Yotsuba&! vol. 6 & 7
Written & Illustrated by Kiyohiko Azuma
Translation by Amy Forsyth
Lettered by Terri Delgado
Published by Yen Press
Oh, Yotsuba, it’s a treat to have you back. Life is poorer when you’re without a publisher.
When the series’ original English publisher discontinued Yotsuba&! in 2007, many readers were (including Caleb and I) were left devastated. What other comic offers anything approximating Yotsuba&!? Strips such as Dennis the Menace have explored similar territory, those gosh-darn kids and their crazy antics, but Dennis only touched Yotsuba&!’s hilarity during Hank Ketchum’s best days, and frankly never offered the witty, believable supporting cast or the innocently inquisitive scenarios that Kiyohiko Azuma has dreamed up for his heroine. And Calvin & Hobbes was more concerned with its lead’s inner world; Yotsuba’s presence on her family and friends is more pronounced.
Thankfully, Yen Press has stepped into the breach and begun translating new (and old, if you missed them the first time around) tales of Yotsuba. The move of publishers goes off almost flawlessly; Yen manages to explain the small handful of cultural jokes clearly in margin notes without unduly slowing down the pace of Azuma’s narrative. The characters’ voices remain consistent with the earlier translations, so readers won’t be jarred. The only bizarre change is that Yen’s translators have Yotsuba referring to herself in the third person; without knowing the Japanese, it’s hard to call this a “wrong” choice, but it’s a decision that often makes Yotsuba appear unintelligent. Although Yotsuba is easily described as innocent, gullible and utterly naïve, Azuma never portrays her as stupid.
The series follows five-year-old Yotsuba and her adopted father Koiwai, who live in a small Japanese town, where the precocious and inquisitive Yotsuba explores life for the first time. Many experiences should be within the worldview of even a five-year-old, but Yotsuba treats every single day with wonder and awe. In the sixth and seventh volumes, she attempts to recycle unwanted household items into useful products, gets her first bicycle, decides to deliver milk to her neighbor at the nearby school, and visits a working ranch. Where she punches a sheep and makes her family applaud a cow.
Uncovering each new discovery with wide-eyed wonder, Yotsuba invites readers into a world of exciting novelty, where experiences astound, and friends and family offer good-natured teasing and similar astonishment at Yotsuba’s enthusiasm and energy. Azuma puts Yotsuba through emotional rollercoasters that only add to the cuteness and hilarity. The expressive exaggeration in Yotsuba’s regret and culpability when she “breaks” a bicycle in the bike shop (She pulls the seat out of the frame.) achieves the rare double play of tugging the reader’s heartstrings while producing out-loud laughter.
The supporting cast, Yotsuba’s slacker dad, family friends Jumbo and Yanda, and the family next door, don’t display tremendous range as characters, but each offers a new perspective designed to elicit a reaction from Yotsuba. The entire cast is grounded to recognize Yotsuba’s outlandish behavior, but then many of them encourage in their own ways. While they teach her about the world, Yotsuba often inspires ludicrous fun in her family.
Azuma’s open, emotive artwork perfectly captures Yotsuba’s vigorous awe, full of simply drawn, expressive exaggeration. Each character is immediately recognizable and creatively designed to offer a range of befuddlement and bemusement at Yotsuba’s antics.
It’s just a crazy fun, cute, utterly wonderful series. Man, I’m really glad Yotsuba&!’s back!