Monday, December 20, 2010

Yotsuba&! Volume 9

By Kiyohiko Azuma. Released in Japan by ASCII Media Works, serialization ongoing in the magazine Dengeki Daioh. Released in North America by Yen Press.

It's always harder for me to review slice-of-life mangas, as there's less obvious things to draw on for discussion. I can't really talk about the latest plot developments - Yotsuba getting a teddy bear is the closest we get to forward movement. Likewise, the characters are exactly the same as they've been, because that's what the audience wants. No one wants to see the trauma of the Ayases being trapped in a fire, or seeing Yotsuba's dad get shot in a botched armed robbery. Instead, we want yakiniku and balloons.

There are several awesome things about this volume, though, and not just in a 'wow, this is cute' way. Some of the characters have developed, Yanda being among the most obvious. Having been introduced as the jerkass who fights with Yotsuba, he's now allowed to keep those traits while letting them be toned down so that he can interact better with the others. He fits in well with everyone at the yakiniku dinner, and we no longer wonder why on Earth Koiwai and Jumbo let him hang out with them. He's the vaguely annoying friend who's still a good friend - we all have those.

Azuma is also very good at subtleties. Fuuka doesn't get much to do this volume, as she's meant to be studying for midterms. This means that she can't go with everyone else to look at the hot air balloons. However, we don't see her getting upset about it - that would be out of character. Instead, we have a delightfully quiet bit of passive-agressiveness, as she notes blandly that they're only hot-air balloons, and that they just float in the air. This is done in the background while the other characters are getting excited about the trip, and just made me laugh. Poor Fuuka, once again the unloved one of Yotsuba.

The highlights of the volume are definitely the teddy bear buying and the Balloon Fair, though. Yotsuba's search for a teddy bear is adorable, and I loved how the bear she eventually chooses is posed with one arm up - we can immediately see why she picked him out of the other identical bears, he's waving to her! Also, he talks! Though Yotsuba hasn't yet quite worked out how to MAKE him talk... As for the balloon fair, not only do we get to see the teddy bear be even more awesome, but we get two beautiful Asagi moments - Koiwai trying to swing her around like he did Yotsuba, and failing as Asagi is quite a bit bigger; and Koiwai's attempts to impress everyone with the bamboo dragonfly, quickly undermined by Torako being so much better at it. The panel showing an angry, frustrated Koiwai bent over while Asagi towers above him, noting Torako's flies much farther, is not only funny but marvelously laid out - you really get the sense of Asagi's brutal teasing.

In short, there's a lot more to offer here than just Yotsuba being cute, although she certainly is. Come for the adorable, but stay for the sight of a manga author in terrific command of all his artistic powers, showing us what he can do to move and amuse us.

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