Kiyohiko Azuma, Yotsuba&! (2003-today)

Author: Kiyohiko Azuma

Title: Yotsuba&!

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 πŸ˜‰

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&! πŸ™‚

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:

9/10 stars

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 πŸ˜€

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 πŸ˜‰


40 thoughts on “Kiyohiko Azuma, Yotsuba&! (2003-today)

    1. piotrek

      Yotsuba&! can be enjoyed one volume at a time, no big story arcs, just a very enjoyable mood, some observations about everyday life in Japan etc… it’s all about enjoyment and taking it easy, no need to rush through the 15 volumes πŸ™‚

      Liked by 3 people

        1. piotrek

          It’s always “Yotsuba & sth”, that’s why, I assume… “Yotsuba & Moving”, “…& Manners”, “…& Global Warming” etc…

          Liked by 1 person

    2. This one is short, actually. And as Piotrek said, you can read one volume at a time; as this is slice-of-life, you can just pick the slice you want πŸ˜‰ There isn’t much happening, so even if you missed something it wouldn’t matter much πŸ˜€ I think Yotsuba&! is a very feel-good type of book, and a dose every now and then does one good πŸ˜‰

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It sounds appealing for sure. But first I’m diving deeper into European comics which I feel are sometimes underrepresented on the internet, and standalone graphic novels. Once I start on the mangas I have my eye on Akira and on Nausicaa.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Yup, that was a good recommendation(s)! πŸ˜€ And actually quite spot on, in terms of description – not your fault it just doesn’t sound too alluring πŸ˜‰ It’s definitely “you’ve gotta try it to see for yourself” type of thing πŸ™‚

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Marianna

    A slice of life manga would be a change of past from the type of manga I read. Which are mostly horror.
    Kiyohiko Azuma, Yotsuba& sounds cute.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Took you long enough πŸ˜‰
    and one correction, this is definitely NOT shonen. You might want to change that to shoujo.

    I know when Vol 15 came out that he was still writing individual chapters, so I expect we’ll get at least more volume, but honestly, with how vol 14 ended, I’m ok with waiting for a couple more years until I read 15. I’m in no rush πŸ˜€

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I shouldn’t be surprised by this reaction, I guess πŸ˜‰
      Yep, my mistake. Don’t know what I was thinking about when I wrote it… Changed!

      14 was Tokyo, right? Well, it was okay for me but I loved 15 waaay more. I actually teared up at one point.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. You are forgiven * angelic voices sing *

        Probably you were reading some ultra-violent fighting manga filled with blood and gore and you got them mixed up πŸ˜€

        Vol 14 ends with Yotsuba and her dad driving off into the sunset πŸ™‚
        I put off getting 15 because I thought we were moving soon and now that that is on hold I just don’t want to acquire more paper until I have to.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. LOL, I actually was πŸ˜‰

          Yeah, the ending of 14 was very neat. But 15, oh, 15 is about the passage of time πŸ˜‰ It is my favorite volume, even though there are no shenanigans with Yanda and the humor is a bit subdued.

          I get your approach, believe me. I just read the library copies, sometimes even before I get back home – though I might actually buy no 15 at some point, I liked it that much πŸ˜€

          Liked by 1 person

                1. I don’t think I’ll be reviewing it here. It’s the strangest manga I’ve read, tbh, and not digestible in big doses. But man, this guy’s improvement in the level of skill is jaw-dropping. But yes, it’s very dark and nihilistic, and definitely not for everyone, and for one second I didn’t expect you to like it ;).

                  Liked by 1 person

                    1. Oh, wow. Yeah, I’m not touching this anime with a long stick. I much prefer manga format anyway, and I’m controlling the amount I ingest. The only anime I’m watching and enjoying a lot is Demon Slayer.

                      Liked by 1 person

  3. I’m very interested to know what first got you into reading manga. (If you’ve covered this in a previous post, please drop me the link.) When I was growing up in Manchester, it was rare to see any English editions of manga. Now they are everywhere. How things have changed over the last 30 years!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ll make that post one day! 😁 For now, let’s just say I haven’t started on manga before I got to NZ. Here, Asian culture influences are much more noticeable and common, with anime shops and libraries boasting of full collections. To be fair, though, in KrakΓ³w we have a wonderful museum of Japanese culture, founded by the movie director Andrzej Wajda who was absolutely smitten with Japanese culture – and, apparently, vice versa. So my interest in, say, Hokusai was awakened quite early on.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. OK, thanks Ola. I will look forward to that post! πŸ™‚ What was strange for me was not seeing much manga in the UK until I moved to Japan in 2002. Then when I went back to Manchester to visit family, it was in all the book shops and comic shops. On each successive visit the manga sections got bigger and bigger.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Yeah, I’m a bit hesitant because it’d be a personal post and we rarely do these on the blog πŸ˜‰ I’m gearing up for this, though! πŸ˜‰

          I guess the answer lies in globalization πŸ˜‰ There was a push in Asian soft power in the nineties (the Asian tigers etc.) and I guess just as Asian cinema became more popular there was a realization that manga can actually get more readership too. Can’t say exactly when manga started to be available in Poland in large quantities, but certainly around early 2000s it was already in and already translated.

          Liked by 1 person

    2. piotrek

      I tried to make Ola read Yotsuba&! a few years ago, with no success. Manga is a bit niche, but quite popular in Poland. Of course, just as some readers scorn genre novels, others think it’s below them to read “Japanese comics for teenagers” πŸ˜‰

      Liked by 2 people

    1. Happy to be of service! 😊 It’s really funny and sweet and cute, so if you’re ever in a need of something like that give Yotsuba a chance! Also, I’d say hold your judgement till 3rd or 4th volume – by that time I was fully hooked 😁

      Liked by 1 person

  4. This sounds delightful! I wasn’t really sold from the beginning, when I started to read your review I was curious to read your thoughts, obviously, but I wasn’t really interested in this manga, per se. Slices of life aren’t my usual cup of tea, and children are usually a hit or miss (more often a miss, to be honest), but now I have to reconsider. This really sounds delightful!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Susy! πŸ˜€
      I’d urge you to give it a try, it really is delightful, and also rather short πŸ˜€ I’d be very interested in reading your thoughts on Yotsuba!

      Liked by 1 person

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  6. Ohhmigosh, I just LOVE this series and somehow missed your review of it (how fortunate that Piotrek’s recommendations linger in your mind). Over the past couple of years I’ve begun to gradually collect them because I haven’t found another series that scratches this particular kind of itch: rare pleasure.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It is a rare pleasure indeed, and I love how it can be so humorous and touching at the same time. The moment when Yotsuba gets her backpack is pure mono no aware. I shed a tear! πŸ˜€

      It’s a great pleasure for me to find common reading treasures with you, Marcie!


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