Yotsuba&!: Volumes 1 – 5

Yotsuba&! chronicles the life of Yotsuba Koiwai, a five year old girl that has just moved to a new neighbourhood with her father, who is simply called Mr Koiwai. We follow Yotsuba as she meets the neighbours, goes swimming, buys food and gets influenced by TV shows. Sounds a bit like Big Brother right?

While a premise like that could have easily fallen flat, Kiyohiko Azuma (Creator of the widely popular manga, Azumanga Daioh) has moulded a character that turns these inane activities and non stories into a pure joy to read. Yotsuba has an almost unstoppable energy and carefree naivety that makes her stand out from other female manga and anime characters around the same age. I don’t think I could name many that weren’t depicted as being just shy little girls. Rather than shy away from situations and experiences Yotsuba races in and sees everything with wide eyed delight. When she doesn’t understand she loudly questions about whatever it may be to whoever is around.

Each chapter is linked in an almost daily fashion and as the days pass, so do the seasons with the start of volume one being early summer and by the time we reach volume five Autumn has started to creep in. This gives the series a very natural flow and something that solidly ties these otherwise unrelated things that Yotsuba does together. This linear passage of time manages to subtly change the natural environments and give Yotsuba new experiences as the year progresses. By building a friendship with the neighbours we see not only Yotsuba but those around her grow.

One of the criticisms I’ve read about the series is that the lives of the characters are unrealistic, idealized and that they don’t really have any troubles or major concerns. Well that is somewhat true and I won’t deny that; however, I see that way of looking at the series as largely missing the point. The series follows the experiences of Yotsuba so it makes sense that we would see the world from the eyes of a five year old. Young children rarely see those troubles and problems ahead and only focus only on the immediate moment in a perhaps naive and honest manner. It’s a fresh and unique perspective that you don’t usually find in manga.

Reading Yotsuba is the manga equivalent of sitting in the garden with a gentle breeze blowing by with a pint of ice cold Strongbow set on the arm of the deckchair. It’s relaxing, refreshing and has a good message that we could probably all learn a little from. It’s not a manga about despair or the awful things that can happen, it’s a story about those little joys in life that we usually don’t notice or take for granted. “Enjoy Everything”, the manga states on numerous occasions. Maybe after reading Yotsuba&! and perhaps gaining a new perspective you’ll start enjoy everything a little more too.

Sadly due to ADV hitting the rocks lately most of their manga titles have been put on indefinite hold including Yotsuba&! which is now stranded at volume five with my pre-order for volume six that was due out in February automatically canceled and labeled as being unavailable. Still, with five volumes already released there is a lot of Yotsuba&! already out there. We can only hope that ADV gets back on their feet at some point and continues to release the series. The wait is one thing I don’t enjoy.

9 / 10