The following review will contain some very important spoilers. For disclosure purposes I should mention I am myself a transgender woman and that many things I will critique about the series have to do with identity issues.
When I first started reading Bokura no Hentai I found myself intrigued. A manga that deals respectfully with transgender and crossdressing characters, without mixing up the two categories? A story that doesn't focus on fanservice but on the actual, real-life problems queer youth faces? Count me in!
"Bokura no Hentai", for the most part, delivers amazingly well on its premise. The characters are very interesting and humane, each one of them with their own life issues. Even more importantly, the trio of protagonists (Marika, who is the trans girl of the group, Tamura, who is crossdressing for his lover, and Ryousuke who does so for his dead sister) are not the exclusive focus of the story. Secondary characters like Akane and Tomochi also get some of the spot light and the mangaka manages to handle their cases very well.
There is a great deal of diversity among the protagonists and their experiences, so the story doesn't get monotonous. Moreover, the "plot" gives plenty of room for character development. Honestly, one of the most enjoyable parts of "Bokura no Hentai" is watching the characters I've come to love grow and learn from their experiences. It made me feel as if I went to school with them, listened to their worries and shared their concerns. It made me care about them a whole lot.
The art is great, minimalistic yet not simplistic. I especially loved the colored introductions in each volume. I believe that they give a warmer feeling to the story and they work great as a way to further humanize the characters.
So far I've described 99% of what "Bokura no Hentai" is. Honestly, I wish I could stop here. I wish I could just give it a big shining 10/10 and tell you it has earned its place among the masterpieces of our time.
But, unfortunately, there's chapter 40. The chapter where Marika is having second thoughts about her identity. The chapter where she misgenders herself so that a group of irrelevant, anonymous cosplaying male students won't feel bad for not being as cute as she is. The chapter where essentially none of her friends tries to confront her about this attitude, in a way telling the readers that they too thought of her as a cute guy who crosses or, as the series tells us, a boy with a perversion. The chapter where she enters a crossdressing contest, even though from the first chapter of "Bokura no Hentai" she clearly, unapologetically states that she is not a crossdresser but a woman. The chapter where the mangaka managed, in just a few panels, to completely ruin every good thing had been done since the beginning of the story.
There are plenty of reasonable approaches one could take to justify this chapter. One could say Marika is still a teen, one who faced plenty of bullying that forced her in the closet. Perhaps the mangaka wanted to show us another issue transgender people face in our everyday lives (and doubt is undeniably one of them). Perhaps her friends didn't want to push her out of her doubts, perhaps they felt it was not their place to do so.
You know what? None of these excuses stands to scrutiny. First of all, the doubt/misgendering part came out of nowhere and felt completely out of character. Speaking strictly on technical writing grounds, it was the dumbest thing the mangaka could do at this point of the story. It'd be like having Tom Hanks in Philadelphia say something along the lines of "hey, am I really gay after all?" just a few minutes before the movie's ending. Yeah, it is that dumb.
Secondly, we never see Marika get over her self-doubt. Instead, we just get a "who cares?" attitude from the rest of the crowd, which I find outrageous for a story that did its best to convince us that this is an accepting, loving environment for Marika. What am I to make of this? That the ultra-supporting people who surrounded her simply thought of her as delusional? That for them cosplaying and being trans belong in the perversion category? Again, this is not what "Bokura no Hentai" showed us up until chapter 40. It's like the writer forgot about her own work and decided to do a fantasy (more like nightmare) version of this story.
Last, but not least, and this a completely subjective thought, it was not a necessity for "Bokura no Hentai" to deal with the issue of doubt. I am not the sort of reader that demands social justice to be the centerpiece of a given story. I can deal with *very* triggering and disturbing material. For example, I wouldn't care that much if this was a fantasy story where a character is trans but simply decides that it's all just a perversion or that they like to be bullied, etc. I may still dislike it but it'd be more forgivable.
"Bokura no Hentai", however, presents itself as a story that cares about such things, about the pains of real life human beings. And as such, it'd be dishonest on my part to ignore how much it failed to deliver here. Transgender people face doubt on every front of our daily lives. There's plenty of room to talk about that. But Marika's life was a best case scenario situation, quite possibly the most well present of its kind I've come across in any form of storytelling. It's one of the few times we got to see an optimistic view of a transgender life, where acceptance by one's self and the world rule the day. It's exactly because "Bokura no Hentai" gave me hope and joy that I cannot forgive this slip. Perhaps I'd be more indifferent to this part if I were not transgender myself, but honestly, I find this chapter to be indefensible.
*SPOILERS END HERE*
Despite the miserable failure that chapter 40 is, Bokura no Hentai remains an amazing manga, one of the best to deal with gender issues. If one ignores that one chapter, it's almost a masterpiece. It's just sad to look at it when I know that it was just one step away from perfection. Do I recommend reading it? Yes, I do. Just try not to get overexcited until you complete it.