What is it like to be born on 29th February? Having your “real” birthday come once every four years surely becomes the source of all kinds of jokes. However, for Mio Aono, the main character of this story, the rarity of that day has genuine (and very far-reaching) consequences. Isaki Uta’s Leaper is published digitally in English by Irodori Aqua. But is Leaper worth reading?
Mio is a girl with a lifespan far longer than the average person.
Yo is Mio’s childhood friend who dreams of going to the stars.
A Leaper’s story
Mio Aono is born on 29th February. Dispite her mother fighting hard to hold on, trying to keep Mio in until the calendar flips over into March. Mio is determined to be born. Her mother has good reason to fight. Children born on this day are known as “leapers”, and since their birthday only comes once every four years, they age four times as slowly as normal kids. Some with lifespans that total over three hundred years.
Although being a Leaper seems excellent on the surface – after all, this is the closest humanity has ever come to immortality. However, it comes with a massive cost. That cost is loneliness, as childhood friends grow into adults and parents grow old and die while the seemingly ageless child goes from one leap year to another.
One of Mio’s first friends is Yo, who she meets in a playground and winds up building her a rocket out of sand. As time goes on, Yo grows older and leaves Mio, just like everyone else she meets in her life. Is there no end to this cycle of long-lived loneliness?
Mio does meet Yo again, in the most bittersweet and unlikely of circumstances: he is one of her teachers in middle school. They’re happy to see each other, but the lifespan of the Leaper means the pair will inevitably be separated again. Even if they could be together, they could never have the kind of relationship that, deep down, they both wish for.
But that’s far from the worst of it. Soon, Mio has to face the inevitable death of her parents as her mother finally succumbs to old age. The life of a leaper is one of continual loss until Mio realizes she can make her life a symbol of something other than the cruel passage of time. You’ll have to read the book to find out what decision she makes.
The art is nicely drawn and detailed, especially given the subject. The main character is someone who must have the innocence of a young girl but the pain of someone who has endured far too much for her age. I think Isaki Uta does that well.
The art also sneaks around one of the biggest obstacles in a story like this: depictions of the future. There are no flying cars or Ghost in the Shell – futuristic cities. And until the end, you’ll see very little advanced technology at all, despite the presence of the main character who lives for centuries. I think this was a wise choice. As any kind of futurism would have taken away from the book’s real message.
A note on Doujinshi
“Doujinshi” is often thought of as ecchi or hentai fan art, but it refers to independent comics of all types. Doujinshi (Doujins for short) are usually far shorter than manga volumes; a typical doujin usually clocks in at something like thirty pages (Leaper runs fifty-two pages, making it longer than the average). Potential doujin buyers need to know that going in, as otherwise, you may spend money expecting two hundred pages of content and then be disappointed when you only get a fraction of that number.
Is Leaper worth reading?
Leaper is worth reading. Not for the premise but the underlying message. I’ll be honest: I found the premise silly and full of plot holes. What happens, for example, if the parents cross time zones while the wife is pregnant? Which calendar is the “official” leaper calendar? Why not avoid the problem entirely by doing a little math and avoiding creating pregnancies with due dates in February of leap years?
But this book isn’t about the mechanics of becoming a Leaper. It’s about the downsides of immortality. Technically, Leapers don’t live forever, but they are all but immortal to the people around them. Family and friends are born, grow into adulthood, and die as a Leaper goes through his or her lifespan. It’s a story of constant loneliness and loss that one person decides to change. And that change is what makes this book worth reading.