Found out about this slightly overlooked manga thanks to Enthousiaste on Twitter. Thank you!
Title: 放浪息子 (Hourou Musuko/Transient Son)
Author: 志村貴子 (SHIMURA Takako)
Volumes: 9+ (78 chapters at the time of posting)
Genre: Seinen (Drama, Slice of Life, Gender Bender)
Status: Ongoing, scanlated by Kotonoha (Ch.1-34) and anonymous (35+)
My Rating: 7.7/10
Fifth-grader NITORI Shuuichi is a very girly boy, and his friend TAKATSUKI Yoshino happens to be a very boyish girl. Nitori wishes he was born a girl, and Takatsuki wishes she was born as a boy. They soon find out about each others’ odd wishes, and throughout the course of growing up together, they’re made to question their genuine wishes of becoming the opposite gender.
Despite being based on the theme of transgenderism, this manga felt more to me like a regular life drama/growing up story than anything else. We have a relatively large, memorable, and diverse cast, and the character interactions are usually developed through childhood classmates or crushes, which makes the manga pretty easy to relate to. There’s also a lot of internal agonizing about personal issues and friendship problems too. The instances of actually showing them doing something kind of controversial things (cross-dressing, befriending a transvestite) are pretty few and far between, and mostly come off as trivial or even not-as-ordinary child’s play. I do enjoy seeing the issue addressed, and to do it this subtly makes it seem more realistic and accessible, but on the other hand, it just seems so insignificant at times. I’ll admit that it made me very curious about non-fiction Japanese crossdressers, though.
As for the cast of characters, they are all unique and impressionable, but I wholly failed to develop any real attachment to any of them, even after reading 78 chapters. I also found myself hating about 80% of all the characters in the manga (especially the secondary classmate characters, who are almost all absolutely detestable.), and if I didn’t hate a character, I was indifferent to them, save for two or three. The only character who I can say I actually like seeing was the gorgeous CHIBA Saori, whom I despised at first, but after seeing some much-needed character development (and fashion), she became my favourite. Having a slightly despotic and weird personality helps as well. A close second is Yuki, who steals almost every scene she appears in, and a distant third is Takatsuki, who looks awesome, but lacks a definable personality for the most part.
The artwork looks exactly like it’s from a children’s storybook, with round faces and eyes on all the characters (even for the teenagers and adults!), lots of white space and clean lines, as well as a watercolour-like colouring style for the covers. (Those familiar with Shimura’s other work, like Aoi Hana/Sweet Blue Flowers, would not be surprised about this.) The art is incredibly fitting and impeccable, and Shimura’s lovely fashion sense along with the simple but recognizable character designs also makes (mostly) everyone look attractive and recognizable.