7 Things About Yotsuba&! 7

January 6th, 2010 Posted by david brothers

I grew up around a small battalion of cousins. I was part of the first wave, and we had around seven years before the next group came through. Even now, I’ve got a younger brother who’s a year old, and if I didn’t live all the way across the country, I’m sure I’d still be in the thick of it. So, a lot of stuff in Kiyohiko Azuma’s Yotsuba&! is old hat to me. Only, it’s funny now, because I’m not being shanghai’d into watching someone else’s kid or changing diapers. I can appreciate it for what it is, rather than wishing I was outside on my bike instead of watching some rugrat drool all over the place.

I read the 7th volume in December and loved it. My complaints about the translation still stand, but that’s a difference of opinion. The source material is incredibly strong, from art to writing, and it shows in the translation. Yotsuba&! is the kind of book that you makes you bark laugh, or snort, or guffaw, or whatever embarrassing laugh it is people hate to do these days. When you read Yotsuba&!, you’re going to like it. That’s just the way things work. It’s natural. I read Yotsuba&! 7 while going through hell at work. Bad day after bad day, coming home pissed off, so on and so forth. But, Yotsuba&! was a bright spot. It’s the kind of book that cheers you up, if only for a little bit, and is more than welcome due to that fact.

I picked out seven things I liked from this volume of Yotsuba&!. I don’t know that they’re the seven funniest things, but they are things that I think encapsulate what Yotsuba&! is all about. They range from comedy to craft to characters, all from volume 7. This is a good volume to pull from, being both the latest and blisteringly funny, to boot. There’s a couple pages in there that kill me every time I look at them.

(After you read this, read this. Azuma won the Excellence Prize in manga at a 2006 media festival and gave an acceptance interview. It’s pretty interesting and well worth a read. Thanks to Jog for finding it.)

Real life is mundane. When I wake up in the morning, I calculate whether or not I can sleep several more hoursminutes, figure out what time I finally fell asleep, and then get out of bed, landing on the wrong side. I brush my teeth with my eyes closed, pull on clothes, and hit the streets. Have you ever seen a little kid wake up? No, you haven’t, because they wake up before we do, with three times as much energy.

I like the body language in this panel, with Koiwai and Yotsuba both brushing their teeth the same way, but looking completely different at the same time. Yotsuba is wide-eyed and alert, while Koiwai is still sleepy. It’s not too hard to see that Koiwai probably taught her how to brush her teeth, judging from their posture, but the difference between the two speaks volumes. To Yotsuba, every action, every event, is something to be devoured. To Koiwai, it’s just another morning.

lifeYotsuba&Real Life
The attention to clothes in Yotsuba&! is lovely. Characters don’t just wear Generic [Color] Shirt and Straight Slacks. Clothes have patterns, jeans look like jeans, and people actually look like they pay attention to what they put on in the morning. Yotsuba and the girls next door all wear age appropriate material, from an adorable shirt with a bunny on the front on Yotsuba to classy sweaters and skirts on the eldest girl. Even Koiwai, who spends most of each volume in boxers and a white t-shirt, makes sense when he goes out. If all you did all day was type at a computer at home, you’d do the same. (Don’t front. I know several pro bloggers and none of y’all wear pants, except when someone asks you to.)

What’s nice about Yotsuba&! are these occasional interludes where Azuma just lets Yotsuba roam freely around the area. Part of it is that I like seeing him being able to break out of the tiny panels that made up his Azumanga Daioh work and really go at a panel. There’s some photoref going on, but the way his cartoony characters interact with their environment is always golden. Yotsuba never sleeps straight. She’s always sprawled or draped over something. Falling asleep partially draped over a table with cup phones wrapped around her body? It looks good and it fits her personality.

But the best is just seeing Yotsuba roam and the things she does. Everything focuses down onto the most important part of Yotsuba&!, which is that everything is wonderful if you look at it with the right eyes. A walk to the store isn’t just ten minutes of walking. It’s strolling past neat bushes, finding a cool stick, making noise (everyone who has ever seen a kid make noise just to make noise raise your hand), and, when all that becomes boring, turning yourself into an airplane and flying along.

There is a purity in Yotsuba that I can appreciate. A lot of the appeal of the series is that she isn’t tainted by the things that make adults bitter and mean. Everything is new, everything is wonderful, and Yotsuba is in the perfect position to appreciate all of it. And, by seeing the world through her eyes, we can appreciate it, as well.


Sometimes, man, Yotsuba&! is just funny. Yotsuba runs afoul of a sheep, gets knocked down, hops up, and hits the sheep with a hook. That’s comedy. The cherry on top is that this is apparently not just a one time thing- she makes a habit of punching animals.

Yotsuba trying to decide what to put back at the story, and putting all five years of her experience toward figuring out her dilemma, is another good scene. This one shows Azuma’s skill at cartooning. Yotsuba goes from listening intently in panel two, paying close attention, to carefully examining the goods, to realizing that she can’t put anything back because she needs all of it, before being told a possible solution that she hadn’t even thought of, and then she’s determined.

I really like this progression. Azuma gets a lot across with not a lot of lines, particularly in the fourth panel, where Yotsuba’s practically in agony over having to make a hard decision. His realistic approach to clothes and backgrounds gives way when it serves the story, turning faces into two circles and a line. It’s easy to overdo, hard to get right, but Azuma tiptoes on that line with a deft touch. Yotsuba is the most expressive, but her expressiveness tends to infect other characters in a believable way. Her nature encourages other people to turn child-like, like when Yotsuba and Koiwai have giant monster battles.

One of my favorite things is when a little kid gets super fixated on something. I have a cousin who loves to play video games. I made the mistake of showing him the Wii at an early age, and he was the first one that wasn’t dumb enough to fall for the old “give a kid the controller, leave it unplugged, pretend like it’s two player” trick. After that, it was on. Wii, GameBoy, Xbox, whatever, he was all about it. He was really into Rayman Raving Rabbids for a while, and it got to where you couldn’t mention anything that even sounded like Wii or Rayman or Rabbits without him peeking around the corner like, “Are we about to play Wii?” He knew what he wanted and anything that brought him close to that was a good thing.

That’s a big part of why I like this scene in Yotsuba&! 7. Yotsuba doesn’t know what a patissier is, but she knows that chefs cook food, and food is hamburgers, so Fuuka is… going to cook hamburgers! Duh! It’s obvious! Of course, when Fuuka reveals that she is going to make a cake, Yotsuba loses it and declares her undying love on the next page. That’s the other thing about kids. Show them the next awesome thing, or another awesome thing, and they’re ready to go, they don’t even have to switch gears.

And once again, through Yotsuba’s eyes, everything is magical. I’m a big fan of hamburgers, but I don’t think I get as excited as Yotsuba does over them. We might be equal on cake, though.


In terms of calling shotgun, Cross Cutter beats all. Right, Heidern?


Yotsuba’s “Hmph!” in the second panel on the second page is amazing. That’s Azuma’s cartooning at work again, using a little to accomplish a lot. It getting an entire panel to itself is a deft touch, giving the comedy a chance to breathe. We’re right there with Yanda, wondering “Did that just happen?”


Yotsuba is adorable, but she’s also a smug jerk. She’s just so matter of fact and condescending on this page. Why else would you go to a ranch, but for the cows? C’mon Yanda, you’re dumb. The little fist pump in panel five like “So there!” would make it if not for panel 7 and the look on her face. That panel kills me every time.

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Yotsuba & Translation Issues

September 23rd, 2009 Posted by david brothers

Yotsuba&! 6 is very, very funny. Easily the best book in the series thus far, if only due to the way the stories end up snowballing into a larger tale. Yotsuba’s trek to Fuuka’s school did an amazing job of capturing just how awesome real life is, which is something Yotsuba&! already does very well.

You already know how much I like Yotsuba&! Rather than doing a recap and review of volume 6, I want to discuss something that makes me love it a little less.

My problem is with the translation. It’s not to my liking, to be honest, and pales in comparison to the ADV Translation. It’s not that it’s bad, exactly, but it is a little too faithful to the source material.

Part of the beauty of Yotsuba&! is that the source material is very, very strong. The relatively few cultural jokes have easy analogues, as in Miura visits the Ayase household dressed as a cardboard robot. In the ADV translation, she says that her name is Cardbo. That’s pretty easy, right? Cardbo->Cardbord->Cardboard robot. It makes sense.

In the Yen Press translation, Miura calls herself Danbo, a reference to the Japanese word for cardboard. And, okay, that’s cool, but it isn’t a joke, exactly. It’s a reference with a footnote. It’s like when someone tells you a joke, and you don’t laugh because you don’t get it, and then they explain why it was funny. The problem is that after all of that… it still isn’t funny. You get it, but you don’t laugh.

Similar to the Danbo translation is the use of honorifics– chan, san, and so on. While an integral part of Japanese, they don’t really have any place in English. It’s another joke that doesn’t work. There are ways around it, of course– Fuuka-neesan can just be “big sis,” for example. Oftentimes, however, nothing is truly lost by leaving them out. An adult referring to Yotsuba in Japan may say “Yotsuba-chan,” while an American would say “Yotsuba.” Both are equally valid and both read the same. The chan is just a clue for us to go “Oh! She’s talking to a child!”

The sound effects are also left untranslated, for the same reason that I assume the honorifics were left in. Untranslated isn’t exactly right, though. There are little notes next to the first iteration of each sound effect in a group that explains what the sound is. Otherwise, the sfx are untouched.

It’s a little lame and distracting, if I’m being perfectly honest. It’s another case of being too faithful. I’ve been reading manga for a long time. I know that “doki doki” is the sound of a heartbeat, “ora ora ora!” is what people say when they’re punching someone over and over, and that chicks go “piyo piyo!”

The thing is, that sort of thing doesn’t really translate. It tends to just look silly, and yep, in Yotsuba&!’s new translation, it looks silly. When the Japanese sound effects are left in the text, the book ends up looking more like a fan translation rather than a professional work.

Fans are notable for being extremely reluctant to be anything but absolutely faithful to the source material in an attempt to be truly authentic. This often leads to awkward, or nonsensical translations. Yotsuba&! being strong enough to shine through an awkward translation doesn’t make the translation any less awkward. The honorifics don’t add anything to the book, beyond it seeming more “Japanese.” It’s like the book has been translated, but not localized.

Part of the draw of Yotsuba is how it’s fairly minimalist, to borrow an idea from Jeff Lester. His specific example was toward the end of Yotsuba & Delivering, when Koiwai bonks Yotsuba on the head for bicycling so far away from home. It’s a completely white panel with Koiwai, his fist bonking Yotsuba on her gigantic head, the sound effect in kana, the romanization of the sound effect (“go”), and “bonk” in parentheses.

In the original Japanese, it’s a very simple and to the point panel. However, in Yen Press’s translation, it’s got the romanization and the actual translation on top of the kana, which just clutters things up. It takes away from the minimalist style of the panel. The problem is that editing out the kana and simply inserting a “bonk” sound effect in an appropriate style would’ve been much more straightforward and, well, funny. The panel has two bits: Koiwai bonking Yotsuba and the “bonk” sound. Instead, it has the bonking action, a symbol that’s essentially meaningless to me, the translation of that symbol, and then the actual sound effect. It’s too much. It weakens the joke by layering on too much information.

My favorite translation, bar none, is the Geneon Lupin the Third dub. It took an old series that would not have benefitted very much from a direct translation (judging by the original Monkey Punch manga I used to own), looked at the characters and their personalities, and crafted new lines and jokes based on that. The characters never felt out of character or inappropriate, and the jokes were actually funny, rather than just being references to Japanese pop culture. This is an extreme example, of course, but it shows how this kind of thing can work.

It’s similar to how ADV approached their Yotsuba&! translation. Certain things won’t translate seamlessly, but rather than compromise a very funny book by making it less funny, they bent the rules a little and kept the book’s spirit, if not its letter.

I totally understand why Yen Press’s translation is the way it is. JuYoun Lee, Senior Editor at Yen Press, gave an illuminating interview with Deb Aoki over the translation. I don’t agree with the way they chose to go, but it makes sense from a certain angle. It’s more accurate and exact, but I don’t think that that is a universally good thing. It leads to too many jokes ending up explained, rather than allowed to breathe, distracting gremlins ending up on the page, and having to qualify my love for the series when recommending it to people.

At one point during Yotsuba&! 6, Koiwai says, “I love the way she reacts to stuff like this.” That sums up the entire series. It’s got a strong dose of humor, wonder, and love. The source material is some of the best out. Yotsuba&! is a very, very good series, but certain aspects of the translation are disappointing. That isn’t a dealbreaker, but I wish it were a little better. It deserves it.

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Happiness is a new Yotsuba&!

September 9th, 2009 Posted by david brothers

Yotsuba&! is basically the best manga.

I mean, there may be better. I’m pretty fond of Akira and Pluto, and Pluto is hands-down the best comic to come out this year, but Yotsuba&! is basically the best. It’s the one that leaves me in the best mood after I finish it. Where Akira and Pluto are something to ponder and mull over, Yotsuba&! is a book to enjoy.

ADV published Yotsuba&! up until 2007’s volume 5. Volume 6 was scheduled for early 2008, but it never appeared on shelves. Luckily, Yen Press is there for us, as volume 6 comes out this month. Either this week or next, depending on your local retailer. Perfect time for a look back at the series, right?

Kiyohiko Azuma’s Yotsuba&! began life in March 2003 as an ongoing feature in Dengeki Daioh. His previous strip, Azumanga Daioh, was a four panel strip, called a 4-koma, that was set in a high school and had a cast that was largely composed of high school girls. It was another feel-good strip, which was turned into a successful anime. However, Yotsuba&! surpasses it by far.

Azumanga Daioh, successful as it was, was pretty simple, visually. The comics were four vertical panels, about half a page wide or so, with light background work. He added just enough detail so that you’d know that the characters were in a class room, or a pool, or outside, and then put most of his effort into funny facial expressions and pratfalls.

Azuma’s work on Yotsuba&! switches that up completely, as he works with normal-sized comics pages, and rare goes higher than five panels a page. This gives him plenty of room to display a pretty stunning level of talent. He’s created a realistic world that still meshes with his cartoony and expressive art. So, when something crazy happens and Yotsuba’s eyes go swirly or Fuka’s mouth goes wide, it all works. It doesn’t yank you right out of the work, like other deformed works can.

Yotsuba herself is a very young girl who isn’t naive so much as she is a child. She’s less mischievous than Calvin, but enjoys life just as much. Everything has its charm, and nothing gets her down. She lives life full throttle, never pausing for breath. She takes everything in stride, and all of it’s awesome. When she learns about global warming, she angrily confronts her father about being an enemy of the earth because their house has an air conditioner. When she gets locked in a bathroom early in the morning, she just crawls out of the window and goes for a walk in her pajamas.

The cast is small, but effective. There are three sisters who live next door with their mother, Yotsuba’s father, his best friend Jumbo, and a couple other characters who move in and out as time goes on. Jumbo is extremely tall for a Japanese man, sending new friends into hysterics, and is amazingly lazy. The three sisters are various ages and of varying temperaments, leading to fun interactions with Yotsuba. Her father is a translator by trade, and doing the best he can with his adopted daughter.

Yotsuba&! is, if anything, a look at real life through a child’s eyes. It’s a reminder of just how awesome all these things we take for granted, like rain, ice cream, cicadas, and good friends. Yotsuba approaches everything with the same amount of wonder and glee.

Yotsuba&! is a lot like a warm hug, if I can get sappy for a minute. It’s the kind of book that leaves you feeling good after you read it, like payday or a smooth date. If you can read it and not be charmed… well, you should probably see a doctor about some antidepressants.

Yen Press has released six volumes of Yotsuba&! this week. The first five (Amazon: one, two, three, four, and five) are re-releases of the volumes that ADVManga printed before they went belly-up. The sixth is brand new and fresh out. I’ll have my copy later today, so look for a review of it later this week!

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