Boys Run the Riot Volume 1 Review

Boys Run The Riot has become one of the most hotly anticipated titles to come out in the West. It’s a rare example of a manga with a central character, Ryu Watari, who is f-t-m transgender, which is also created by a transgender author, Keito Gaku. The English language editor of the series, Tiff Joshua TJ Ferentini, is also both transgender and non-binary. This is obviously a series which will hopefully be popular with the transgender community as well as the wider public.

Boys Run The Riot sets out its intentions very early on. One of the things we see on the opening page is Ryu in a public toilet looking at himself in a mirror, wearing binding around his chest. Ryu is not out about being transgender and detests the fact that he has to wear a girl’s school uniform. He constantly comes up with ways to avoid having to wear it, such as claiming to have run a long way to school and thus being allowed to wear his gym kit. The only time Ryu feels like himself is when he is wearing his favourite clothes. Aside from this, Ryu also spends time doing graffiti art.

A new boy joins Ryu’s class and sits next to him, a cisgender boy named Jin Sato who, due to absence, has been held back a year. Ryu is nervous of Jin at first, but then they both end up in the same clothes shop wanting to buy the same stuff. After some toing and froing, Jin says he supports Ryu when it comes to how he identifies with regards to gender, and proposes to Ryu that, because they have the same taste in clothes, they should start their own fashion brand, him dealing with the management side and Ryu concentrating on the design. They agree, and eventually form their own brand which over the course of the opening volume is eventually called ‘Boys Run the Riot’.

During Volume 1 Ryu and Jin encounter various hurdles. These include Ryu continuing the struggle with expressing his true self to others, and the duo having to deal with both adults and fellows students who are unsupportive of their venture. There are those happy to work with them, such as Itsuka Todo, the only member of the school’s photography club who ends up working with the pair to take photos for the brand’s website. Others, such as typical rich brat Chihiro, deliberately come into conflict with Todo and the others.

The main feature of Boys Run the Riot is Ryu. It is rare to see a transgender protagonist in any work of fiction, let alone manga, and even rarer for a transgender creator to be able to get the chance to create a character, making the story more believable. Ryu is also one of the few examples of a f-t-m transgender character when most works normally feature m-t-f characters. In an interview in the manga Gaku says that: “I’ve not read many manga works about transgender people. And out of the ones I have, they tend to be about transgender women, so I don’t think there are many stories that I could personally relate to.” The story does come across as believable and dignified. Ryu’s passion for graffiti also allows Gaku to create some great-looking background pieces which help set the tone of the story. This first volume comes with a different cover illustration to the original Japanese too.

Jin also adds an important element to the story too. As the main cisgender character, his role would appear to be that of the key ally to support Ryu. Jin  adds a more confident tone to the story with his can-do attitude. He also has a more relaxed way of speaking, with the translation by Leo McDonagh showing Jin dropping the “g” at the end of words so he says things like, “designin’ somethin’”. McDonagh’s translation appears to work well as does Ashley Caswell’s lettering.

As the story progresses, it will be interesting to see how Ryu’s relationship with others develops. His mother is normally exasperated that Ryu won’t wear girls clothes, and thus we can sense tension building up there. Meanwhile, at the end of the volume we see that another one of the students in Ryu and Jin’s class has a relative who is genderqueer, so no doubt we can expect to see more transgender characters play a bigger role.

This opening volume comes with a fair number of extras: colour pages, an interview with an author, translation notes and a lengthy acknowledgements section from the editor. It is clear that Kodansha are going for this series in a big way. Hopefully it will become a success.

Read a free extract on the publisher’s website here.

8 / 10

Ian Wolf

Ian works as an anime and manga critic for Anime UK News, and is also the manga critic for MyM Magazine. Outside of anime, he also is the editor of On The Box, data specialist for the British Comedy Guide, is QI's most pedantic viewer, has written questions for both The Wall and Richard Osman's House of Games, and has been a contestant on Mastermind.

More posts from Ian Wolf...