Wandering Son’s final episode bears the apt title “Forever a Wandering Son.” ‘Wandering’ carries a very different connotation from the more straightforward ‘journeying’ or ‘travelling.’ Wandering implies there isn’t necessarily some set destination, and that sometimes our path may cross right back over itself, or bring us somewhere wholly unexpected. To wander is to seek without certainty, to embrace the journey for its own sake. Personal identity is just such a journey, and it’s not something that comes with a clear starting and ending point. We wander in search of our happiest selves, but it’s only by embracing that wandering as its own natural state that we can truly hope to be happy.
This finale is as restless as its title, a slow reflection on the fact that everything is a kind of process. Even Wandering Son’s adaptive nature reflects this fact; its brief narrative is plucked from a larger journey that extends back to fifth grade and carries on to college. There is an inconclusiveness to its storytelling that echoes the nature of becoming yourself, a structural admission that no personal journeys have clean beginnings and endings. So it goes in this episode, as some things change, some things go back to how they once were, and some things just keep on happening regardless of our feelings on them.
Nitori opens this episode fearful of these persistent happenings, alone in the nurse’s office and addressing the scale. Subtle reflections of puberty are conveyed through minimalist character acting; a concerned glance at the scale reflecting Nitori’s growing height, a light brush of the neck implying her deepening voice. As an androgynous youth, Nitori wasn’t really forced to deal with the fear of not “passing” as a woman. But as our days extend, our wanderings bring us to new setbacks that demand their own response.
If Nitori’s body image is suffering, then at least her repaired relationship with her friends is helping to balance things out. After a season full of emotional clashes between Chiba, Nitori, and Takatsuki, it’s Chiba who offers the olive branch this week. Not only does she invite Nitori over to try on dresses, but she even extends that invitation to Takatsuki. Chiba’s journey has been one of the most quietly satisfying within this series, and it’s inspiring to see her turning her no-nonsense, proactive personality to actually repairing her old friendships.
That home visit is one of this episode’s great highlights, and the clearest “conclusion” we receive. Having spent so much of the series attempting to retain a specific version of Nitori, this visit feels like the moment Chiba gives up on her self-centered desires, and allows Nitori to be the person she will be. Slight expression shifts convey Chiba’s key changes, like the moment she resolves to support Nitori in the way she wants to be supported. And beautiful, intimate character acting elevates her almost silent goodbye, her acknowledgment that “you were special to me” harboring an unspoken “but now I have to let you go.”
Takatsuki’s arrival returns us to Wandering Son’s most enduring image, that photograph of the three friends happily dressing up together. Chiba demanding Takatsuki try on a dress initially comes off like an attack, until Takatsuki complies, and both he and Chiba laugh at how unfitting it seems. Chiba’s actions are, in their simultaneously blunt and roundabout way, thus another affirmation of friendship: an empathetic acknowledgment that Takatsuki doesn’t look right in women’s clothes. The three thus finally emotionally reunite, even though Nitori acknowledges “we aren’t exactly back to the way we were.” You never really can go back, but at least these three can still care about each other, however their lives may change.
Other elements of Wandering Son’s narrative web reflect the persistence of living in their own way. At school, Doi’s presence and relevance underline the fact that even if we occasionally get our big dramatic climaxes, tomorrow is still another day. Nitori may have finally lashed out at Doi, but Doi is still in her class, and as it turns out, Doi is actually very good at script writing. So the two resolve their feud by necessity, Nitori somehow getting away with “I hate you, but you’re better at writing dialogue than me.” And to his credit, Doi ultimately takes on a role similar to Chiba: when everyone else is content to let Nitori skip out on class, it’s Doi who pushes her to return. Sometimes you need that firm friend to give you a poke forward.
Time passes through a gentle montage, the school festival approaching and arriving without fanfare. Maho’s boyfriend ends up starring in a maid cafe, while Chi’s character acting remains as adorable as ever. The gang come together to observe Mako’s class project, a makeshift planetarium featuring a not-so-convincing shooting star. When prompted to make a wish, Nitori briefly considers wishing for her voice to stop changing, or to be “turned into a girl.” But she stops, and when asked by Mako, she reveals she simply wished for the play to be a success.
That choice represents an important, subtle resolution for Nitori. From a position of seeking the approval of society, and tethering her identity to her girlish appearance, Nitori now seems to no longer need any outward affirmation. As she later tells Anna, “this is how I am.” Nitori’s voice changing won’t make her any less of a girl, and wherever else she may wander, her identity is always her own. We can’t always choose the places we end up, but we are still the ones putting one foot in front of the other.
Wandering Son ends on that precise point, as Sasa announces the play’s commencement and the audience cheers. Directly confronted regarding her changing voice, Nitori smiles, and says it’s okay. Takatsuki claps in the audience, and Anna stands ruefully by, still somewhat awed by her former girlfriend’s strength. Nitori’s confidence is infectious; the class is ready behind her. The curtain opens, and she takes her first step.
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