Hi all, just last Sunday, I included Blade Girl Kaatashi No Runner on a list of 5 Great Manga With Disability Representation that were not yet licensed in English, only to discover it was released this week from Kodansha. So, it now gives me great pleasure to have the opportunity to review volume 1.
Rin is a sixteen-year-old high school student struggling to progress in physical therapy after having a below-the-knee amputation due to Osteosarcoma. When her physical therapist realizes that Rin’s difficulty is likely because her prosthetic leg doesn’t fit comfortably, he decides to take her to a prosthetist known as “the hands of God.”
Rin, her father, and her therapist arrive at the stadium where the prosthetist has his office. Once there, Rin is amazed to discover the “Blade Runners,” a group of amputee runners who run using a prosthetic specially designed for running.
After several runners introduced themselves and elaborated on how they became amputees, Rin wanders away from the group. She finds herself in what she presumes is the prosthetist’s workshop. When she sees one of the special prosthetics that the runners are using (at this point, she doesn’t know what it is and calls it a thing.), she is about to reach out and touch it when someone says, “Don’t touch my blade.”
This is when Rin learns that it is a special prosthetic meant for athletes. The mysterious stranger begins talking about the prosthetic in a well-informed and passionate manner. Telling Rin that the special prosthetic could evolve humankind as the ultimate running limb.
Rin is very confused and dismissive of the stranger’s claims. Rin starts talking about her difficulties and how much she hates her current prosthetic. She starts listing all the things she feels she can no longer do. Perhaps expecting a more sympathetic ear, Rin is surprised, perhaps even shocked, when the stranger says, “That’s quite the sob story.” He goes on to say Is that how you want to live life? Counting all the things you’ve lost? Meanwhile, during Rin’s conversation, just outside the workshop, we (the reader) realize that the person she’s been talking to isn’t the professional Shira-san she originally came to see.
When Shira-san and Rin’s dad and therapist arrive, the stranger prepares to leave. Before he leaves, he tells Rin to enjoy staying in the little nest she’s built for herself. These seemingly harsh words seem to be just what Rin needed to hear. She runs, you read that right, runs after him.
When Rin starts to run, although she eventually falls, she also discovers so much joy in the act of running and even in the fall. She learns that she does have the strength to pick herself up. (I’m so proud of her in this moment. Because sometimes we all need a reminder that we are stronger than we know ourselves to be.)
The stranger is named Kazami-san, and he tells Rin that if she truly wants to run, she can aim for the world stage known as the Paralympics.
A few days later, Rin is at school and practices running with her current prosthesis. Rin has fun running, but when she thinks about what Kazami-san said about the Paralympics, she brushes it off for now. Thinking of it as a far-off dream.
Rin goes back to the stadium to see the Blade Runners and Kazami-san. She is excited to try the coolest blade she sees right away, but her physical therapist, Mizuhara-san, as well as Kazami-san, tell her she’s not ready for an advanced-level prosthetic yet.
Kazami-san eventually allows Rin to try a more beginner-friendly blade. After a few falls and marveling at how different it is from her current prosthetic, Kazami-san provides Rin with some background knowledge. He explains that blades are also referred to as “Spring Plates.” They are strong, sturdy, exceptionally springy, and much lighter than a typical human leg. Kazami-san warns her that learning to utilize a blade won’t be an easy adjustment.
Her therapist tries to convince Rin to call it a day, but she is determined to take her first successful steps with a blade. After a few more stumbles, Rin finally begins to understand the intricacies of the blade, and Kazami-san offers her some advice regarding her momentum. Kazami-san seems intrigued and impressed by Rin’s determination, and he alludes to his promise to someone named Sora.
When Rin falls after learning that she can use the blade to skip, Kazami-san offers a hand to help her up in acknowledgment of her great effort.
Rin arrives to see Kazami-san and is feeling pumped to train. She is surprised to learn that she won’t be training with the Blade Runners. Instead, she’ll be learning one-legged jump rope with the blade. (Note: She attends school using her everyday prosthetic and currently only uses the blade under Kazami-san and therapist Mizuhara-san’s supervision.) Rin doesn’t understand the point of the jump rope exercise, but Kazami-san tells her to trust him.
Although she originally scoffs at the idea of the jump rope exercise, Rin finds herself doing it for three days straight. She must complete 100 jumps, and anytime she steps out of her designated space, she must start over.
Rin starts to get a little frustrated with the exercise and even feels like she’s being left out and not given a chance to run. Unbeknownst to Rin, other members of the running team notice that Kazami-san is being a bit hard on her.
Rin seems almost ready to give up, but fortunately, she gives herself a little pep talk. Reassuring herself that her ultimate goal is to run and she’ll do whatever it takes to get there. When she peeks in on Kazami-san working late into the night, it only heightens her resolve. Mizuhara-san asks Kazami-san if Rin inspires him. Kazami-san mentions she can’t even run yet, but Mizuhara-san knows he’s bluffing. Kazami-san admits to Mizuhara-san that the Paralympics are just one goal. His ultimate goal is for a blade-wearing athlete to outcompete an abled body person. Mizuhara-san says Kazami-san has set the bar pretty high.
Rin tries practicing on her own with her normal prosthetic, but takes a tumble and damages it. She somehow makes her way back to the Kazami-san’s workshop to ask for help.
To Rin’s surprise, he lets her put on a blade. Rin is feeling more determined and inspired than ever. She finally feels like, with Kazami-san’s help, she has found her way forward. The next time Rin is in the stadium, she finally completes Kazami-san’s 100 jumps assignment and feels great. Kazami-san tells her not to forget that feeling. An older woman looks on in interest, possibly even jealousy.
One of the Blade Runners tells Rin about an important upcoming competition that newcomers typically compete in. The mysterious woman who was watching Rin and Kazami-san in the previous chapter is introduced as Yuko, and she will be participating in the competition. The other runners are impressed by this because Yuko only started using her blade about a year ago. Rin thinks she is amazing.
In front of the other runners, Yuko acts friendly towards Rin but whispers to Rin that entering the competition would be a huge mistake. (Girl, I knew I was right to be suspicious of her.) She tells her that most athletes must wait a year and learn to run with their normal prosthetic first. Yuko also mentions that Rin has supposedly been sucking up to Kazami-san.
Yuko challenges Rin to run a 50-meter dash, and she will run beside her. Most of the runners feel that Rin won’t stand a chance because she’s a newbie. Shira-san, the prosthetic expert, says don’t count Rin out. Since Rin still has her knee, whereas Yuko, on the other hand, has to rely on her artificial knee joint. He reminds them that even pros have difficulty when the artificial joint misbehaves.
Rin never hears Shira-san’s explanation. Despite her best efforts, Rin has trouble picking up speed and seems like she will lose to a smug Yuko. Meanwhile, Kazami-san had a meeting with the company funding the blade project. They gave him an ultimatum: if one of the Blade Runners doesn’t win the upcoming competition, the project will be canceled. The reasoning they gave him is that athletes make up less than 1% of the amputee population and that his talents are better utilized elsewhere. A.K.A where the company will make more money.
Kazami-san once again alludes to his promise to Sora. He tells Mizuhara-san that Sora has been waiting for a blade that will have him speeding down the track again. Mizuhara-san seems surprised at the mention of Sora, but before he can comment, they hear Yuko and Rin still running, and everyone is cheering them on.
Rin, meanwhile, is putting in her best effort. She eventually gets ahead of Yuko and keeps going. Rin wins against Yuko, and everyone is proud. Kazami-san thinks about letting her compete at the competition with a blade but thinks better of it, saying it is too soon.
There are only two weeks to go until the competition and Kazami-san is frustrated. He is determined not to let all his hard work end now.
Rin has been training hard and can now complete a 100-meter dash without falling. Finally, the day of the competition arrives. Rin is happy that her mother has arrived just in time for the competition. With both parents cheering her on, she’s ready for anything. Rin’s father marvels at the fact that just half a year ago, Rin didn’t even want to leave the house. Her mother is proud to realize their child isn’t even glancing back.
Rin is excited to meet someone who utilizes a racing wheelchair and her friends explain that there are also wheelchairs built for athletes. Rin is inspired to learn about all the different kinds of athletes and impairments represented at the Paralympics.
When the Blade Runner who was going to represent Kazami-san’s project, gets injured before the 100-meter race, Rin learns that the whole project will be canceled if one of Kazami’s runners doesn’t win. Devastated, Rin volunteers immediately, but Kazami tells her that she doesn’t have a comparable socket with her for a running blade. Undeterred, Rin surprisingly asks one of the other runners if she can borrow their socket. Mizuhara-san warns her that sockets are custom-made and not socks, but that doesn’t stop Rin. She assures Kazami-san it fits and begs for the chance to run, to evolve.
Shira-san says he can’t condone Rin using someone else’s socket to run, but they can make an adapter of sorts that connects to her socket, allowing her to wear the blade.
Everyone agrees to what Shira-san proposes and helps Rin get ready. The injured runner even lends Rin her uniform so she can look cool.
Her parents are surprised but proud to see her in an official uniform. Her father reacts much the way Selena’s dad did in the biopic when Selena wore a bustier, but her mom says she looks good.
The representatives who want Kazami’s project canceled are being slimy and rooting for Rin to fail. Volume 1 leaves us with a cliffhanger as we don’t see Rin win the race just yet. Although it does seem like she does something that leaves her onlookers wondering what she’s up to. Kazami-san included.
Wow, such character growth in just the first volume! I’m so happy for Rin. I really enjoyed the fact that this volume didn’t shy away from Rin’s moments of self-doubt. There were even times when she lamented the things she felt she could no longer have. I was very proud of her for that. As someone born with Cerebral Palsy, I grew up believing that my so-called disability does not define my capability. I believe Rin is starting to believe that for herself.
10/10 would recommend this manga. Rin is young and imperfect and is learning to fight hard to find her way. Let the doubters fuel your fire. You’ll be just fine, Rin.