Nitori is a feminine, assigned male at birth teen who likes to secretly dress up as a girl and thinks they might actually want to be one. Upon starting a new school they meet and develop feelings for Takatsuki, assigned female at birth, who prefers to dress in a masculine way and is also unsure of their gender identity.
Nitori and Takatsuki’s struggle with themselves is amplified when their class puts on a genderbent version of Romeo and Juliet, in which the star crossed lovers meet, and Romeo confesses he wants to be a girl, Juliet confesses she wants to be a boy. Nitori admits that they wants Takatsuki to be Romeo to their Juliet.
The anime also explores gender and sexuality beyond the trans identities of Nitori and Takatsuki. We also see Nitori’s male friend happily try on a clover hair clip, a female classmate wear the male uniform on more than one occasion and Nitori experience attraction to a cisgender girl as well as to Takatsuki.
The anime presents itself in a simple way, with a non intrusive piano soundtrack and a soft watercolour animation style. This allows the focus to remain on the developments unfolding between the characters, and Nitori and Takasuki’s own journeys as they slowly embrace their true selves, dealing with the fall out along the way.
Don’t be fooled by Hourou Musuko’s gentle appearance, it raises many strong points about the policing of gender, and how any deviation from this norm is either dismissed as a wacky hobby, or labelled as sick and perverted. The acceptance or rejection of Nitori and Takatsuki’s gender “deviant” behaviours come in surprising forms, with Nitori’s own sister repeatedly labelling them as sick and ‘a freak’ for dressing as a girl. On the flip side when the cis girl Nitori starts to date finds out they cross dress, she doesn’t have a problem with it. Similarly, Doi, a cis boy at Nitori’s school, encourages Nitori’s crossdressing and even calls them cute when he sees them in a dress.
The show emphasises the confusion the two feel about receiving such mixed messages from everyone around them about their behaviour. Nitori is distressed to find that their choosing to attend school in a girl’s uniform is seen as more shocking by the adults than Takatsuki and another female classmate attending in the boy’s uniform, particularly as with the exception of Nitori’s sister, all of Nitori’s peers treat their crossdressing as normal, and their cis female friend Chiba even encourages it.
One of the standout scenes for me takes place between Nitori and Takatsuki discussing wearing a bra. Nitori says that they want to wear one even though they have no breasts, and Takatsuki responds that Nitori should if they want to. This simple exchange places the emphasis on gender as being a personal expression and not simply a person’s anatomy as well as prioritising personal happiness and comfort over adhering to social norms.
Many of the moments of internal struggle or external drama are quite understated following the first few episodes, meaning that some might find Hourou Musuko to be a slow anime. However, anime addressing trans people and attitudes to transsexuality in a serious and sensitive way are incredibly rare, and this one quietly presents the reality of how difficult it can be to go against the grain of how your sex is expected to behave and dress when there are so many double standards and judgements surrounding gender. My only complaint about Horou Musuko would be that some dramatic moments are set up – such as Nitori’s parents finding out they went to school in a girl’s uniform – and then not followed up on, which felt like a letdown. Similarly, we are also more often than not told of Nitori’s classmates teasing or laughing at them for wearing a girl’s uniform than shown it, which prevents the anime from becoming too distressing, but also robs it of some of the dramatic impact.
If you’re looking for a high school love anime with added social commentary and respectful LGBT representation, give this one a go. I personally hope to see more anime like Hourou Musuko shedding important light on gender issues such as these. I only wish the show had been longer to provide even more character development.
N.B. As this anime features characters who present as both male and female and experience confusion over their gender identity I decided to use they/their/them pronouns for ease of reading.