Wandering Son – Episode 3

Episode three starts off with that eternal cavern of gender-based insecurities, gym class. Well, morning exercises more specifically, but the drama is the same – singled out by the teacher, Takatsuki is informed that he will have to start wearing a bra tomorrow, and promptly collapses. Puberty is resulting in unwelcome changes for both Takatsuki and Nitori, and the question of how they will be able to define themselves becomes more pressing all the time.

Wandering Son

At least for now, they have a few friends in their corner. It’s Chiba who gives the two of them a potential opportunity to express themselves this week, as she stands up and outright suggests the class perform a “genderbender” play for the school festival. Compared to the relatively timid Takatsuki and Nitori, Chiba is brash and outspoken, always ready to pursue or embody what she wants. It’s no surprise that she clashes with someone like Chi’s friend Momo, and also unsurprising that she can often get frustrated with her friends. When you have the will to action but can’t push your friends to do the thing, life can be pretty aggravating.

But most of this episode doesn’t proceed at the pace of Chiba’s feelings; it’s slow-moving and reflective, defined more by what isn’t said than by what characters actively express. The real star here is the shot framing, constantly positioned to evoke the feelings characters can’t get across with their words. And that starts early on, when Nitori’s sister gets in a small fight with a friend.

Wandering Son

In the wake of last episode’s confession, it turns out Nitori-sis actually started dating the boy from her class. But when talking with that boy cuts into her dedication to her job, a friend confronts her, and the two have a slight argument across a table. The camera essentially builds its own vocabulary across this exchange, as we see the two divided by the frame in a mirror of their emotional distance. As Nitori-sis gets more honest with her feelings, the camera gets closer, mimicking the greater emotional intimacy. But there is no real resolution here – the scene ends with Nitori-sis’s friend storming off, and so none of the shots reconcile the two characters.

The next scene maintains this emphasis on emotive framing, as Takatsuki calls Nitori to talk about the play. Takatsuki is nervous about this conversation, and so we initially don’t even see his face – hemmed in by insecurities, the frame literally lets him hide his feelings. The pacing of the dialogue is also strong here, as Takatsuki’s insecurity is made clear by the way he wanders through a meaningless conversation before actually approaching the reason for his call. Even the physical context of the call seems intentional; Takatsuki calls Nitori while waiting for a bus, thus ensuring he’d have an exit strategy the moment he made his proposal. Every element of this sequence signals the discomfort Takatsuki feels approaching honest self-expression, even if the conversation is just a few sentences that don’t touch on his feelings at all.

Wandering Son

Takatsuki’s suggestion is ultimately a very simple one – that Nitori should try writing the play. Nitori is caught off guard by this suggestion, but quickly focuses on the complement implicit in it, expressed through a jump from a wide shot to an intimate closeup. But as Nitori starts to work on the script, we see she is still unable to separate her feelings on her own identity from her feelings for Takatsuki – a fact that will reprise itself later, when Nitori’s script essentially assumes Takatsuki’s romantic presence. Adolescence is just a mess all around.

Things come to a head in the next scene, as Nitori and Takatsuki meet in the nurse’s office – Nitori because she stayed up all night writing, Takatsuki because he’s presumably hiding from morning exercises. When someone else enters, the two of them are both framed as if they’re hiding – and through the first half of this conversation, Takatsuki is only willing to speak to his friend from behind the cover of a curtain. The framing reaches its most pointed peak yet when Takatsuki asks “would you ever like to wear a bra” – a difficult question that is expressed through the curtain, the corner of the frame, and an actual reflection.

Wandering Son

It’s clearly a very difficult moment for Takatsuki, but his honest question is rewarded. Nitori responds frankly, and the two of them are finally reunited in the frame as they each mention what they like about the other’s physicality. The two weren’t even truly having a fight, but these constant realignments of emotional position are true of any relationship, particularly one as fraught as theirs.

After some awkward shenanigans with Nitori-sis, the episode’s final major sequence focuses on Nitori and Chiba. Since both of them submitted reasonable proposals for the class play, the teacher suggests they work together to write a final version. And as the two sit close but separated in the library, that antagonistic framing returns – only to be broken by Chiba offering an olive branch. But Chiba being Chiba, she can’t resist at least somewhat pushing her desires onto Nitori, expressed both in her words and in their second meeting’s claustrophobic framing.

Wandering Son

The episode ends with two perfectly charged moments. The first is more just an idea – the way the narrative of Wandering Son recontextualizes the line “wherefore art thou Romeo?” It’s often assumed this line is about asking where Romeo is, because, you know, that’s what it seems to ask in modern speech. But the line is truly asking why you are Romeo – why couldn’t you be anything else, anything that wasn’t poisoned by its relationship with my family. “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet,” etcetera. The metaphor is a graceful fit for Wandering Son – “why was I given this body? Why do my classmates see me the way they do? Why can’t my world accommodate the person I am?” It’s frankly a more poignant application of the line than the original rendition, which was about young teens so deeply in puppy-love they were ready to die for it.

And the second moment belongs to Takatsuki, as he tries on a sports bra and thinks about the day. Disgusted by the prospect, he tosses the bra aside, before walking to his closet and cradling the boy’s uniform he is not allowed to wear. We don’t need words to understand a moment like that. Moments like that are universal.

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