Tuesday, December 8, 2009
Yotsuba&!, vol. 1
While Yen Press picked up the lapsed license for this manga and started printing it earlier this year, I actually reviewed a volume by the previous publisher, ADV Manga.
The story: Yotsuba is an energetic, curious and pig-tailed 5-year-old who has just moved into a new neighborhood with her dad. After meeting her neighbors, the Ayases, she has goofy adventures from learning about the dangers of global warming and air conditioners to catching cicadas with her dad's best friend, Jumbo, and one of her new neighbors. Along with her dad, Jumbo and the Ayases, every day is a new experience for Yotsuba.
Reaction: This is one of those series I've been meaning to read and I'm glad I finally got to it. Yotsuba is a curious little girl and everything she does reminded me of the innocence and wonder of childhood. Each chapter is an unrelated and humorous story, usually where Yotsuba discovers something remarkable and hilarious. Interestingly, her dad seems like a slacker, even if he does work from home as a translator. The only thing that surprised me was his apparent nonchalance when Yotsuba got lost in their new neighborhood. Of course, my surprise disappeared once I learned a bit more about Yotsuba.
Deep thoughts: It's barely mentioned, but Yotsuba is adopted by her father. While it's not a big deal in the manga, there is a social stigma attached to adoption in Japan, whose adoption laws haven't changed since the 1940s following World War II. However, a traditional adoption practice has been held over -- the adoption of grandchildren by older people without descendants. In order to pass on the family name, inheritance or company, an older person without children might adopt an adult into the family to keep their name alive.
Artwork: I love the character design here -- from Yotsuba's green, pigtails-cum-four-leafed clover 'do to Jumbo's impressive height and gaudy Hawaiian shirts! It's very shonen in its design, at times reminding me of Full Metal Alchemist (perhaps it's Yotsuba's surprised and aghast little face à la Edward Elric). Kiyohiko Azuma's paneling paces the story along nicely, rushing us along after Yotsuba and her latest adventure.
The verdict: Required reading. This is the perfect "gateway manga" for anyone unfamiliar with Japanese comics. It's unassuming and endearing in a way that sneaks up on you without blinding you with its cuteness -- kind of like Yotsuba herself! Yotsuba&! is available in the U.S. from Yen Press.