by Suzuhito Yasuda; adapted by Nunzio DeFilippis and Christina Weir
published by Del Rey Manga; $10.95 US
Review by Ed Sizemore
Hime Yarizakura is the mayor of Sakurashin Town, a job she inherited from her grandmother. It just so happens that Hime is also a sixteen-year-old high school girl with superhuman abilities including incredible strength and supersonic speed. Her assistant is the eighteen-year-old Kyousuke Kishi, a man of undisclosed abilities.
When the town comes under attack by demons, or when a new resident moves in, or when the mayor is simply looking for a place to hang out, she turns to the Hiizumi Life Counseling Office. The director is Akina Hiizumi, a normal eighteen-year-old, who inherited his job from his grandfather. Rounding out the rest of the central cast are Akina’s two part-time employees. Kotoha Isone is a sixteen year-old high school girl and a kotodama user. (Kotodama is the ability to create and manipulate objects by speaking their name.) The second is AO, a fifteen-year-old fox girl that can read people’s minds.
To put it mildly, Sakurashin Town is an unusual place to live. It happens to be the town where demons who want to cross over into the afterworld come to prepare themselves. While here in the human dimension, demons slowly weaken and eventually die, but in the afterworld, they live forever. Yozakura Quartet is the story of life in such a peculiar town. The heart of the series is the friendship among the five main characters.
Yozakura Quartet is a weird series. It’s really difficult to get a handle on this manga, because it’s evident Yasuda is still fleshing out the characters, the setting, and the main story line as he’s publishing the series. The best example of his not having fully worked out a character in advance is the fourth chapter of the first volume (“Face the Risks”), which was actually the second story serialized. It’s a dark story featuring Hime where she behaves somewhat arbitrarily and harshly toward an abandoned puppy. Hime never acts this way again in any of the other stories. You can tell that once it was published, Yasuda didn’t like the direction either the series or the character was taking and so abandoned that path. The story reads out of place with the rest of the book.
By the way, let me forewarn the reader, this series has nothing to do with music. Even though ‘quartet’ is in the title and each cover features a lead character with a musical instrument, music is rarely mentioned, much less featured in this series. The covers are based on the title and not the actual content of the book. There’s no explanation why Yasuda wanted to include a musical term in the title.
The first volume left me confused with a ton of questions and no answers. We’re introduced to the various powers that each girl possess, but never told how they came to have such abilities. AO is the only non-human so far in the series, and we have no explanation of where she came from or how she came to work for Akina. Why does Hime go to the Hiizumi Life Counseling Office to deal with a dangerous criminal instead of the police? Does the town even have a police force? Volume one is all plot with no characterization and no exposition. When I finished reading it, I felt like I had been sideswiped and left disoriented on the side of the road wondering, “What hit me?”
Volume two errs in the opposite direction; it’s mostly exposition with little plot. The opening story is where we finally learn about the nature of Sakurashin Town and how Akina came to be director of the counseling office. Unfortunately, we’re also introduced to several new characters at the same time. So just as we’re trying to understand the setting of the manga, we’re also trying to become familiar with new people. Yasuda doesn’t really give his readers any time to absorb one explanation before hitting us with the next set of facts.
The second volume is a more satisfying read than the first, though. Although the explanation of demons and dimensions wasn’t the most coherent exposition I’ve ever read, at least we have a basic understanding of the setting and main characters. The last two stories of this volume hint at bigger events to come and build some suspense. By the end of this book, Yasuda seems to be better at balancing plot, exposition, and character development in his stories.
This series has some nice extras included. Between the chapters, there are brief character profiles. We’re told the favorite comedian for each character and their favorite member of a very popular comedy ensemble show. It’s obvious Yasuda has a fondness for comedians given there are references to comedy shows, comedians, and comedic techniques in the main story in both books. There are also the excellent translation notes that are standard for a Del Rey book. But there is one missing translation note that’s sorely needed. Nowhere are we told what kotodama means. Since this is the ability of one of the main characters, a brief explanation of the term would be expected. (I had to go online to find a definition.)
The most interesting and beneficial extra is the author notes. Each book has several pages of Yasuda telling us about himself, how he came to write this manga, and the process used to create each monthly installment of the series. It’s here that we learn that Yasuda is actually an illustrator who initially was hired to draw a different manga. However, as circumstances worked out, Yasuda found himself as both writer and artist for a manga they wanted him to create from scratch. This is actually his first time writing a manga series. He comes across as a likable person who is trying hard and sincerely wants to create a good manga. We also learn that this isn’t a manga he has plotted out from start to finish, but one that he’s working out on a monthly basis, with much guidance from his editor. In truth, these were my favorite pages of each book.
Given that Yasuda started out as a professional illustrator, it’s no surprise that the artwork is very good in this series. He’s very reserved in his details. He makes sure to give just the visual information needed to understand what’s going on. It also keeps the focus on the characters and their actions. The character designs are wonderful. He’s a master of facial expressions and is able to communicate a lot with just a simple head shot. His skill as an illustrator is also evident in his page layouts. He knows how to give a page a sense of balance. He makes sure not to clutter up one area of the page; the drawings and panels are spread out to make the best use of the space. Visually, this manga is very pleasing and relaxing to the eyes.
Since Yasuda is a first-time author and was thrown into that position unexpectedly, I’m inclined to forgive his mistakes. By the end of the second volume, he has presented his readers with likable characters and an interesting setting. I think he’s made good progress in these two volumes. However, as I said before, this was a difficult read, and I don’t find the series alluring enough to continue the hard work. Since Yasuda is still learning the storytelling craft, I’m really disinclined to read through his apprenticeship.
I truly wish that hard work and sincerity were guarantees of quality, but unfortunately, that’s simply not true. Yasuda doesn’t lack the desire to create a good manga; he lacks the experience. Yozakura Quartet isn’t a horrible manga. It just suffers all the usual flaws of a first-time author. If you plan on checking out the series for yourself, start with the second volume and than read the first. My recommendation is to wait for Yasuda’s next manga series. (Complimentary copies of these volumes were provided by the publisher for this review.)