By Kiyohiko Azuma
208 pages, black and white
Published by Yen Press
There are a small handful of comics that when it comes to reading, I stall. New volumes don’t show up on a regular basis, and I know that as soon as I’m done with it, the wait for the next volume is painful. That’s why I’ve sat on Yotsuba&! Vol. 9 for three months; not because I had better things to read, but rather because I knew that I didn’t have anything else that would even remotely compare. For a series with such a relatively simple concept, it’s shocking how I’ve yet to find a book which replicates everything that’s wonderful about Yotsuba&!.
The basic set-up is still the same; young Yotsuba, a precocious five year old, explores the world around her, from the friendly neighbors and the local streets and stores, to the occasional big trip to somewhere special. What makes Yotsuba&! stand out so much more than an average story about a kid, though, is how well Kiyohiko Azuma manages to capture the joy and wonder of being a child. The title page of each volume gives the following piece of wisdom: "Enjoy everything." That’s how Yotsuba herself moves through the world, so be it creating a daily schedule or witnessing a parade, everything is something to be savored and found pleasurable.
That said, Azuma is careful to not rest on his laurels when writing Yotsuba&! chapters. So while we can have entire stories about shopping for an espresso maker and a teddy bear, or nightmares about stolen candy, Azuma recognizes that there’s a need for an occasional change of scenery. So when that happens, we get a big trip, like Volume 7′s dairy farm, or in this case a hot air balloon exhibition. What’s impressive is that up until now, I never thought going to see hot air balloons would be that exciting (save for some good photography opportunities), but by the time I was done with this book, I found myself wanting to see hot air balloons in real life. There’s something about Yotsuba’s awe over even the simplest things with ends up being infectious. Through Yotsuba’s eyes, an inflating balloon is exciting, and the idea of chasing a paraglider that’s throwing out candy? Jackpot. (Well, even us adults may find that worth doing regardless of this comic.) Yotsuba&! is a comic that reminds us to appreciate even the smallest things in life.
Azuma remains a strong artist, bringing the quiet streets of Yotsuba and Mr. Koiwai’s neighborhood to life. Details as simple as power lines, street signs, and tree branches all coat the area, turning what could be a nondescript place into somewhere that you can imagine existing in real life. And as Azuma brings us to other places, like the shopping center with all of its differently-designed stores, or out into the countryside, it feels like we’re getting a mini-tour of the non-tourist areas of Japan. It’s a visual snapshot of every day life outside of the bustling metropolis, and it’s part of Yotsuba&!‘s charm. And that’s not even including how he draws the characters themselves; from Yotsuba’s edge-of-crying expression when she spills the espresso she was trying to bring next door as a gift, to the look of surprise when she rebounds off of the exercise ball, Azuma is able to hit both comedy and drama in his art with what looks like the greatest of ease. Yotsuba’s reaction to the world around her is a critical component of Yotsuba&!, and Azuma continues to nail it with each new installment.
New volumes may only come once or twice a year due to the speed in which they’re published in Japan, but Yotsuba&! getting a new release is always reason to celebrate. Just make sure to savor the experience yourself, because every time you catch up with the publishing schedule, the wait for the next volume feels like it’s forever. On the bright side, it also gives you an excuse to just re-read the entire series with each new book. I absolutely adore Yotsuba&!, and somehow I suspect you will too.