If you’ve been reading my posts on Hourou Musuko, you know that I’ve commented a few times that it felt to me as if Takako-sensei were getting ready to bring the manga to a close. Well, it’s confirmed – the August issue of Comic Beam is going to feature the final chapter, meaning there’s only one more to go.
How did I know? There was a feeling of finality to the last few chapters somehow, even if it was hard to put a finger on just why. In hindsight it seems obvious – we’ve been reading this story in the past tense, as told by Nitorin. His novel detailing the story of his strange adolescence is the framing device for the final chapters, and apparently what’s going to allow Takako to give the story a bit of closure.
One of the things that drew me to Hourou Musuko initially was the bond between Nitorin and Takatsuki. They were soul-mates in the truest sense of the term – “kindred spirits” is the term Takatsuki uses in this chapter. So it’s very fitting that the series should return to that relationship as it nears the finish line, even if Nitorin now seems very much in love with Anna. First loves are very rarely lasting loves (teenage loves in general rarely are, if we’re to be honest) but that doesn’t mean they aren’t life-changing.
But the point is, what Shuu and Takatsuki have is deeper than simply a first love, and it’s the loss of that which she seems to be mourning in these chapters as much as the fact that Shuu has rejected her confession. “That thing we had” as she describes it – the bond that connected them, so painfully obvious in both the manga and anime. That bond still exists in some ways – Shuu says pointedly that he wanted to write “our story”. But when Takatsuki sees Nitorin on the street, she hesitates to call out to him. When she and Saorin run into Nitorin and Makoto at a coffee shop studying, they sit at separate tables. This is what makes Takatsuki so mournful, and while it’s a passage all of us go through it’s no less heartbreaking to see.
This is the heart of what makes Hourou Musuko such a great series to me – the way it manages to create singular characters with highly unusual circumstances, yet also depict their adolescent struggles in an incredibly universal way. There’s a sense that these chapters are the series effective farewell to Takatsuki and her story, with the focus to shift to Nitorin in the final chapter. Takatsuki at long last admits to Nitorin (after reading a draft of his novel) that she likes him romantically; he apparently rejects her. She unwittingly (perhaps) uses the exact same words he used when they were in sixth grade – she marvels that she was “such a child back then”. This was something that seemingly wasn’t fated to be, and in one sense that’s a sad ending to her story. But the importance she holds in Shuu’s heart can never be denied, as witness the fact that she’s at the heart of the story he’s chosen to tell.
Takatsuki tells Shuu she “no longer thinks about becoming a boy”. Does he still think about becoming a girl? He as much as said he did in the previous chapter, though it was part of an increasingly confusing muddle of seemingly conflicting dreams. His love for Anna cannot possibly be denied now. He’s turned down Takatsuki for her; he dreams of her and desires her. And, he shares in the final pages of these chapters, he’s had sex with her. We don’t know exactly when this happened, as we don’t know from how great a distance he’s looking back – but it’s a bombshell nonetheless, if an unsurprising one.
There’s really no end of fascinating characters and relationships in this series, orbiting around Nitorin at various distances, and it’s almost impossible to believe we won’t be seeing more of them. There are the obvious ones with Takatsuki, Saorin, Anna and the like, but Hourou Musuko is fascinating even when exploring the surprising and unconventional ones – like Shuu’s odd friendship (that may not be the right word) with his one-time tormenter Doi. There’s a fascinating exchange in chapter 121 where Shuu shows Doi his manuscript (which is fascinating in itself, especially as it seems he’s the first to see it). Doi laughs at Shuu’s frankness about masturbation and says “I don’t even care if I’m in it” to which Nitorin replies “Don’t worry. You be. I’ll never forget what it felt like to have my notebook passed around and read.” There’s so much of Shuu embedded in that sentence – vulnerability, defiance, honesty and courage.
There was never any possibility that Takao-sensei was going to be able to bring Nitorin’s story to a close using a conventional narrative. He’s just beginning his life, really, and seems far still from resolving his identity issues. Perhaps with this narrative device of the novel we’re going to get a major time-skip, which is a bit of a cheat but not an unusual way to bring closure to a story. At the end of chapter 121 we see Nitorin – apparently 18 years old – applying to work (at a bar? Cafe?) for someone named Lulu. He refers to her as “Mama” and says she’s an old acquaintance of Yuki-san. This has the air of a watershed moment, obviously – though I think it’d be foolish to try and predict where it takes the story.
I won’t deny I’m very sad to see Hourou Musuko coming to an end, even if I expected it. Nitorin is one of the most memorable, complicated and truly engaging characters in manga, and this is one of the best series about adolescence of its generation. But 11 years is a long time for a mangaka to spend on any series, and if Takako-sensei feels it’s time to move on I certainly trust her judgment, and I’ll be looking forward to her next work with great anticipation.