Wandering Son’s eighth episode is titled “Spring.” Just one episode after the fall leaves heralded Nitori’s unfortunate acne, we’ve arrived at the beginning of a new school year, a time of renewal. Once again, we open with the scenery telling the story. As the main cast discuss their new class assignments, blooming cherry blossoms signal a chance to start over, a new beginning for these awkward friends.
The slight exchanges of this first scene reveal the new fault lines in Nitori’s social group. Chiba seems to have made peace with Takatsuki, and even gives him an actual compliment – something that, knowing Chiba, she clearly means honestly. In a flashback to a scene that matches the end of last episode, but that could have occurred any time in the interim, we see Chiba being her usual blunt self in appraising Takatsuki’s looks. “Your hair looked better longer. Do you want to be a boy? There are boys with long hair.” Chiba is blunt with anyone, but this is the bluntness she’d probably call friendship. In contrast, the fraying of Nitori and Takatsuki’s relationship is portrayed through uncomfortable silence – the two gauge each other’s reactions with clear uncertainty, having lost the instinctive mutual understanding of their former bond.
The friction inherent in this group is illustrated equally well through their actual class assignments. While Chiba finds herself tortured by Chi’s enthusiasm, Nitori is presented with an asshole from grade school named Doi, who doesn’t seem to have grown much in the meantime. And in one key sequence, the new distance between Nitori and Takatsuki is presented in the clearest of visual terms, as Nitori is forced to cross the hallway to even wonder at what Takatsuki is thinking. Takatuski was Nitori’s confidant, and without him, she’s forced to look elsewhere for personal advice.
Nitori certainly could use some advice. Much of this episode is dedicated to her relationship with Anna, and how that interacts with her desire to wear women’s clothes. Anna seems remarkably sensitive to Nitori’s feelings, to the extent that she actually brings up Nitori’s curiosity to her sister. But of course, Nitori’s sister has no interest in being understanding – instead, she remains the reliable jerk she’s been all season. “If you want to wear girl’s clothes, break up with Anna!” she demands. And intimidated by this ultimatum, Nitori goes to Yuki to decide what she should do.
Yuki’s advice is basically the only advice anyone not muddled by their own emotional insecurity would give here: talk to Anna and see what she thinks. And in a echo of one of Wandering Son’s most consistent lessons, that potentially awkward conversation turns out to be nothing at all. Anna’s response to Nitori’s confession is an offhand “yeah, I know,” followed by an upbeat “hey, let’s both dress as girls for our next date.” Anna may be a mythical being of infinite chill, but as Takatsuki also learns this episode, we often build up our great acts of self-expression more than they actually warrant. After being inspired by Chi’s confidence, Takatsuki ultimately wears a boy’s uniform to school, only to be called out for… his impressive ability to tie a tie.
The parallels between this episode’s Chiba-Takatsuki thread and Anna-Nitori thread continue across other topics. When Makoto asks if Nitori’s actually kissed Anna, that prompts an immediate interest in kissing for both Chiba and Nitori. The ways they act on that interest reflect each of them very well: while Nitori only raises the topic in a moment of intimacy with Anna, Chiba outright asks Takatsuki if he’s kissed anyone in the middle of their group. Chiba’s straightforwardness is one of her most powerful qualities; whether she sees Tatatsuki as a rival or friend, she’ll still act just as bluntly in basically all scenarios.
These two lines draw together near the episode’s end, when Chiba and Takatsuki run into Nitori and Anna on their date. The four of them end up going to karaoke together, where Chiba exercises her own version of restraint by first getting mad at Tatatsuki alone, in the privacy of the bathroom. Chiba doesn’t want to be here, and even Takatsuki isn’t comfortable, considering he’s barely been speaking with Nitori. But of course, Chiba isn’t one to play secret social games, and Anna soon realizes she’s wandering into some kind of bizarrely knotted relationship minefield.
Things resolve gracefully enough in the end, which makes sense. None of these characters are truly mad at each other anymore, and Takatsuki’s influence seems to have actually mellowed Chiba to some very small extent. Plus, Anna is just far too understanding of a person to add any friction of her own. In the end, Nitori is even left with hope that the group might go back to the way it was, before all the drama left them with these strange half-grudges. It’s an idle hope, of course – just like you can’t help the passage of seasons, you can never really return to the way your life used to be. But though the passage of seasons sometimes prompt unwanted change, there’s always a new spring waiting just around the corner.
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