What a joy to have Hourou Musuko back after the usual endless Noitamina break. The series continues to show a deft hand in portraying school life scenes as well as any series has done in years. The unusual circumstances of the leads are always present in the background, but they never sidetrack events or become a gimmick.
I’ve seen lots of criticisms that say the kids at the heart of the series are too emotionally mature for their age – that their thoughts and preoccupations are too adult to be age-appropriate. I just don’t see it – maybe I was a freak, but my memories of junior high (middle school to the Japanese) are of some of the most emotionally intense times of my life. I see a lot of the same random cruelties and kindnesses taking place here that I remember, a lot of the same preoccupations.
Speaking of random cruelties, the scene where Chiba’s friend from the church blurted out Nitorin’s secret in front of the group was beautifully done. I wanted to strangle the little bastard in that moment – not so much for being incredibly thoughtless for saying what he did (goes with the territory of being 13) but for his blase reaction afterward. It was like an unexploded bomb had dropped in the middle of the room. Nitorin actually took it better than anyone else, and Yoshino’s reaction was spot-on. I really, really love what those two have together. Awkward and confused as it is and even if it never becomes romantic, it’s warm and genuine and one of the best love stories in anime for a long time. I’ve mentioned it already but although the characters are very different, the relationship really reminds me of Haruka and Yuu from Noein. I love soul-mate relationships even if they don’t end up being romantic – as confused as those two are, the one thing they’re sure of is that there’s always going to be someone who understands them and has their back. For me, that’s a really beautiful thing to see play out on screen.
For Chiba, on the other hand, I still have conflicted feelings. She’s no doubt an extremely effective character from a dramatic standpoint – edgy, odd, and dangerous, always a risk to blow at any moment. But while I think there’s a tendency for fans to glorify these types of female characters, I just bring myself to feel much sympathy for her yet. To me, she’s fundamentally selfish. I’ve yet to see any evidence that she cares for anyone – including Nitorin – in any sense except a purely possessive one. She’s doesn’t love Nitorin – she covets him. It seems more important to her that he not belong to anyone else than that he actually returns her feelings. She’s obviously whip-smart but so far she doesn’t seem to be using her powers for good. Everything is about Chiba – how it impacts her, how it makes her feel. That’s very realistic for a 12 year-old girl but it doesn’t make her especially appealing to me (though I know I’m in the minority there).
The other character that’s really starting to break out of the pack is Mako-chan (with a name like that, how could he not cross-dress?). While I somewhat suspected that he would end up drawing Juliet and further suspected that he would refute Chiba’s manipulations and keep the part, it was still interesting to see him come out of his shell. As close as he and Nitorin are it’s clear Makoto resents how easy certain things come for his friend – not least of which is being adorable as a girl. While I think Mako-chan’s interest in Chiba as a friend is genuine, I don’t think it’s romantic – my sense is that he prefers boys. In many ways Mako-chan is less confused than Nitorin is, but also less free – he can already see his options being constrained by his own limitations.
As with Kuragehime, the one giant worry with this show is what they’ll do in a mere 11 episodes. Even having skipped so much manga to get to this point there’s still an enormous story to be told here, and the series does not appear especially interested in short-changing the character development to make that happen. That’s a good thing – it certainly was with Kuragehime – but it does mean we’re likely to see a story with nothing resolved in terms of the larger plot. It’s a shame that the financial realities restrict Noitamina shows to this fate now, but I’d still gladly take 11 episodes of Hourou Musuko over 26 of almost any other show this past year.