Yotsuba&! 1 by Kiyohiko Azuma: A

From the back cover:
Hello! This is Koiwai Yotsuba, Yotsuba Koiwai… um, YOTSUBA! Yotsuba moved with Daddy to a new house from our old house waaaaaaay over there! And moving’s fun ‘cos people wave! (Ohhhh!!) And Yotsuba met these nice people next door and made friends to play with. I hope we get to play a lot. And eat ice cream! And-and-and… oh yeah! You should come play with Yotsuba too!

I’ve learned through experience to be dubious when someone tells me that something is funny—oafs being oafish seem to be the standard of humor these days, but that sort of thing has never appealed to me—so imagine my delight when Yotsuba&! actually lived up to the hype.

I probably don’t need to describe the setup, since I’m the last kid on the block to get around to reading this title, but it’s essentially a slice-of-life story about the daily adventures of a permanently happy and curious five-year-old girl named Yotsuba. Yotsuba encounters something new in each chapter—prompting titles like “Yotsuba & Moving,” “Yotsuba & Global Warming,” et cetera—and never fails to greet these things with enthusiasm.

There really isn’t much plot aside from this. We do learn that Yotsuba is an orphan who was taken in by the fellow she now regards as her father, but her sad origins are not really the point. Instead, the story focuses on the wonder she finds in everyday things. The second chapter, for example, is a gentle farce in which Yotsuba accidentally gets locked in the bathroom, escapes through the window, wanders the neighborhood in her pajamas, and discovers the magic of doorbells. “A person came ouuut!”

While Yotsuba is the source of much of the humor, other characters do elicit some laughs, too. Most of the jokes arise out of either the situation at hand or some kind of universal observation, which I really like. I’m particularly fond of the silly song Yotsuba sings after a charmed ramen proprietor gives her an egg on the house: “Free! Free! This egg came out—and we were like, WHOA!”

Sometimes Yotsuba’s curiosity does cause her to misbehave, like when she and her father take a trip to the department store and end up disturbing other customers. On one hand, I sympathize with the parent who might find her antics headache-inducing, but at the same time, it feels like such a shame to have to scold her for her unrestrained behavior. Most of us were probably at least a little similar to Yotsuba at this age, but we learned to obey the rules of polite society and can now claim to be civilized. Are we happier for it, though? Knowing that Yotsuba will one day change offers a bittersweet counterpoint to the hilarity.

In the end, I add my voice to the chorus of those singing the praises of Yotsuba&!. While I own the other volumes currently available in English, I’m going to take this series one at a time to better savor its charms.

Yotsuba&! was originally published in English by ADV, but fell into licensing limbo after five volumes. The license was rescued by Yen Press, who, in addition to picking up where ADV left off, also reissued the first five volumes with a new translation. The series is still ongoing in Japan and is up to nine volumes there.

Review copy provided by the publisher.

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  2. […] up as: “Yep, still awesome!” I really don’t have much to add to what I said in my review of volume one. Yotsuba is still wide-eyed and exuberant, there are still many laugh-out-loud scenes and lines of […]

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