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Manga Reviews

‘Island in a Puddle’ Vol. 1 review

A new suspense series from Kei Sanbe.

After years spent working as an assistant to Hirohiko Araki, Kei Sanbe went on to make a name for himself with his own works. The most notable of these, Erased, delivered terror via a sort of body-swap time travel, ala an adult finding his consciousness within the body of his child self. Sanbe’s new series, Island in a Puddle, hinges on a similar body swap premise. This time however an innocent child finds his mind swapped with that of an adult criminal, adding mortal danger to a life already plagued by neglect and hardship. Does Vol. 1 do a good job introducing the premise and suspenseful tone?

Before lives can be upended by a body swap, a status quo must be established for said lives. As such, the volume’s first two chapters each center around one of the central figures: first Minato, a fifth grader with a troubled home life, and then Kuromatsu, a criminal on the run. Minato’s life is tragic: his mother goes away from home for days and even weeks at a time, leaving him to raise his sister Nagisa in her stead.

While it doesn’t take long to establish this premise, Sanbe does a great job delivering nuanced views of the situation from both within and outside of the family. Minato’s narration offers insight into his personal doubts which highlight the maturity gap between him and Nagisa. One particularly revealing scene depicts him searching for and then cooking the house’s last remaining packet of instant noodles. The siblings’ friends and neighbors also remark on how pale and hungry they seem (though Minato tries to hide it), and the possibility of child protective services taking the kids away is invoked. It’s a gripping setup that builds interest in the characters’ problems even before the main conflict begins.

Comparatively, Kuromatsu’s portions of the volume are less interesting. Narratively speaking his current circumstances are introduced effectively and we get a good sense of his basic demeanor: that of an unrepentant scumbag. He’s definitely built up as a credible threat to drive suspense going forward. Nonetheless, the scenes depicting his previous criminal adventures backstabbing and being backstabbed just don’t have the same strong character writing or effective emphasis on small details that push Minato’s scenes to their heights.

On the bright side, the art is consistently great throughout. In scenes about Minato and Nagisa, the scenery is often framed in such a way as to emphasize how much smaller than their surroundings they are, children in an adult world without their guardian’s protection. There are also frequent shifts in perspective highlighting the push-and-pull between the siblings’ neglect and the joy they endeavor to feel despite it. Sanbe also effectively utilizes changes in weather and time of day for dramatic and tonal effect. All in all, the art really sells the scope and danger of the lives the children have been thrust into.

Overall, Island in a Puddle is off to a strong start. Minato and Nagisa are very effectively introduced and their tragic circumstances are conveyed with an impressive amount of depth and nuance. The art is also a highlight, further emphasizing the stakes and danger the characters face in the adult world. With that said, Kuromatsu and the criminal conflicts he introduces are frankly much less interesting than the series’ familial and societal conflicts. The latter half is still enjoyable and suspenseful, but future volumes will determine if the fantasy elements are brought up to comparably high quality levels with the character drama.

Island in a Puddle Vol. 1 cover image
‘Island in a Puddle’ Vol. 1 review
Island in a Puddle Vol. 1
A strong start to a new suspense series.
Reader Rating0 Votes
The children's family drama is very well-written
The artwork effectively enhances the drama and themes of children persevering through a dangerous world
Suspense and momentum is successfully built up for future installments
The criminal character and body swap elements are much less interesting than the family drama the volume kicks off with

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