by Kiyohiko Azuma
In this volume, Yotsuba plays with her dad, learns how to make pancakes, and gets a visit from an old friend. I managed to ration the stories in this volume over three whole sittings! Although the genre is “slice of life,” the first story feels more aimless than usual and made me worry that the series was losing its charm. However, the second story–“Yotsuba & Pancakes!”–is the funniest instalment of Yotsuba&! yet, surpassing even “Yotsuba & No Bother!” (and you may remember how dearly I love that chapter). The rest of the chapters in this volume are decent, some eliciting more laughs than others, as per usual. As much as I loved the pancakes story, some of the other chapters are only just okay, and the funnier ones depend on the reader having already been acquainted with the characters.
Recommended for those who have already read some of the series, although the pancakes episode may win over some new fans.
by Hisaya Nakajo
Mizuki Ashiya loves Izumi Sano, a teen high-jumper in Japan, so she stalks him online to find out where he goes to school. Unfortunately, it’s a boy’s school, so if she wants to get close to him she will have to disguise herself as a boy! She travels from America to Japan and enrols in the school, only to discover that Sano has quit the high jump. Luckily they are roommates, and she hopes her proximity to him will allow her to befriend him and change his mind. Meanwhile, she is the new prettiest boy in school, and her feminine beauty causes her classmates to question their sexuality. Also included in this volume is a bonus story called “The Cage of Summer,” about a girl whose angelic second cousin comes to stay with her family, only to reveal himself as a bad-boy player who promises not to seduce her friends if she promises to kiss him.
First, I’ll address the main story, which is pretty dull as far as cross-dressing manga goes. Everything happens so quickly that I can’t imagine the story retaining its secret-fuelled excitement for more than a few volumes. Mizuki is clueless and insensitive and a stalker, so I don’t really care for her or understand her motivation. Izumi is ambivalent, so I am ambivalent about him. Even the dog who lives in their dorm is boring.
Second, “The Cage of Summer” bonus story is not an appropriate story for teens, since it romanticizes sexual abuse. The boy not only pressures the girl into kissing him, but he banks on his innocent facade to encourage her to remain silent about the abuse, since no one will believe her if she tells. She then sees that he is hurting because his parents are getting a divorce, so she warms up to him and has sex with him, after which he leaves and avoids all contact with her for two years. In the end, he transfers to her college. Happily ever after?
While Hana-Kimi is pretty harmless (at least in this volume–I won’t be reading on), the bonus story has a really damaging message and may be traumatizing for teens who have suffered sexual abuse, especially because of its positive portrayal of abuse. I would feel uncomfortable recommending this to anyone for that reason. Even without the bonus story, there are other manga series featuring cross-dressing I would recommend before this one.
by Melissa Marr; ill. Irene Diaz & Laura Moreno
Desert Tales is a story arc with characters from Wicked Lovely outside of the Faerie Courts of the novels. Ex-faery Rika lives in the Mojave desert, pining over a mortal boy named Jayce who can’t see her. When some mischevious desert faeries cause Jayce to fall off a cliff, Rika saves him by breaking his fall, causing her to be visible to him and his friends. The faeries continue to razz Rika by trying to harm Jayce, causing her to reveal more of her powers to Jayce in order to keep him safe. But would a boy like Jayce want to be with a girl who wasn’t quite human?
I thought this book was going to be a manga adaptation of Wicked Lovely, but it is a story that takes place outside of the world of the Wicked Lovely novels, and it is probably better for it. As with most manga, the story in the first volume just sets everything up and isn’t wrapped up in the end. The plot is a bit boring because of that, but you get Rika’s backstory and a lot of characterization. The drawings are done in a really pretty manga style and I didn’t have too hard a time telling characters apart in most frames (why must everyone have those stringy bangs?). I love that the lead boy is a person of colour–something you don’t see in a lot of teen fantasy or most manga or even on the cover of this book), but I dislike Rika’s wimpy female routine. She is a very insecure character, super emotional and timidly shy, and she has to tone down her strength so Jayce won’t know she is supernatural. I’m hoping that as the story goes on, her strength will become more of an asset and we’ll get to see her kicking butt. While not a fantastic read on its own, this volume set up a decent amount of conflict in what could be an interesting world, and I would read the second one.
Recommended for fans of Wicked Lovely or teens who like fantasy romance manga. You don’t have to read the series to understand this story, but it probably helps.
by Kiyohiko Azuma
Usually I would start with the first volume of a series when reviewing it, but volume 2 is my favourite and the premise is always the same with Yotsuba&!, so if it sounds good you should start from the beginning and read all of them. This is slice-of-life manga at its best, focusing on a 5-year-old girl named Yotsuba as she encounters new people, places, and concepts in her small Japanese town. In volume 2, we follow Yotsuba as she encounters a terrifying bulls-eye, learns that she isn’t as good an artist as she thinks, and–my personal favourite–practices the many uses of the phrase “no bother”. (In the Yen Press translations, it is changed to “no sweat”, which I think makes it lose some of its charm, so try the ADV Manga edition if you can find a copy.)
If it all sounds too precious for you, get over it and just read it. No book or show has made me laugh out loud this much, ever. I wish they took longer to read, because the agony of waiting for the next volume is only relieved for the hour or two that it takes to gobble up the newest stories before starting up again.
Although these comics are usually put in the kids’ section of the library, they are intended for a middle-aged male audience in Japan. They are suitable for anyone to read. I’ve met 4-year-olds who love them as read-alongs, 8-year-olds who read them alone, 20-somethings who are devoted to them, and 50-somethings who read them with a twinkle in their eye. I was recommended this series by a 30-year-old man and I recommend it to anyone of any age and gender. It is particularly good as a happy distraction when life gets sad.