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Manga Review: Yotsuba&! Volume One by Kiyohiko Azuma

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Yotsuba&! Volume One is a manga by Kiyohiko Azuma, and it was published in North America by Yen Press in 2009. The series is rated “A,” which means that it’s appropriate for readers of all ages.

The main character of the series is a young girl named Yotsuba; from what I’ve seen in the manga so far, it appears that she’s too young to go to school, which leads me to believe that she’s around four or five years old. She’s a very energetic and quirky little girl, who moves into a new house with her father.

They move in next door to a family with three girls: Asagi, Fuuka, and Ena. Fuuka is a high school student, and Ena also goes to school. From what I can gather, Asagi is no longer a student. Yotsuba and her father become friends with the girls and their mother. We also meet Jumbo, a friend of Yotsuba’s father who is very tall.

Yotsuba&! is definitely done as a comedy, and the comedy revolves around what is going on in the characters’ lives at any given moment. In this volume, the comedy is usually derived from Yotsuba having a misunderstanding or from Yotsuba directly saying what’s on her mind. Occasionally, the humor comes from other characters in the series, but much of it is a result of Yotsuba’s actions in the stories.

The art in Yotsuba&! has a very “cute” and simplistic look to it. This art style makes sense, since the main character of the series is so young; the art style helps to make this manga more accessible to younger readers. In addition to the cute and simplistic feel, Azuma also uses quite a bit of exaggeration in the art, especially when drawing panels with Yotsuba. Some of the other younger characters also get some exaggeration, but most of that is reserved for Yotsuba.

As a parent, I thought that I would enjoy Yotsuba&!, especially since I enjoy reading the Baby Blues comic strip so much. Unfortunately, by the time I finished reading this volume, I thought that Yotsuba was more annoying than cute.

Yotsuba&! isn’t necessarily a bad series, but it’s not one that I’m personally going to be rushing out and reading more of right away. Younger readers may find more enjoyment in Yotsuba&!; they might think Yotsuba is cute and find themselves laughing at the situations and hijinks that happen to her.

If you enjoy reading manga about children, and have a tolerance for hyperactive and quirky kids, then you might enjoy reading Yotsuba&!

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About Lesley Aeschliman

Lesley Aeschliman is a freelance writer who began writing on a full-time basis in 2007. She has served as the Anime editor at BellaOnline.com, and she also writes and maintains two blogs: Lesley's Musings... on Anime and Manga and AeschTunes.
  • Hushpuppy

    What draws me to Azuma Kiyohiko is his rare gift for writing outstanding observational four-panel manga. One of the few things that Azuma doesn’t do with his characters is allow them to act and think beyond their age. Yotsuba is an extremely uninhibited, energetic, and curious pre-school (alien) girl. Everything (and everyone) she meets is fun and exciting and the beginning of a new adventure.

    Keeping such a bundle of energy out of trouble and out of danger without restricting her freedom to explore must be every fathers’ major concern. Restricting Yotsuba’s excesses without curbing her enthusiasm therefore becomes a fine balancing act.

    Fortunately, he has the Ayase family next door. They are quickly adopted by Yotsuba as elder sisters and a stand-in mother. The sibling rivalry between the sisters is frequently compounded by Yotsuba’s innocence and naivety. Finally, when all else fails, there is Jumbo to try to emphasize the difference in magnitude and sanity.

    Yotsuba&! is quirky. The humour is simple and obvious, but that is part of its innocent charm, even though the overall premise is straightforward and not uncommon.

    What makes Yotsuba&! stand out for me is her playful nature and the interactions with everyone about her. Azuma keeps it simple, crafts the manga quite sparingly, and draws the older reader into what it could be for us to begin to explore the world again through Yotsuba’s innocent eyes. For teenagers with younger siblings, it might go some way to explaining why they are always so loud and out of control. And as each of the characters has their own distinct personality, most readers should be able to find one to relate to.

    The major problem is that, after a while, the plot does begin to wear thin. Of all the characters, Yotsuba is the only one who doesn’t appear to grow from her experiences. She is permanently five years old and, as you point out, her antics become increasingly uncomfortable. Comparing Yotsuba&! with Usagi Drop, which is more serious and not entirely gag-oriented, more character growth would make Yotsuba less annoying.

    Not having children, and since they are always someone else’s problem, my patience lasted a few volumes longer than yours. If the length of the series had been kept the same as Azuma’s other major work (Azumanga Daioh), my overall impression would have been much higher.

    Still, for unadulterated fun, the manga is a must read just for a glimpse of innocent excitement. As a serialized comic strip, it’s more of a book to dip into than to read in one sitting, and well worth the experience. What it shows best of all is that the importance of freedom of expression for children cannot be understated, even if a little more control might be desirable.