Playing with Time: Reviewing Isaki Uta’s “Leaper”! (ADVANCED REVIEW)

Irodori Comics (Irodori Aqua)

Mangaka: Uta Isaki

Original JP Title:

Translator: Ed Ayes

Letterer: Tim Sun

Compilation and Formatting:
CC Su and Katarina Kunstelj

QA/Quality Assurance:
Zhuchka and On Takahashi

Reader’s Note: I received a free review copy of Leaper from Irodori in exchange for a fair and honest review. This review is spoiler and image free. Opinions are my own.

One Sentence Summary
Aono Mio seems like a normal girl… except for the fact that she’s a leaper, and nearly immortal, by everyday human standards.

Expanded Summary (From Product Page)
There are those born on a date that occurs only once every four years. These people are called “leapers” — individuals who age biologically at a rate four times slower than that of normal people and go on to live for over 300 years. Mio Aono is one such person and she, like many other leapers, experiences and sees life through all its mortal limitations.

Leaper is part of Irodori Aqua, which is Irodori Comic’s all-ages line of doujinshi. Readers might recognize the art style -and the mangaka- from Mine-kun is Asexual, which is actually a title I reviewed last year here on my blog.

Personally, I loved Mine-kun and found it deeply important, especially since it featured a male asexual lead: perhaps the first I’d ever seen in manga. Mine-kun is a title that’s stuck with me ever since my initial read, and title I hope to revisit this year during Ace Week 2021.

Originally, Leaper was originally released as a one-shot submission in the Monthly Afternoon Magazine manga competition where it took home an honorable mention years ago in 2008. This nearly thirteen year old story also launched Uta-sensei’s career, helping them become both a serial manga artist and doujinshi creator.

A decade and some later, English-speaking readers outside of Japan are finally getting a chance to sink their teeth into this upcoming localized work. Words can’t express how glad I was to have more Uta-sensei to read!

Now, let’s talk about localization. Leaper was translated by Ed Ayes (Arrested Love), with lettering by Tim Sun (I Want You to Only Love My Body), who I’m quite the fan of. Additionally, CC Su and Katarina Kunstelj compiled and formatted Leaper. Finally, Zhuchka and On Takahashi handled the quality assurance. Together, this team has made the definitive English edition of Leaper, which is currently a digital-only title.

So… I know what you’re thinking: “Is Leaper worth reading?” Short answer: yes.

Long answer: yes, but keep on reading to find out why!

As I said in the introduction, Leapers is about “leapers”, people who age every four years. Naturally, they’re all born on Leap Day: February 29. This means that Leapers take four times as long to age, meaning their average life expectancy is in the hundreds. The three hundreds, at minimum. One can only imagine that this brings a lot of heartache and loneliness.

Leapers focuses on one such leaper: Aono Mio, a girl born in 2008. It also tells the story of her first love in the year 2024, which is Mio’s fourth biological year, and the beginning of her schooling. From there, the story follows Mio as she slowly ages across decades, constantly coping with being young in a quickly aging society.

I feel that I should note that Leaper is not a queer/lgbtqai+ story in the same vein as Mine-kun. Readers of the latter might be expecting to see that echoes here. It’s important to remember that Mine-kun was Uta-sensei’s first localized title. It predates Leaper but over a decade.

Plus, if I’m being honest, queer and LGBTQAI+ topics were handled very differently in the ’00s in comparison to today. I think it’s fair to that Leaper is pretty much a M/F story, and really, romance -at least, not serious romance- isn’t a major factor in the story it’s trying to tell. “Romance” isn’t even a tag I’d use in reference to Leaper.

In fact, what’s more spectacular is that Leaper is really just the story of a girl’s entanglement with time: with its progression, it’s passing, it’s kinda sorta infinity. It’s the story of a girl who gets bullied for being different. It’s the story of a girl who has to watch time go by so fast when her own time is as slow as molasses.

It’s the story of a girl who desperately wishes the world was a place for her.

Everyone in Mio’s life ages so much faster than she does. We start the story with her birth, but midway, we’re in 2047 where Mio is 39 in actual time, but biologically, still looks like a middle schooler. She’s a child with an adult age, and to some degree, an adult’s mind.

That duality -being a child but also, being old enough to be an adult- is handled quite well, even when the story gets a bit painful. Perhaps, especially when the story gets painful, which it naturally does.

Let’s talk about the art, which I really really liked. While the art in Leapers is starkly different from Mine-kun is Asexual, I don’t think that’s bad. In fact, I found Isaki’s older art to be incredibly beautiful and really, really charming. Isaki, in general, is a superb artist.

Even in Uta-sensei’s older art, you can really see the foundation for their more modern style. I noticed this primarily when it came to the linework and shading, as well as the screentones. You can also see a bit of 00s in the hairstyles, though I’m really fond of 00s art in general. It’s a neat blast from the past, and a lovely one at that.

I will say that Uta-sensei comments that his work is “outdated and weird-looking” in the afterword, but like I said, I really liked it. I can understand the pain of looking back at your old work though: I’m sure if I went back to my older writing, I’d feel a bit of cringe as well, haha.

The translation work by Ed Ayes is really, really solid. It’s evocative without detracting from the story. Mio has a clear voice that’s a mix between being a child who doesn’t understand and an adult who’s trapped in youth.

I think that’s hard to capture. Mio has to both speak like her biological age as well as her actual age. She has to match her experiences, but also speak like she’s a bit more world weary than most. She’s not quite an adult, but she’s not quite a child. That’s a tricky in-between, but Ed Ayes handles it with clear expertise. It’s clear he put a lot of thought and care into this very special title. 

Additionally, Tim Sun’s lettering is fiercely dynamic, especially in the opening pages. In fact, I feel Tim’s font choices strengthen the impact of Mio’s mother Kayoko’s anguish. After all, to give birth to a leaper is to know your child will outlive you no matter what. It’s the pain of knowing your child will be different down to their bones. Tim’s lettering carries that evocative emotionality rough the entire story as well, adding emotional impact to scenes, and just generally strengthening Isaki’s beautiful art.

I went into Leaper not knowing how deeply it would affect me and came out, fifty pages later, grateful to have read this story. That’s quite similar to how I felt about Mine-kun is Asexual: a deep gratitude fro Uta Isaki’s wonderful stories.

I really hope Irodori will localize more of their titles. Uta Isaki is a mangaka that we all should be reading and talking about. Uta Isaki’s just that great.

Leaper releases on February 28, 2021 from Irodori Comics. Pre-orders are open now.

TL;DR: Uta Isaki’s Leaper is a deeply thoughtful story that reflects on the passing of time and all the painfulness that comes with it. Mio is an excellent character to enjoy the story through, even when things become painful. Additionally, Uta-sensei’s art, while older, is still lovely to look at. Coupled with Ed Ayes’s translation and Tim sun’s lettering, Leaper is a good one-shot story for readers looking to fill an empty afternoon with something heartfelt and good.

Where to Buy and Support The Creator
You can pre-order up a copy of Leaper by visiting the Irodori Product page and grabbing a digital copy here. The single volume story is currently priced at $5.45 USD. Additionally, you can support the mangaka by following them at @uta_isaki on Twitter.

Rating: ★★★★ / 4 out of 5

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