I've been reading more Yotsuba! It's too gentle and random to feel like a must-read, but it's still charming, funny and very good.
Firstly, a series recap. Yotsuba's a five-year-old girl whose mind is permanently being blown by things she hasn't seen before (i.e. almost anything) and whose enthusiasm levels could power a small town. Her reaction to riding a bicycle over a steep drop and nearly breaking her neck is to think it's great and do it again. The show's motto is "enjoy everything" and I can't think of a better mission statement for our heroine. That's what she does, even though her characterisation has been refined slightly since the early volumes and she's become capable of screaming meltdowns and a fit of the sulks. Well, it would be unrealistic if she didn't. She is five years old, after all.
As for the rest of the cast, these include her adopted dad (often immature, but in many ways an admirable father), his friends (even more childish than him) and the mostly female Ayase family next door (who all love Yotsuba and seem to take it for granted that she should be allowed to invade their house at will).
What happens in these volumes? Answer: not a lot. Yotsuba does a bunch of stuff, none of it consequential and all of it fun. She sees hot air balloons, goes shopping and does the cake dance with Fuuka's friend Shimau. (Shimau is adorable doing that dance.) She makes an enemy out of her father's work colleague, Yanda, who takes pleasure in tormenting her and duly gets repaid with all-out war. Wow, she hates Yanda. It's always entertaining when he shows up. She goes on a fishing expedition that gets gruesome enough (if you're a fish) that I got nearly as squeamish as does Yotsuba's friend, Miura. She even gets a chapter (25) where she gets to console Fuuka on her unsuccessful love life, which very nearly killed me. This manga is often very, very funny.
On the other hand, I should mention that Tomoko isn't keen on Yotsuba (the character, not the series). She thinks Yotsuba's speech pattern is appalling (true) and that her behaviour is wild (also true). Yotsuba talks in a cross between Tiny Girl Talk and the rough, faintly unpleasant male language of her father, for which the least bad English-language equivalent is probably swearing. Apparently a mother in Japan recently decided to teach her child to talk like Yotsuba, because she'd got the impression that the manga characters seemed to find it cute and so she'd hoped her child might elicit the same reaction. What An Idiot. That didn't end well. Yotsuba's going to have trouble in later life if someone doesn't fix that sharpish (oi, dad!) and the one false note in this manga is that no one ever tries to correct her on it. You'd think the Ayases at least might drop a hint. It's funny and distinctive, but yikes.
That said, though, I blame dad. It's not Yotsuba's fault. She's actually a very good girl, within the limits of her competence and attention span, and her reaction to being told to do something will almost always be to obey without question. Mind you, it's not as if dad doesn't have his hands full being a single father to a right handful of a daughter and dispensing more urgent life lessons (e.g. don't hurl yourself from the top of the stairs, press this button here on these power tools).
Chapters that stand out for me include 25 (consoling Fuuka on her love life), 40 (following Fuuka to school) and 68 (the lies, which is an intriguing chapter both for her dad's admirable outlook and for his double standard when it comes to following his own principles). Yotsuba's relationship with her father is clearly the most important in the manga and it's occasionally possible to argue that he's learning from her, not the other way around.
These volumes also introduce Danbo, who in reality has become a minor media star, despite the manga not having an anime adaptation. Danbo is a robot made from cardboard boxes that Yotsuba thinks is real. (That's so her.) Anyway, a Thai TV show used Danbo as its mascot, several life-size Danbo replicas appeared in a Seattle Pride Parade and there's an online series of pictures in which someone photographed a Danbo action figure in different places every day for a year. You can buy Danbo merchandise. On reading the manga, though, the odd thing is that Danbo doesn't actually appear very often at all and it wouldn't really occur to you that he could acquire breakout status like that. They're good chapters, but personally I got more from Yotsuba's ongoing feud with Yanda.
The art's excellent, too, although Tomoko was wondering if Kiyohiko Azuma might perhaps have an art assistant to draw some of the backgrounds.
Side-note: Yotsuba probably isn't Japanese. When she visited Fuuka's school, people assumed she was foreign and even tried speaking English to her. She's also the only character with an unnatural hair colour (green), although that's presumably a manga-ism rather than an indicator of ethnicity.
This is a manga I'd heartily recommend, while taking care not to build up expectations too heavily. It's driven by inconsequential charm, not by plot, and it's the kind of thing you breeze through lightly rather than being pulled. That said, though, it's excellently done. Yotsuba feels like a real child, with her lack of self-control, endless capacity for catastrophe and even greater ability to bounce back. Many things in it amuse me, e.g. Yotsuba's lack of tact to Fuuka. It's a manga to make you smile.