Transgender manga artist Keito Gaku won the 77th Tetsuya Chiba Prize for a one-shot manga about a transgender teen. His four-volume series based on that story, Boys Run the Riot, was released in Japan in 2020. In an interview in the back of Volume One, Gaku says that he wanted the book to be about, not just coming out as transgender, but about the way fashion is related to identity and gender. The fourth and final volume of the English translation of Boys Run the Riot is now available, and includes the earlier story, called Light.
The protagonist, Ryo, says he was “born in a healthy female body,” but hates his schoolgirl uniform because he doesn’t want to be treated like a girl and doesn’t feel at ease in a body identifiable as female. Things begin to change, not necessarily for the better, when he meets a new classmate, Jin, who shares his taste in fashion. Jin convinces Ryo to start a fashion design “brand” with him, saying, “Let’s destroy all their stupid assumptions with our clothes.” They call it Boys Run the Riot.
The story is based somewhat on the experiences of the author, though he never started a fashion brand. It may reflect some of the experiences of transgender kids worldwide, though some experiences, like the use of pronouns in Japanese and gendered school uniforms, might be unique. The result is a complicated and intensely personal story. It is a vivid exploration of the way appearance influences our attitudes and prejudices, and of how difficult it can be to live outside of societal expectations.
“Living freely also comes with sacrifices. If you still want to do it, then please, don’t give up,” Keito Gaku.