Manga-ka: Kiyohiko Azuma
Publisher: Yen Press
Rating: All Ages
Release Date: September 2009
Synopsis: “Yotsuba’s getting a biiiiike, Yotsuba’s getting a biiiiiike!! Didja know the wheels of a bike go round and round and round and round and round and round and round and round and round and round and round and round and roun — oh, Yotsuba’s getting dizzy…whoooooa…”
Yotsuba’s Father sums up the key reason that readers adore Yotsuba&!: “I love the way she reacts to stuff like this.” And well you should, Kowai (well, most of the time anyway). In this volume the rambunctious little girl gets her first bike, and as if she couldn’t already explore the world well enough on two feet, wait until you see her on two wheels. After what easily felt like forever, the next and long awaited volume of Yotsuba&! is finally in the hands of English readers!
And of course Yotsuba&! fans have the generous staff of Yen Press to thank for it. Not only have they re-released the entire series up to volume six to coincide with the release of this newest volume, but the whole series has been treated to a makeover, from stylishly slimmed down packaging to a complete rewrite of the interior text. As if the series didn’t already possess enough remarkable reread potential, there’s never been a better time for readers new and old to sit down with Yotsuba&! and discover (or rediscover) its addictive charm.
So what’s on Yotsuba’s plate this volume? Much of it follows her during her first biking escapades, from choosing the perfect bike to getting up from each bump, scrape and tumble. A new character is also introduced: a shaggy faced bike shop owner with a good sense of humour and a pleasantly subtle love for bicycles. I hope we see more of him, someone else who so enjoys a straight-faced ploy at the expense of Yotsuba’s gullibility. Some old favourites (and foes) return to do the same, including the giant-sized Jumbo and the accursed troublemaker Yanda, plus of course the next-door neighbours and their visiting friends. Everyone’s Yotsuba-witnessed escapades go from building the perfect bookshelf to learning about the benefits of recycling.
An especially fun chapter, one that manages to be both cute and oddly suspenseful, sees Yotsuba don the job of Milkman and take off on another self-appointed mission. Where she finds herself offers up plenty of entertainment as I always love the opportunity to set Yotsuba in a different environment (as if her time at home doesn’t always manage to be tons of fun for her and readers alike on its own), and her journey there was fantastic, lots of moments of cute but also some moments of exhaustion and trial where it was impossible not to feel for the little trooper.
The artwork in Yotsuba&! is as charming and meticulously planned as always, never ceasing to amaze. It’s easy to take a quick look at the art and think that something so seemingly simple isn’t in the realm of ‘meticulous’ but it’s there you’d be wrong. The ability the artist has to make every panel count, every page turn a relevant pause and no expression unmemorable, shows that’s he someone not only well-gifted in his craft but also one dedicated to making sure every moment is delivered just right. It’s been a little while since I’ve read Yotsuba&! but I kept getting the feeling that Kiyohiko Azuma is getting more and more comfortable using larger panels, and they’re used with great effect in this book. Not only is it worthy of a laugh to see Yotsuba’s stunned face take up half a page but there’s some really great pull-back shots as well which do wonders putting in place a mood or setting.
On the side of things that are a little different this time around, Yen Press’s writing in the new book is refreshingly suiting to the material. I didn’t have any personal qualms with the way ADV had handled the dialogue but it does make notable difference having Yotsuba mispronouncing words and calling her Father “Daddy”, all in a successful effort to make her exude even more endearingly childish features than she already had. This also serves well in Yen Press’s quality-measures’ favour because more than once you’ll come across what you think is a spelling error, but if it’s coming out of Yotsuba’s mouth, fair to assume it’s intentional! Translation notes are also slipped in when necessary throughout the book to explain some otherwise near-indecipherable-when-translated humour, which makes for some good authenticity of the author’s original intent.
All in all, another great instalment of Yotsuba&!. Really, there’s never been a series that has me so eager to leap into a comfortable chair, sit back and enjoy. If you’ve ever wondered why this series receives as much acclaim and adoration as it does, then pick yourself up any of the now-six available copies and see it in action. These books are sugary sweet, fantastically funny and not to be missed.