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Yotsuba&! Vol. 4
posted May 31, 2007
 

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Creator: Kiyohiko Azuma
Publishing Information: ADV Manga, softcover, 200 pages, June 2007, $9.95
Ordering Numbers: 1413903452 (ISBN10), 9781413903454 (ISBN13)

The fourth volume of the domestic comedy Yotsuba&! makes a welcome, surprise appearance on the mark some two years after the first one. The story of a small girl square in the midst of those years where kids function as actual but super-odd and sweetly naive human beings, this volume works its way through nearly a summer's worth of (non-) events. The first time we see Yotsuba she's losing multiple games of rock/paper/scissors and getting hit on the head with a newspaper after every one. The fury of her reactions provides a great deal of the humor, and her delight in being exposed to entirely normal facets of the world and seeing them as the most amazing things ever offers up much of the book's delight. Yotsuba is an idealized kid of that early age, retaining a wide-eye wonder and furious energy, minus the things that crop up at that age like cruelty and deception. Reading her adventures is like a super-pleasant day of babysitting where you catch a pretty good at all the right moments.

If anything, the comedic sequences in this book are sharper than what I've read before. One nearly pitch-perfect story shows Yotsuba administering support to a lovesick young woman by repeating she's told about her by the other older folks to whom she's brought her quandary, including the opinion someone gives that the young woman's legs are too fat. Having missed the previous two volume I have idea if the progression of time represented is reflected in some incremental soap opera -- certainly there were issues raised in the first book that may have seen some resolution by now. I don't think it matters much when it comes to deriving pleasure from the work.

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There is a creeping sense that maybe the characters are too clean, too perfectly functional; as opposed to the first book I had a greater sense of watching something put together for a specific artistic effect rather than an observed reality with emphasis on certain, special factors. I think the quality of the jokes overcomes a lot of this artificial quality. In particular, Yotsuba&! never shies away from mining humor out of the horror and pain that kids feel for no reason, or for stupid, overwrought reasons. My favorite moment in this volume comes in the aforementioned lovesick story when Yotsuba is trying to understand Fuka's heartbroken state and she asks the kid to imagine her dad doesn't lover her anymore and she starts to melt down China Syndrome style, not understanding the parameters of the exercise. You never get that from most kids' book, but these comics are confident in the fact that over reaction is a symptom of innocence as well as joy, and misapprehensions go away and a happier order will be restored in no time at all. These are sweet, serene and well-crafted comics short stories.