Definitions

Yotsuba to

Yotsuba&!

is an ongoing Japanese comedy manga series by Kiyohiko Azuma, the creator of Azumanga Daioh. It is published in Japan by MediaWorks in the monthly magazine Dengeki Daioh and collected in eight tankobon volumes as of August 2008. It depicts the everyday adventures of a young girl named Yotsuba as she learns about the world around her. Several characters in Yotsuba&! were previously featured in a one-shot manga called "Try! Try! Try!" The phrase Yotsuba to means "Yotsuba and," a fact reflected in the chapter titles, most of which take the form "Yotsuba and something."

The manga is licensed for English language distribution by ADV Manga. After three volumes were released in English in 2005, the series was put on hold until the release, in June 2007, of volume four. Volume six was supposed to have been released in February 2008 but has been delayed indefinitely; Chris Oarr, A.D. Vision's sales and marketing representative, has stated that while they hope to eventually schedule new release dates for Yotsuba&!, ADV is currently focusing on its core business, which is anime.

Story

Yotsuba&! is centered on Yotsuba Koiwai, a five-year-old adopted girl who is energetic, cheerful, curious, odd, and quirky—so odd and quirky that even her own father calls her strange. She is also initially ignorant about many things a child her age would be expected to know, among them doorbells, escalators, air conditioners, and even playground swings. This naivete is the premise of humorous stories where she learns about, and frequently misunderstands, everyday things.

At the start of the series, Yotsuba and her adoptive father, Koiwai, relocate to a new city with the help of Koiwai's best friend, an impressively tall man nicknamed Jumbo. Yotsuba makes a strong impression on the three daughters of the neighboring Ayase family, Asagi, Fuka, and Ena, and many of her misadventures come from her interactions with them.

The series has no continuing plot—the focus of the stories is Yotsuba's daily voyage of discovery. Many chapters take place on successive days (for details, see List of Yotsuba&! chapters), so that the series follows, almost literally, the characters' daily lives. The tone can be summarized by the motto, used on chapter title pages and advertising, .

Main characters

Koiwai household

Yotsuba is depicted as an energetic five-year-old girl with a child's wonder towards even the most unremarkable of new discoveries. She is shown finding enjoyment in nearly everything, and her constant enthusiasm is infectious. Before moving to her present house, she and Koiwai lived with his mother, then before that on an island that is, according to her, "to the left. Nothing is known about Yotsuba's parentage other than that she was orphaned somewhere outside of Japan and subsequently adopted by Koiwai and that she is sometimes taken for a foreigner by strangers. She is an excellent swimmer, but not as good an artist as she thinks she is.

The name can be translated as "four leaves," and is part of the phrase . Her green hair is always worn in four pigtails, giving her somewhat the appearance of her namesake.
Koiwai, given name unknown, is Yotsuba's adoptive father. The circumstances of her adoption are obscure—he tells Fuka that without intending to, he found himself taking care of her while somewhere overseas, but gives no other details. Though he acknowledges Yotsuba is a bit odd, he can be offbeat himself. He is depicted as something of a slacker; he habitually wears an undershirt and boxer shorts when working at home, and apologizes more than once for being "irresponsible." He works from home as a translator, though what languages and materials he translates is unknown. Regardless of his skills as a parent, Koiwai tries to be a good father to Yotsuba.

Ayase household

The Ayases live next-door to the Koiwais.

The eldest of the three Ayase sisters, Asagi lives at home while attending a nearby university. She is depicted as an attractive young woman who enjoys teasing people, especially her parents. She is the best of her family at managing Yotsuba, and her mother claims she was much like Yotsuba when she was young. Asagi's irreverence may have come from her mother's teasing when she was a child—for example, when Asagi found a four-leaf clover, Mrs. Ayase asked for a five-leaf clover instead, which Asagi could not find. If she is aware of Jumbo's infatuation with her, she has not said anything.
The middle Ayase sister, Fuka is 16 years old and in her second year at a local high school. She is the most responsible of the sisters, and during Yotsuba's first visit to her school, one student calls her "vice-president. She finds herself frequently helping the Koiwais, even though she does not intend to and is more flustered by their eccentricities than anyone else. Fuka is often teased by the other characters, especially about her fashion sense and sense of humor. She is fond of making bad puns, which irritates Asagi, and wearing shirts with odd or interesting graphics (such as Chiyo's "father" from Azumanga Daioh, who also appears as a plushie in her room).
The youngest Ayase sister, Ena is a few years older than Yotsuba and her most frequent playmate. She is sensible for her age and tries to be responsible by recycling and limiting her use of air conditioning. Her attempts to spare Yotsuba's feelings sometimes lead her to make little white lies, such as praising Yotsuba's childish sketches or letting her believe that Miura's cardboard costume is a real robot named Cardbo, with consequences that rebound on herself and Miura. Ena likes drawing, something at which she is quite skilled, and playing with her teddy bears, either by herself or with Yotsuba. Ena is unsqueamish and even enthusiastic about such things as handling large frogs and gutting live fish.
The mother of the Ayase sisters, who frequently has Yotsuba over as a visitor. Unlike her daughters, she seems unfazed by Yotsuba's habit of calling her "Mom." She is often irritated with Asagi, possibly because, as her husband observes, they have similar personalities. Mrs. Ayase has something of a sweet tooth, with cravings for ice cream, cake, and other desserts.
The father of the Ayase sisters is almost never at home, at least during the workweek. While his profession is not revealed, it appears consistent with the life of a salaryman. Asagi frequently teases him about his constant absence, even sometimes mentioning him in past tense as if he were dead, but he otherwise has good relationships with the rest of the family. He has a very laid-back and sentimental personality.

Friends

A friend of Koiwai and Yotsuba, having known Koiwai since they were childhood classmates. Standing 210 centimeters (over 6 foot 10 inches) tall, he dwarfs the other characters, especially Yotsuba. He is always called by the nickname "Jumbo," and when Fuka learns his real name she calls it "common." He works at his father's flower shop, as Yotsuba discovers when she meets him there. He helps the Koiwais move in and frequently visits their house, where he is more or less treated as a member of the family by Yotsuba.

Jumbo has a dry sense of humor and is prone to deadpan quips, which sometimes confuse members of the Ayase family. At the same time, he is impulsive, and sometimes spontaneously organizes activities for the younger children, such as fishing and star-gazing. As he does this, he enters a bizarre one-sided rivalry with Miura, including spending a single day in Hawai'i after he learns that she will be going abroad. He develops a deep infatuation with Asagi when he first meets her, but is too nervous around women to directly act on it. Instead, he tries to use Yotsuba's friendship with Asagi as a way of getting close to her, though his plans usually backfire.
A friend and classmate of Ena. She is boyish and brusque, in both her appearance and speech (this is very noticeable in the Japanese version; see gender differences in spoken Japanese). Sometimes, she can be too straightforward and insensitive, and she counters aggressively in a tsukkomi-like manner if she feels mistaken or made fun of. Because of this, Miura appears less kind and thoughtful than Ena, but she is aware of others' feelings. For example, she immediately notices Jumbo's infatuation with Asagi and uses it to her advantage. She is also extremely squeamish: when Jumbo takes the younger children fishing, Miura refuses to handle live bait, using salmon roe instead, and hides while Jumbo and Ena clean their catches; she is also terrified by a large frog Yotsuba catches. Miura often wears sports-related clothing (such as jerseys of the Los Angeles Lakers and Los Angeles Dodgers) and rides a unicycle.
A friend of Asagi's, surname unknown, who seems to attend the same university. She smokes constantly and appears obsessed with being cool. Because of this, she sometimes gets annoyed with Yotsuba's antics, though she also admits to Koiwai she's not used to being around small children. Her name means "tiger girl," and Yotsuba frequently calls her just Tora ("tiger"). She is the only member of the younger cast with a car.
Yanda, given name unknown, is a friend of Koiwai and Jumbo. Though he is mentioned in the first chapter, he does not appear until chapter 30. Jumbo calls Yanda "no good" for making lame excuses for not helping the Koiwais move. When he finally visits, he tries to get inside while Yotsuba is home alone, making her extremely suspicious of him. He is somewhat childish, as shown by the tit-for-tat pranks he plays on Yotsuba, including bribing her with candy then taking it back when it does not work, eating her ice cream, and prank-calling her. Koiwai refers to him as his kōhai, but in what context he is Koiwai's junior is unknown. Yanda is living from paycheck to paycheck, telling Koiwai that he eats instant ramen because he does not get paid until the end of the month.
A friend of Fuka's, given name unknown, who is in the same homeroom. Her first official appearance is in chapter 45, when she visits Fuka's home and recognizes Yotsuba from her trip to their high school in chapter 40. Hiwatari has a somewhat eccentric personality. She is normally called by her nickname "Shimauu" (or "Miss Stake" in a common English fan translation) due to a "mistake" she made when she first introduced herself to her class—in Japanese, "shimau" used as an auxiliary verb means to do something by accident, hence the pun.

Development

In 1998, Azuma published a one-shot manga and two webcomics called "Try! Try! Try!", in which Yotsuba, her father (who is unnamed), Ena, Fuka, and Asagi first appeared. Although some of these characters, including Yotsuba herself, are largely the same as in Yotsuba&!, Fuka has a different character design, a more mischievous personality, and a different spelling of her given name (in "Try! Try! Try!", it is written with the kanji , meaning "wind-summer"; in Yotsuba&!, it is , meaning "wind-scent").

Reception

Yotsuba&! is drawn not in the vertical four-panel strips of Azuma's earlier series, Azumanga Daioh, but in a full-page format giving him more artistic scope. Azuma's work on Yotsuba&! has been noted for his clean art, detailed backgrounds, and expressive faces. Azuma is also praised for his joyous tone, slice-of-life storytelling, comedic writing, and eccentric yet realistic characters, especially Yotsuba herself. The Comics Reporter described the series as "read[ing] like a love letter to the way kids can be at the age of 2-5," and a reviewer at Anime News Network compared Azuma's ability to capture "the wonder of childhood" to Bill Watterson's in Calvin and Hobbes. However, Azuma has been criticized for creating characters that are "too clean, too perfectly functional," for overusing "outrageous expressions and reactions," and for dragging out jokes too long.

Yotsuba&! has been popular with readers as well as reviewers. For example, volume six was the third best-selling comic in Japan for the first half of 2007, and volumes seven and eight both were number two on the Tohan comics chart the week they debuted. The first five volumes of the English translation were each among the top 100 selling graphic novels in the United States in the month of release.

Awards and recognitions

Yotsuba&! received an Excellence Award for Manga at the 2006 Japan Media Arts Festival, where the jury citation praised the vivid characters and gentle atmosphere. The English translation was listed as one of the best 20 comics of 2005 by Publishers Weekly, one of the best comics of 2006 by the staff of The Comics Journal, and one of the top graphic novels for teens in 2008 by YALSA. Volume one was named Book of the Month in the June 2005 issue of Newtype USA.

In 2008 Yotsuba&! was nominated for the 12th Osamu Tezuka Culture Award and the Eisner Award "Best Publication for Kids" category.

There was an exhibit of Yotsuba&! art at the Gallery of Fantastic Art in Tokyo from 2–17 December 2006.

Media

Despite its popularity and the success of Azumanga Daioh, no plans have been announced for an anime adaptation of Yotsuba&!. In an entry posted on his website on 2005-05-15, Azuma said there were no plans for it to be animated.

Manga

Each chapter of Yotsuba&! takes place on a specific, nearly sequential day of a common year starting on Wednesday. The year was initially believed to be 2003, coinciding with the date of the manga's serialization, but Azuma has stated that the manga always takes place in the present day. This allows the appearance of products created after 2003, such as the Nintendo DS Mr. Ayase plays in chapter forty-two.

The collected volumes have seven chapters each, spanning about a week in series time. The first five volumes cover a summer vacation period.

Calendars

Both monthly and daily Yotsuba&! calendars have been released every year since 2005. The 2005 edition of the monthly calendar featured pictures of Yotsuba playing with animals such as lions, zebras, and kangaroos. The 2006, 2007, and 2008 editions feature photographs altered to include Yotsuba doing such things as playing with other children or reaching for a balloon. The photographs were by Miho Kakuta, with drawings by Kiyohiko Azuma. The daily calendars have a mix of original and manga artwork, with occasional captions, as well as other fun items—for example, the 2006 calendar had a game of shiritori ongoing through the year. The daily calendars run from April to March, following the Japanese school year instead of the calendar year.

Music

Two Yotsuba&! music CDs have been released, both purely instrumental, called "image albums". The music is designed to elicit mental images of events described by the titles. Both albums are composed by Masaki Kurihara and performed by the Kuricorder Pops Orchestra, who also worked together on the Azumanga Daioh soundtrack.

  • The first album, Yotsuba&♪, released in April 2005, follows Yotsuba throughout the course of a typical day.
  • The second album, Yotsuba&♪ Music Suite (General Winter), released in November 2006, depicts the season of winter, including Christmas and New Year's celebrations. is a personification of harsh winters, similar to Jack Frost.

Picture books

Yotsuba&! has also expanded into a picture book series, with one volume published to date, Yotsuba & Monochrome Animals, released in December 2006 (ISBN 978-4-8402-3714-7). The book has pictures of Yotsuba playing with various black-and-white colored animals, such as pandas. The name of each animal is given in Japanese and English, along with the scientific classification of the species.

Notes

External links

Official websites

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