Saturday, September 5, 2015

Enjoy Everything, Yotsuba!

I've had a long, busy week so I'd like to treat y'all with a lighter subject for a blog post, one that's got some nice images in it and is about a manga I've never not laughed at or at least smiled at: Yotsuba&! by Kiyohiko Azuma, a slice-of-life series about a little girl named Yotsuba and her daily activities in her new town, learning how things work, making friends, and following around her single dad who is still navigating fatherhood.

If you haven't started reading Yotsuba&! yet, you are missing out on one of the most charming and aesthetically pleasing series currently being released in English. Yeah, it's that good.

I have been reading Yotsuba&! back when ADV Manga was still around and publishing it. Now, Yen Press has picked up the reins after ADV's demise, and I have to say the quality has improved - not to say that the ADV version was bad, but Yen Press is doing a really bang up job of presenting it.

Anyway, Yotsuba - our green-clover-haired child - is the star of the show. She could be seen as precocious, but the series skewers away from that idea. She can be just like another kid, except Yotsuba is so much more .... spacey? Curious and clear eyed but still figuring out a lot of things most kids already know? Definitely a space case, but a cute one.

There is no continuing plot to speak of, except for Yotsuba's life, but there's no story line with a definite ending point or a series of conclusions it has to reach to be complete. Everything is Yotsuba's world, and it could keep going as long as Kiyohiko Azuma wants to write and draw it - and as long as Azuma can keep coming up with entertaining scenarios for Yotsuba to play around in.

Also, a lot of chapters revolve around Yotsuba learning things. In volume 12, for example, she learns how to tie her shoes, how to paint, how to go camping, how to make curry, how to celebrate Halloween, and how to wear a bike helmet. And that's all in six chapters! They key, of course, is that every lesson is done in a delightful fashion and often Yotsuba does things the weird way before she does it the right way (although even when she does it right, it still seems a bit goofy).

She is also surrounded by a cast of interesting characters, like the neighbor family of mostly women who often end up playing with her and becoming friends with her and her father, and the father's friends, which include the always big and lovable but sometimes questionable Jumbo, and Yotsuba's so-called mortal enemy, Yanda, who always manages to irritate her whenever he's around.

The art is gorgeous. Simple, but a treat to look at. Azuma can really bring a scene to life on the page. It also helps that Azuma is ridiculously good at facial expressions, which is a big part of the humorous gag moments in the series. Yotsuba, naturally, gets the majority of the classic face pulls, from shock and horror to anger to the childhood glee that is naturally in every chapter. What helps the art is Azuma's sense of pacing from panel to panel; there are no wasted transitioning panels and a usage of quickly cutting from one moment to the next keeps everything fresh.

The only bit I don't like is that Yotsuba&! comes out very, very slowly; the last book to be released in English, volume 12, was published back in 2013. Now, the series had been on hiatus in Japan, and it's only been in the past several months that Azuma has returned to drawing and releasing the series. I don't know the backstory to why Azuma put the series on hold, and knowing why a lot of manga-ka do go on break I'm sure it was a good reason, but it's all worth mentioning because some people are just plain impatient and probably should know about Yotsuba&!'s slower than normal release schedule.

Then again, if you want something fun to read (and then re-read) that's as bright and colorful as a child's imagination, Yotsuba's story is a must. It's incredibly accessible, a perfect read for all ages, a very good gateway title into the manga medium, and what references to Japanese culture are in the series are easily explained with notes in the margin. The tagline for this series is 'enjoy everything', so just enjoy everything about this series, and maybe someday soon look at your own world through Yotsuba's unique viewpoint.

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