Yotsuba&! Vol. 4

By Kiyohiko Azuma
200 pages, black and white
Published by ADV Manga

There are few books that, to coin a phrase, are worth the wait. It’s with that in mind that I have to mention the return of Kiyohiko Azuma’s Yotsuba&!. After three volumes were released in English back in mid-2005, it’s been a long, cold 20 months since we’ve seen anything new. Except now, the drought is over. The fourth volume hit stores this week, and a fifth is scheduled for later in the year. And if you’ve never read Yotsuba&! before, trust me when I say that you are absolutely missing out on a series that could best be described as the celebration of pure joy.

Yotsuba Koiwai is a five-year old girl who recently moved to a new city with her father. What the neighbors are just beginning to realize is that you don’t get anyone more innocent than little Yotsuba. Everything is a new adventure, something waiting to be discovered or puzzled out. And, along the way, Yotsuba seems determined to drag the rest of the world with her.

The last page of Yotsuba&! Vol. 4 contains two words: “Enjoy Everything.” That’s the best summation of Yotsuba&!. Yotsuba’s wide-eyed awe at each discovery, from the idea of a milkman to learning how to catch fish, is both inspiring and infectious. You want to see what happens next, because she continually comes across as genuine without turning into cloying. It’s really quite impressive that Azuma (as well as translator Javier Lopez) is able to bring that across; in a medium like print, where you don’t get voice inflection or body language to really help out, it can be a difficult at best thing to create. What’s also fun about Yotsuba&! is that with each new volume, you get to know more about the people around her; not just her father, but the neighbors as well as her father’s best friend Jumbo all have their own distinct personalities, from Asagi’s sly and teasing nature to Fuka’s general flustering response to life around her. These are the sort of people you would absolutely want to get to know, and thanks to Azuma’s writing, in some ways you really do.

(Oh, for those confused by the title? Each chapter’s title begins with, “Yotsuba & …” Thus, the name of the book is reflective of the book being both about Yotsuba, and the fact that it’s about things she encounters and the excitement that results.)

The art in Yotsuba&! is nothing short of adorable. Yotsuba’s wide-eyed gasp of amazement never feels old or repetitive, with Azuma tackling each instance as if it’s the first time. It’s a little cartoonish in places, but then again, so is Yotsuba herself. A more realistic art style would actually detract from the story, making Azuma’s approach just the right tactic. That said, I do have to give Azuma credit for making Yotsuba’s neighborhood seem remarkably real. You get a real feel for the off-the-beaten-path part of the city that they live in, and the streets and buildings look like they were drawn from Azuma’s own home. This latest volume of Yotsuba&! really feels like you’re reading a story set during the summer, and that’s a nice feat.

Yotsuba&! may have taken a while to come back into English language publication, but as stated before, it was absolutely worth the wait. Jumping back into the story was the easiest thing to do, and now that I’ve read volume 4, the next thing on my agenda is to re-read volumes 1 through 3. One of the most joyous and fun books out there, you must have a heart of stone if you don’t find this series great. Highly recommended.

Purchase Links: Amazon.com

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