Feel unhappy? Need something to brighten our day, well I have something for you. Meet Yotsuba, a precocious little girl living in Japan with her father, Yousuke. It follows them as they live out their normal, and sometimes bizarre, lives. Yotsuba is the star of Kiyohiko Azuma’s manga series Yotsuba&! The manga is a slice-of-life series which takes place in different days and times of the characters’ lives. It’s about the daily lives of Yotsuba and company, as they get into crazy hijinks, solve problems that they created and learn important lessons about life. Yotsuba&!, although a comedy series, also focuses on strong values, such as the importance of family and friends. The message is driven even further as the series continues.
As we learn early in the series, Yotsuba is not Yousuke’s biological daughter. The reader is left in the dark as to where Yotsuba is from, where her biological parents are, and why she was orphaned. All we know is that Yousuke adopted Yotsuba while traveling outside of Japan, and that was that. Yousuke loves Yotsuba, he wants her to be happy, and healthy. The series underlines this theme of family, with their bond, but goes even further as later in the series Yousuke’s mother is introduced. The expectation of her arrival is sudden. The reader had heard of the grandmother before, however she never appeared in the series until this point. When Yotsuba’s grandmother appears, she also has unending affection for Yotsuba. It is not plainly stated, as the manga does not push an agenda, but it does not matter to her that her son randomly adopted a child completely out of the blue. She just loves her grandchild. Subliminal or intentional – that’s a good message to spread.
The series has this unending light-hearted tone to it. It doesn’t tire on the reader either. Each chapter is a sweet delight, making the reader elated. Yotsuba&! is a comedy manga, the comedy ranges from slapstick comedy to jokes made from complicated wordplay. One chapter in particular relies on a misunderstanding of a word. Yotsuba tells one of the girls who are her neighbors, that her father is a translator – however she mistakes the word. In the original Japanese, the word for translator (Hon’yaku-sha) if mispronounced, is similar to konnyaku (a plant made into a gel like substance for culinary use). So the neighbor spends the entire chapter – thinking Yotsuba’s father’s job, is konnyaku. Which makes no sense what so ever, but the situations that develop because of the mispronunciation are hilarious. Yotsuba&! relies on a lot of visual humor as well.
Many of my favorite moments from the series are small visual gags. One such scene involves Yotsuba being afraid of an eye bird deterrent. Yousuke and Yotsuba are out shopping. They go into a department store and Youske picks up the bird deterrent. It is shaped like a big circular pillow, and is supposed to resemble an eyeball – imagine it to be more like a target. Upon viewing the deterrent, Yotsuba’s jaw literally drops, and she has a look of sheer terror on her face. Cue Yousuke putting the deterrent down, and Yotsuba’s face goes back to normal. Then he shows her the deterrent again. it’s just a funny situation It is a simple visual gag, but it works. The series is filled with simple, fun humor.
The series features a moderate cast of characters, each with their own quirks and interactions with Yotsuba. There is the family that lives next door, a husband and wife with their three daughters. Each of the daughters has different encounters and interactions with Yotsuba. They play with her, get into trouble with her, or have interesting trips with Yotsuba and her father. For example, the kids go camping in the woods. They hunt for bugs, cook their meals, and set camp up. This may not sound funny, but when you read it, and see how they play, how they set up camp, how even the adults who are there with them act like children in a way – it just makes you smile. That is the essence of this series – it’s to make you happy. Every chapter will bring a smile to your face. The series does not tackle world issues. It doesn’t discuss politics, it’s not about diversity – the only agenda that the series pushes are one of joy. Live life like each day is new, and treat each new experience as if it’s magic.
The series is childlike in a way, but that makes sense considering that Yotsuba is a child, and that is how the manga views her. Each chapter is a new experience for Yotsuba, and in turn, a new experience for the reader. Yotsuba constantly encounters new situations, and characters and each experience is treated with as much intensity as the last was. As a child, everything is new. Every experience is novel and fascinating. Imagine the first time you went to the movies, went camping, made a friend, built something with your own hands. Each new experience was the most amazing experience. It was fantastic, it was ecstatic, it was magical. Yotsuba&! is about that magic. Capturing the essence of childlike wonder and the bliss of new encounters is pure delight. Take a break from the world, read Yotsuba&! and laugh for a bit, you won’t regret it. Go read it.