When Yotsuba Koiwai and her father move into a new neighbourhood, it soon becomes clear to her neighbours that Yotsuba is no ordinary five-year-old- in fact, she might just be the most clueless and naïve person on the planet. Nonetheless, in the face of Yotsuba’s overwhelming enthusiasm for even the simplest things in life, those around her just can’t seem to help getting pulled along for the ride.
Upon examining the synopsis for Yotsuba&, you could be forgiven for thinking that it doesn’t really sound all that exciting- can thirty-eight chapters of Yotsuba experiencing everyday life really have much in the way of appeal? The answer, as it turns out, is that yes, they can. This is no Binbou Shimai Monogatari, filled with tedium, repetition and angst; instead, Yotsuba& is gentle, light-hearted, and imbued with the oft-mentioned sense of wonder that turns the straightforward into the fascinating.
Unsurprisingly, the key to this success is the eponymous Yotsuba; admittedly, she can be annoying at times, but her complete lack of common sense and inbuilt preconceptions adds a fresh perspective to all of her adventures. Whether you find yourself laughing at Yotsuba’s unique and enthusiastic approach to the world, or smiling with nostalgia for simpler times, Yotsuba& makes everything from fishing trips and days at the beach to shopping and buying flowers into an entertaining and edifying experience.
Of course, whilst Yotsuba may be the star of the show, the other characters are by no means unimportant. Upon arriving in her new neighbourhood, Yotsuba is quick to befriend the three sisters that live next door- upbeat and hardworking Ena, earnest middle-child Fuka, and the playfully mischievous Asagi. In time, more personalities are added to the roster, and whilst this isn’t the sort of series where character development is of the utmost priority, nor does everything reset at the end of each chapter; slow as the process is, time does pass, and with it character relationships evolve.
Those familiar with Azumanga Daioh will instantly recognise Kiyohiko Azuma’s trademark style- characters have round faces, large eyes and simple hairstyles, but whilst they are all of similar stock, it is rarely difficult to distinguish between them. Where included, backgrounds are detailed, but are always well laid out and uncluttered.
The perfect manga to read on a lazy summer’s day, Yotsuba& takes the simplest of events and makes them fresh and exciting by portraying them through the eyes of an energetic five-year-old. Whether you want to chuckle at Yotsuba’s naïve enthusiasm, or laugh at her complete lack of common sense, this is one series guaranteed to raise the spirits of all but the most downcast of readers.
Random trivia: Yotsuba and her friends first appeared in a manga short entitled Try! Try! Try!