3. Behind the pictured objects
Hourou Musuko is not only unique in the story it tells, but also in its presentation. Its watercolor style gives the series a dream-like air, trying to mimic the fragile puberty, and at the same time a more personal touch. The director has adapted symbols used in the manga while trying out his own. Here I present a few of them:
>> From the first moments in the show emphasis is placed on the school uniforms as gender signifiers. “It still kind of suffocates me. It feels very tight and cool against my skin.” says Nitori whose uniform is a symbol for their body and the roles others have assigned them. They feel estranged to this body and cold inside. That’s not what suits them. Later on the tie that Takatsuki chooses to wear instead of the bow is a small step towards being a man and a reassurance that they don’t betray completely who the are by wearing a girl’s uniform.
>> Mirrors are a staple object in trans narratives, but I’ll give kudos to the director who gave a spin and variation to it. The first mirror is a window. People open it to get some fresh air. The second mirror is a car’s window, but this window doesn’t only exist for vendilation purposes. It’s also to check who’s passing by you, to be able to drive safely. And the third mirror has similar meaning only that it distorts the image, making the reflection small at its ends and big at its center. The first mirror, indoors, reflects a girl, the other two, outdoors, a ‘boy’ with a skirt running…If associated with the happy and sad feelings of Nitori they provoke interesting thoughts, don’t you think?
>> Water is the source of life. Sinking oneself inside it underlines the need to revitalize. It’s also tightly connected with the Christian mystery of baptism when a child -usually- is given its name and enters the society sort of anew. Takatsuki takes an ebryo position and highlights the retreaval to the true self and their need for revitalization. Nitori in the bathroom tries to rename themselves with Takatsuki’s name to fit their gender identity.
>> Then we have the traffic lights and a smooth transition to the toilet signs. I really like how from the green light for the pedestrians we go to to the red light and then to the ladies’ toilets. It plays with the male-female figures, the colors and the feelings created during walking the road to one’s real gender identity. Nitori tries living the way she’s imagined, but she’s halted every next corner. With simple means the director said so much and conveyed the character’s emotion tactfully.
>> Lastly, we have closeted spaces. In lgbtq narratives coming out of the closet, getting out of a ‘slumber’ is a peak. In the first screenshot we see Nitori and Takatsuki at the entrance of block of flats where a clothes shop for trans is. This particular frame is ‘shot’ in a way that stresses the secrecy of the place and the ascension needed to reach the shop. Spiral staircases are symbols of awakening sexuality, too. In the second screenshot Takatsuki stared at the male uniform that they have put in the closet, signaling their closeted status. Lastly, the third image focuses on the closed door of Nitori’s bedroom where Doi and Nitori talk. It’s behind this door that the idea of going to school dressed in girl clothes that is humored, it’s behind this door that Nitori has put on a dress and a wig many times.
All in all Hourou Musuko is truly something special both as a story and as an animated work. I could even say that I like it even more than the manga which might have ended up with a plethora of trans women but dropped the development of the only trans man. It’s short but doesn’t lack emotionally -the soundtrack has helped a lot in this direction- and perhaps due to irs length it has managed to give everything essential without tiring.