Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Island in a Puddle
Fifth-grader Minato is trying to keep his life together. Neglected and left alone for weeks at a time, Minato is tasked with feeding and caring for his much-younger sister Nagisa while hoping that this time, their mother will stay for longer when she comes home – because he already knows that forever isn't in the cards. When she finally reappears on Nagisa's birthday and takes them to an amusement park, he's leery, and his fears appear to be true when she puts them on the ferris wheel and walks away. But much worse is in store for Minato: a freak lightning strike hits his car and one other, ripping his soul from his body…and switching it with the man in the other car – a career criminal who has just committed murder.
Island in a Puddle is translated by Iyasu Nagata, edited by Nathaniel Gallant, and lettered by Evan Hayden.
Kei Sanbe certainly has a way with stories about tormented little boys, doesn't he? But it's hard to complain that the protagonists of Erased, For the Kid I Saw in My Dreams, and now this series are too young for the horrors they go through when Sanbe is also making a point about how life can force you to grow up too fast while exploring the psychological implications of that, which can make you feel like your internal age doesn't match your chronological age. As with Erased, Island in a Puddle takes a character's consciousness and puts it into a body that doesn't match who they are, and this time it stands to have even more devastating consequences, because fifth grader Minato has switched bodies with adult career criminal Tomohiro Takita – in the moment just after Takita committed murder.
The emotional implications are grave for Minato. Because of his mother's neglect and basic abandonment of him and his sister Nagisa, Minato's life is mostly consumed by his need to keep his much-younger sister alive and happy while still allowing her to believe that someday their mother will come back for good. As it stands, she typically comes home for a few days every couple of weeks, leaving her children in squalor and near starvation for the rest of the time. That it starts to be noticeable to neighbor Futaba (one of Sanbe's trademark plucky teen girls) and Minato's friends at school implies that his mother is growing increasingly neglectful, because there's a sense that no one really noticed before now that something was amiss. Since Nagisa doesn't appear to go to school at all, Futaba may actually be the only person who realizes that she even exists, and that's even more frightening after Minato and Takita switch bodies: if no one knows she's there, who's going to notice if she's not?
The question, once the story's premise is established, becomes how the swapped duo are going to make things work – and of course whether or not that's even possible. Minato is arguably in the worse position; a crime gone wrong has plastered Takita's face on police station walls all over at least the city, and the alias he chooses, Kuroda, is alarmingly close to the one Takita was using when he murdered two other people, Kuromatsu. Minato only knows about the third death, that of Takita's former safe-cracking partner Mutsuki, but either way he's in way over his head as a ten-year-old kid. Takita, meanwhile, is reveling in the fact that he's basically gotten away with his crimes and snagged a new lease on life; all he has to do is wait for Minato's body to grow up and he's back in action. He's saddled with Nagisa, though, which may turn out to be a problem; Futaba is also aware that he's not acting quite right, and that could lead to him feeling backed into a corner, which would be bad.
There are, obviously, several routes this story could take. Certainly one of them is that Takita ends up caring for Nagisa, another could have Minato coming in to save the day at the risk of being caught by the police. Mutsuki, Takita's former partner, mentioned that she also has a young child, and that doesn't feel like a mere throwaway detail in a story where taking care of a child and a puppy are already key components of the plot. That we can't say for sure where this is headed is a testament to how well Sanbe writes twisted mystery-thrillers; we can point out directions things may take, but as we know from his earlier works, each and every action causes something in the story's world to change – what we never know is how much.
Island in a Puddle is, in some ways, a more difficult story than either of Sanbe's previous titles released by Yen Press. (As a note, Kodansha is translating this one.) While children have featured prominently in the others, Nagisa's well-being is very much in jeopardy here, and in a way that few people are in a position to notice. Minato is also in real danger, and we don't even know if there's a way to switch he and Takita back into their own bodies. It's equal parts mystery and terror (as opposed to horror), and that may not sit well with all readers. That said, if you enjoyed Sanbe's other works in the genre, this is worth picking up – it's only just getting started, but the stakes are high and it's hard not to want to know what happens next.
Overall : B+
Story : B+
Art : B
+ Takes its time to set things up without dragging, story is fraught with peril.
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