Winter 2011 Anime Guide Pt. 2: You want Paradise

I always feel that the winter season is the time of surprises. It’s a small season but delivers a memorable bunch. This is true again but the caliber and variety of good shows this time around is quite high.

hisuiconThe season preview was originally in broadcast order but since that made the first part depressing and the second part happy we decided to mix it up a bit so it did not seem as bipolar. That said I will reiterate out standard season preview rules. First and foremost we do not watch every show that comes out. We here at Reverse Thieves maintain our sanity and prevent burn out by skipping any show that seems absolutely retched although we on occasion take a risk and sample something that is probably dire but might have a faint hope of being entertaining. The second is that we don’t review sequels and continuations as you usually know exactly what you were going to get from the earlier iteration.

Wandering Son

Holly came from Miami, F.L.A.
Hitch-hiked her way across the USA
Plucked her eyebrows on the way
Shaved her legs and then he was a she
She says, Hey babe
Take a walk on the wild side

– Walk on the Wild Side by Lou Reed

Being a big fan of this manga, I was curious how it would translate into an anime. Wandering Son is usually talked about with words like quiet, sensitive, and subdued; but, this first episode was able to use all those things to its advantage to produce a dramatic and beautiful adaption into animated form. This is a coming of age tale where things are made that much more complicated by issues of gender. While it follows a group of friends, the most prominent characters are boy Shuichi who feels more comfortable in girl’s clothes and girl Yoshino who would much rather spend time in a boy’s uniform. Their struggle is tender and their bond joyous. The story starts in a place that allows for some mysteries; all the character have established relationships that we get to slowly find out about while the story moves forward. I was disappointed in the opening, I was hoping for something a little more active but the ending is nice. No surprise, but this is my most anticipated show for the season, I have high hopes that it can live up to this lovely first piece of the story.

hisuiconWhile Fractale was my favorite first episode I think that Wandering Son was undoubtedly the best. It is just so well executed. It perfectly sets a mood of melancholy and isolation mixed with hope and friendship. It is a slow show that lets you into the lives of characters who are coming into who they are and how they deal with transgender issues. It is about creating an atmosphere that gives you an insight into the triumphs and sorrows of a characters with an alternative lifestyle. I think the subject matter might turn some people off as well as the slow pace that only picks up when it needs to.  But for anyone looking for an anime that delicately looks at an overlooked social topic in a sensitive but not preachy manner than I think you are required to watch Wandering Son.

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Manga of the Month: June

Hourou Musuko by Shimura Takako

Hourou Musuko is the story of two fifth graders who form a bond because of a common secret: they both feel happier being dressed as the opposite gender. We start the story with Shuichi on his first day of school and the time he meets Yoshino. After meeting her and some other girl friends, his desire to dress as a girl heightens. We come to find out that Yoshino has started dressing in her brother’s old school uniform and taking the train far away to go about as a boy. Shuichi starts accompanying her posing as a girl. Throughout the story they not only deal with what this desire means about them, but also more common issues such as being bullied, friendship, and the future. Their friendship is the center of the swirling confusing time of coming of age that is only made more complex by their gender confusion. Shuichi and Yoshino understand and accept each other creating a bond that sometimes makes others in the story feel left out. However, I can’t help but think, “Thank goodness you have someone to share this with!” when reading this. A varied cast also evolves as they meet new people like Yuki and Shi as well as when parts of their friends and family learn about their secrets. There are moments of support, moments of confusion, and moments of hope. While not wholly realistic (not that it need be), this is a tame and thoughtful look at transgender issues.

Say Hello to Black Jack by Shuho Sato

I will start by explaining why I think this manga is called Say Hello to Black Jack. Osamu Tezuka was a doctor before he became a full-time manga artist. One of the major reason he left the medical field was his disgust with the politics and corruption. Black Jack is very obviously the work of a man who had grown disgusted with the state of the bureaucracy in the medical profession. Shuho Sato attempts to show a modern version with a far more realistic doctor who works inside the system to do what Black Jack did outside of the system. The title is basically saying welcome to what made Black Jack the Black Jack we know.

Saito Eijirou is a fresh-faced doctor who comes in filled with high ideals but little real world experience when it comes to medicine. During his internship at a fairly prestigious hospital he takes a night job at another hospital to cover his living expenses. He quickly comes to see that the Japanese medical system is filled with bloated bureaucracy, outdated customs, petty politics, questionable ethics, and outright corruption. After almost being broken by his initial encounters with utter darkness he eventually begins to learn how to balance keeping his ethics and enthusiasm to help his patients while learning to operate and use the system. He might even be able to change things for the better.

This series is cynical. This cannot be understated. It views the Japanese medical establishment as darkly as possible. While there are good people in the system most people are either part of the problem or simply ignore it. Also it is a bit dry. There is little humor and it can get technical when it wants to. There are three major reason it look into Say Hello to Black Jack. First, it’s an interesting insight into a part of Japanese society we don’t get to see. Second, it’s good explore other genres and medical manga is always a refreshing change of pace. Third, it has a new experimental release structure. Shuho Sato is selling chapters for download-to-own on the web. I am extremely curious how well that is going to work out.