Early in Dick Fight Island, we’re introduced to Harto, a handsome young man who’s just arrived at his home in the archipelago nation of Pulau Yong’Unda.
Comprising eight islands, the nation is led by distinct clans that each have their own aesthetic and mythology. Harto, a member of the Jewel Clan, is returning after traveling through the “outside world,” having learned new cultural norms and a clever technique to show off at the Great Wyrm Tournament. It’s a festival held every four years to determine the king of Pula Yong’Unda, and Harto believes that his training with foreigners will provide the edge to defeat all comers. But first things first: Harto needs a better outfit than slacks and a button-up, if he’s going to avoid roasting from the other men.
“Those are women’s clothes. Doesn’t even show your ass!” scoffs Yudah of the Warrior Clan. “I don’t get outsiders. How else would you show off your manliness, if not by putting your shapely ass on display?”
That’s just the least of it, as we soon discover. The Great Wyrm Tournament, after all, isn’t just an ordinary Mortal Kombat bracket to the death to see who reigns supreme. Instead, these fights conclude when one man makes the other orgasm, using an array of weapons and grappling moves in ferocious hand-to-dick combat, all in front of a cheering audience.
Dressed in ceremonial garb and giant penis armor, the men are a ridiculous sight to behold, but this is a crucial juncture for diplomacy in Pulau Yong’Unda — the dick fight has kept peace among the warring clans for generations.
And, in a twist, the first battle in the manga comes to its epic conclusion thanks to Harto’s never-before-seen finishing move: Literal prostate stimulation, executed with a finessed slip of the hand. It’s not only a devastating tactic, but quite the existential crisis for the men of the Great Wyrm Tournament, whose bare butts have long been a source of pride, not tactical scrutiny. As one character puts it, shortly after Harto’s victory: “You put fingers up his ass?!?!”
Dick Fight Island, released earlier this year in May, is one of the wonkiest, most over-the-top works of manga I’ve read in a very long time. It’s illustrated with a lusty eye toward the male form, written with a blend of absurdist humor and deeply serious myth-making, and has plenty of explicit sex — all hallmarks of the yaoi style in manga, a form of erotic fiction hugely popular in Japan. Dick Fight Island skyrocketed to the top of Amazon’s bestsellers list for romance manga when it was released in the U.S., and crucially, it also shot to No. 2 on the action/adventure list.
For good reason, too. Despite all the times I found myself cackling out loud at the punchlines around butt play and depictions of dick swinging, Dick Fight Island wouldn’t work without beautiful illustrations and a plot that’s exciting enough to keep you turning through 200 pages. Author Reibun Ike has crafted an unlikely smash hit, and more so than any piece of literature I read in 2021, Dick Fight Island is the one I’ll remember most fondly.
To be clear, there’s quite a bit of nuance in what seems like a flamboyant allegory about men touching each other’s penises in a battle of social supremacy. In many ways, Ike’s universe is the homoeroticism of locker rooms and frat initiations, taken to its logical (yet absurd) conclusion. Dick Fight Island puts the reader in a reality where men are willing to literally flex and preen with their dicks out, all the while suppressing some compelling gay urges, just because society demands it. It’s fitting that in Pulau Yong’Unda, size quite literally matters — symbolically, each contestant’s penis armor grows as they mature from young man into adulthood.
And yet, despite such open sexual presentation, the men of Dick Fight Island are often embroiled in a struggle to understand themselves and why they care to fight at all. There is a real subversiveness in how so many of these fighters harbor feelings for other men, but have trouble expressing their sexuality outside of the Great Wyrm battles. It’s through the development of such characters that Ike critiques the hypocrisy of modern heterosexuality, and the limitations that society places on young men.
An obvious example is the relationship between Yudah of the Warrior Clan and Pisau of the Sun Clan, who realize mid-battle that they’re both willing to escalate their physical and emotional relationship, to the confusion of the crowd. Yudah later agonizes over the thought of “actual sex” with Pisau, despite making out with each other in the fight; meanwhile, he’s also humiliated by other men for “going after the ass” in an attempt to beat Pisau with the prostate stimulation trick.
Dick Fight Island, in so many ways, reminds me of a legendary manga that’s also one of my old favorites: Ranma ½, which follows a young brawler who is cursed after falling into a haunted spring, and now transforms into a female form every time he’s splashed with water. The manga became a worldwide hit in the 1990s, with an anime adaptation and a huge fanbase that found joy in Ranma’s mix of flirtatious sensuality, gender commentary, big fight scenes and absurdist body humor.
So much of manga culture is marked by this kind of unhinged, metaphoric silliness that ultimately conveys insight about society and our relationship to “normalcy,” whatever that may be. Dick Fight Island is loads (so many loads) more risqué than Ranma ½, but it continues a tawdry tradition of mixing sexual pleasure and emotional angst in surrealistic ways. To its credit, Dick Fight Island never shies from its premise, nor does it back down from sexually graphic fan-service that follows its cast of too-pretty men (I continue to laugh at the tiny gray “censor bars,” that, while legally mandated in Japan, cover exactly none of the action.)
I never expected a manga seemingly based on a homoerotic gag would pull me into 200 pages of a fantasy universe unlike many others, with sympathetic heroes, questionable motives and a social hierarchy at stake. But as it turns out, weaponized orgasms don’t just make for huge laughs — they’re also a source of real reflection on the male condition and how we builds limits on queerness, even when it feels so right.