Following his wide success with his comic strip series Azumanga Daioh, Azuma Kiyohiko strikes again with YotsubaTo ! in a more traditional format. Made popular overseas thanks to its tv-adaptation, the Azumanga Diaoh manga had also found its public — in spite of its typically Japanese format using four-panel vertical strips (called yon-koma), but thanks to its humor and endearing characters. That said, Azumanga Daioh was less convincing in the more traditional format of the two special chapters.
In YotsubaTo !, Azuma handles better the rythm of his chapters, in part by playing on their length. And as the gift for humor is still very much present, this series is a pure enjoyment.
The title can be literally translated as “Yotsuba and !”, each chapter introduced by “Yotsuba and …”. The “…” being a cake, television, shopping, the swimming-pool, vengence, the elephant and so on, and indicates the element to which the title character will be confronted.
This (almost) eponymous character is Yotsuba, a strange little girl aged 5 to 6 years, incredibly naive. She doesn’t know nor understand much about the world around her, as if she was from another world. This comical distance between Yotsuba and her environment is the main trigger and driver of her drolatic adventures. Also come into play her overwhelming energy, her enduring and communicative good moods as well as her unrivaled capacity to marvel at anything and everything.
Moreover, she can rely on a great supporting cast. The Ayase sisters, to begin with : the mischievous university-going Asagi, the generous high-schooler Fuuka and the serious schoolgirl Ena. Neighbors and thus potential “victims”, they are the first “accomplices” of Yotsuba’s adventures and/or discoveries. Then, there is her adoptive father, a relaxed tranlator who favors living in underpants, and who follows her in a trusting laxism. Very present, he is never a bridle to his daughter’s picturesque activities, quite the opposite. And to complete this cast, let’s not forget to mention the father’s huge friend Jumbo, in love with Asagi, and Mirua, a good friend of Ena with her colorful expressions.
Azuma Kiyohiko thus confirms his talent for creating a gallery of endearing and original characters, all sufficiently drawn out to become solid drivers for an efficient comedy. The interactions and reactions of those characters faced with Yotsuba’s adventures and discoveries are a true accomplishment.
And the series indeed relies on this comical dynamic between the characters, as not much actually happens in the book : very little evolution, even temporal. Each chapter barely covers about a day, and the five volumes published to date in Japon only “last” a month and a half. Moreover, all chapters are generally self-contained and independant from the others.
The characters also share an uncluttered design with Azumanga Daioh. But here, away from the limits of the strips, they are shown against a backdrop (in the larger sense : objects, clothes, vehicles, buildings…) rendered with a precise and faultless realistic line that grounds the series in a surprisingly real piece of Japanese suburbia.
I can’t help but conclude with the “Enjoy Everything” that ends the second volume. It’s a perfect summary of the mindset of the adorable heroin — and most likely the reader’s, taken over by a smile or a hearty laugh. So dive in.
To conclude, two additional remarks :
– YotsubaTo ! is a true “all ages” title. Though initially targeted at (and largely enjoyed by) an adult readership, it is also perfect for a younger audience. Children should be delighted by the simple stories, the overall positive mood, the neat and easy art, as well as the age range of many of the characters.
– the series is very easy to read in it original (Japanese) version. Which, combined to its quality, makes it a definite recommendation for buddying Japanese-readers looking for a manga to discover.
- Yotsuba& ! being the international title of the series.
- “Yotsuba” in Japanese literally means “four leaves”. Her haircut with four tails and her green hair are without hesitation a reference to the lucky clover.
- And indeed, with her green hair and the fact that her presumably adoptive father has brought her from an island located “on the left” (sic), she literally comes from elsewhere.
- Note that the terms “victims” and “accomplices” would well be interchangeable in this sentence.