Hourou Musuko is a very, very beautiful series. It also has one very fatal flaw that makes getting a 9/10 literally impossible, but this is one of the rare series that takes a very unbiased and respectful look at gender identity. Close-minded religious conservatives, turn around now.
Based on a long running manga by Takako Shimura, who’s other big work Aoi Hana was adapted into a short 12 episode series a few years back. Aoi Hana showcased a lesbian relationship, and it too took that relationship and observed it with an unbiased and respectful view not like garbage otaku pandering series like Yuru Yuri. I haven’t seen Aoi Hana yet, but from what I hear it’s just as good as Hourou Musuko was. Anyways, watching this anime requires you to really understand the character’s motivations: protagonists Shuuichi Nitori wants to be a girl and dresses like one (he’s in the middle of the first pic), while his friend Yoshino Takatsuki wants to be a boy and dresses like one (she’s on the left in the first pic). The anime does not start from the beginning of the manga and that really threw me off because I’m only on volume 2 of the manga, so when I saw Nitori and Yoshino in middle school, I was like “Wait, what?” but to be honest the start of the manga is pretty slow. Besides our two MC’s we have shy Makoto (oh how that name haunts me), the third wheel Chiba, the tomboy Sarashina, fashion model Anna and others.
Everything about both anime and manga is how mature everything and everyone is and that is both a blessing and a curse. Name the number of anime that deals with LGBT issues in a sensitive or mature light. Zero? Congratulations! You’re hard pressed to find anything similar to what Hourou Musuko sets out in doing and what it does best is showing us how living and dealing with gender identity can be tough. You also have a transgendered female named Yuki: Yuki somewhat functions as a mentor to the two, knowing what it’s like being the opposite gender and the bullying she faced when she was still a boy. But while Nitori and Yoshino are very well portrayed, they also are just way too mature for their ages and that really sets this show from achieving an even higher score. And trust me, it’s a very tough call to make: I love everything this series depicts and I love how respectful and thoughtful it is to these sensitive issues, but because this is a story that truly is grounded in reality, having two middle schoolers seemingly behave like 30-somethings just doesn’t feel right with me and this is also a criticism of the manga as well.
Because of the fact that it covers such topics best left untouched according to Japanese society, the series was given a chance to shine on the noitaminA block and came up with enough funds to start a 12 episode series. If there’s another redeeming quality about the anime, it knows how to make a lot out of what little it has. The animation is very limited for a show of this caliber: it’s slice of life, does it really need a big budget? But once the opening theme starts playing, you really understand right then how small the budget is: there’s absolutely nothing animated about the OP except cherry blossoms falling, just a bunch of pans and cuts to the inside of Nitori and Yoshino’s school. But again this is a show that is firmly rooted in the “less is better than more” philosophy, so I actually admired the staff for having the balls to do this almost completely non animated. Do you know what else I applaud the director for doing? Hiring an actual kid to voice Nitori: yes Nitori’s voice is really rough and strained but knowing his voice actor is a 14 year old kid, all of the “flaws” with his voice are suddenly put to rest. That sums up Hourou Musuko, are these “flaws” genuine or is it nitpicking? That’s why it’s hard to describe Hourou Musuko: it’s beautiful but depending on the viewer, it may or may not have some blatant flaws which makes reviewing it somewhat challenging. Still, you’ll be amazed that somewhere in the animanga universe there’s a series that’s accurately and respectfully showing us LGBT issues without resorting to gags or jokes.
Animation – 8/10: This is how to make use of a very small budget. I loved this soft pastel style in Usagi Drop and in Kimi to Boku and the fact that this show is entirely done this way makes me happy. OP and ED are very, very plain in fact I don’t even think there’s anything animated in the OP besides the cherry blossom petals. Less is better than more when it comes to this series.
Story – 11/15: Agh, I really want to give this a perfect score because this is the best portrayal of gender identity and LGBT issues I’ve yet to see in any anime or manga and it’s done with such respect and maturity. But the ending was really iffy with me, it just suddenly…ended. It just didn’t sit with me, especially Nitori’s behavior and while these sensitive issues are dealt with in a respectful manner, the main character’s are way too mature to deal with these issues, more on this in the characters section.
Sound – 8/10: I. Love. The. Ending. Theme. It’s beautiful and so simple, much like the animation and the lyrics are very in tune with the nature of this series. The background music is pleasant and props to the staff for getting an actual teenage boy to voice Nitorin. Yes his voice is grating, but damn he’s a kid! It’s so real and unfiltered and I really appreciate it. Lots of huge names in this show: Nana Mizuki as Nitori’s sister Maho, Yui Horie as Anna, Sayaka Ohara as Nitori’s mother, Keiji Fujiwara as Yuki’s boyfriend and Aki Toyosaki voicing Sarashina’s friend Momoko. Also a bit more of the ED: the singer (Rie Fu), her english is just that…ENGLISH not a hacked up version of my mother tongue that we call engrish.
Characters – 18/25: Nitori and Takatsuki are just way too mature to be dealing with their issues and this is also a criticism of the manga. It’s a tough criticism to make because I like and dislike that maturity at the same time, but because this is a show grounded in realism their maturity on these issues is just too much to overlook. Honestly, I feel that Sarashina is the most realistic character in the series. She’s THE typical tomboy and I really fell in love with her character (sad I’m only on volume 2 of the manga) and really she’s a scene stealer who always brings a nice breath of fresh air to all the drama in this show. The rest of the cast is fine.
Enjoyment – 35/40: Hourou Musuko barely makes it into my 8’s on the strength of it’s portrayal of gender identity, great use of limited budget and yes Sarashina. It’s a beautiful anime with ‘flaws’ that really aren’t a flaw but more slightly out of place. I highly recommend reading the manga as the anime began in the middle of the manga and not the beginning. My description of what constitutes an 8 for me is this:
I really enjoyed this show overall. There are some flaws to this series, some things are less than desired but quite frankly this is a show that really put in a lot of effort.
In fact Hourou Musuko does everything an 8/10 series should do – There are some ‘flaws’ with pacing and character behavior, it’s less than desirable yet not that horrible of flaws and yet you can see how much effort was put into this series and with such a small budget that says a lot. This anime was handled with just as much respect and maturity as the manga and I applaud that.
Score – 80/100