Yotsuba&! (Yotsuba to! in Japanese) is a Slice of Life comedy manga by Kiyohiko Azuma, creator of the acclaimed Azumanga Daioh.It stars a cheerful, energetic five-year-old girl named Yotsuba Koiwai, who moves into a new neighborhood with her adoptive father. She doesn't know very much about the world around her and is incredibly curious, but her father and their new neighbors (the Ayase family) are willing to help her out. Or get dragged along in her wake, as the case may be. She does, technically, know the meaning of "restraint", but she has trouble pronouncing it.Twelve volumes have been released thus far in Japan, as of June 2013. It was formerly licensed in English by ADV Manga, who brought out five volumes intermittently, but now by Yen Press which picked up with volume six (as well as reprinting the first five). The odd title comes from how every chapter (but one) is named "Yotsuba & Whatever," where whatever is the new thing or concept she encounters that day, and the exclamation mark comes from her way of throwing herself full-throttle into anything she does. The series has been described by one reviewer as "printed joy" and rightly so. Azuma somehow manages to create a series that's both feel-good happy and side-splittingly hilarious. Not for nothing is the series motto "Enjoy Everything."Despite its popularity, no animated adaptation is in the works, and according to Azuma himself, Yotsuba isn't well suited to an animated format.Be sure to check out the character sheet for character tropes as well.
Yotsuba's appearance in particular develops between Chapter 1 and, for example, Chapter 27, so that she looks more like a 5-year-old, with shorter, more shaped ponytails. By around Chapter 53, the shape of her eyes have changed still more, along with some of her casual expressions.
By volume 6, Yotsuba no longer has any whites in her eyes on the front covers of the books.
Artificial Riverbank: A perfect place to potter around on bicycles with a girl still using training wheels, right? Well, maybe not.
Broken Glass Penalty: At one point, Yotsuba kicks a soccer ball out a closed window by accident. Her dad spanks her (though, as we learn, this is because she lied about it and her father dislikes lies).
Can't You Read the Sign?: Yotsuba leans over the arm of an escalator... and hits her head on a sign warning not to do just that. Made even funnier when Dad mentions that he's never seen that happen before.
Cat Smile: Two from Fuuka, one from Ena, and one from Yotsuba.
Cheerful Child: Yotsuba is a curious little fireball — at least for the first few volumes. As the series progresses and her characterization gets more nuanced, she becomes not universally cheerful: so far, she's been shown having two meltdown tantrums, a day of total dejection, as well as a fit of sulks that Koiwai and Yanda had to cajole her out of. Not so much averted as made part of a three-dimensional character.
Cicadian Rhythm: Subverted in the first chapter when Yotsuba climbs a telephone pole and pretends to be a cicada. Later lampshade hung when she develops an obsession with tsukutsukuboushi, a late-summer species said to bring the end of summer, to the point that she thinks they are summer-ending fairies; she then dresses up as how she imagines they look and claims she can end summer herself.
Combining Mecha, Augment variation: Parodied when Jumbo combines with carries Yotsuba on his shoulders so her net can reach cicadas higher up the tree trunks. They even yell "GATTAI!"
Comedic Underwear Exposure: Koiwai generally wears boxers around the house during summer, and Yotsuba claims that he hates wearing pants.
"I AM BOXERMAN!"
Compliment Backfire: Played straight at Fuuka: "People look cool on bicycles ... even Fuuka." Yotsuba was musing to herself with no one around, so Fuuka never heard this. Inverted (or maybe that should be obverted?) at Asagi when Yotsuba played Opposite Day and blurts out, "Asagi's an ugly old hag!" Definitely heard by Asagi, for a Crowning Moment of Funny.
Pay particular attention to the "Yotsubox" in the corner of the tv room, where Yotsuba keeps, er, treasures picked up in previous chapters, and which accumulates drawings of people she meets.
The wall above Koiwai's desk collects Yotsuba's drawings and photos.
Yotsuba's stool for pancake-making is the little thing Koiwai made to practice for the bookshelf.
Torako actually kept the dirty ball Yotsuba gave to her as a souvenir. Awww...
Fuuka thinking Mr. Koiwai is a Konnyaku maker. This joke was unfortunately Lost in Translation.
Cool and Unusual Punishment: Yotsuba claimed a "lying bug" was making her lie, so her dad put her in the enclosure of a guardian niō statue at a Buddhist temple, claiming it'd "get rid of" whatever was lying. Cue complete meltdown and a bawled confession that she was the one lying, after which Dad let her out.
Cool Big Sis: Several, played varying degrees of straight and averted.
Similarly, Yotsuba repeatedly describes Torako as "cool", and more than once seeks her approval for the coolness of things. In Torako's case, she even has the cool personality to go with the trope.
Yotsuba treats the other Ayase girls, Fuuka and Ena, as older sisters, to the point of calling their mother "Mom." Ena, however, is more playmate than anything else, and in chapter 66 Yotsuba calls Fuuka "like an onee-san" (a polite, formal address for a "big sister" figure) for knowing "bonjour", which raises her opinion of Fuuka. Fuuka is not pleased to learn she hadn't been thought of as a Cool Big Sis all this time.
Miura being a Cool Big Sis is averted with a lampshade: when she asks Yotsuba to be quiet so "nee-san" (a polite, informal address for a "big sister" figure) can study, Yotsuba laughs at the idea of calling her that.
Covers Always Lie: The first couple volumes show things that never happen, though they at least indicated the right genre. Averted in the next few volumes with covers depicting a scene from an incident within, but volumes 9-11 return to non-canon depictions, this time in watercolors, fitting with the gentler spirit of their content. Volume 12 returns to aversion with another in-volume scene.
Cross-Popping Veins: On Yotsuba and Dad when they get mad at Yanda, and Miura when she gets mad at Jumbo.
Cuteness Proximity: Yotsuba's dad appears to have a mild case at the zoo, around the guinea pigs.
Floating Timeline: While each chapter takes place on a specific date, which in 82 chapters has run from mid-July to the start of November, Word of God is that each chapter is set in the year it's published. This allows Azuma to keep technology and pop-culture references current, instead of stuck back in 2003 when he started.
Four-Leaf Clover: Yotsuba is named for it, her hair resembles one, and she gives one to Asagi.
Free-Range Children: Yotsuba has no trouble darting around town without supervision. However, aside from a couple famous episodes that have made this almost a trademark for her, the series averts this in that she usually is supervised (either by Koiwai or an Ayase), and at one point deconstructs it as well: At the fireworks festival, because Yotsuba hasn't realized the potential dangers of getting lost in a crowd, after she runs off, Koiwai has Jumbo, Ena, and Miura hide to teach her a lesson.
Genki Girl: As Asagi puts it, Yotsuba's default mode of travel is "run".
Girls Love Stuffed Animals: Ena (not only her two main teddy bears but some other plushies) and Yotsuba (after acquiring Duralumin, Yotsuba begins carrying it everywhere) are of course prime age for this, but in a Shout-Out, Fuuka has a Chiyo-chichi in her room.
Janken: Played by Yotsuba and Dad with the loser getting swatted with a rolled-up newspaper if they don't cover their head with a basin in time.
Japanese Holidays: Yotsuba has so far been involved in O-bon and Respect for the Aged Day. Fuuka's school's Cultural Festival and the autumn Danjiri Festival also sort-of count, though they're not technically holidays. (Halloween, of course, doesn't count at all.)
Yanda, who flat-out enjoys his role as Yotsuba's "nemesis". This is somewhat subverted in that Dad and Jumbo are aware he's a jerk; they seem to put up with him only because he's Dad's kohai and they consistently take Yotsuba's side in her squabbles with him. He eventually starts behaving a bit better, to the point of possibly graduating to Jerk with a Heart of Gold.
Asagi is a minor example. She doesn't pass up opportunities to mess with her sisters (especially Fuuka) and Yotsuba, although she does realize when she's gone too far — for example, after seeing Yotsuba's reaction to swiping the strawberry from her cake, Asagi quickly returned it, much to the dismay of her mother, whose strawberry she had already eaten at that point.
Mrs. Ayase has one during a flashback to Asagi's childhood. When Asagi gives her a four-leaf clover, Mrs. Ayase smiles and says she would like a five-leaf clover instead. As the flashback ends with Asagi tearfully trying to find a clover that is even rarer, Mrs. Ayase wonders how Asagi grew to be "such a bad seed."
Yanda permanently ensures the wrath of Yotsuba by taking a bite out of her ice cream.
Several jokes, not surprisingly. One is concerning Yotsuba explaining what her dad's job is, when she says makes konnyaku, a type of gelatin-like cake made from a yam-like plant, instead of honyaku or translations. Yotsuba claims he's a 'trainspotter' in the ADV translation or a 'trashmaker' in the Yen Press version. The problem is the Brick Joke comes back in a later chapter, when Fuuka sounds like she's making a non-sequitur about Yotsuba's dad's konnyaku business being a trade secret.
There's a running gag about how Jumbo has never met Torako before and assumes that she might be Asagi's boyfriend (note that Yotsuba keeps referring to her as Tora, which is gender neutral — Japanese speakers rarely use third person gendered pronouns). The problem comes up when Jumbo refers to Torako as a 'she' when he was looking at her photos of the hot air balloon event.
The hysterically funny effect of Yotsuba combing childish speech patterns, including referring to herself by name instead of pronoun, with an innocent imitation of her father's masculine language has never been reproduced in English.
Mama Bear: With a real (toy) bear cub, even. Don't get between Yotsuba and Duralumin.
Mundane Made Awesome?: EVERYTHING in Yotsuba's world is awesome, and "today is always the most enjoyable day." From delivering milk, to riding a bike, to going to the supermarket, each trip is like an Odyssey to Yotsuba.
My Card: Yotsuba has her own (rather crumpled) business card.
No Cartoon Fish: More like No Cartoon Animals; most of the animals are photorealistic, though the fish, in particular, are disturbingly so. The main counterexample are the dogs, which tend to the cartoony, particularly those dogs Yotsuba barks back at.
No Longer with Us: Asagi talks about her salaryman father like this, though he's most definitely not dead. The first time she does it, Fuuka calls her on it, saying "No, no, no. Dad is ALIVE. He's working right now."
Nobody Poops: Averted. Also, mentioning a bodily function makes Yotsuba burst into the giggle-fits you'd expect from a five year old.
Oh, Crap: Given a Genki Girl with a five-year-old's coordination, no surprise this happens a lot; the most notable is possibly when Yotsuba thinks she broke a bicycle in a bicycle shop.
Another moment worth mentioning is when she ate her father's snack; she did get something else for him anyway.
When she took the Ayase sisters to visit her home, to give Fuuka some coffee after Yotsuba failed doing so twice, her father discovers she lied to him. Just look at her face.
A non-Yotsuba example is when she wanted to go out when there was a typhoon. She really did. The Ayase family wasn't amused.
A moment where she borrowed an exercise ball and accidentally broke several cups.
Ena and Miura help Yotsuba wash Duralumin after being stolen by a dog. They forgot that the stuffed bear was supposed to talk and only remembered after taking it out of the washer.
Ojou - Yotsuba, Ena, and Miura play at being "fancy young ladies" in the car while driving to the campground.
Ominous Owl: When Yotsuba visits the zoo, she's terrified by the owl.
One of the Kids: Much of the grown-up cast, to an extent, but Yanda is the most childish of the bunch.
Opposite Day: Yotsuba never spent a chapter playing the Opposites Game, not even once.
Parental Abandonment: As Jumbo puts it, "Yotsuba was an abandoned child"; all Koiwai has said is that while he was traveling overseas for his work, he found himself taking care of her. Yotsuba herself remembers only living with her adoptive grandmother and, before that, on an island that's "to the left". The Ayases have no idea what she means, either.
Reactive Continuous Scream: In chapter 13, after Miura scares Yotsuba with a scarecrow costume, Ena scares Miura with a live frog, who backs into Yotsuba, who renews her screaming and tears Ena's favorite teddy bear, causing her to scream.
Roaring Rampage of Revenge: Yotsuba goes on a truly adorable one of these (with a water pistol) after Dad lets her watch one too many gangster movies.
Women (Ayase or otherwise) being startled by the looming height of Jumbo.
Yotsuba becoming excited and then falling on her face after running around. It gets to the point where Asagi accurately predicts when Yotsuba is about to fall during the balloon festival.
Scare 'Em Straight: Koiwai tries to do this with Yotsuba when he catches her lying repeatedly. We'll see if it takes ...
Scary Scarecrows: Yotsuba is terrified of these, even though the scarecrow in question looks more like a bullseye target than a traditional Western scarecrow. (Given she's also frightened by the wide-eyed owl at the zoo, it may be the resemblance to a giant eyeball that scares her.) Miura tries to prank Yotsuba by pretending to be one, with results that were, well, let's just say it worked a little too well.
Scenery Porn: Plenty of lavishly-detailed backgrounds of Japanese suburbia. The countryside gets the same detailed treatment during the camping arc.
Multiple ones to Azumanga Daioh: Fuuka once wears a T-shirt with Chiyo-chichi's picture on it, has a Chiyo-chichi plushie in her room, and a Chiyo-chichi figure among the "weird" things attached to her purse. Also, at the town fireworks show, a Nekokoneko is a prize at a ring-toss booth. The dog at the farm/ranch visited in chapter 48 strongly resembles Tadakichi-san. In chapter 63, Yotsuba and her dad play a game on a swing that involves kicking off one of their shoes as far as they can; which is reminiscent of Osaka's famous weather prediction.
One chapter, Yotsuba watches Pythagora Switch on the TV. In a later chapter, a "father switch" from the show is on the kitchen table; it eventually shows up in the Yotsubox. (This is probably also a shout out to the Kuricorder Quartet, as they did the music to Pythagora Switch, as well as Azumanga Daioh and the two Yotsuba&! image albums.)
Yotsuba makes a sly shoutout to Gamera in the lead-up to the balloon festival.
Shown Their Work: Comes up in the most unusual places. The bears in the teddy-bear shop are based on actual designs. The ridiculously-expensive Steiff one even has the trademark button. (The one Yotsuba chooses to be Juralumin, however, is a generic.)
Shrines and Temples: Both of them: Yotsuba visits the grounds of a hilltop shrine a couple times and participates in her town's autumn danjiri festival, pulling a portable shrine through the streets. Koiwai takes Yotsuba to a temple and uses a guardian niō statue to scare the "lying bug" out of her.
Sick Episode: Yotsuba, on the day she was supposed to visit a farm, no less. Meltdown ensued.
Smoking Is Cool: Why Yotsuba thinks Torako is awesome, even though her father told her that smoking is bad. Then again, Yotsuba claims that Koiwai used to smoke...
Something Person: Koiwai sometimes transforms into Yotsuba's nemesis, Boxerman — by putting a pair of boxer shorts over his head. His special ability is being unable to tell up from down. "Curse you, Boxerman!" After Yotsuba saw men in fundoshi at a festival, Boxerman acquired a rival, Barebuttman. Still later, Koiwai becomes yet another foe of Yotsuba's, Pancake-Loving Man.
Speech Bubbles: Yotsuba speaks entirely in hiragana, the only form of Japanese writing she can read; everyone else's dialogue has the expected amount of kanji for the shounen audience. Yotsuba also frequently gets a big, loud, bold font that neatly represents how she talks and acts.
Spit Take: Yotsuba's dad does a big one when Yotsuba hands him "milk" she made with toothpaste and water.
Strong Family Resemblance: Miura and her mom, lampshaded by Yotsuba and later confirmed by Koiwai and Jumbo. Miura disagrees.
Tengu: Yotsuba is terrified of the tengu attendants at a cart-pulling festival, even though she more-or-less understands they're humans in masks — and even ten-year old Ena also finds them startling, despite teasing Yotsuba about it. The scariest is Jumbo, whom Yotsuba calls the "boss tengu".
There Is No Kill Like Overkill: Asagi takes down water-pistol-assassin Yotsuba with a single squirt between the eyes...then shoots her several more times...then pours the rest of the water on her.
This Is a Drill: Spoken word-for-word by Dad, as he shows Yotsuba a cordless drill.
Tin Can You Hear Me Now: Ena and Miura teach Yotsuba to make a paper-cup telephone, which she starts carrying with her as her "cell phone".
Tomboy and Girly Girl: Two pairs of 'em: The younger pair is Miura and Ena, respectively, who subvert the trope in that Miura is freaked by slimy things, while Ena is not only not fazed, but even enthusiastic about frogs. The older pair is Torako and Asagi, which according to some fans carries the Les Yay of the series.
Try Not to Die: Played with — Jumbo tells Yotsuba this when she heads next door on her Roaring Rampage of Revenge, but knowing, as always, the cultural trappings but not their true meanings, she replies, "Even if I die, I'll come back alive."
Unnecessary Combat Roll: Yotsuba has seen far too many gangster movies than is good for a girl her age with her imagination.
Very Special Episode: Averted. Sure, Yotsuba learns life lessons, but they are ordinary, everyday life lessons about things like not riding off on her bicycle without permission, how to flip pancakes, that she shouldn't lie, and how noodles get made. The tone of those chapters is just as light-hearted and hilarious as every other.
Visible Silence: Extended ellipses and question-mark dialog galore, often in response to Yotsuba's latest misinterpretation. Once Yotsuba and her father have an exchange of question-mark dialog, as he wonders what she's wondering about.
Where The Hell Is Springfield?: The suburban setting of the series is not clearly defined, being something of a stand-in for suburbs everywhere in Japan. For what it's worth, the locations are drawn from photographic references taken around the author's home in Hyogo Prefecture, and the presence of a Danjiri Festival in autumn places it pretty concretely in the Kansai region. However, characters generally speak Standard Japanese, though that means little in fictional works not set in a concrete location, and Yotsuba's occasional Kansai vocabulary can be excused via too much TV and Rule of Funny. Let's just say the question remains open.
Also, no one has any idea where Yotsuba was born and/or used to live. All she'll say is that it was "an island to the left."
Though the fact that Fuuka's use of Tohoku dialect in chapter 67 confused Yotsuba makes it pretty clear that we're not in northern Japan.