by Kiyohiko Azuma; adapted by Amy Forsyth
published by Yen Press; $10.99 US
Review by Ed Sizemore
Yotsuba is a five-year-old girl who is the embodiment of Van Morrison’s admonition to live with a sense of wonder. This volume has Yotsuba delighting in acorns. She also gets to attend her first high school cultural festival and her first local shrine festival.
Yotsuba, both the character and the series, is a wonderland of innocence and joy. The greatest appeal of the series is how Yotsuba reminds us there is magic in the seemly mundane world around us. She is able to take pleasure in the simplest things that we adults overlook.
There is no grand narrative to Yotsuba&!. No profound insights into human nature. The theme is stated in the series’ tagline, “Enjoy everything.” Yotsuba reminds us that there is immense satisfaction in living in the moment. We don’t have to go to exotic locales for adventure. We simply have to be open to see what is right in front of us with fresh eyes. We shouldn’t take anything for granted but rather treasure even the most minute objects and encounters. It would take a lifetime just to master that insight alone.
Azuma has populated this manga with a marvelous cast of characters. The series wouldn’t have half its charm if the people around Yotsuba weren’t as good-natured and accepting as they are. Yotsuba’s dad and her neighbors give her the room to express herself, yet they are able to give gentle guidance when she gets a little too enthusiastic. Together with friends like Jumbo, they create a warm, nurturing environment for Yotsuba to grow up in.
There are many laugh-out-loud moments in this volume. In the opening chapter, after drinking a glass of milk, Yotsuba points to her father and says he’d like a glass of milk too. She pours a glass, then proceeds to drink it herself. Later in a restaurant, she combs her hair back and tucks a handkerchief in her shirt collar. She explains it’s what you do at a fancy restaurant. Finally, before the local shrine festival, Yotsuba discovers that everyone who helps pull the god’s cart gets candy. She declares, “Now, that’s a god for you!” She may be the world’s first sugar-centric theologian.
Azuma’s artwork is just as delightful as his storytelling. He uses a simplified character design. Like Charles Schulz, Azuma is able to convey every conceivable emotion with the minimum number of lines. Yotsuba’s exuberance jumps off the page. What’s surprising is the amount of detail put into the backgrounds. Azuma anchors this series in a very realistic world. By dong this, he emphasizes the message of taking pleasure in the world around us.
Yen Press is missing a golden opportunity by not having extensive translation and cultural notes at the end of each volume. Yotsuba&! is steeped in Japanese culture. Yen Press could educate young readers, and those new to manga, about Japanese society. Adding an educational component would increase the marketability of Yotsuba&! to schools and parents. Yen Press should be doing what it can to get this series into as many hands as possible.
Yotsuba&! is the perfect end-of-the-day read. The stories have the ability to wash away weariness and cynicism. Without question, Yotsuba&! is the best all-ages manga currently available. I love this series with all my being. Everyone needs to read this series and reawaken your sense of wonder.