Meet Yotsuba Koiwai, the strangest little girl around. With a mind so straight it's twisted, Yotsuba takes everything in life at face value and sees everything with the eyes of impenetrable innocence. With her laid-back father, Yotsuba moves into a new house and makes new friends - friends whose minds boggle at the wacky and somewhat wise way that Yotsuba lives her daily life!
There are no words to describe the simple, sumptuous, innocent joy of Yotsuba. Completely out of genre for my usual reading interests, I find myself drawn constantly to this adorable comic delight. The characters are alive and real without being caught up in the kind of psycho-analytical development that comes with less episodic stories. The art is incredibly engaging with a simple yet deliberate style. Okay...that was a lot of words, and there could be more obviously. But this manga deserves the highest possible recommendation for fans of any style, any genre, fans of any age or sex, even people who aren't fans at all. This is the one manga I direct everyone to.
You may notice that the numbering of the chapters gets a bit wonky in the late 90s--after chapter 101 comes a second chapter 98, leading to the most recent chapter being numbered as 108 despite animeplanet (and some other places) claiming that the series has 112 chapters. My best guess as to what led to this discrepancy is that parts one and two of some of these stories were merged into single chapters when the tankobon version was published. Anyway, it's not really that important. There's 108 chapters of slice-of-life storytelling, 112 chapters of day-to-day adventures. When the series started out, the artwork was kinda mediocre to be honest. The backgrounds were acceptable, but the characters were sloppy. But over time, the quality noticeably improved. The characters still have a cartoonish quality to them that matches the genre and tone of the story, but the shading and clothes have become a lot more detailed and impressive. And the background images--the landscapes especially--now feel like absolute works of art, immersive and beautiful. The characters are endearing. The humor can be uproarious at its best moments, and leads to a pleasant atmosphere even when it doesn't induce laughter. Jumbo's deadpan humor leads to some of the best moments, in my opinion. I do enjoy the manga, and it's definitely a pillar in the slice of life genre. But the biggest problem with this type of story is that it can be difficult to tell whether we love the later chapters because they're actually good or if we mainly love them because of residual good feelings from the earlier chapters. Early on, the jokes hit hard. The antics are fresh and adorable. We fall in love with the characters. So then, being in love with them, we don't tend to take notice of "fluff chapters" or less hard-hitting chapters that may occur later in the series. And I'm not trying to say that that's necessarily an issue with the manga--the series never really feels stale, and it's always pretty pleasant watching Yotsuba experiencing new things and interact with others, even if it's not as exciting as early on. But I did feel it might be interesting to rate each chapter as I read the series, just to try to intentionally remove the nostalgia blinders that I otherwise might wear. These are my findings: Chapters 1-12: These had an average score of 8.8. The 10/10 chapters are 1, 2, 4, 9, and 10. The Fuuka chase scene in the very first chapter is probably one of the best moments in the entire series. Chapters 13-24: These had an average score of 7.1. The 10/10 chapters are 20 and 22. This section includes a fireworks show (among other things...). Chapters 25-36: These had an average score of 7.8. The only 10/10 chapter was 32. Yotsuba's nemesis, Yanda, was introduced. And they go to the beach. Chapters 37-48: These had an average score of 8.1. The only 10/10 chapter was 48. Bicycle-riding and milk were trending topics. Chapters 49-60: These had an average score of 7.2. There were no 10/10 chapters. Yotsuba gets a teddy bear, names it Juralumin. Chapters 61-72: These had an average score of 6.8. There were no 10/10 chapters. There were hot air balloons and an udon chef. Chapters 73-84: These had an average score of 5.8. There were no 10/10 chapters. Juralumin gets "hospitalized" and there's a camping trip. Chapters 85-96: These had an average score of 5.7. The only 10/10 chapter was 96. The grandma visits and we see the beginning of the Tokyo trip. Chapters 97-108: These had an average score of 5.1. The only 10/10 chapter was 97. This section includes the remainder of the Tokyo trip and Yotsuba getting into painting. [Reviewed at chapter 108 (112)]
Yotsuba is the closest I can describe as a "perfect" manga. Not in the sense that it will be the most enjoyable but rather it sets out to create what it feels like to take care of a young kid growing up and absolutely nails it. It's a beautifully illustrated, beautifully drawn, work of art that deserves as much recognition as possible. We follow Yotsuba and her Dad... and that's it. It's just a manga about the beauty of the innocence of childhood. It's incredibly sweet and refreshing like you're taking a bite out of a fresh piece of fruit. That being said, I don't think this is a manga for everyone. It's very "slice of life" and if you're not into slice of life, then you might think that Yotsuba is boring. It is admittedly a slow manga, following an episodic format without a real overarching plot, but that's the point. It fits well with the kind of story it's trying to tell but it's not something that is edge-of-your seat engaging like Fullmetal Alchemist or Berserk. It's something you pick up to remind yourself that life is about the little things and it's worth living to just... live. That being said, everyone should read this. Even if you don't love it, I think everyone can appreciate in one way or another.
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