This is a years-spanning story of the characters Shuichi Nitori and Yoshino Takatsuki. The former, a girl assigned male at birth, the latter, a boy assigned female at birth. One may think that in Japan, as in the West, the subject of transsexuality would be depicted in a sensationalist if not mocking fashion in popular media. Even in the rare cases where the subject is given the respect it deserves, it can quickly take a turn for the dark, dwelling in bigotry and hatred.
But read any review or description of this series and chances are you will come across the word 'gentle.' The work's gentle analysis; the work's gentle treatment; the work's gentle story telling. And, indeed, it is this gentleness that makes the series special.
Wandering Son explores the everyday. The routines and ups and downs of grade and middle school life take centre stage. One scene is a family breakfast, the next is a class planning their school play.
Nothing particularly momentous occurs in this series, no deaths, no shocking revelations. Even the bullying depicted herein is underplayed. The bullies are not violent, for the most part. You'll not find malicious psychopaths here, rather you'll find, realistically, antagonistic children. In one oddly effective panel we see a bully's face as his next prank ticks through his mind. His is not a face that says "I will make them suffer," but rather it is one of such dim, impulsive qualities that it says "This'll be fun." Shimura manages to entail in one expression an entire character.
Indeed, despite Shimura's self-deprecation in the first volume's afterword, her artwork gives the series at least half its charm. She draws each character simply, and although she does admit that they can look very similar around the beginning of the series, it is not difficult to tell them apart.
Even the empty backgrounds, which for many illustrators would be an undeniable fault, here add to the feel of the work. The abundance of white space on each page subliminally associates the story with a light, simple tone.
The few faults one could, and some did*, level at the series include that the androgynous looks of all the characters (both to the reader and in-universe) detracts from the realism of the series. It is rather easy for Nitori and Yoshino to go out as their true gender. One wonders what the series would have been like if they aesthetically leant more towards their assigned sex. But this is a minor gripe when faced with the believability of the work as a whole.
In the end, this work is a must read, a thoroughly effective story in both content and execution.
*Thompson, J 2013, 'Wandering Son - Jason Thompson's House of a 1000 Manga', Anime News Network, Accessed 6th December 2013, Source: from http://www.animenewsnetwork.com.au/house-of-1000-manga/2013-04-18