December 20, 2010

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Yotsuba&! Volume 5

Written by Kiyohiko Azuma
Illustrated by Kiyohiko Azuma
Yen Press

Yotsuba's adventures in life continue, as she learns about cardboard robots that take coins to move, finds a worthy opponent in another of her father's friends, makes bold statements in a video store, and has some fun at the beach. It's the world through the eyes of a child with imagination and wonder to spare as we move through the fifth volume of Yotsuba&!

As any long-time reader of this review blog knows, I'm absolutely in love with this series and its ability to show what it's like to be a child looking at the world without being patronizing or sarcastic. Azuma captures what it's like to not have to worry about what you say or do, because those around you are still there to protect you. We all lose that protection over time (some sooner than others) and it's well that we do. But all kids should be able to explore and learn in such a supportive way. I think we'd be better off for it.

One of the neat things about Yotsuba&! is that the series happens in real time. Every chapter is roughly a day or so in the life of the characters, so we are not missing any development. Anyone new to the series really is new to the series. Any growth that Yotsuba experiences, such as how to be a better helper or to find out there are people out there she doesn't like, is seen on-screen. It's extremely unusual for comics to work like that, and it certainly wouldn't do in every situation. With Yotsuba&!, however, this structure is perfect.

Yotsuba the character is always at her best when she says something completely out of context, such as when she's repeating her father's exclamations or stating what should be obvious but has subtext only an adult can understand. There's a couple of good ones in this section of the series, especially at the video store. (Wow, does reading about a video store feel antiquated now or is that just me?) Azuma works these lines in perfectly, with great comic timing and visuals that display just how surprised or embarrassed those around Yotsuba are by the situation.

My favorite this time, though, is when Yotsuba opts to help out her neighbors, the extremely patient family that ends up dealing with Yotsuba almost as much as her father. She starts by climbing on "mom's" back, steals blankets, falls down the stairs (and loves it), and manages to make cleaning the bathroom a fun--if messy--experience. Each scene in that chapter is a winner, right down to the argument over grapes.

If there's a child in you anywhere, you will love Yotsuba&!. It's simply an amazing manga that looks at being a child from the eyes of a child. No matter how you are feeling when you start reading the book, I can guarantee you'll feel better after you finish reading it. This is definitely one of my favorite manga series.