What Are Girls Made Of? - Musings on Hourou Musuko

I thought that maybe Hourou Musuko would quietly go away after I finished watching it, since I didn't really have much material to rant about it or anything. However, I just found out that it was from the Winter 2010 season, which means that my OCD kicked in and I just had to do a proper review.

I watched the CMS version.

The topic of this anime - cross-dressing - was something that I was really interested in seeing done in a serious manner. It shows up very frequently in anime, but those reactions and acceptances are all falsified, due to it being a story device rather than a plot point. I was pretty excited to begin the anime, but ended in a drugged-out haze. Overall, it ended up being nothing special, almost mundane and times, and it's not a stretch to say that it could have been done better in several ways.
(As always, this review won't have any ratings.)

The animation style for this series was very different, because everything was done in pastel colours. It was definitely a thought-out decision due to the subject matter and the overall tone of the anime, and it didn't detract from overall animation quality. Everything was extremely fluid with scenes carefully drawn out with a lot of care and detail. The fact that everything was pastel added to the drugged-out haze of this anime, which isn't necessarily a bad thing since it fit together with the other categories. It's something different to get used to, given the sharpness of other anime from the same time.

Pastel hues coupled with extreme detail.

(Replacing the old "Story (non-plot)" heading.)
The premise was incredibly interesting, despite its simplicity: a boy desires to be a girl. Rather than just cross-dressing, the main character, Nitori Shuichi, actually showed further symptoms of Gender Identity Disorder (GID). The anime followed him in his middle school life for primarily two reasons (that I gathered). First, that's around the time that one would hit puberty, which is the "make-it-or-break-it" point, of sorts, for GID in children. Secondly, were he older, he would most likely have a lot more control over his life, rendering some plot points unusable. It was the initial premise that intrigued me, but then I found out that the original series (a manga) actually began with Nitori was in 5th grade, which means that a great deal had happened before I was allowed to watch. This isn't always a bad thing - many series have had spin-offs, gaidens, that told of the story prior to the beginning - but unfortunately, it was done poorly here because the characters would constantly refer to past events that I didn't know. I didn't understand the importance of events of actions, simply because they were caused by a part of the story that I was not privy to. Unfortunately, this detracted to the point of severe declining interest, leaving me with only frustration at being left out.

This seems like it was important, but I never found out what it was. Great.

Already deterred by the fact that the viewer was missing many blocks used to build the story, the story-telling was also incredibly weak. While I was getting brief (and sometimes just confusing) flashbacks of events that happened months or years ago, before the anime had even begun, I was also, for some reason, given flashbacks of events that happened minutes ago that I hadn't seen linearly. This added to the disjointed feeling  I already had due to being left out at the beginning of the story; I felt like I was constantly going to be left out. I found myself zoning out at times, because it felt as though I wouldn't be missing anything even if I wasn't watching; it turned out to be true, in many cases. The pace wasn't slow; it was the execution that was incredibly slow, despite the fact that a lot of things were happening, behind the scenes, that I would either get to know about in passing flashback snippets or in characters' reactions. Either way, it was not a good mix.

Takatsuki was the girl-turning-boy opposite, but it was a pretty hollow character.

The characterization was extremely weak. Due to the story picking up at a point not the beginning, I had a hard time understanding the reasoning for some of the characters, such as Saori Chiba and her angst. I couldn't sympathize with her sadness over not being chosen by Nitori - she was rejected prior to the beginning of the anime - because I had never felt the build-up of her interactions with him. I couldn't understand Takatsuki and her importance, a girl most likely diagnosed with GID as well as she wanted to be a boy, because I hadn't seen Nitori grow and flourish while being with her. The fact that there were so many understanding children around Nitori, forming a "support group" (some of them also being cross-dressers), was not unacceptable; children are capable of great compassion as well as great cruelty. Nitori himself, however, was the biggest source of my dissatisfaction; he seemed extremely weak as the character we followed around almost constantly. We didn't know of all of his thoughts, but his facial expressions were so bland that I didn't think it true even when he proclaimed determination. Perhaps because we hadn't grown with him, I didn't agree with various other characters' assessments that he was "special" or "strong"; he seemed like someone just going with the flow and, ultimately, pretty boring.

I hated the way he rolled up his pants while wearing long socks. Ugh.

Final Words
I had a lot of hopes for this anime, because I've never encountered cross-dressing taken seriously in anime/manga form. I think there's a chance the manga is better done, simply because the story begins at the beginning, taking away a lot of the anger caused by the non-linear qualities of the anime. It's not like I need everything spoon-fed to me; it's nice to deduce things from time to time. But I despised how characters kept hinting at events that happened that I didn't know, leading to hollow characterization (even though I have a feeling they were carefully concocted) and a severe lack of understanding on my part. I probably would have even liked Nitori's slow-paced attitude if I had been allowed to actually see his growth and change instead of just being hinted at it. Overall, only a night after I finished the anime, it's already incredibly forgettable.