“I’m truly very sorry. Seems I ruined your humble little life.”
Welcome to Boys on the Run, a manga serialized from 2005 to 2008 in Big Comic Spirits that tells a story about the life of our twenty-six year old protagonist, Tanishi. A self-aware, self-deprecating employee at a toy company whose main responsibilities in life up to this point have been to make sure that the vending machines across various businesses are stocked. As you might have been able to tell from that description, the job is not an exciting one, Tanishi’s life up to when we are introduced to him, is not an exciting one,
and so what is he going to do about that? Nothing, not one thing is he going to do in order to change the situation that he’s in because to him, well, that’s quite alright. See our meek little protagonist is very aware of the crushing reality that surrounds his existence. He’s a twenty-six, going on twenty-seven year old man who works at a small-time toy company, lives with his parents at home, and whose only strong connection with people of the opposite sex is through various teleclubs (places where you pay to receive calls from women who would be willing to go on a date with you) and the one female coworker at his job who he happens to have a crush on but at the same time interacts with her about as a well as you think someone with a life like his would. This all changes one day as he’s going about restocking the vending machines around Akihabara and he runs into an employee from a rival toy company, when their friendship is struck, so is the match that ignites the spark of this marvelous story.
The first thing I’d like to comment on is the characters of the story, there are many that we meet and are introduced to throughout the one-hundred and sixteen chapters that take up this manga and they all have their own role to play in the story. There is not one character that the author, Kengo Hanazawa, brings into the story that doesn’t influence the story in some way. Whether it be the man from the yakuza who’s in a dom & sub relationship with a teleclub member, or the deaf female trainer who works at the boxing gym, and even the constantly drunk older coworker at Tanishi’s job. All of these characters I’ve just listed, even though they’re not all major characters in the story, have a role to play in not just Tanishi’s life, but in their own life as well. That’s the thing about this story, the main goal as you might have guessed, is about Tanishi improving his life in some major way, however as the story goes on we are presented with many smaller goals that pop up along the way of our protagonists journey, and where other stories might have the protagonist helping out or playing some role in each and every one of these smaller goals, in Boys on the Run these other characters couldn’t care less about Tanishi, they all have their own fleshed out personalities and backstories that fill up the world that this story takes place in.
With Tanishi we have our protagonist and main character, and then there’s pretty much everyone else. That’s not to say everyone else is a “minor character” per say, it’s just that for about ninety-seven percent of the story we are only seeing things through his eyes, and following what he does, and because of this, and because of his general mindset on the various aspects of his life, we don’t always get to see what’s going on, things that have to do with other characters are implied instead of being shown, brought up in passing instead of focused on, and all the times this happens it helps to add a layer of realism to an already grounded story. The important thing to come away from this with is that there’s a colorful cast in “Boys on the Run” and one that doesn’t feel under-utilized in any way. Every one of the characters that comes into Tanishi’s life has their own life to live, and while watching him develop, you will also see them developing in their own ways at the same time. In a way it’s like an equivalent exchange between Tanishi, and the people who he’s crossed paths with, while they might not always be interacting with each other, the “rubbing of shoulders” that comes from their sometimes brief interactions does result in a lingering effect that shapes their development in ways that you won’t always see right away, in ways that once revealed or shown, will make you want to smack your forehead from how natural and genius it was pulled off, and that’s the real genius in this story’s characters, and their development.
But that’s only one part, another aspect of this manga is its art. The characters themselves all have a general shared style that is having a rounded and plain look to themselves, you won’t really see any characters pop up in this story with super chiseled features or a really defined body and that seems to be somewhat of a trait shared across the author’s works, at least with the faces. In a way it is a detractor because with some characters, mainly the females, it can be hard at first to tell them apart, however this isn’t a persistent issue and with the general variety in body shapes seen it quickly is forgotten. Otherwise the fight choreography is well-done, fights that happen in this story are all easy to follow and this can be pointed to as a side effect from the general simplicity of the character designs, or that the author just has a good grasp on how to properly map out a fight. Another small aspect that deserves some attention brought to it is the backgrounds, most of the time the backgrounds are left to be about as a plain, if not more so than the character designs themselves, as to not pull attention away from what the characters are saying and doing in each panel, however there are some moments where the backgrounds really stand out and this ties into what I really would like to touch upon, the paneling. Not the format of the paneling itself but the actual usage of the panels, there are a few moments scattered throughout the manga where we are presented with a textless panel that focus in on a specific detail in order to highlight its importance to the reader. It’s these textless scenes where emotion is forthright and the strength in Hanazawa’s skill as a writer, and as an artist, are shown to full effect. However these textless panels aren’t the only moments where emotion is captured well, this is a manga all about experiencing the different aspects of life, and no matter if it’s a dramatic or comedic moment, the emotions displayed on our characters during them hold a weight to them that is not soon forgotten. There are moments and scenes during the story that will have you remembering them long past the chapters end, and it’s that sticking power which elevates the manga as a whole to that of a masterpiece.
Speaking of the story, Boys on the Run executes its story perfectly, this is not your story of: boy has goal, boy works toward goal while overcoming the bumps along the way, boy finally reaches goal. instead we get the complex story of a man who so badly wishes to break free from the shackles of his current life, yet is unable to do so at any opportunity presented. This causes a lot of frustration, and I’m not just speaking from a reader’s standpoint, Tanishi constantly has the window of opportunity open before him but before he’s able to actually step through the mental block comes and it shuts off any opportunity for progress, and this happens constantly, as the reader you sit there screaming for him to just take that extra step, to finally flip the switch, but he won’t. As the reader this is very aggravating and where some commonly seen frustrations of the manga stem from, the fact that Tanishi is a weak-willed wimp of an mc is often times seen as the largest negative to this work because the way he is portrayed is done so perfectly. The author knows full well what he’s doing, every contradiction that comes from his mouth, every action, it all stems from the idea that he is just not worth it. See while there are a large amount of people who dislike Tanishi, none of them compare to the hate and disgust felt by the man himself. He is painfully aware of his shortcomings and missteps but he is unable to do anything about it, at least by himself.
The main plot device of the manga, or rather “devices” that move the plot forward are the women who Tanishi interacts with. Without them Tanishi wouldn’t get anywhere in this story, he bases everything in his life around them, should he clean up in order to look better for one? Should he start working out in order to impress them with looks? Or just be there for them any moment they need? He plays the role of a very subservient man, his existence up to that point has been devoid of an actual relationship with a female so when he starts to catch feelings for one, it not only pushes the story in a certain direction, but it pushes him to also better himself. This is also reflected in the differences between how the men and women are handled as characters. For a lot of the men we meet they generally have a specific role they play and it doesn’t really change from that, overall they have a smaller impact and role to play in the grand scheme of things, whereas with the female characters we see them looked at with a focus that is lacking in their male counterparts. But this isn’t a bad thing or a result of poor storytelling, in fact it is a nearly direct representation of how Tanishi views the two through his own eyes.
It’s through all of these different aspects that we see how tightly woven together this manga really is. So if you’re able to sympathize, understand, or even just try to grasp the mindset of Tanishi then you’re in for a treat. He’s not an easy character to like, almost none of the characters are, and some are made specifically with that in mind but you have to understand it isn’t just Tanishi’s life you’re reading about when you see him take the actions that he does, it’s about every single of those who pop up along the way as he’s figuring his life out. Without a doubt if you want to see a story whose characters hit too close to home, whose actions can take you on a trip down memory lane, and whose effects linger long beyond the last page, then I recommend you give Boys on the Run a read.
Run, Forest, RUN! I’m sure most of you still remember that epic film Tom Hanks starred in. Not that there’s any actual relation to this manga and that movie aside from their similarity of having quite an avid runner for the lead role. Although I personally doubt it, who knows, perhaps “Forest Gump” did inspire Kengo Hanazawa in writing this piece? At any rate, I just wanted to ask a simple question, really:
Why (do you) run?
A. for survival/defensive purposes; to escape from harm’s way
B. to impress someone (via competition/sports or staying fit)
C. because it’s your talent/profession; your one and
only saving grace
D. because you’re in a hurry/running late for your MAL-related endeavors/responsibilities ;p
Well, I’m sure there’s a variety of other specific reasons/answers for each one of us. As far as the protagonist of the story is concerned however, and as one would expect from the title, he runs for pretty much every single reason I’ve listed except for the last one, that is.
Having considered the title, you might think it strange to refer to someone in his mid-20s as a boy, let alone in plural form (‘boys’), but make no mistake, BOTR is most definitely about that guy—your typical, average loser who just can’t seem to act his age, and whose simple dream in life is to get laid, and with a good enough looking chick to boot, if possible. So basically, there you have the story’s premise in what seems to be an office-romance setting. Or at least that’s how it was in the beginning.
To avoid confusion, let me just clarify that contrary to its genre labels or ‘tags’, this series is neither romantic nor sports-centric in reality. To be exact, it’s an adult drama which delves a bit into boxing merely as a theme and a means for the protagonist to grow and find himself, find love, and ultimately find something of which, other than himself, that is worth standing up and fighting for.
To reiterate/summarize, BOTR tells the tale of a 26 year old man-child who has a run-first (both literally and figuratively), ask-questions later mentality of dealing with his issues/problems. He runs and runs and runs—away from all sorts of danger and confrontation the series/author has to offer with reckless abandon. “Love” being his primary reason for doing so, apparently, as he’s proven time and again how much he truly loves himself—at one point, even going as far as to leave a romantic-interest behind just to save face or rather, to save himself from further embarrassment after having been beaten into a bloody mess in front of her.
And while he even picked a (meaningless) fight with someone and took up some basic boxing to give himself a fighting chance, at one point, he never truly did stop from his ‘marathon’. He simply kept at it until he eventually ran into a familiar face—his “manic pixie dream girl”, or however else you may want to put it. Since then, which is quite surprisingly true enough, still more of the same running for dear life, only with a much clearer and more productive purpose of doing so, such as taking boxing/training more seriously, if nothing more than to get the girl’s attention. Like they say, change never happens overnight, and especially with regards to people.
Blah blah blah blah blah, if I said anymore, I might as well just tell you the whole story. Not that I mind, mind you. Only that would practically defeat the entire purpose of my writing this ‘review’. Anyway, if I have a snowball’s chance in hell of selling this manga to those who have yet to even glance at its editorial-cartoon-like (cover) art, the story may not be any prettier or more glamorous than its synopsis initially suggests, but if you’re someone who’s into gritty, unsentimental, off-color humor, and most importantly realism—as in realistic characters who actually resemble true to life people with real human qualities, appearances, and issues; living in a world that just don’t give a damn on whatsoever they do and whatsoever fate may befall them—I wholeheartedly recommend "Boys on the Run" to you.
Oh and before I forget—read at your own risk! This manga may or may not contain “NTR”. Consider yourself warned! ;p
I'm not especially good at writing but reading this manga made me want to write this review. After reading some of the other reviews I felt that the reviewers did not read the manga going into it the way I did.
I have heard this statement being thrown around very often:
"People see what they want to", I had come to realize this long ago but this manga reaffirmed this.
When I read the synopsis before going into the manga I expected a Hajime No Ippo or Ashita No Joe like manga but what I got was very different. You see I'm really into underdog stories
which I guess are found a lot in sports manga/anime so what I'm saying is I've seen a lot of sports anime and read a lot of sports manga (Though I haven't yet added them all to my MAL list yet). When I went into this I hoped that the protagonist would come through all the odds and succeed somehow, that he would beat Aoyama, that he would finally get laid, that he wouldn't run away, that he would change but NO, I didn't get any of that. Each time his life got better; it just got worse (Usually because he did something stupid). At this point I'd probably been through 70 odd chapters (I was reading it in one go you see) so I started wondering why I was reading this?
It wasn't what I'd come for, then I realized (Not that it hadn't occurred to me earlier). This story was real. The Characters were real. This was life. There were no miracles. Our protagonist had to work and he still failed, Not once, not twice but almost every time. He tried, he ran and he shit himself. Despite this every time our protagonist was in a dire situation I did not lose hope. For some reason I felt that he would make it despite all the pages that I'd read before in the manga. I'm not sure if this is just me or this is the manga.
What I'm saying is that I was able to connect to the manga.
If you are a person who is looking for the usual type of manga you won't find it here. If your looking for something different I would suggest this.
I didn't go into technical details about the art and story in the review because of 2 reasons:
Primarily because that wasn't the point of the review and second because I'm not very qualified to talk about that.
But just to mention the art is alright though it can be epic at certain points and story really does not have a lot in terms of actual development but it kept me guessing at places. Go ahead and give it a shot.