Kiyohiko AzumaJapaneseYotsuba
Yotsuba &! 11-12
Medium: comic
Year: 2011-2013
Writer/artist: Kiyohiko Azuma
Country: Japan
Language: Japanese
Series: << Yotsuba >>
Keywords: manga
Format: volumes 11-12, comprising 13 chapters and 444 pages
Website category: Manga
Review date: 10 November 2015
I'm guessing it's the end of Yotsuba &!. Kiyohiko Azuma hasn't announced its cancellation, but he also hasn't drawn any new chapters since March 2013. Mind you, he'd been doing the series for ten years and I understand he's a father himself, so maybe the model(s) for Yotsuba have simply got too old to be a source of inspiration for stories about a five-year-old?
Hang on, no. I'm wrong. There are already enough uncollected chapters from the monthly magazine Dengeki Daioh for a 13th volume. In that case, I presume it's just Azuma getting lazy because he's been so successful with this (and Danbo) that he doesn't need the money.
I'd love to see him draw more of this, because it's a lovely manga. However I'd be equally happy to see him start something new, since this has no story in need of tying up and vol.12 ends on a perfect farewell. Yotsuba is great, but these two volumes are exactly the same as the first ten. I mean that in a good way. It's a simple formula. Yotsuba Meets The World in gentle, inconsequential stories and much fun is had by all, especially the reader. It's a plotless manga about a tiny child (Yotsuba) and her misadventures as she learns, for instance, that you should become a pumpkin on Halloween and that eating your own body weight in pizza is likely to end in regurgitation.
I should note, by the way, that not everyone loves Yotsuba (the character) as much as I do. Tomoko finds her annoying, although she's full of admiration for Yotsuba's super-tolerant father and she admits that Kiyohiko Azuma has a gift for capturing childish behaviour. The bit where Yotsuba sulks by lying face-down on the floor, for instance, is funny because it's true. An adult wouldn't think to do that, but a child? Yup.
Then there's my friend at work who thinks Yotsuba herself is "super-annoying"... but he's still reading the manga anyway, as is Tomoko. It's a nice manga. It's pleasant and funny. Yotsuba is an agent of chaos, as is best illustrated here in the chapter where she finds a tin of paint. You die inside as she picks it up and waddles happily off. It's like giving matches and dynamite to a family of monkeys. Personally, though, I think she's a terrific little girl, full of enthusiasm and without an ounce of malice. (Well, except towards Yanda. She doesn't like him.) The manga's motto is "enjoy everything" and I think most of us could afford to learn life lessons from Yotsuba, frankly.
There storylines are small and observational. They're really good, but in a way that's about nothing more than finding humour and freshness in everyday things. The things you'll remember are funny moments like Yotsuba telling the postman not to bother delivering any letters because they're expecting a pizza instead, or else being told not to touch a painful sharp pointy thing because she'll hurt her fingers. You already know what's going to happen next. Oh, and I loved Yotsuba and her friends playing princesses in the car and talking as if they're having afternoon tea with the queen. It's funny enough with Yotsuba (who knows nothing of delicacy or restraint), but even more disconcerting with the brusque, tomboyish Miura.
Simple jokes. Simple situations. It's warm and adorable, even when Yotsuba's feeling grumpy (mostly in vol.11). Yanda, dogs that eat teddy bears and not having a camera are all bad things as far as she's concerned.
I like the art. It uses black-and-white shading in a way that's gone out of fashion in the West, thanks to computer colouring. I'm thinking of the leaves and grasses when the girls get out of the car on reaching the camp site, for instance. Azuma's also strong with how his characters move and feel, so for instance the three girls on that camping trip reminded me of kittens. If your cat has kittens, you'll have a swarm of tiny mewing things trying to jump all over the place... but they'll also often react as one. Open the bedroom door and you'll have eight tiny heads looking your way in perfect unison. That's Yotsuba, Ena and Miura at the camp site.
I also like the way Azuma frames his characters. He'll underline the age differences visually, with children's heads half-seen at the bottom of panels as adults do something overhead. Similarly, character shots won't necessarily be head-on, but instead are likely to be echoing the line-of-sight of someone in the scene. Adults might be shown to us from the angle of the child they're talking to, or children from that of adults. Much of that is unavoidable, of course, if you're drawing scenes with characters of very different heights, but the line-of-sight stuff I'm talking about is an artistic choice.
As always, I'd call this manga the easiest of recommendations. I have trouble wrapping my head around the concept of anyone not thinking Yotsuba's wonderful. Her dad really needs to stop her talking like him, though...