Boy with a Secret

Creator/s: "Tanako"
Run: 9/10-current
Schedule: W/Sa
Section/s: Ch. 6, "Doing it for love," & Ch. 7, "I'ts not what it seems"

Website: It has a distinctive layout dominated by green colors and nature imagery, and I find this design to be very appealing and easy on the eyes. The banner's colorful, fun, and informative, although it's strange that it adds the word "The" to the comic's title, whereas everywhere else on the site it's shown as just Boy with a Secret.

The site's well-organized and has a lot of relevant extras, including a "New Here?" page that I wish a lot more webcomics had. The FAQ and cast pages do a good job of conveying important information to the reader, although, as I'll get into in the next section, I would've preferred for there to be more of that information in the actual comic. There's also a gallery and a forum, and readers can help support the creator by donating or by purchasing the comic's print version. The site also has a poll concerning basic information about the comic's readers, and it shows that 42 percent of those polled are between the ages of 15 and 18, which is roughly the age range of the characters in the story.

The creator regularly posts comments along with the pages, and she takes the time to respond to the readers comments. I like this kind of creator-reader interaction, and I view it as one of the main ways that webcomics can be superior to print comics.

Lastly, I like how the archives show a thumbnail of each of the pages. It certainly made it easier for me to navigate through the comic while I was writing this review.

Writing: You've got a fairly typical high-school "who likes who" story, but the creator throws in some twists that make this comic unexpectedly complicated. For starters, each of the two main characters, who are both gay men, are the love interests of multiple characters, and every scene in the comic's devoted to briefly exploring each of these one-sided affairs. It's clear why Rei has his admirers, as he's handsome, wealthy, charismatic, and muscular, but the creator doesn't really bother to explain Haruhi's attractiveness. He's essentially the exact opposite of Rei -- girlish, poor, and antisocial -- yet he has women falling all over him because he's "nice" and "cute," including the comic's huge-chested bombshell, Minako. Rei's affection is even more vague, explaining that he changed schools to be closer to Haruhi because the latter's "going through a rough time." Boy with a Secret has a lot of focus on the emotional hardships brought on by romantic longing, but I think the story would be more compelling if the characters' motivations were more than just casual references.

It gets weirder than that, though. It turns out that Haruhi has multiple personality disorder, so not only is he an effeminate male, but he's also a female named Hinori. According to the site's FAQ page, "Haruhi and Hinori are both one person but have different personalities and way of thinking. [...] Hes very dominating and most of the time hes taking over her body, so she is basically known as a boy by every one around her." I appreciate the effort to make the comic more interesting and unique by adding a psychological edge to it; however, the creator does a poor job handling this complexity in the comic. When I initially read and reread Chapter 6, I assumed that Rei was talking about two separate people when he mentioned Hinori, and then, later, wanting to "get rid of Haruhi." After reading the FAQ, I then considered that Haruhi may have tricked Rei by dressing up as a woman; however, after skimming a previous chapter, I saw that Rei still calls him "Hinori" and "she" even though Haruhi's obviously a male. My understanding now's that Rei means he wants to "get rid of" the male portion of the Haruhi/Hinori dynamic somehow, but it's difficult to arrive at this conclusion when nowhere in the two chapters, the cast page, or the "New Here?" page is any reference made that Haruhi has this disorder.

And it still gets weirder. There's a cross-dressing male named Nori, who's apparently a different character than Hinori despite having a very similar name and appearance. Nori also goes by the name Naoki, even though there's another character in the comic who's also named Naoki. Am I the only one who's gotten a little confused by this? Anyways, Nori comes across as a parallel of Haruhi, as while they both change their genders, Nori does it by choice. His request for Ayumi to "transform [him] into a girl" is underdeveloped, though. His reasoning comes from his confusion after being rejected by Rei, saying, "If he dosent like guys then why did he change schools to be with one? I really don't understand him and it's driving me crazy!" However, becoming a woman doesn't seem like a reasonable solution, as Rei expresses no romantic interest towards any of the comic's endless supply of gorgeous women. Nori might be hoping that Rei has a secret fetish for drag queens, but even that's a stretch. In any case, the creator doesn't explain Nori's motivations enough, instead choosing to focus on his dejected state, as well on as the cutesy moment when Ayumi and Nori shout, "TRANSFORMATION!!!"

As far as pacing goes, there isn't much information being conveyed. Every page has a slow, heavy, and overly dramatic feel to it, and because of that, I got much less out of this section than I've gotten out of similar amounts of pages in other webcomics I've reviewed. The creator should try to use her pages more efficiently, as I think these two chapters could've been done in at least half as many pages without really sacrificing anything.

Lastly, the creator needs to pay more attention to her spelling, and at the very least she should be running the dialogue through a spellchecker.

Art: The creator's unusually talented, rendering the characters realistically but also with a strong sense of her own style. She's fairly consistent most of the time, although there are some notable exceptions, such as the last panels here and here (NSFW?), where the right side of the character's face is wider than her left side, and the top panel here, where Nori's proportions are way off.

A big problem with the artwork's that the characters generally appear rigid and doll-like. Their faces aren't expressive, and their body postures are stiff, with them often shown standing perfectly erect and staring directly at the "camera" as if they were posing, as seen here, here, and here. Inexperienced artists often draw figures this way because it's relatively easy, but I'd expect a creator of this caliber to recognize how unnatural and lifeless this position is.

And speaking of lifeless, I really dislike the comic's dull pseudo-backgrounds. Instead of doing proper expository shots, the creator uses small panels that are meant as snippets of a more elaborate scene. But the rest of the scene never manifests, as the pages are filled with simple, generic backgrounds made from computer-generated textures and copy-pasted objects. The most blatant instance of this is the scene on the school's roof, where for several straight pages the comic goes back and forth between showing Haruhi in front of a CG brick wall, and showing Eri in front of a CG fence and sky. Even though the comic's settings are pretty mundane, having interesting and detailed backgrounds adds an invaluable amount of personality and visual context to a scene.

I also have another gripe about backgrounds: The perspectives need work. This page, for example, looks wrong, and it's because the table, wall, and television are all drawn at different angles, when they should be the same. Perhaps worse, though, are the outdoor scenes, where the creator doesn't consider the horizon line at all, drawing foregrounds and backgrounds that are impossibly meshed together. Looking at the top panel here, it's fairly clear it could only make visual sense if the characters and the bench were floating high above the ground. It's also very important the creator starts varying the widths of the lines, as currently the backgrounds are inked the same as the foregrounds, making the illustrations look flat and two-dimensional. Objects closer to the viewer should always have thicker lines than objects further away.

Lastly, the FAQ page explains that characters are given unusual hair colors and styles "to make every one stand out as their own person," but I feel like this is largely a quick band-aid fix for the creator's problem of drawing every character pretty much the same way. The creator should practice drawing different facial features and body types in order to add some variety to her comic's ensemble.

Overall: It happens fairly often that an inexperienced writer takes on an overly ambitious concept and falls far short of their goals, as not only is their concept too advanced for them to handle, but it also distracts from the fundamentals that they haven't quite mastered yet. The creator of Boy with a Secret tries to enhance her story with complex sexual and psychological issues, but from what I've seen so far, I'm not convinced that she's capable of writing even a regular love story. I think it'd be wise for her to hone her narrative skills first before she gets carried away trying to do anything too intricate. Her artistic abilities are clearly more developed, though, and while her skill level may be somewhat disappointing at this stage, she certainly has a lot of talent to work with.


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