Review: Yotsuba&! - 'A Manga That'll Charm All Ages!'

Current Total Volumes: 13

Artist & Writer: Kiyohiko Azuma

Category: Comedy/Slice of Life Manga Series

Publisher: Yen Press, an imprint of Hachette Books

Running Time: 2003+

This beautiful, vibrant slice-of-life manga has been my addiction over the past few months. Yotsuba Kowai is a five year old girl who moves to a new neighborhood with her careless yet loving, tolerant father who isn't afraid to act the fool, ready to join in with his adopted daughter's games or whip up an amazing curry. He works from home as a translator and Yotsuba often finds new ways to distract Daddy from working, whether it is painting the kitchen blue or setting up a shop with her toy blocks under his desk. Each volume contains nine to eight chapters, each exploring a day in the life of Yotsuba. Her adventures range from camping in the great outdoors, to discovering pizza and punching goats.

I am not a manga-expert, I have read little and I'm working on improving this. Yotsuba&! is only the second manga series I have read in its current published entirety (the first being Bakuman). However, when I picked up this series, I fell in love with the charm, enthusiasm and beauty these volumes offered. Yotsuba's utter wonder and unusual naivety about life made me feel like a child again, it reminded me how serious kids can be about the little things and how they can astonish adults with their creative logic. I would highly recommend this for children as well as adults, as this would be a healthy, safe introduction to the genre. There are none of the mature pit-falls some manga contain: no excessive - and often biologically impossible fellas - female body parts, no scantily clad school girls or battle manga violence. All the characters are rich, vibrant and their personalities - particularly Yotsuba's - make every chapter thoroughly enjoyable.

Let's talk about style for a moment. Originally published in the monthly magazine Dengeki Daioh, Yotsuba&! creator Kiyohiko Azuma moved away from the traditional 4-koma paneling expected of the slice-of-life genre and opted for conventional manga paneling format, as he wanted to broaden his profession as an artist as well as a writer. This was a surprise to Azuma's audience as it was a dramatic change from his previous success Azumanga Daioh (1999-2002), another comedy slice-of-life manga - in the 4-koma format - about six high school girls. If you image-search these two mangas, you can see how Azuma's style has diverted from cartoonish to the more realistic, save for the first four volumes where Azuma was getting into his new stride.

Yotsuba's is also interesting to study from a language point of view. Yotsuba is mainly surrounded by adults, such as her neighbours Jumbo, Yanda, Asagi, Fuuka and even 'Shaggy Beard', who own's the local bike shop. The only children are Ena Ayase, her next door neighbour and Ena's friend Miura, who doesn't appear until roughly half-way through the series. Together to the fact she is new to the district - and therefore the dialect - Yotsuba's language is a cocktail of incomplete sentences and surprisingly grown up language. She often borrows words and adds her own meaning to them, for example she believes the 'Tsuku-Tsuku Boushi' is a pixie-like creature who brings Spring to the world, however it is revealed to be a Japanese cicada (a large insect native to Japan). Another extremely adorable trait of Yotsuba is the variety and strength her facial expressions, this is particularly powerful in the panels without dialogue. Her "spaced out" expression is my particular favourite, a look we can all sympathize with when we get lost in an imaginary world in an attempt to escape yet another moaning customer, your boss's latest speech or when children are using your living room as an Olympic Stadium.