You Don’t Have to Be a Wizard to Live in a Magical World: Yotsuba & Aria

by Ed Sizemore

This month, the Manga Moveable Feast is focusing on kids manga. As a play on words, the theme is to discuss Yotsuba & one other kids manga. Several distinguished bloggers have pointed out that Yotsuba is published in a men’s magazine in Japan. The second title I’ve chosen to discuss, Aria, suffers the same fate. However, both titles transcend their origins. The message they share is for everyone, regardless of age.

Simply put, the central message of both Yotsuba and Aria is to fully enjoy life and the world we live in. Both books point to the wonders and delights that the world around us has to offer. Furthermore, we don’t have to venture off to exotic locations to find these pleasures. They are already all around us, if we simply open our hearts and minds to them.

Yotsuba focuses on play, which is the spontaneous, creative, and youthful side of life. The title character, Yotsuba, is herself the very embodiment of these ideas. Even the planned events in her life, like visiting a dairy farm, quickly become chaotic. As readers, we revel in the adventures she has just being a wide-eyed, innocent girl filled with boundless curiosity and energy.

At the heart of Yotsuba is an emphasis on finding wonder in any and all things. Acorns, rain, cake, frogs, and shrine festivals are sources of endless delight and discovery. As cliched as it sounds, Yotsuba reminds us to stop and smell the roses and then get lost in their beauty and fragrance. There is no such thing as a mundane world — just people who have let a vital part of themselves atrophy. Yotsuba is a call to keep alive and active the child within us.

By contrast, Aria focuses on work, which is the structured, sedate, and mature side of life. Akari is wise beyond her years. As she strives to be a great undine, she never loses focus on how fleeting the time we have is, making each moment precious. She reminds us that our job need not be laborious. We can find pleasure in doing our work well and in being with our co-workers. We chose whether to curse our fate or count our blessings.

Aria is a more mature, reflective appreciation of life. We are called to live in harmony with the rhythms of nature and to appreciate things in their proper season: freshly roasted sweet potatoes in the chill autumn air, ice cream on a sweltering summer day, hot chocolate in front of a roaring fire on a winter’s eve. Time is not our enemy. Our movement through time brings experiences and wisdom. And these in turn allow us to appreciate each moment, past and present, more fully. Aria is a call to intentional living, to give meaning to the life we have.

I can’t think of a single person who can’t learn from these two manga. Both series serve as a reminder to older readers not to give in cynicism or the weariness of daily living. For young adults, they serve as a warning not to lose their sense of wonder. For kids, they teach lessons in how to live a deeply fulfilling life. I always say the secret to maturity is nurturing your inner child and finding healthy outlets for such youthful energies. Yotsuba and Aria are delight-filled series that remind us we already live in a magical world. The question is do we have eyes to see the marvels all around us? I pray that we do and will continue to until our last breath.

7 Comments

  1. What a great reminder of why those two series are so wonderful! I do have to admit, though, that the underlying idea that works aimed at men are of interest to everyone sets me off. That’s due to having it used too often to justify why women and children should be happy reading works that don’t feature them, because the male-centered viewpoint is universal. (Then again, lumping those two groups of readers together also annoys me, and here I am doing it.) That’s not the case here, with a girl and a young woman, respectively, being the protagonists in these series. So I’m not criticizing, just mentioning something that you reminded me of.

  2. I have always considered Aria to also be about the wonder of everyday things. It’s what I enjoy best about that manga, that Akari (who is 17 when she arrives in Neo-Venezia, so not *that* old) spends her days enjoying…everything.

    We can watch Yotsuba, smiling at her youthful discovery of the joy of fresh milk or the freedom of riding a bicycle, and we can watch Akari discover the wonders of fresh pizza and the freedom of having her own gondola.

    They are both lovely series that remind us to look, again, at what we’re doing and eating and seeing and thinking, because each moment is special.

  3. Yotsuba started out very differently. The first volume had all the trappings of being a typical moe comic before shifting over to the suburban comedy it became.

    It doesn’t really match the rest of Degenki Daioh’s content. It’s one of those odd duck serials that seems to be running in the magazine because of the creator’s good standing with the publisher. (Much like another favorite of mine: Saint Young Men.)

    However: Even though it is published in Japan in a creepy moe magazine, it’s not in the rest of the world. I think it shows that the origins matter not one whit compared to the content. The content is very clearly all ages/demographics to me.

  4. Wow, your commentary on the books is so poetic and poignant and I really don’t have anything to add. This was really enjoyable to read.

  5. William, that’s an approach I agree with. And fans should understand it: after all, in its home country, Doctor Who is kids’ TV. :)

  6. William, Like Johanna, I fully agree.

    Jade, Thanks.

  7. I entirely agree, I discovered Yotsuba 4 years ago. And since then the only other series that’s given me the same wonderful feeling is Aria. I discovered the Aria manga just this year.

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