Art/Story: Kiyohiko Azuma
It isn’t often that something to which the word “heartwarming” applies is also something an adult will actually want to read. Luckily, Yotsuba&! is such a rare treat. From the genius behind the fantastic series Azumanga Diaoh comes this new series, which relates the “adventures” of a girl who has just moved in next to three ordinary sisters. Yotsuba has green hair, but that’s not the weirdest thing about her. She is a little weak in the social graces department, doesn’t know what air conditioning is, and basically is out of her gourd. But she’s also sweet, sincere, and determinedly happyâ€¦ and just might be an alien. Accompanying her to her new neighborhood is her father, a more normal-seeming man who apparently just found her somewhere and decided to keep her, and Jumbo, a frighteningly tall and broad-shouldered man with a crush on one (or all) of the new neighbors. Here’s where you use words like “wacky” and “hijinks,” but don’t mean anything stupid, cliche, or boring.
The book is not arranged strip-style as Azumanga was, but the events of the plot are very serialized. The ongoing moving-in process is the story for most of the book, along with school being out for the summer, but the focus is on Yotsuba’s daily struggle to learn about the world, like what swings are and how department stores, doorbells, and escalators work. Her vocabulary also grows to include words like “attractive” and “gorgeous.” It could of course be seen as a commentary on the everyday absurdity of modern life and the magic of things we take for granted, but really, it’s just funny and darling.
The art is much like that of Azuma’s previous work. If you enjoyed the look of Azumanga Diaoh, then you’ll love the combined realism and cuteness of this title. Yotsuba and the three sisters are adorable. The facial expressions are splendid, such as when Jumbo roars at the youngest sister, and when Yotsuba learns about global warming. Just take my word for it, and wait for the many times when Yotsuba is horrified, astonished, or amazed. You’ll laugh out loud.
Yotsuba&! is genuinely hysterical. Many of the funniest moments come from the revealed absurdity of everyday life, as Yotsuba tries to come to terms with her world, one error at a time. She’s not always the butt of the authorial jokes, however. The neighbors in their stubborn desire to make sense of Yotsuba are good-heartedly willing to join in the lunacy. Jumbo is also one of the funniest characters in the book, especially when he tries to talk to a pretty girl, though his bumbling is blessedly not of the annoying Tenchi variety. Yotsuba’s (relatively) normal father is also funny in his turn, but the real star is the clueless little Yotsuba. Her slippers are way too big and she’s always confused about something, but somehow she makes it all ok.
If you’re weary of postmodernist angst or just want something terribly funny, check out Yotsuba&!. You’ll get a great bunch of characters who are just so terribly normal, thrown into a situation that is not at all neat or tidy, but promises to reward them all with laughter and joy. No one could be sorry to meet Yotsuba, no matter how much trouble she looks like she might be.