Yotsuba&! Vol. 7

By Kiyohiko Azuma
208 pages, black and white
Published by Yen Press

There are some series where the publication schedule can try its fans’ patience. One of them is, easily, Yotsuba&! if you’re reading it in English. Its original publisher released the first three collections in fast succession, then there was a 20-month gap before volumes 4 and 5 showed up. Then, the company decided to get out of the book publishing game, and it was another two years before Yotsuba&! wriggled its way free to Yen Press. With volumes 6 and 7 now out, and an eighth one scheduled for later this spring, it looks like for now the drought is over. The reason why I mention all of this is that there are few series that I think would hold my attention so much over the course of this many delays, but Yotsuba&! manages quite nicely.

If you’ve never read Yotsuba&!, it’s a fairly simple set-up. Four-year old Yotsuba and her father Mr. Koiwai move into a new neighborhood, where Yotsuba’s insatiable curiosity brings her into constant contact with her amused neighbors, to say nothing of all of the wonders that the world possesses. With each new chapter, it’s a new experience for Yotsuba. (The ampersand in the title comes from the format of almost all of the chapters, "Yotsuba & …" The end of the chapter title can be anything from telephones, to errands, to a ranch.) What makes Yotsuba&! stand out is a combination of two things that Kiyohiko Azuma nails perfectly: comedy, and the wide-eyed wonder of a child.

Watching Yotsuba interact with things around her, both new and old, is always a joy. Something as simple as a cup-and-string telephone might seem like old hat to adults, but to her the idea is fascinating. And when is the last time that the idea of going by yourself to the grocery store would seem daunting? And meeting new people, well… all right, for some adults I know that’s pretty scary too. But Azuma tackles all of these through Yotsuba’s eyes, and her wonder and excitement over every little new thing is rather infectious. This is a character who revels in each new moment and makes them all exciting.

I love watching Yotsuba interact with the supporting cast of Yotsuba&!, because it’s so unlike any other comic character and how they act. Her rivalry with her father’s associate Yanda works because both sides act childish, but watching Yanda still get flummoxed by a five-year old in this volume made me laugh out loud several times. She’s a character with no subtlety whatsoever, so meeting a new person will result in her blurting out, "Who are you!?" at the top of her lungs, her eyes growing wide with apprehension and excitement. It’s also fun to watch the neighbors start to learn how to use Yotsuba’s visits for their own amusement; letting Yotsuba decorate a cake that was already going badly, for instance, is the perfect deflection of the rest of the family’s judgment because suddenly all of the faults can be excused as Yotsuba’s. It’s a funny realization, and it rings true to anyone who has a younger sibling or cousin around for an extended period of time.

Azuma’s art helps bring the adorable in Yotsuba&!, with its perpetually cute style. You can see the wonder dawn on Yotsuba’s face every time she encounters something new, and actually live through her own excitement as a result. From her slow peering into the grocery store, to the amazement when she gets to visit a farm and play with the animals, there’s always something new and fantastic just lurking around the corner for her. And of course, watching Yotsuba surprised is always worth a laugh, as her hands ball up into little fists while she shouts her confusion.

Yotsuba&! is one of those titles that has been a critical darling since its release, but I suspect in terms of the general reading public might have fallen off the face of the earth with all of its publishing delays. Now that Yen Press has brought the first five volumes back into print and established a regular publication schedule for volumes 6-8, hopefully everyone will start learning about Yotsuba&! and how much fun it is. I don’t think I’ve ever found someone who wasn’t charmed by Yotsuba&!; go on, check it out.

Purchase Links: Amazon.com | Powell’s Books

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