Author: Kiyohiko Azuma
Series: manga slice-of-life/shoujo
Yotsuba&! is a slice of life manga depicting the life of a little eccentric girl in a small Japanese town. Piotrek waxed lyrical about this manga before, many times, and for a long time I just nodded amiably and continued not to read it ;). I guess tastes change, though, and about a year or two ago I gave Yotsuba&! a try – and never regretted it. While it starts slowly and somewhat clumsily, it quickly finds a way to one’s heart. Admittedly, the first few tankobon volumes were just okay for me, and filled me with suspicious questions, such as “how a single male in early thirties can become an adoptive father of a four-year-old girl?” or “why are we seeing a spread of a teenage girl showing off her curves to a bunch of single guys twice her age?” Yup, I had my doubts. For a “realistic” manga, a slice-of-life comedy, this was going in strange directions.
I’m glad I persevered, though. Having read many more manga titles since I kind of got acquainted with (can’t say used, I don’t think I’ll ever get used to it) the objectification of female body in manga in general. I chalked it up to the specifics of Japanese culture, but maybe it’s something else altogether, like an accepted way to garner more readership and this way keep the title afloat? Manga market is extremely competitive and most titles are weeklies – only the most popular get tankobon editions. I noticed that many successful titles abandon that particular incentive quickly once they are established and there’s no more boobs on spreads (and this is true for titles as varied as Dragon Ball and Berserk). The only title that I’ve read that had no scenes of this kind was Fullmetal Alchemist, which is written by a woman 😉
For Yostuba&!, this one time was thankfully an exception, not a rule. Boobs in bikinis aside, though, the adventures of Yotsuba, a green-haired, expressively precocious and effervescent extrovert, are positively delightful. Nothing really monumental happens in these volumes, it’s just scenes from everyday life: Yotsuba learning to ride a bike, Yotsuba getting a teddy bear, Yotsuba eating pizza for the first time, or going camping, or picking up round rocks on a beach. With the exception of the early volumes, in which Yotsuba behaves with unusual naivete and lack of knowledge about basic stuff (which is used as the basis for comedy), she acts like a typical three-to-four-year-old everywhere in the world: she does stuff before she thinks, she puts all of herself into relationships, and she approaches the world holistically, taking it all in and treating even the smallest change, for better or for worse, either as a revelation or a catastrophe. She lives fully in every moment. It’s a meditative experience, reading Yotsuba&! and seeing her grow and leave her mark on everyone around her. Her enthusiasm is catching, and her constant focused being-in-the-world is almost instinctively philosophical. This manga is funny and poignant, radiantly joyful and nostalgic, and the weirdest of all is the fact that a simple scene of picking a backpack for school can tug at your heartstrings.
Yeah, looks like this review will be as whimsical as Yotsuba&!. I guess it’s only right ;).
One thing that I found fascinating in this manga is the depiction of Japanese everyday life. Azuma’s art style is very clean and precise, with almost architectural drawings of buildings and interiors, as well as extremely detailed, almost photograpic, images of food. He draws what he sees, realistically, and a non-Japanese can learn a lot from this manga about Japanese culture and social life – from various honorifics to types of sweets (Pocky! I’ve tried them ;)) and noodles available in supermarkets, to the eating and sleeping customs (mats, not beds), to diverse examples of leisure and entertainment (Korean barbecue, anyone? ;)). I was so astounded by Azuma’s picture of Japanese spaghetti Napolitan (with a fried egg on top!) that I actually double-checked it online. Now I’m (almost) ready to believe anything he draws in Yotsuba&! 🙂
Yotsuba&!‘s volumes are published quite rarely and there are only 15 volumes to date. I must admit that for the first several volumes I haven’t even written a review of GR, just gave the rating. But I guess it’s a sign of how much this manga grew on me that after a while I started writing reviews after every subsequent volume – and here’s a sample, for volume 15:
This was great. The long break between the volumes doesn’t hurt this manga at all, you open the book and instantly get immersed in Yotsuba’s world once again. While I feel that Yotsuba&! is gradually becoming less carefree and happy-go-lucky, whatever it loses in humour it gains in thoughtfulness. The subtle, underplayed emotional consideration of fatherhood and dealing with the growing up of one’s children is spot on – as is the absolute pleasure of gathering smooth, shiny rocks on a beach 😀
I think this might be my favourite volume to date!
If you’re looking for a lighthearted, whimsical and feel-good manga, look no further. The slim, quirky volumes of Yotsuba&! can really pack a punch, whether it’s a visit from grandma or a trip to the farm. This series of 15 columes is not a big commitment, and after the first couple of volumes I promise you’ll see it’s worth your while 😉