Ryo Watari is a high school boy, plain and simple. A trans boy, but Ryo is confident in their understanding of himself. But living as a closeted trans teen is tough on Ryo: he hates having to wear female clothing and uniforms and he’s most comfortable when he gets to wear his own clothes, male clothes, and enjoys browsing street fashion and indie brands as a hobby. This interest leads him to connect with a new classmate, an older student named Jin who’s repeating a year, and on Jin’s suggestion they’re now trying to start their own fashion brand!
But to do that they’ll need better photos, marketing, and money for their start-up costs; it won’t be an easy thing to pull off but Ryo, Jin, and their classmate Itsuka that they roped in to do photography, are all going to give it their best shot.
I was honestly a bit surprised that two volumes in and Ryo seems to be the only trans character in the cast; I had been under the impression that they weren’t alone in this regard but so far Ryo is doing an admirable job hanging in there without comrades. There is Tsubasa, the genderqueer youtuber who vlogs about multiple topics including LGTBQ issues from their own perspective, but Tsubasa isn’t quite the ally that Ryo was looking for. Not only do they out Ryo on a livestream at the end of the second volume but they also don’t quite get some of Ryo’s feelings. When Ryo confesses to them about his frustration at being confessed to by a male coworker (who doesn’t know that Ryo is trans), Tsubasa responds a bit flippantly, saying that “Is there only one kind of ‘ordinary relationship’ between people of the same sex? The only one causing you pain and holding yourself back, is you. Isn’t deciding what’s ‘ordinary’ the same thing you’ve been subjected to all this time?”
I’ve certainly seen this view before, usually amongst younger folks who are still working out how gender and sexuality do and don’t interact, saying that gender shouldn’t matter at all when it comes to attraction for anyone and, well, that’s not how attraction works! More importantly, so far it seems that Ryo is straight! He certainly admires men, in the sense that he wants to be someone with more muscle, someone who rides a motorcycle, etc, but that seems be completely separate from how a kiss from a girl completely rocks Ryo’s world.
Ryo does have some true friends however: Jin their classmate and collaborator and Mizuki, a college student who works at the same restaurant Ryo does and has a sense from the get-go that Ryo might not be the cis girl that all the other co-workers think he is. A few other folks in his life are coming around too, like Itsuka the photographer and I see potential in another coworker, the also college-aged Shimada who initially wanted to go out with “her” (although that might be too much to expect from someone who knowingly wants to date an underaged high schooler). At this point Ryo’s life hasn’t gotten easier, and it’s probably about to get a lot harder with being outed online, but he’s now got a better sense of himself, goals to reach with their fashion brand, and some good friends to accompany him.
I’d also like to highlight how the folks at Kodansha USA assembled an all-trans localization team for this title, which allowed them to put in helpful notes along the (paraphrased) lines of “Ryo is binding his chest in this panel, which is common among transmasc people, however please don’t bind with bandages.” Not only did they commission Keito Gaku for new covers for these omnibus editions (the first time Kodansha has done this) but they also included an interview with him in the first omnibus as well.
None of these extras are ground-breaking but I certainly appreciated that Kodansha went to the effort to include them, since they (like many other American manga publishers) put out so many different series right now that not every title gets this kind of extra-detailed treatment. Boys Run The Riot is a good story, a deeply felt story, and I’m glad it’s getting treated right.