Hourou Musuko is an anime from early 2011. It was released by AIC and based off of a manga by Shimura Takako. Who I know from her work on Aoi Hana. How does this one hold up? Let’s find out.
The story of Hourou Musuko revolves around Nitori Shuuichi, a youngster who was born male but identifies as a girl. The anime explores her life as she and some of her closest friends struggle with issues of gender identity and sexuality.
The only real issue with the series, at least the anime version, is that it feels incomplete. There’s a lot of setup with Shuuichi struggling with her identity and starting to figure things out, same with her friends Makoto and Takatsuki but when the series ends it still doesn’t feel like we’ve had closure for any of it. Just to be clear, I’m not suggesting that they should reach a point where things are easy for them. Especially given the way some assholes treat trans people. The issue I have with it is that the anime spends so much time teasing at the idea that they’ll be able to openly be themselves but, aside from Shuuichi, there’s not much payoff for it. And even with her, a lot of the people closest to her are still misgendering her and she’s still largely talking about herself like a cross-dressing boy.
That being said, I actually have a lot of respect for this anime. It’s engaging with a lot of difficult subjects, especially when you look at them in light of Japan’s social climate, and it’s looking at them in a very empathetic and understanding way. There’s a lot of nuance to the way the anime engages with both gender identity and sexuality and it does an excellent job of putting it in the perspective of barely pubescent children who are trying to figure things out. It also doesn’t shy away from either the open ugliness or the unthinking dickishness that people are capable of when dealing with people who are different in a way that they don’t really understand. This is a work that wants to advance the conversation and make people more empathetic and I do think it succeeds in that regard.
The characterisation in this is excellent. And it’s not just that the subject matter is being handled really well. There’s a lot of verisimilitude to these characters. They feel like actual children trying to come to terms with themselves or trying to understand their classmates. Which we see illustrated from characters like Chiba and Doi who are trying to be supportive but don’t always succeed or express themselves in the best way. The only thing I really think the anime is missing in that regard is the parental response. We barely see parents reacting, even when Shu decides to be more open about her identity we don’t see a whole lot of discussion or response from her parents. We see a good amount from her sister, but not mum or dad. And I do think the anime would benefit from giving us more engagement from the parents, accepting or otherwise.
The artwork in this looks pretty good. It has a nice style and the scenes where the kids are engaging with their identities via clothing work well. The only issue I really have with it is that the backgrounds frequently feel kind of plain.
The actors in this do a really good job. Particularly Hatakeyama Kousuke, Seto Asami & Nanri Yuuka. We also get strong performances from Chiba Saeko, Iguchi Yuuichi, Horie Yui & Honda Takako just to name a few. The music is decent. Kousaki Satoru & Okabe Keiichi did fine. It’s one of those soundtracks that’s functional but that I wouldn’t listen to on its own.
Shu is attracted to other girls and Chiba shows a romantic interest in her, although it’s also clear that Chiba still thinks of her as a boy.
Areas of Improvement:
- The series could use more closure for the young trans kids.
- It would really benefit the series to show more of a reaction from Shu’s parents.
- The music could have been more powerfully emotional.
Hourou Musuko Is a really strong exploration of young people coming to terms with their identities. It has excellent characters and a lot of strong moments. While it could have been better expanded upon in some areas, it’s still one of the best pieces of media I’ve personally seen on the subject. As such, I’m giving it a 9/10.