For my first ‘real’ post, I thought that I’d write about something that’s near and dear to my heart, and that I’ve been finding myself thinking about a lot recently. I want this blog to be a fun and positive place, and plan to keep it mostly apolitical (as much as possible, anyways). However, there’s no getting around it – these are some unsettling times. The news is depressing, my various newsfeeds alternately make me angry and make me sad. And I’m not saying that we shouldn’t pay attention to everything that’s going on, or that we should stick our heads in the sad when bad news comes along. Far from it! But, sometimes a little escape from everything becomes a necessity. It’s self-care. And that’s important as well. And one of my favorite forms of escape is turning to a soothing, quiet slice of life manga.
What is slice of life?
Basically, the term slice of life describes exactly what it is. They tell stories about a character (or set of characters) as seen through little snippets of their daily lives. They tend to be very observational and character-driven, as the actual stories being told can be mundane. While they can follow a realistic in-story timeline and past and future events may be referenced, these series often don’t have over-arching plot lines that keep the stories in line, or even regular conflict. I’ve noticed that from the ones I read, at least, seasons and the slow passage of time also tend to feature heavily. All of these factors can create a very peaceful way to spend some time, and when I find myself feeling stressed or unhappy, I often turn to some of my fave series for a pick-me-up. TV Tropes – which is incidentally one of my favorite websites – has a more in-depth summary of what slice of life is and a large list of different series that is well worth checking out (link here).
However, in this series of posts I wanted to talk about some of my own personal favorites, and focus especially on series that bring me calm during stressful times. Think of them as Bob Ross episodes with a story attached. They’re that good.
I’m going to start this series of posts off with Yotsuba&! by Kiyohiko Azuma (published by Yen Press). Full disclosure: Yotsuba is my favorite of all things. Favorite manga? Yes. Favorite series? Yes. Favorite thing to read regardless of medium? Yes. Favorite piece of entertainment? YES OKAY? YES. Nobody’s paying me to say this. Yotsuba is just that fantastic.
Warning: I try to avoid any spoilers in the review below, but themes and plot points do get discussed in a general way. If you’re rigorously trying to avoid spoilers for this series, please proceed with caution!
The story starts with Yotsuba Kowaii moving to a new house, and revolves around the daily life of this very energetic, enthusiastic five year old girl and her interactions with her stay-at-home dad, his friends, and the family of three girls next door who immediately take to her. I’ve read that the name “Yotsuba&!” indicates Yotsuba’s enthusiasm for everything that she encounters (chapters tend to follow a naming pattern of “Yotsuba & *whatever the subject of the chapter will be*, such as Chapter 1 of the first volume, “Yotsuba & Moving”), and the series is reflective of this because it’s just full of excitement and joy.
The series does follow an in-story timeline – it starts in mid-summer and the most recent volume takes place sometime in mid-November, and chapters often reference the events that had already happened or plans for the future, but for the most part, each chapter can be read as a stand-alone story. The scope of the stories can range from relatively big (Yotsuba takes a camping trip; Yotsuba gets her first bike) to very, very small and mundane (Yotsuba wanders around the neighborhood; Yotsuba and her dad go shopping for dinner at the local market). We really are taking a peek into this kid’s daily life. And what’s special about this series is that even the very small and mundane stories are cast in just as important of a light as the bigger ones, because that’s how Yotsuba takes on her life. Everything is an adventure, and as an older (and more world-weary) type of person, it’s refreshing. The series tends to be very idyllic, and Yotsuba really is living a charmed childhood with the freedom to safely explore her neighborhood to her heart’s content with her dad and best friends in constant contact, but it’s not saccharine – we do see scenes that show that Yotsuba can be naughty, unhappy or angry. The series is alternately heartwarming and humorous, and while I don’t have any kids myself to relate it to, I do find that it creates a warm and nostalgic feeling for my own childhood.
I also want to comment on the art, which is notably gorgeous. This series is a treat for the eyes! The backgrounds are beautiful, and items such as bicycles/cameras/teddy bears/food are drawn with an incredible and consistent eye for detail. However, I think my favorite thing about the art though is how it’s used a vehicle for the pacing of the story. Azuma really makes the most out of the graphic novel medium by freeing his art from dialogue or narration to tell the stories. Entire pages are given to just showing small details in a scene or sequences of events with little to no dialogue – in this respect, the series is almost cinematographic.
The characters are also drawn in a very expressive way, which also gets a lot of emotion and tone across without unnecessary exposition. I rarely buy extra stuff on my phone, but I would *happily* shell out for a set of reaction text stickers just of Yotsuba’s face. Somebody should get on that STAT!
I thought I’d end this post by sharing my favorite chapter from the whole series (so far, at least – it’s not finished yet) – Chapter 64 in volume 10, “Yotsuba & Pancakes” , in which Yotsuba attempts to make pancakes for the first time, mainly because 1. it’s very funny; 2. I also like pancakes and 3. *spoiler alert* I also tend to screw up pancakes.
Yotsuba is my go-to stress read. It’s like aloe for a sunburned soul (I recognize that’s cheesy as all hell but I don’t care, it’s true and it’s staying!)
Yotsuba is my first and favorite slice of life manga to go to when I need a pick-me-up, but it’s by no means the only one I turn to, and there are several more that I’d like to discuss in future posts. Look out for more soon!
Name: Yotsuba &!
Author: Kiyohiko Azuma
Publisher: Yen Press
US Published Dates: 2009 – present
Status: Ongoing (13 volumes released in the US so far, with the 14 to be released in November 2018). In print and easy to find.
Ages (per publisher): All ages
Anime: No anime adaptations at this point (although a spin-off series, Nyanbo! features a nonspeaking Yotsuba cameo in the credits).
All materials belong to their rightful copyright holders. I don’t claim any ownership over any of the content being discussed above – I’m just a fan who wants to share some of her favorites with the world