I’ve been meaning to start reviewing a few scanlated manga, especially this one, and the milestone 100th chapter seemed like a perfect opportunity. For the record, I’m assuming anyone who reads a chapter review is caught up – please don’t proceed if you don’t wish to be spoiled by current events.
I absolutely loved the Hourou Musuko anime, which appeared this winter on NoitaminA. AIC made the only decision they could, given the limitations of the 11-episode format – they left out large chunks of the manga, including most of the first half. It worked on it’s own, and inspired me to read the manga to boot. Mangaka Shimura Takako is fond of mocking her own art, but I think it’s wonderful – the young people she draws are all expressive and beautiful, be they superficially attractive or merely plain. She imbues them all with the light of youthful innocence and intensity, and for me at least, they leap off the page.
The characters are all in high school now, and as you might imagine, they’ve drifted apart to some extent. Most are still attending the same school and some of the friendships are still strong, but the old group dynamic is no more. Takatsuki and Chiba are friendly again, and Chiba is dating Sasaki – highly controversial among the fans. She claims to be over Nitorin and her behavior is usually almost cheerful, but her tearful flashback to the day they met suggests otherwise. Takatsuki has, for subtle reasons, tended to slip out of the limelight more and more. I strongly sense that she’s finally ready to be with Nitorin, but he’s moved on with Anna – who he’s back with after their initial breakup. He seems to be over Takatsuki – superficially more so than she him, anyway – but they still have a connection that’s deeper than any other two characters in the series.
What really complicates matters is that she still identifies as a boy, and Nitorin as a girl, though they’re both drawn to the opposite sex (and each other). Of course this is more Nitorin’s story than anyone else’s, and he’s still struggling with what he wants to be – even getting a part-time job at Café Brazil posing as a girl. But to me, Nitorin seems slightly more comfortable in his skin. He’s become something of a hunk, irresistible to girls still but for different reasons, and the double life he’s led is becoming more difficult by the day. He even decides to be “true to himself” and comes clean to his boss about his gender – and she accepts him back as a boy. That may be the first time I can recall Nitorin referring to his male form as his true self, but it’s too early to say how significant that is.
I can think of very few manga about young teenagers that can equal this one in terms of emotional intensity and subtlety, a rare and difficult combination. Sometimes a manga can really make you feel over time that you’ve come to know the characters as friends, not as faces on a page, and Hourou Musuko is one such manga. I hope this series runs many, many years – I really want to see where these kids go with their lives. Nothing in this series comes easy for any of them, never mind Nitorin and Takatsuki, but it rarely descends to the level of bleak or hopeless because there’s a vitality running through the characters. They’re tough in that way only kids can be, and it makes the trials and travails of their adolescence fascinating and moving reading.