Yotsuba&!

Created by: Kiyohiko Azuma

Published by: Yen Press

ISBN: 0316073873 (Amazon)

Pages: 208

Genre: Comedy, Manga

Yotsuba&!

We sometimes encounter things—moments, vistas, sounds, ideas—that wholly disarm us. Things that slide so neatly between our hope for the world and our experience of the world that our rational mind is sheared momentarily from the engine of our dreams, that part of us that fuels and crafts desires, longings, hopes, and wishes. We sometimes encounter things that divorce us from the corrupting coolness of reason and leave us in a state, however temporary, of unblemished joy. These things are treasures. These things give us a glimpse of What May Have Been and sometimes even What Could Someday Be. These things are rare and wonderful.

And sometimes these things are books.

Yotsuba&! is one of these sources of magic for me. And, I suspect, for a great number of others as well. Kiyohiko Azuma’s series is an unexpected pleasure. Even if one approaches the work with the knowledge that Yotsuba&! bubbles forth as a fountain of joyfulness, this little girl’s nature and adventures will still surprise in how purely they deliver one into this momentary Other Place.

Yotsuba by Kiyohiko Azuma

Plainly put, Yotsuba&! is one of my favorite reading experiences of all time and the only one to so wholly transport me into a world of smiles and laughter.

Azuma’s story concerns a strange young girl—a five-year-old with green hair and pigtails—and the way she interacts with the world about her. (Her name, Yotsuba, means four-leaf and refers conveniently enough to the way she wears her green hair in four distinct pigtails.) While there is always some exploration of the outside world, the book primarily revolves around Yotsuba’s interactions with her father, Koiwai, and her next-door neighbours and their three daughters.

Plot descriptions, of course, cannot remotely approach conveying any sense of why these stories are such a joy. Really, they have to be experienced firsthand to fully apprehend their power to carve out so magical a world, but here: let me at least try.

Yotsuba by Kiyohiko Azuma

Yotsuba’s sense of wonder in the way she approaches an environment with which she apparently has had no experience is astonishing in its guilelessness. Yotsuba brims with enthusiasm and the pleasure with which she takes on each new experience leaves us breathless as that enthusiasm spreads. Her father is consistently amused by her naïveté and her neighbours are never certain what exactly to make of her. And yet, she really does inspire affection in everyone she encounters.

Again, my descriptions can only serve as a diminishment to what pleasures are actually found in the book. I am entirely out of my depth to sound out Yotsuba&!'s charms, but perhaps we should just leave it at this: whenever a new volume arrives in the mail, I curl up comfortably with my wife, finding the best lighting possible under such snuggly conditions, and I read each chapter to her aloud, trying to muster in my own voice the clear enthusiasm in Yotsuba’s own.

And then we both smile a lot.

Yotsuba by Kiyohiko Azuma

It should be noted that there are two English translations available. ADV Manga held the license for Yotsuba&! for a number of years but as the manga bubble burst due to over saturation and ADV experienced its own problems that from the outside simply looked like poor business management, the company let slip the license to publish the book in America. Yen Press thankfully picked it up and has been publishing ever since, both taking on the new volumes and republishing their own translations of the previously released volumes.

While I am very thankful that due to Yen Press’ work, Yotsuba&! is still available to readers today, I really did prefer ADV’s translation. While I don’t speak or read Japanese, it looks like Yen Press’ translation is probably more faithful to the original language, retaining honorifics such and -san and -chan. That’s good and I applaud their fidelity, but as a reader, ADV’s work just flows better and breathes more life into Yotsuba and her supporting cast. While the books are still greatly enjoyable, whenever I read the books out loud, I find myself translating from Yen Press’ English into ADV’s on the fly. It’s tiring, but it makes for an altogether better experience for readers/listeners.

Yotsuba by Kiyohiko Azuma

 

Good Ok Bad features reviews of comics, graphic novels, manga, et cetera using a rare and auspicious three-star rating system. Point systems are notoriously fiddly, so here it's been pared down to three simple possibilities:

3 Stars = Good
2 Stars = Ok
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I am Seth T. Hahne and these are my reviews.

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