I recently finished reading the first 13 volumes of Yotsuba&! And I’m hard-pressed to think of a series that has brought me so many laughs and so much joy. It’s a rare delight, an appropriate for all ages book with enough charm and gags to make each page a delightful, breezy read. It’s not deep, heady, challenging, or serious, but I’d also be hard-pressed to put a lot of more serious and important works above the simple delights of Yotsuba&!.
Yotsuba&! Is the ongoing adventures of the titular Yotsuba, a five-year-old adopted girl who has an unbridled exuberance and a insatiable curiosity. She and her father move from the country into the city and Yotsuba quickly learns that there is much more to life than she could possibly imagine. She quickly makes friends with the three sisters who live next door and most of her adventures tends to involve one of the three sisters.
These adventures could be anything from going to the park, getting a bike, picking up acorns or breaking into a can of paint. The scenarios tend to involve Yotsuba getting into some kind of light trouble or fundamentally misunderstanding how something works. It’s generally taken as not a big problem by the adults as Yotsuba is quick to recover and learn from her mishaps and pratfalls.
Most of the humor is then generated not so much with Yotsuba as the butt of the joke, but realizing that children have a different outlook on life which results in them saying and doing hilarious things. For instance, early on Yotsuba distinguishes the two oldest sisters in the neighboring house as the pretty one and the not pretty one. Children do have the rather humorous tendency of speaking their minds.
The spirit of the book is a celebration of the silliness of childhood. Weird turns of phrases or misunderstood words become running gags in the series, or how Yotsuba likes to greet certain people with so much enthusiasm she headbutts them. Nothing Yotsuba does can’t be undone and her life is filled with the general highs and lows of a child at play in a well-adjusted atmosphere.
Artist/writer Kiyohiko Azuma explores an interesting juxtaposition in the art of Yotsuba!. He renders much of the world and adults in a realistic and more detailed manner, but renders Yotsuba and other young children with the more kawaii style of certain mangas with big, bright eyes and bolder features. It’s a great reflection of how Yotsuba inhabits a realistic place but is this exuberant force within it.
This leads to some great moments where Azuma simply will soak in a scene or use a transition that looks like something straight out of a more realistic manga, reminding the reader that it’s through Yotsuba’s perspective on life that this world comes off as cute and fun, but it’s still a world with its own wonder and awe for those willing to look.
In terms of enjoyment, I’d be hard-pressed to find a series more enjoyable than Yotsuba!. It’s all the childlike wonder of the world with enough childishness mixed in to be funny instead of being pandering or trite. Sometimes the greatest works of art are simply those that bring us the most joy and by that metric, Yotsuba&! Is one of comic’s greatest works.
© James Blake Ewing 2018