely explored in this medium. In a way it is important that the series was otherwise very much mundane and the norm, because it added to the realistic and familiar tone and was a reminder that we're all human. However, as there was nothing particularly amazing about the plot either and it was at times a bit repetitive I don't think I can justify a score higher than a 7/10.

Something to note here though, is that the manga apparently begins earlier in the story and ends far later whilst going into greater depth. So if you like manga, you might enjoy the read more than the animated version. I'm not really a manga reader myself but I'm considering it.

Characters
This is perhaps the most key and important part of this series. With this in mind, I'm going to begin with some upfront and brutal honesty. There are a few characters who are quite tropey (prickly girl, obsessive friend, quirky outlandish girl and awkward bully who later becomes a friend for example) and for the size of the cast, some interesting characters were not explored to the extent they could have been (maybe they are in the manga?). Characters also tend to act older than they are when dealing with situations that they really should struggle with at times.

With that out of the way though, there's a lot of good news here. Firstly, both the primary and some secondary characters are very well developed and well conceived. We get a good look into the minds of these characters. We get a very detailed look into the heads of characters who seem reasonably realistic to me as they struggle with problems both mundane and rare and gradually come to understand their feelings and motivations. We see a lot development as characters gradually learn to come to terms with not only each but themselves.

I would love to comment more but I don't feel like I can without spoiling things. Instead I'm just going to give the characters a 9/10 and hope you take my word for it.

Performance
Now, it's probably no secret that I think Japanese voice actors tend to be far superior to those of western animations. This series is a good example of why. The performers give a very good representation of emotions and know exactly when to put a lot into a line and when to keep it light. They set the tone masterfully and were a big contributor to the realism we felt from characters.

Some voice actors very much give the feel of someone reading from a script. They put on irritating voices, but too much effort into some scenes or not enough or very much feel like a child new to literature reading aloud - and we all know how painful that can be. These guys do a wonderful job and very much embody the characters they play and that's really the most you can ask for. 9/10

Art
A review of any form of animation, Japanese or otherwise, would not be complete without discussion of the artwork. I'm no art critic, but I do know when I see something visually appealing and I have to say the art for this series is up there with my favourites. The artwork for this series is very simple and soft compared to the very vibrant styles typical of anime/manga and this was an ingenious decision because it fit the emotional tone and realistic approach to the stroy and subject matter whilst still conveying the feelings of characters very well. I couldn't find fault with the artwork if I tried. 10/10

Conclusion
When you look at all the individual pieces of Wandering Son, it might seem average. Yet somehow this anime is anything but. When it all comes together we are treated to something that's a brilliant watch. So what is it that makes Wandering Son so good?

I think what makes this anime particularly special is not even that issues like transgenderism or sexuality are included but that it tries to approach these topics without resorting too much to stereotypes or hyperbole and with a very clear attempt at realism. We are treated not to the cringe-worthy, overplayed fiasco this could have been but to something that is touching, easy to relate to for anyone regardless of how they identify and that tackles important, contemporary social and personal issues with what I felt, as an outsider to these topics, was at least a somewhat realistic approach. I am definitely not an expert on the subject matter, but I do know good work in this genre when I see it, and this anime definitely deserves its score of 35/40.

Considering how little I know about the subject matter, I would be very interested in hearing the perspectives of anyone more informed or who has actually experienced issues relating to gender or sexuality when it comes to this series.
-gimmepie


Note: In this article I refer to transgender characters by the pronouns fitting their biological sex. This is simply because this is what the series does, ordinarily I would not do so.
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