Yotsuba&! 1

by Kiyohiko Azuma

Cover image

Series: Yotsuba&! #1
Translator: Amy Forsyth
Letterer: Terri Delgado
Publisher: Yen
Copyright: 2003, 2009
Printing: September 2009
ISBN: 0-316-07387-3
Format: Graphic novel
Pages: 224

Buy at Powell's Books

This is a translated US edition of the first seven episodes of Yotsuba&! (よつばと!) by Kiyohiko Azuma (あずまきよひこ), the same author as Azumanga Daioh. The title character is a young and rather strange girl who moves, with her remarkably laid-back father, to a new neighborhood. The other main characters of the series are her father's impressively large friend Jumbo and three sisters who live next door.

One of the memorable experiences of my childhood was watching very old black and white comedy shows replayed on cable, everything from I Love Lucy to Ozzy and Harriet (although I always preferred the ones without children in them). The best, the only TV shows that I've ever taped, and the ones that I'm still upset have never been properly collected on DVD were Burns and Allen. If you've never seen Burns and Allen, you're missing comedic brilliance. Gracie Allen's comedic schtick was that she thought at a slight angle to the rest of the world, tended to take things oddly literally, and then proceeded on that basis into hilarious situations.

Ever since then, I've had a soft spot for any character who misinterprets reality at a slight angle to everyone else, proceeds on the basis of their own self-consistent reality, and leaves the viewer or reader seeing both versions of reality at the same time. One could call it reality punning. It produces that same sense of delightful surprise as a good pun, for exactly the same reason.

Yotsuba does that sort of reality punning. It's more based on ignorance for her, and at first one wonders if she's just a parody of a five-year-old. But it becomes clear that she seems completely unfamiliar with things a normal five-year-old would be familiar with, and she takes curious delight in doing exactly those things that pop into our head but which we'd never do, like poking at a doorbell to make a person come out. She also sometimes has a hilariously literal understanding of the world that reminds me of some moments on Burns and Allen, and those surprising echos between Japanese manga and an old US TV show were the moments that had me smiling or laughing the most.

Yotsuba&! doesn't have much in the way of a plot, although each of the seven episodes has some basic unifying theme. It's mainly the story of Yotsuba's explorations of the world and the often-baffled reactions of those around her to the chaos she leaves in her wake. The humor tends towards slapstick, but thankfully is relatively light on embarassment and avoids the particularly painful romantic embarassment that seems such a mainstay of humor in both anime and manga (but leaves me cold).

As mentioned above, I'm usually not as much of a fan of children in my situational humor, but I still enjoyed Yotsuba&! quite a bit. There are some simple pratfalls and some obvious bits, but for the most part the humor is intelligent, well-timed, and relatively complicated. Azuma also lays a good groundwork of human emotion underneath the humor: Yotsuba and her dad have a clearly loving and occasionally touching relationship despite the weirdness, and the three sisters next door kind-hearted and obviously good people. There's nothing dark here. It's a story to put a smile on your face and make the world seem wonderful and full of surprises. I would get tired of reading lots of it at one stretch, but in smaller doses I quite enjoyed it.

Followed (unsurprisingly) by Yotsuba&! 2.

Rating: 7 out of 10

Reviewed: 2009-12-21

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