I wrote up a draft for this review awhile back when I actually had just finished watching this almost exactly 2 years ago, but I never felt like I got what I was trying to across – so I’m trying to finish this up and finally post it!
For the longest time I avoided this show even though I continually heard how great it was – but it was easy to have misconceptions about unless you have seen it, talked to someone who has and isn’t a retard, or watched a trailer which I never thought to bother prior. It seemed like it’d be transgender bullshit along the lines of what you’d see on Tumblr mixed with trap fetish pandering for some pretty obvious reasons, however it’s far from it due to how everything is handled.
This is a primarily spoiler-free review. Any relevant spoilers will be very obviously marked and grayed (or completely whited) out and I really want to stress that you should avoid reading a single word of the grayed out parts if you have not seen the show. Before I really start, you should watch this trailer for the series – regardless if you’ve seen it or not, as it really gets across the feeling of the show:
Rather than going on about how great the show is first, I’m putting that aside to handle one big misconception that people think before watching it – and plenty of ‘fans’ of the show believe about it as well somehow. The series is about self identification, finding yourself, accepting who you are even if it’s not who you want to be – yet still going beyond that and standing strong as what you wish you were, and in general growing up and maturing. In fact it’s the opposite of what so many people seem to take it as, for some reason many view the story as being accepting of transgender people, however the actual point of that aspect of the story is the exact opposite.
It essentially is saying to be yourself – no matter what that ‘yourself’ is – but also understand who you are as far as society and facts are concerned because they are the ultimate accepted truth no matter what your “heart of hearts” may desire or believe. You may wish to be a girl, and you can act like you’re one all you want – as long as you accept the fact you will never actually be one without a lot of surgery (this fact is even directly brought up by one of the characters) and even then will not truly be a female. You are born one way or the other, you don’t have a choice, and the show states that very clearly from start to finish, so I’m not sure why people believe it’s saying anything different from that – people praise it as some progressive thing pushing forward in the battle for transgenders and such but…it’s saying you’re retarded and need to grow up, you can play pretend to yourself and your friends but don’t expect the world to fucking care. It’s not like the show HIDES that either, it pushes it at you constantly in fact, even in the ending.
The series never goes with the idea that “if a boy believes he is a girl or wishes he was, he is one” – no, he’s a he through and through from start to finish to forever in the future. The same goes for the other lead, a girl who wants to be male. The entire point of the series is to see them push through the hardships and adversity they face while trying to be what they want and coming to terms with who they truly are and accepting it, while still understanding it doesn’t mean they don’t have the freedom to be who they want to be at the same time, but to understand that freedom comes with consequences.
This is not only a topic you really don’t see in anime, it’s a topic that could go bad in all sorts of ways without extremely careful and meticulous handling – something this show had. It gives no bullshit about how it should be okay to be that way, it doesn’t try promoting the idea of being transgender, it manages to keep the characters and the issues they face completely believable and realistic, and it handles the characters and drama in such a way that it feels fluid and you also naturally get attached to every character involved. It also helps that the ages of the characters were picked very well – they are only in middle school and thus right at that age period where people most commonly go through a phase of trying to find who they are and get the most lost in doing so. Not to mention, and it’s very relevant even in the show, they are at the ages just before puberty.
Before I go into the other aspects of the show, I do want to mention that there is plenty of light hearted stuff and comedy as well, this is not a heavy drama or anything remotely close to that. It’s a very nicely paced show with a perfectly leveled atmosphere that never feels like it suffocates you with anything and is honestly the lightest feeling show you’ll probably ever see. The show also features prominently things like understanding what love really is and similar topics in just as important a light as the stuff I already mentioned.
The art style in this show is extremely relaxing and soft, it’s got a very pastel and water color look to it – even more than Honey & Clover, for example. It’s one of the most “easy on the eyes” shows I’ve seen to date. On top of that, the quality is pretty consistent throughout, even smaller details sometimes being animated just perfectly to get across some nearly invisible piece of a scene or character’s emotions at the time. It’s gorgeous and if you’re talking in terms of including style and quality it’s honestly some of the just plain prettiest looking stuff out there.
Probably my favorite thing about this series aside from two characters and the art style is the music. The tracks range from good to incredible, but what really makes the OST special is the great placement of the songs within the show itself. Every scene is made ten times better thanks to the choice of songs and the timing of them. The music blends with the scenes so well that it feels like it’s both there yet not in the way of anything whatsoever. It’s used as a kind of seasoning rather than ever overtaking any of the other elements in a scene. You won’t even notice some of the songs playing, yet you do subconsciously and it truly changes how a whole situation ends up feeling. It’s a strange feeling going through the OST later and hearing a bunch of music you aren’t familiar with though – simply because you were so immersed in the show at the time and the music was handled so well that you didn’t even pick up on the music enough to truly recall it being there. That sounds like “it’s not a memorable OST”, but hopefully what I actually mean is getting across – the music direction is done so well that you don’t notice it yet it immensely impacts every scene.
Cast and Their Development
Now this is where Hourou Musukou truly shines as something you shouldn’t miss and what makes it, for me, a 10/10 series.
It probably goes without saying, but i completely adore Yoshino, she’s a super cute tomboy who fits into exactly what I’ve long said to be the best of the best – a girl that’s pretty much a boy minus the dick. In this case, it’s one big half of the entire story as she’s the co-lead alongside Nitori, so that focus on her and that side of her really made it all the better. Just like the rest of the cast, her character is very complex and has real depth. While her and Nitori share some of the same problems from both wanting to be the opposite gender, they are also very different in that Nitori faces a much harsher situation. A tomboy is a tomboy, but a boy wanting to be a girl is far different in comparison. Not only that, but Nitori has to face the fact that as he grows up he’ll look more and more masculine and his voice will become less feminine as well, while Yoshino only has to worry about possibly getting larger breasts down the line (she pretty much has none, so it probably won’t happen though) and that’s kind of it. Not to mention girls that wear masculine clothing or have short hair are pretty much normal nowadays, so nothing about her clashes with society all that much. It’s also worth noting that she is completely heterosexual even though she wishes to be a boy, it’s just a matter of “I don’t feel right in this body” however she doesn’t feel any attraction towards females, which makes her situation also that much more acceptable to the world around her.
While I appreciate Nitori’s harder fight with his future and himself, Yoshino is able to act as a solid piece of ground when in need for Nitori. She understands his entire situation and can empathize with it fully even though her situation is less harsh. As Nitori says, she’s not only always there to help him – but she’s also the reason he doesn’t get hurt or angry at people, she takes those emotions on for him so he doesn’t have to. She’s not just someone I think is great for being a super cute tomboy, but for being extremely admirable and an incredible friend.
Along with her, my second favorite in the show is someone I’ll leave unnamed outside of the marked spoilers a bit below, as even knowing who they are is a spoiler in itself as they are seemingly irrelevant until later on. Almost all of my screenshots are of this character, but I don’t want to risk spoiling that they are important so I can’t use them!
This character is the most realistic character in the entire series and acts as the ‘normal person’ dealing with these other characters and their situations, which makes them extra interesting as a person within the show because they are the only one acting as somewhat of an outsider to the issues the characters are going through. The way they are introduced feels extremely smooth as well, nothing about it is remotely strange or forced. Along with that, this character becomes EXTREMELY important in the story, especially to one of the main leads. Oddly enough, and again so very realistically, the biggest change in the entire series comes about from a zit. Such a small thing that changes the entire situation between these two characters, just like in real life where even the smallest most mundane things can end up changing your future – how many times have you heard someone met their wife while shopping for groceries or found some amazing place because they got lost on the way to their hotel or something like that? It’s never the big things that control your life, it’s the small shit, and this is one of the few times I’ve seen that shown so well in anime. One little thing indirectly causing such an unexpected result.
But what I’m getting at is that through them being a normal kid their age and being involved with some of them heavily, you end up getting to see some very interesting stuff from how they handle it and are affected by it. Not to mention you get yet another character’s story of maturation mixed in thanks to them (their own). They act not only as another main character with their own story and developments which are arguably the strongest out of the whole cast, and not only as a way for us to see a “normal” person’s perspective when becoming close with these characters, but they also end up creating most of the best scenes and situations in the show, including my very favorite thing in it and the most realistic and emotional aspect of it.
This whole ‘they’ ‘this character’ thing is getting to be a pain, so I’ll just spoiler this part – and these are some end-show big spoilers so don’t peek if you haven’t seen it.
*Spoiler* Anna Suehiro is a middle school girl who ends up going out with a transgender boy (Nitori) without even realizing it (she just thought he liked cross dressing), and ends up overwhelmed by the situation as she realizes how serious he is. If you’re reading this, you know that already, but it’s important because so many people hate her for breaking up with him. But really, what else could she have done? She’s a very young girl in her first ever relationship, one that happens to be EXTREMELY complicated thanks to how Nitori is. Of course she felt pressured, scared, and incredibly uncertain about everything. If anything, my favorite parts of this show are when she dumps him and then her and him getting back together in the final episode. I love that she breaks up with him because if she hadn’t it would have ruined that believability and realistic feeling I keep mentioning. Even more so, and what made her such an incredible character to me – both in this show and in general – is that she comes back to him, apologizes profusely, and they end up back together. She shows the most true growth out of anyone in the series and incredible maturity. She broke up, took that time away from him to really think about how she feels about him, how his situation is, how it effects them, and how she truly feels about him being how he is. Then once she figured it all out, she came back and explained it entirely openly and honestly to him. It was both adorable and touching.
I even checked the manga and they are canonically a couple for the rest of the series and beyond, the manga actually goes a lot further with their relationship as well, so I’m a little sad we didn’t get to see more of it.*Spoiler end*
Aside the main cast (leads and otherwise) – there was someone who intrigued me in the first chunk of episodes of this show. There’s a background girl with a shit ton of personality, and I love that sort of thing. It’s great when an anime can give a person who has no role in the story or even value as anything but a space filler so much character through little things. She has, I believe, two lines in the entire series, however she’s around in every single episode until the next school year begins and she ends up in a different class. She’s super cute and was always fun to look for and see what she was doing in each episode, and slowly you notice something: she has the hots for the teacher. That’s no assumption, it’s incredibly obvious the more you see of them, and even the teacher doesn’t hide that he knows (I’d prefer to assume he’s doing nothing with her aside letting her have her crush, but who knows.) She always seems bored and uninterested – but then whenever the teacher is around she starts smiling or acting excited towards him, even both her lines; one is said to him all smiley and happy and the other is said in a jealous bitchy tone “why aren’t you mentioning that teacher was there too?” way before he abruptly changes subjects because, and this is what makes me wonder about them, he was with her.
Why spend a paragraph talking about this background character and this irrelevant teacher? Because even the events going on between them draw you in and are presented in this believable fashion especially, again, for the age range (especially if this teacher isn’t doing anything he shouldn’t be doing). Another great character who, in this case most people tend to just completely hate without spending a second thinking about it, is Nitori’s older sister who is only slightly above him in age and treats him like shit for how he is. Of course she does, consider her mental state, age, and how embarrassing, confusing, and upsetting it would be to be in her shoes – especially in Japanese society. Of course she’s a bitch, it doesn’t make it “right” but my point with her is that even the biggest asshole characters in this tend to have reasons for how they are and their own shit they are having trouble with, it deepens the believability and realism while also avoiding just having generic ‘bad’ characters (not that there really are any, this isn’t the type of show to have an “antagonist” or anything).
The story is entirely about the characters, their maturity, their identity, and their relationships with one another – and all of them are amazing to see unfold and unbelievably…believable to an extent you just never expect from an anime. The only really ACTUALLY unbelievable aspect is one that also presents itself in Aoi Hana by the same creator – it’s a little bit overly convenient about everyone with similar issues managing to know each other and so many people being so messed up. Even within the age range it feels just ever so slightly too perfect of a set-up for all the gays and lesbians and trannies to stumble upon one another at this school within the first episode but given it’s just the setup it’s not actually a problem. You could really level that complaint at absolutely every fucking story ever told as well anyway.
Hourou Musuko feels bittersweet, fluttery, beautiful, incredibly light and airy, and most surprisingly and importantly – it feels nostalgic. Even though there’s nothing in this show for most people to actually personally relate to, myself included, the feeling you have when you look back on your own life as an adult – especially your childhood – is prominent here. Nothing feels heavy, nothing feels too depressing, nothing surprising or sad makes you overly surprised or really sad. It’s all so soft and calm even at it’s most serious moments or when revealing it’s biggest twists, and yet it never loses your attention or gives you a chance to take a break from more and more development. The subject matter itself isn’t for or against anything, there’s no “agenda” being pushed here and it’s not about that – the sexuality issues and gender issues are just an example, a metaphor, of the uncertainty people face in all sorts of ways at that age, and it’s handled incredibly gracefully. The stuff about love and “self” is also something everyone can find a bit of themselves connecting with.
This is something I recommend very strongly because it’s something with almost nothing comparable in what it tackles, how it does it, the atmosphere, and the overall quality in general. It’s a truly special show that’s sadly skipped over and other times quite often completely unheard of – but it most certainly is not something to avoid just due to the apparent subject matter and definitely not something anyone should miss out on.