Things do not go well for Nitori.
Wandering Son’s tenth episode opens with us looking down on Nitori, Maho, and their parents, seated at a table that’s framed like some kind of interrogation room. Top-down lighting enhances the sense of drama, while a ticking clock replaces last episode’s urgent cicadas. Nitori’s mom jumps swiftly from “are you being bullied?” to “Maho, you used to dress him as a girl. You’re a bad influence on him.” Nitori’s trip to school ends in the worst possible way.
Of course, things weren’t ever likely to go perfectly. Nitori’s father provides the first counterpoint this episode, helping Nitori escape that uncomfortable table and even trying to relate to her feelings. If Nitori’s time at school is now poisoned by cruel stares and bullying, it’s also lightened by the renewed support of her close friends. Through the course of this episode, we see all of Nitori’s associates express their love for her in their own ways.
The fallout of Nitori’s dressing as a girl for school begins with Nitori, Takatsuki, and Chi all being brought in to the teacher’s office. Though this situation is obviously mortifying, it also lets Takatsuki finally come to understand Nitori’s pain. Watching Nitori be forced to defend her appearance in a way he never was underlines what Chi admitted last episode – that things would be specifically harsh for Nitori in a way they weren’t for him. And hearing Nitori say “I’ve always wanted to do this. Because I want to be a girl” helps emphasize perhaps the most fundamental disconnect – that while Nitori’s friends have acted in the ways they think would best keep her safe, they’ve done that by refusing to accept the depth of Nitori’s feelings. Only Chiba has raised points like “if you want to live as a girl, there are specific procedures for that, but it will be difficult.” Everyone else has offered feel-good validation mixed with stern fear of social retribution.
Those mixed signals inform Nitori’s own growing self-doubt. Reflecting on the many people who encouraged or applauded her dressing as a girl, she begins to doubt if any of it was real. “I thought I looked cute. Was I just being conceited?” Nitori’s friends were actually somewhat careless in their own shows of support, and now that disconnect is finally causing problems.
Fortunately, Nitori’s friends didn’t say the wrong things out of malice. We all say the wrong things all the time, out of ignorance or frustration or boredom or even love. Nitori’s friends want to support her, but don’t really know how – a truth illustrated beautifully through Nitori’s next trip to school. Confronted with a depressed Nitori and an unsolvable problem, Chi simply takes Nitori’s hand and starts to sing. Chi’s actions don’t solve Nitori’s dilemma, but she smiles anyway, encouraged by the support of her friend. Just being there for a person in need is still an awful lot.
At school, things are as bad as you might expect. Nitori gets jeered at as a “tranny” and “girlyboy,” and classmates collaborate to lock her out of class. Momo, who’s always been ruled by social pressure, urges Chi to abandon the weirdo. And even Doi calls Nitori an idiot, underlining the fact that his support was the most conditional of all.
But friendships still express themselves in all sorts of ways. As I said, being forced to stand beside Nitori helps Takatsuki come to understand the truth of Nitori’s feelings, leading to renewed concern for his friend. While Doi pushes for another genderbender play, likely hoping to normalize crossdressing in his own blunt way, Sasa pushes back. Sasa fears anything that would subject Nitori to further ridicule, but when the play is okay’d anyway, she actually feels excited to see Nitori finally perform on stage. Meanwhile, Anna simply laments her own weakness in not being there for Nitori. But even lamenting her failure to act is still an expression of solidarity in its own way.
This episode also offers something of a redemption story for Nitori’s sister Maho, though it only slips in through the margins. Anna’s moaning about her own weakness is accented by the surprising revelation that it was actually Maho who pushed Anna to support Nitori. It’s a nice bit of natural character writing that we only hear about this from Anna – Maho would obviously never tell Nitori the truth, and so even we in the audience are forced to hear about her actions secondhand. Later on, Maho’s concern for her sister is once again framed through a unique lens, reflected in how much she appreciates her boyfriend supporting Nitori as well. Even terrible siblings have their good points.
All of this welcome support likely helps Nitori find the strength to act in this episode’s final, terrific sequence. Walking home with Doi, Nitori is finally able to say the things she’s been meaning to say – that she dresses as a girl for her own sake, that she doesn’t want to be an object of ridicule for Doi’s amusement, and that’s she’s hated Doi all this time.
The camera does great work to isolate each of them in this sequence, but I was even more impressed with the precise framing of the aftermath. Doi is an unrepentant bully, but he’s also a human being with feelings, and watching him slowly crumple in the wake of Nitori’s explosion worked wonders in humanizing his perspective. A slow sequence of expression shifts, even ones as minimal as Doi’s here, can do as much work as any monologue to make a person’s lived experience feel real. And for Nitori’s part, the strength it took to make that declaration is only amplified by the reveal that she was terrified all the while. School life hasn’t worked out perfectly, but personal strength and good friends can still make things right.
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