Published in the west by Irodori Comics under their Aqua (All-Ages) line, Leaper is a one-shot doujinshi by mangaka, Isaki Uta. For those unfamiliar, doujinshi are manga that are generally self-published or published by a small company. This means that as a general rule, they tend to have a much smaller reach than manga published by a larger company like Viz or Kodansha. According to Irodori’s website, the company works directly with the original creators to ensure they have final say in formatting and translation prior to publication. This collaborative process is great and helps to keep the original artist’s intent. Beneath the Tangles received an advance digital copy of Leaper from Irodori Comics for review.
The manga opens with Isaki Uta providing the reader with a detailed definition of the titular “Leaper,” who is, quite simply, someone born on February 29, aka Leap Day. As their actual birth date only occurs once every four years, in the alternate reality of Leaper, these people age slower than the average person. Every four years to a leaper is one year of physical aging. So, for example, after sixteen years, a leaper would appear to be a four-year-old. This text introduction continues by explaining that the average leaper lives for over 300 years.
After the written introduction, the story of Leaper begins in earnest by introducing one such leaper, Mio Aono, born in 2008. The narrative continues by jumping from her birth to showing Aono’s life progress during various stages, particularly at ages four (16), six (24), ~8 (30), ~10 (39), and 25 (100). Throughout these stages in life, Aono’s friends and family age normally around her. The world changes as well, with the story leaping from the year 2008 to 2108.
The entire narrative is bittersweet, with Aono advancing through the normal phases of childhood mostly alone. She rarely is able to keep friends as they grow up so much faster than her. Especially at young ages, friendship is completely tied to classroom ties, and losing those on a regular basis is hard for Aono. This one shot does not shy away from the emotional toll Aono’s slow aging takes on her and those around her.
In fact, Aono’s mother tries to prevent her from being born on February 29. At first it feels like selfishness, as though her parents are unwilling to raise a child who is a “Leaper.” Yet, as the story progresses, it is obvious that they just desired for their child to not have to live a life of loneliness and struggle. Some people lose their parents in their 30s or 40s, but for Aono that means losing them at about age ten. Her loneliness and drive to be as normal as she can is drawn onto every single page.
When Aono moves to middle school and she meets someone she knew from her early childhood who is now an adult, it hits hard. Moments like these in the manga, portraying Aono continuing to living a seemingly perpetual childhood, are at times bittersweet and in other moments just tragic.
To that latter point, other children point, mock, and stare as a nearly 30-year-old looks and acts only eight. When she’s in class still as a child with an adult former classmate on the teaching staff, the student mockery becomes excessive but is realistic. I recall the hardships of being an outsider in school, but knowing that Aono is constantly alone through these hardships makes it so much worse. Yet, it’s Aono’s strength and resolve that ultimately make this manga work. While physically young and weak, through all the harassment and loneliness, Aono becomes emotionally and mentally stronger. She has to, as she knows inevitably everyone she loves will die before her. And the ending is poignant and beautiful.
This is one of Isaki Uta’s earlier works and when compared to more recent ones like Mermaid in the Bottle (reviewed in this week’s Reader’s Corner), the artwork is a little rougher; however, it is still very expressive and captures the emotional heft of the story page after page. Everything from the art, to the well-spaced lettering, to the solid translations worked for me. When I picked this doujinshi up, I absolutely could not put it down until I finished it. It’s a wonderful work and an easily accessible one for those looking to get into the world of self-published manga (doujinshi).
Overall Rating: 4.5/5
Art: 4 — Isaki Uta’s art style works, but even Isaki Uta admits in a lengthy note at the end of the volume that it was a little rough. That said, every single page features excellent expressiveness and captures the feelings of each character well.
Characters: 5 — This entire one-shot hinges upon a single character—Mio Aono. Thankfully, she’s written well. Aono’s emotions and how she handles them are so well captured throughout the one-shot. Each secondary character, from her parents to her childhood friends, are well-crafted to interact with Aono. So well done.
Story: 4.5 — The overall story are just snippets in Aono’s life. With that in mind, the pacing between sections in Aono’s life work well. I appreciate the pace with which Isaki Uta goes in telling this narrative. The ending and the bittersweetness of the work also really hits home for me. My biggest complaint? I want more. I would love to see Isaki Uta one day step back into this universe and give us a longer narrative of a different character’s life.
Writer/Artist: Isaki Uta
Translator: Ed Ayes
Letterer: Tim Sun
Compilation and Formatting: CC Sū and Katarina Kunstelj
Quality Assurance: Zhuchka and On Takahashi
Beneath the Tangles received a review copy of Leaper in exchange for an honest review. Leaper will be available February 28, 2021 from Irodori Aqua Comics.
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