Though it has a rich and important history in the manga industry, yaoi and/or Boys Love (BL) has always been relegated, culturally, to the realm of guilty pleasures -- a domain it continues to thrive in. And when talking guilty pleasures, there are perhaps none guiltier nor more pleasurable than Reibun Ike's Dick Fight Island.
First published in Japan in 2019 by Libre, the first volume was recently released in English by SuBLime, Viz Media's BL imprint, and has been met with a ravenous response on social media. Naturally, the manga's name alone is enough to waggle eyebrows and draw a few curious clicks, but those who purchased the book have also been pleasantly surprised to discover that the "Fight Island" aspect of Ike's work is just as well-endowed as the "Dick" part.
Set on a fictional collection of eight islands known as Pulau Yong'Unda, the combative element revolves around a tournament held every four years: "The Great Wyrm Tournament." Each island's native clan nominates a male fighter to participate in a series of gladiatorial, one vs. one matches, the result of which will determine Pulau Yong'Unda's next monarch.
How does one win a match? Well, that's where the 'love' part of this BL odyssey, er, comes into play. Dick Fight Island essentially turns sex into a spectator sport, with participants -- bearing elaborate crotch gauntlets -- struggling to dominate each other until the loser is entirely... spent. Think classic shonen tournament arc meets X-Rated erotica. But though the old adage that 'sex sells' applies here, not every piece of yaoi is destined to be a bestseller. Dick Fight Island, however, quickly fought its way to the top of Amazon's bestseller lists for both the Romance Manga and Yaoi & LGBTQ+ Manga categories. At the time of writing, 84 percent of the book's nearly 200 reviews are five-star and copies are fast selling out in English. For something with such (superficially) niche appeal, that's no mean feat.
As you can imagine, its success has caught Viz Media off-guard. "The sales of Dick Fight Island have been somewhat of a surprise and have exceeded expectations," VP of Publishing Sales, Kevin Hamric told CBR. "In fact, it has taken off so fast that we had to call a reprint already! Sales like this and so fast usually mean we have gone beyond the target audience and picked up readers who would not normally read yaoi. This may be because of the title itself or that the humor and romance side of the storyline come out quickly in this first volume of the series."
At least one Amazon review titled, "I dont usually like yaoi" certainly proves Hamric's suggestion that the book is reaching far beyond its intended demographic. "The title and premise were so completely ridiculous that I had to satisfy my curiosity and pretty much laughed and smiled all the way through the manga." (The reviewer goes on to describe the content as "Mortal Member Kombat," which should absolutely be used as a tagline for the Vol. 1 reprints.)
The humor is indeed a valuable selling point -- it's hard to get that title out of your head once you see it, not to mention the cover image, which features a faceless, muscular man sporting a huge, armored penis. But word of mouth factors in, too. Others who have bought and adored Dick Fight Island praise its unexpectedly well-developed worldbuilding and distinctive characterization, which aren't immediately obvious from the cover alone.
The island itself has something of a Thymiscera quality to it, not so much in the idea of a single-gendered society (women do exist and play prominent roles, a welcomed rarity for BL) but in its isolationist nature, warrior culture and 'exoticism' in the eyes of outsiders. Each clan's unique history and subculture are expounded upon in deep but not exhaustive detail as they arrive to compete, while each chosen fighter brings his own fighting style, personality and emotional baggage to the tournament. All of this does what should be impossible: make a funny premise actually believable.
Above all, Dick Fight Island, for all its silliness, is as charming to read as its statuesque, bare-butted cast are to look at. Ike explains it best herself in her closing statement of the first volume: "This is battle manga, but also a heartwarming story."