The cover for Yotsuba&! volume 1 featuring main character Yotsuba Koiwai (English version by ADV)
|Genre||Comedy, slice of life|
|Written by||Kiyohiko Azuma|
|Published by||ASCII Media Works|
|Original run||March 2003 – present|
Yotsuba&! (よつばと! Yotsuba to!) is an ongoing Japanese comedy manga series by Kiyohiko Azuma, the creator of Azumanga Daioh. It is published in Japan by ASCII Media Works, formerly MediaWorks, in the monthly magazine Dengeki Daioh and collected in thirteen tankōbon volumes. It depicts the everyday adventures of a young girl named Yotsuba as she learns about the world around her, guided by her father, the neighbors, and their friends. 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 was licensed for English-language distribution by ADV Manga, which released five volumes between 2005 and 2007. Volume six was supposed to have been released in February 2008, but was delayed indefinitely in order to focus on ADV's core business of anime. At New York Comic Con 2009, Yen Press announced that it had acquired the North American license for the series; it reprinted the first five volumes with new translations along with volume six in September 2009, and is continuing with later volumes.
Yotsuba&! is centered on Yotsuba Koiwai, a five-year-old adopted girl who is energetic, cheerful, curious, odd, and quirky — so much so 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 naïveté 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, Yousuke 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, Fuuka, and Ena. Most of her daily activities and misadventures often originate from interactions with these characters.
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, "Today is always the most enjoyable day" (いつでも今日が、いちばん楽しい日 Itsudemo kyō ga, ichiban tanoshii hi), or in the original translation, "Enjoy Everything".
In 1998, Azuma published a one-shot manga and two webcomics called "Try! Try! Try!", in which Yotsuba, Yousuke Koiwai (her father), 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 風 夏, meaning "wind-summer"; in Yotsuba&!, it is 風 香, meaning "wind-scent").
An anime "spin-off" based on cat versions of Azuma's character Danbo titled Nyanbo! was announced and began airing on September 26, 2016 as part of a "mini-anime" program. This project will not adapt any of Yotsuba&!. The spin-off is aired in Japan on NHK-E and is simulcast overseas on Crunchyroll.
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 15 May 2005, Azuma said there were no plans for it to be animated; he reiterated this on the 5 December 2008, claiming that the stories and style of Yotsuba&! are not well-suited for animation.
The manga is written and illustrated by Kiyohiko Azuma, and published by ASCII Media Works in the monthly shōnen (aimed at teenage boys) manga magazine Dengeki Daioh since the March 2003 issue, with serialization on-going. Chapters have been collected in thirteen tankōbon volumes.
In English, Yotsuba&! was originally licensed by ADV Manga, who published five volumes between 2005 and 2007 before dropping the license. The North American license was picked up by Yen Press, which republished the first five volumes along with the sixth in September 2009. All thirteen volumes have since been released. In addition, the series is licensed in France by Kurokawa, in Spain by Norma Editorial, in Germany by Tokyopop Germany, in Italy by Dynit, in Finland by Punainen jättiläinen, in Korea by Daiwon C.I., in Taiwan by Kadokawa Media, in Vietnam by TVM Comics, and in Thailand by NED Comics.
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.
Both monthly and daily Yotsuba&! calendars have been released every year since 2005, although a monthly calendar for 2009 was not released due to constraints on Azuma's schedule. The 2005 edition of the monthly calendar featured pictures of Yotsuba playing with animals such as lions, zebras, and kangaroos. The 2006, 2007, 2008, and 2010 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.
The 2010 monthly calendar was released in November 2009.
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. "General Winter" (冬将軍 Fuyu Shōgun) is a personification of harsh winters, similar to Jack Frost.
A Yotsuba&! picture book, Yotsuba & Monochrome Animals, was published on 16 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. Another book called Find Yotsuba was released in 2013, which is actually a compilation of all the calendar illustrations released previously.
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 its 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. Manga: The Complete Guide described it as "a light, feel-good manga, like an endless summer day." Nicholas Penedo of Animeland said "with Yotsuba, we find ourselves plunged into the wonderful world of childhood," calling the French edition of volume eight, "A beautiful manga for children and adults." BD Gest praised Azuma's skill in making distinct secondary characters, calling them "immediately recognisable", and saying that they each spice up the story in their own ways. 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, on Amazon.co.jp, volume six was the third best-selling comic in Japan for the first half of 2007 and volume eight was the second best-selling comic in Japan for 2008; volumes seven and eight both were number two on the Tohan comics chart the week they debuted. Volume eight sold more than 450,000 copies in 2008, making it one of the top 50 bestselling manga volumes on the Oricon chart for the year. 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. Volume six of the English edition reached number 3 on the New York Times best seller list for manga, and it stayed on the list for four weeks. Volume 8 debuted at No. 2 on the manga best seller list. As of April, 27 2018, over 13.7 million copies of the manga have been printed in Japan and over 3 million outside of Japan, including the U.S., France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Russia, Sweden, Finland, Korea, China, Taiwan, Indonesia, Thailand, and Vietnam.
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. In 2008 Yotsuba&! was nominated for the 12th Osamu Tezuka Culture Award and the Eisner Award in the "Best Publication for Kids" category, but did not win either, and was runner-up for the first annual Manga Taishō award. In 2016, Yotsuba&! won the Grand Prize at the 20th Osamu Tezuka Culture Awards, sharing it with Kei Ichinoseki's Hanagami Sharaku. 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.
There was an exhibit of Yotsuba&! artwork at the Gallery of Fantastic Art in Tokyo from 2–17 December 2006. The lead article of the May 2009 issue of the Japanese design magazine Idea was a study of Yotsuba&!, focusing on book design, interior layout, and how translated editions were handled. 
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‘When will Yotsuba&! come out?’ We don’t know, and we’re not going to lie about it.
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Such is the way of Kiyohiko Azuma's slice-of-life storytelling, which was mastered within the four-panel pillars of Azumanga Daioh but perfected only in the full-chapter format that Yotsuba&! brings.
- Carl Kimlinger (9 February 2008). "Review: Yotsuba&! GN 5". Anime News Network. Retrieved 10 February 2008.
What is really special about Yotsuba, though, is that newness with which she, as a child, sees the world. That the manga allows us to glimpse the world through those same eager eyes is what gives it appeal far beyond its humor. And it's in this that Azuma's decision to move past the four-panel format really pays dividends.
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Incredibly strong drawings with excellent composition, detailing without being over-drawn and solid inking enhances the whole package.
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Crisp, un-fussy artwork, with delightful character expressions... The humor flows effortlessly with flawless timing.
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He beautifully draws everyday life and items, providing a grounding background. The detailed settings, such as the town streets, nicely contrast with the simpler character faces. And his sense of motion makes action sequences feel like a cartoon, they move so smoothly.
- Dan Grendell (29 December 2005). "Big Eyes for the Cape Guy presents YOTSUBA&!". Ain't It Cool News. Retrieved 31 July 2007.
Azuma's facial expressions bring YOTSUBA&! to life, making every page feel rich with personality, almost radiating emotion. The faces play a key role in the art, dominating each panel but not overpowering it.
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Its light-hearted fluffy slice-of-life episodes are accentuated by Azuma's cutely expressive artwork, which gives the book a near-weightless quality.
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Yotsuba is like a blank slate of joyous fun, learning about everything and loving every minute of it ... Yotsuba&! manages the clever balancing act of being both manic and gentle fun at the same time.
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The second half of the book is observational humor at its absolute pinnacle ... [T]here are plenty of times when Yotsuba&! is less than brilliant—usually when the series defeats itself by dragging out a joke too long.
- Carlson, Johanna Draper (28 July 2008). "*Yotsuba&! — Recommended Series". Comics Worth Reading. Retrieved 19 January 2009.
Almost everything is a new experience for her, and her enthusiasm provides the appeal of the stories. Her wide-eyed innocence and seemingly inexhaustible energy makes for charming misunderstandings and comedy.
- Tom Spurgeon (15 August 2005). "Yotsuba&! Volume 1". The Comics Reporter. Retrieved 25 January 2008.
Kyohiko Azuma's Yotsuba&! manga reads like a love letter to the way kids can be at the age of 2–5, when they are in most ways functioning human beings but function in a world that's impossibly huge and easy to accept for its more benign surface qualities.
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Toujours aussi frais et mignon, ce tome ne déçoit pas : avec Yotsuba, on se retrouve plongé dans le monde merveilleux de l’enfance. Un beau manga pour petits et grands.
- Natali, M. (31 August 2006). "BD Gest' – Yotsuba ! 1. Yotsuba et le Déménagement" (in French). BD Gest'. Retrieved 28 February 2009.
Azuma brosse des personnages attachants, aux caractères bien marqués, immédiatement reconnaissables et qui pimentent chacun à leur façon les savoureux chapitres de cette comédie.
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... [A]ll the characters are vividly depicted, which gives exhilaration to the work and the whole atmosphere has a gentleness.
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- Official websites
- ASCII Media Works website (in Japanese)
- Yotsuba Studio, Kiyohiko Azuma's studio website (in Japanese)
- azumakiyohiko.com, Kiyohiko Azuma's personal website (in Japanese)
- "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 13 October 2007. Retrieved 22 September 2007.
- Yen Press website