Yotsuba&! 2-8 by Kiyohiko Azuma: A

The theme of this month’s Manga Moveable Feast is a Kids’ Table featuring discussion of Yotsuba&! and other kid-friendly manga. Here is my take on the former; be sure to check out this week’s Off the Shelf where MJ and I will talk about the latter!

My opinions on these seven delightful volumes of Yotsuba&! can be summed 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 dialogue, and I still teeter on the edge between wanting Yotsuba to stay as she is forever and wanting to see her grow up. Instead of a straightforward review, then, I thought I’d share my favorite moments in each of these volumes.

Volume two:
Yotsuba encounters frogs, pools, and cake in this volume, but my favorite chapter is entitled “Yotsuba & Vengeance.” Inspired by a movie her dad and Jumbo are watching, Yotsuba whips out a water gun and “kills” them both, then changes characters and swears to avenge them. She promptly goes next door and squirts her neighbor, Mrs. Ayase.

Mrs. Ayase: Aaaah, I’ve been murdered!
Yotsuba: Yep.
Yotsuba: Ah, where’s Ena?
Mrs. Ayase: Huh? Aren’t I supposed to be dead?
Yotsuba: …
Yotsuba: You’re half alive.

Hee! After providing the requested information, Mrs. Ayase is squirted again and told, “Now you’re full dead.”

Volume three:
One thing you really begin to notice with volume three is continuity between chapters that renders them not entirely episodic. At the end of volume two, Yotsuba’s neighbor, Asagi Ayase, returns from her a trip to Okinawa with souvenirs for her family and some goodies to share with Yotsuba. This makes Yotsuba want to give Asagi a souvenir, too, but you have to go somewhere first to do that. So she goes to the park and looks around and finally finds a four-leaf clover, which she proudly presents to Asagi. When Asagi and her friend proceed to drive off, Yotsuba waits impatiently for their return, certain she will be brought another souvenir at that time. My favorite moment of this volume occurs when Asagi returns, seemingly empty-handed. It’s a really great example of nonverbal storytelling and I especially love what Yotsuba does with her hands.

Volume four:
For some reason, volume four feels especially slice-of-lifey to me. Yotsuba has a plethora of amusing reactions to the things she encounters, as per usual, but my favorite chapter involves a simple trip to the grocery store to buy ingredients to make a “regular delicious” meal. I love, too, how Yotsuba takes the lesson that the smaller cart is “for kids” and applies the same reasoning to things like quail eggs and (presumably) cherry tomatoes. Plus, that hamburg steak that they’re having for dinner sounds super tasty! (I’m much more dubious about the konnyaku.)

Volume five:
Although volume five is home to the classic chapter “Yotsuba & Danbo,” in which Yotsuba interacts with a cardboard robot without knowing her neighbor’s classmate is inside, my favorite chapter is actually “Yotsuba & Rain.” Maybe I’m just partial to episodes in which Yotsuba and her dad run errands together, but this has the two of them venturing out into the rain to return a DVD. After Yotsuba fails at the art of umbrella, assures the clerk that the dolphins jumping “like boing” were awesome, and sings a little song to the amusement of another patron (“We are all living! And living is pain!”), she wraps up her afternoon by accosting random strangers and asking if they’ve tried taiyaki. The whole chapter sums up her character, and her relationship with her father, very well. The one sour note in this volume is the introduction of Yanda, a coworker of Yotsuba’s father, who essentially gets his kicks out of antagonizing a five-year-old child.

Volume six:
The most significant thing to happen to Yotsuba in volume six is that she gets a bike. This leads to a variety of cute scenes, but the best chapter is “Yotsuba & Delivering,” in which Yotsuba attempts to catch up with a school-bound Fuuka on her bike—which she is not supposed to be riding without an adult present—in order to share some delicious milk with her. I love the duo of panels in which we see first a corner with simply the “gara gara” (rattle) sound effect of the bike, and then the same corner after Yotsuba has finally made it around. In general, Yotsuba seems a little more restive and mischievous in this volume, disrupting Ena when she’s doing homework, eating her father’s eclair when she knows she shouldn’t and then going next door in search of a replacement, et cetera. Azuma really captures kid behavior so well. Even a child as charming as Yotsuba has impulse control issues and then resorts to sneaky means to cover up afterwards!

Volume seven:
One of the things I enjoy most about Yotsuba&! is seeing how she thinks, especially when she’s trying to solve problems. In the chapter “Yotsuba & Errands,” rather than ask another customer at a convenience store to help her get down a Cup Noodle she can’t reach, she asks for something long. The customer finds a fluorescent bulb that suffices and watches, stunned, as Yotsuba uses it to bat the noodles down from the shelf. There’s also a lot of great nonverbal storytelling in this volume, particularly in a chapter in which Yotsuba, Fuuka, and Fuuka’s school friend attempt to make a cake, whimsically taking periodic breaks to express their cake-making feelings through interpretive dance.

Volume eight:
Although I adore Yotsuba’s reactions to the various things she encounters at the cultural festival being held at Fuuka’s school as well as her stint riding atop Jumbo’s shoulders, my favorite chapter is “Yotsuba & the Typhoon.” From its opening page, on which an awestruck Yotsuba is seen through a rain-splashed window, you know this one is something special. The goodness continues when Yotsuba insists on going next door and dashes out to frolic jubilantly in the downpour. Her father is aghast at first and then surrenders to the moment himself. I’m happy that he’s the one who tries to see things the way Yotsuba does, especially since the neighbors don’t want to join on the fun. The chapter is capped off by a perfect page of nonverbal storytelling as Yotsuba tests the hypothesis that if she were to go outside and open an umbrella, she’d fly away.

I thoroughly enjoyed my Yotsuba&! binge. What’s more, this series has tremendous reread potential—more, perhaps, than any other series I can think of—so I’m sure I’ll enjoy returning to it in future.

What are some of your favorite Yotsuba&! moments?

Review copies for volumes 2-6 provided by the publisher.

For more of the Kids’ Table MMF, check out the archive at Good Comics for Kids.

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