Art and Story by: Kiyohiko Azuma
Published by: ADV Manga
Yotsuba& is one of the freshest things to hit manga (and certainly comics in general) in years. It's episodic in nature, for the most part, showing little snippets from the life of Yotsuba, our green-haired and pure-of-heart heroine who can teach us, by being something of an alien, something about being human. It's nothing new to use an outsider's perspective to point out the absurdities of modern life, but Azuma does it with such freshness, humor, and gentleness, that it's just plain funny and refreshing. You may find yourself laughing even if you aren't quite sure why.
In this volume, Yotsuba concentrates on learning how to draw and faces her first art critics, meets a new friend named Miura, gets herself a water pistol and falls in love with gangster movies. She also learns a bit about the consequences of shooting neighbors and executing teddy bears. Then she goes cake shopping and has to hold down the fort and hold off salesmen, while her father takes a much-needed nap (after doing the Daddy Dance). Other adventures take her to a water park, meeting a toad, and dealing with pranksters of her own. The simplicity of the stories belies how very funny they are; Yotsuba's joy in life is genuinely inspiring and touching, without being didactic or dull. You just have to love someone who periodically shouts "Ole!" and draws cicadas and cake on her "Yotsubox" where she keeps her treasures.
The art is typical Azuma. If you liked the look of the best-selling and splendid Azumanga Daioh, then you'll equally enjoy this title. The lines are cheerful and relatively realistic, as befits the good-hearted tone, and the backgrounds, while detailed enough to draw you in, are never too cluttered to take attention away from the characters. The result is something that looks like a complete picture, a real slice of real life, so that you believe the people you see acting are real. Yotsuba's facial expressions are the best part, especially the fierce little karate pose she strikes on the back cover and her gangster look when she gets a water pistol. It's not "squee" kind of cute so much as its "things will be okay after all" kind of cute.
I cannot recommend Yotsuba& highly enough. It's perfect for days when you desperately need something to laugh at, but cannot stand one more negative thing. These days, it seems that humor always comes at someone else's expense and always has a post-Modern, hurtful edge. Azuma, however, shows that it's equally as important to laugh at ourselves, and that even that doesn't have to be deprecating or depressing. No Kafkaesque trips through the Castle here; just the everyday things that form our culture, our identities, and our lives, showing us that things really aren't that bad after all. Social workers, teachers, nurses, and anyone else in a service sort of position desperately needs to have a copy of this on their desks or on their night-stand at home to refresh their spirits and show them that things are not always as dark and nasty as they may seem. Then you can make your own Yotsubox.