By Kiyohiko Azuma
232 pages, black and white
Published by ADV Manga
Every now and then, strange packages arrive at my home. They’ve usually got scrawled notes attached to reams of paper, and the notes say something like, “You’re going to love this!” or “Wow, check this out!” So often the end result is one of disappointment, as my secret sources let me down horribly. I keep hoping, though, because every now and then one of the mystery packages comes through with something that’s a lot of fun, and that’s exactly what happened with Kiyohiko Azuma’s new series Yotsuba&!.
Koiwai and his four-year old daughter Yotsuba have just moved into the neighborhood, but is the neighborhood ready for them? Calling Yotsuba a bundle of energy could quite possibly be the understatement of the century, and the trio of sisters who live next door are about to learn just what it means to have Yotsuba as a neighbor.
Yotsuba&! is a strange but apt title for a book; it’s really not so much about Yotsuba, but rather Yotsuba and her interaction with a new idea or activity. Each chapter is titled something like “Yotsuba & Moving” or “Yotsuba & Global Warming”, letting you know just what part of the world is about to meet up with her innocence. It’s a fine line that Azuma has to walk with Yotsuba; someone who is so clueless about so many different things in life could easily cross into the realm of annoying. Thankfully that’s not the case here; her exuberance is almost infectious, from worrying about global warming to wanting to catch cicadas. It’s a rambling sort of writing style, with entire chapters being as simple as moving a television, or the neighbors meeting Koiwai and Yotsuba’s hugely tall friend “Jumbo”. In many ways Yotsuba&! is pretty slight in the plot department, but there’s such a high level of charm and fun surrounding the book that it’s hard to really mind.
Azuma’s art is overly stripped down and simple but that’s exactly what’s needed for such a sweet little book. It really makes Yotsuba all the more innocent and entertaining; her look sets her apart from the slightly more realistic looking other characters, really makes her fairly unique in a world of otherwise normal people. Azuma’s good at drawing physical comedy, from Yotsuba knocking a swing into her own face, to Fuka trying to climb out the bathroom window and needing Koiwai to help pull her through. Best of all, though, is when Azuma has his characters head up a hill to a shrine and then turn around to see a view of the entire town. It’s almost awe-inspiring, with the streets winding off into the horizon with all the houses lined up perfectly. It’s a moment of real beauty, and in many ways it sums the entire book up: a light, fun book with moments that punctuate the entire story as they grab your attention.
I’d never read Azuma’s other comic translated into English, Azumanga Daioh, but based on Yotsuba&! I may have to give that a try. This is a genuinely fun and charming series and knowing that there’s more to come makes me quite happy. I know I’m going to read a lot more. Yotsuba&! Vol. 1 is scheduled for a June 2005 release.