When the subject of November 2012's Manga Moveable Feast was decided--manga for which we are thankful--at first I was at a loss as to what to write about. It was such an open-ended theme there were so many different directions in which I could take it. Seeing as Experiments in Manga is almost entirely devoted to manga and other Japanese literature, it probably already stands to reason that I am thankful for manga. (That in fact would be a very accurate assumption.)
However, it didn't take me long to realize that there is one manga that I am truly and utterly thankful for with every bit of my being. I was pleasantly surprised and extremely excited when I learned that the series had been licensed in English by Fantagraphics. Every time a new volume is released I can't help but express my gratitude to the publisher, and I do. Publicly. And repeatedly.
That manga is Takako Shimura's Wandering Son.
I don't generally share much about my personal life here at Experiments in Manga, but I have occasionally mentioned it here before: I'm queer. This marvelous, all-encompassing and somewhat ambiguous adjective applies not only to my gender, sexuality, and general personality, but to many other aspects of my existence as well.
Before leaving my hometown after graduating high school, I only knew one person who was openly gay. He was an underclassman and a friend of mine. How he was treated and how other friends I knew were treated when they came out after graduation certainly wasn't conducive to me making a declaration of my own gender identity and sexuality. And I'll admit, while I won't deny that I'm queer, I'm still much more open about my queerness online than I am offline. I was well into my college career before I had the opportunity to even meet anyone who openly identified as trans*.
It wasn't until reading Wandering Son that I have been able to so fully and completely identify with a fictional character in the same way that I do with Shuichi Nitori and Yoshino Takatsuki--the two young protagonists who are exploring their gender expression and identities. Shimura deftly approaches the material and her characters with incredible sensitivity and sincerity. With every new volume of Wandering Son that is released I am both thrilled and terrified because the manga hits so close to home for me. These kids are dealing with problems similar to the ones that I'm still working on to find the answers to for myself, and probably will be for quite some time.
I needed a story like Wandering Son growing up. I've only recently realized how crucial and important it is for young people to have characters that they can personally identify with in the media that they watch, read, and play. And you know what? It's important for adults to be able to do the same thing, too, which is one of the reasons that I am so appreciative that Wandering Son exists. In part because I do so closely identify with Shuichi and Yoshino, I care about them immensely.
Wandering Son is about so much more than the "issues" surrounding sexuality and gender identity. It's about these two wonderful kids growing up and discovering and establishing their own personal identities, even when those identities aren't what society expects or demands from them. It's about their families and friends who all have their own growing up to do. Ultimately Wandering Son isn't so much about issues as it is about people. That, I think, is what makes it such an effective and emotionally compelling story.
I can only begin to express just how much Wandering Son means to me, but I can at least say this:
Thank you Fantagraphics for bringing Wandering Son to English-reading audiences.
And thank you Shimura-sensei for creating such a wonderful work.
I am eternally grateful.
This post is a part of A Thankful Manga Feast.