I confess I sat on this episode for the better part of a week, wanting and yet not wanting to watch it. As long as the extended versions of 10 and 11 were out there, waiting to be released, Hourou Musuko wasn’t really over. But once this ep was in the rear-view mirror, that’s it – probably forever. Nevertheless it was a joy to watch, and much as the extended version of episode 10 did, this one doesn’t so much change what we saw in March as build upon and it and take us deeper into the meaning of what happened.
I find that a lot of this extra material has tended to flesh out the secondary characters, and to further explore their relationships with each other and the main cast. One very distinct difference is the inclusion of a much-extended sequence featuring Yuki and Shiina, who act as the sort of benevolent trail guides for Nitorin and Takatsuki. We know their basic backstory but it’s given a lot more time here, as Yuki takes a walk to the market with Nitorin and tells her in great detail about her own cross-dressing experience – a much more harrowing one than his own, as he was forced to do so by bullies – and of how she came to fall in love with Shiina. There’s a scene here that some might find uncomfortable, but it’s in line with the unpretentious realism the anime (more so than the manga) exhibits through and through. Meanwhile Shiina is sharing the same story from his perspective with Takatsuki as they prepare gyoza and wait for the other pair.
Of course there’s a major difference between Nitorin and Yuki. The latter was interested in boys even before she became a girl, while Nitorin has thus far exhibited an interest only in girls. The episode begins as the TV version did, with Anna breaking up with Nitorin. Shu seems genuinely heartbroken by this and there’s no indication his affection for her was anything but romantic. As will become a theme more and more as the story progresses there’s a current of self-discovery running through the added material, as Nitorin seems to be gaining the strength to accept who he is and stand up for himself. In new material he lies in bed listening to the recording he made of his own voice, telling himself “I’m not a girl.” And later, in original material, he has the familiar showdown with Doi. Standing up to Doi and telling him (true or not) that he hates him and declaring that he’ll never cross-dress for others’ amusement seems to be a watershed moment for Shu.
Doi remains a hard one to figure out in all this, one of the more enigmatic figures in the story. Of course in order to contextualize Doi’s role it’s vital that we have more clarity about what Nitorin’s plans for the future are, which is something we’re still waiting on. There are signs that the big questions are starting to at least be asked in the manga, though I sense we’re a ways from answers, and until we know what Shu really wants – is he denying his femininity in an attempt to persuade himself, or is he becoming comfortable in his skin at last? – we can’t really see the full scope of the story. In terms of the other players, there’s a lovely scene between Maho and Seya which is only slightly extended from the TV version, and Sasa, Makoto and Saori make brief appearances. As for Takatsuki, she remains somewhat lost, seemingly even more unsure of herself and her desires than Nitorin. And though she was the one that pushed him, you can already see the hurt building in her as she realizes that Shu is slipping further away from her.
The episode concludes more or less as the TV version did, with Nitorin’s class drafting him to write and direct the genderbender play and a visit from Shu and Maho’s Grandmother, who remarks that the brother has grown taller than the sister. It’s a good moment to end on, a transitional one that sets up the series finale (which I assume is the original episode 11, unchanged). It’s a sad moment for me – with NoitaminA having pretty much thrown in the towel, it’s hard to imagine a series like Hourou Musuko ever being made again. In a world where Hyouge Mono can get three cours anything is possible, but it really does seem as if new anime that’s outside the commercial safety zone is going to become harder and harder to find. I don’t mourn so much for this show, which at least had one wonderful season and is still unfolding in the superb manga, but for the other difficult and enlightening stories that will never be brought to anime at all.