There is no one unifying point of Wandering Son’s fifth episode. As summer trudges towards its end, all of Wandering Son’s stars deal with the approaching cultural festival in their own way. Secrets are revealed, angry resolutions are made, and incompatible desires drift and collide in small ways. And through it all, Wandering Son’s consistent framing presents them as isolated in their world, tiny figures almost lost in a space beyond their control.
That framing starts in early, as Nitori walks to another script meeting and considers the summer heat. “Shadows seem darker in the summer” she thinks. The bright light of the sun makes the ground it doesn’t touch that much more distinct, that much more clearly forgotten. Her thoughts are given specific purpose by the passing of a woman in a summer dress, whose gracefully feminine body reveals itself in the twisting of the breeze. Nitori looks down at her own scrawny, masculine legs, and says not a word. Shadows seem darker in the summer, and what separates Nitori is only more clear.
Nitori is not the only one with too much on her mind. Stuck in a much larger group than she wanted, Chiba is still frustrated by her last conversation with Nitori, when she essentially demanded Nitori fight for what she wants. As usual, Chiba takes her aggression out on any target that can bear it – in this case, her own kitchen, and the timid Makoto. “I’m going to put my name in too. You better vote for me,” she scowls. Chiba is tired of being the understanding friend all the time – she has desires, and she feels guilty about them, and that only makes her more mad. The only thing Chiba can take for granted is rage.
But for all of Chiba’s anger, she is still fundamentally a charitable and considerate person. That isn’t necessarily true of the group’s new arrival, a boy from Chiba’s church – when confronted with Nitori for the first time, this boy immediately exclaims “the Nitori who loves to cross-dress!” in front of all their friends. As we learn later, this actually was a malicious act – this boy also likes Chiba, and sees Nitori only as a rival. But in the immediate aftermath, this declaration only ends up strengthening the bonds between these friends.
None of Nitori’s friends care about that; Chi gets too aggressive in her enthusiasm, but Takatsuki’s response only confirms for Nitori how important their friendship is. “I have Takatsuki to get angry on my behalf,” she thinks – and beyond that, this half-truth about crossdressing is at least one less secret clogging the air between them. Not every secret actually contains the weight of consequence we impart them with; sometimes a shadow hits sunlight and we see there was nothing there at all.
But while Nitori is feeling somewhat unburdened by this affirmation of friendship, Chiba only sees their collaboration as a betrayal of the play she wanted. Chiba is goal-oriented, and her goals haven’t changed – she’s in love with Nitori, she wants to do this play right, and she wants to play Romeo to Nitori’s Juliet. Nitori is happy to have their friends help, but Chiba only sees the damage they’ve done to the play; in one precise shot, we see Nitori looking warmly back at their collaborators, while Chiba looks sternly away.
The moment of truth comes with an impersonal raffle. There will be no voting at all – parts will be chosen by the paper you pull. Chiba’s heart is in her throat at this moment, as the camera makes clear, pulling back to strand her in the giant classroom. And then the parts are decided, and no one is happy.
Chiba gets what she “wanted” – she gets to play the part of Romeo. But on the other side, Makoto ends up pulling the part of Juliet, while Nitori gets a minor role. The two of them meet at the stairwell, where Makoto says he’d be willing to switch with Nitori, but that doesn’t make Chiba happy.
Chiba pointedly tells Makoto that she “hates spineless people,” but her words aren’t aimed just at him. Actually receiving the part she wanted has forced Chiba to reckon with the fact that there was never any happy ending possible in this scenario for both her and the friends she cares about. Chiba doesn’t feel good about getting the part that Takatsuki wanted, and that Nitori wanted Takatsuki to have. She could give the part up, but that would only make her unhappier, and betray the belief in self-motivated action that is all she can cling to. Even getting her way doesn’t make her happy, and so she’s once again angry at everyone because she’s angry at herself.
Chiba responds to this anger the way she always does – by aiming it at whoever is there to take the blame. In this case, she blames the script and its writers, saying to Nitori that “the two of us were able to expand the story, but everyone else ruined it.” Unwilling to hand off the part she’s been given, Chiba decides the only sensible thing to do is burn the whole play down, and revise the script so that everybody dies. It is a very Chiba solution.
Chiba is stopped in this goal, both by her friends and by their overwhelmed teacher. And so she does the only thing she still can – her absolute best in the role she’s been given. Chiba carries Makoto in their practices, and seems intent on salvaging the play by will alone. She will prove this was how it’s supposed to be, both to her friends and to herself. “I’ll be perfect on stage. Otherwise I’ll just end up feeling miserable again.”
It is very unlikely that a perfect performance will make Chiba happy. Her problems run deeper than that, and aren’t really solvable – but admitting she can’t get what she wants would mean giving up on the strength of will that she’s turned into her defining feature. The tragic irony is that Chiba needs someone like Nitori, someone who could say, like Nitori does to Makoto, that “if I can’t understand you now, I’ll learn how.” Someone who represents what Takatsuki does for Nitori, as well. We all need a person like that, ultimately. And that person might be all we need.
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