May 16, 2010

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Yotsuba&! Volume 4

Written by Kiyohiko Azuma
Illustrated by Kiyohiko Azuma
Yen Press

Summer is starting to fade away, but nothing can make Yotsuba's enthusiasm dim! Watch as she challenges her father to "bad mitten", tries to catch fish Ernie-style, offers counseling on love, and even starts a newspaper. As her manic energy rushes her from one project to another, can anyone keep up?

I'm going to be really sad when I catch up with Yen Press's editions of this amazing series, because picking one up always fills me with wonder as I scan the table of contents to see what kind of adventures our green-haired little imp is going to have this time around. I was particularly amused by the opening sequence, as Yotsuba's adventures with the racket were pretty similar to my own back when I was little. I also love how her father and Jumbo still exude playful energy, even though they're supposed to be too old for that sort of thing now. Their bantering and sometimes off-the-cuff overly truthful remarks (particularly Jumbo in relation to Miura) do a lot to show that Yotsuba isn't the only source of comedy in the series.

She is, however, the focal point, and drives whatever other antics occur in each chapter. Her desire to help Fuka leads to all sorts of mischief when Asagi gets involved, for instance. I love that her idea of a newspaper only consists of one page, reminding me that I'm pretty sure all of us made something similar once upon a time. As with her attempts to fish, desire to control the grocery cart, and other little things, Yotsuba's reaction to the world is probably only just a bit exaggerated from the way we tried to grow up.

That's a big part of the charm of the series as it goes on. We've moved on a bit from funny set pieces and really funny misunderstandings for Yotsuba. She's now more of an avatar for everyone's childhood--if we'd had parents and neighbors who were so forgiving! It's a change that allows the jokes to flow more naturally, I think. Yotsuba can be really funny just by inhabiting her world; there's no need to force her into funny situations.

I'm not sure where they came from, but Azuma does return to the 4-panel format of Azumanga Daioh with a section called "Yotsuba & Four-Panel Manga," which shows how the strip might work if it was in a newspaper. They're funny enough, but I prefer the longer stories. It did amuse me that the title breaks the 4th wall while Yotsuba breaks a window.

Though I'd read Yotsuba regardless of the art, I love the way Azuma uses simple cartoon techniques to help drive the comedy. The cat-eyes that Yotsuba and others feature when they're angry or determined often make me laugh, and though the facial expressions often are simple, they carry a lot of power in a few lines. I'm always able to tell what one of the cast is thinking, just by looking at how they are drawn. My only complaint, and it's a minor one, is that I don't always think that Azuma keeps the characters looking different enough to know who it is immediately. I mistook Fuka's mom for Asagi's friend a few times as a result. Fortunately, this doesn't hurt the jokes, but I do wish we'd get more clothing cues.

You can't go wrong reading Yotsuba&!, one of the best manga I've ever read. It's easy to pick up the series anywhere, but I strongly urge you to start reading from volume one right away. You'll be glad you did!