It’s not everyday that we take a moment to sit back, reminiscing those times we made mama angry, or, smiling at the thought of something stupid your 7 y/o self would probably do. We’re too preoccupied with what’s in front of us nowadays, and, normally, that very same preoccupation will slowly evolve into a daily routine — a chain tying us down into what we call a lifestyle. A considerate portion of our time is now consumed by media, by our material possessions, that subtle forms of enjoyment are oftentimes overlooked or taken for granted. We’re living in the age of technology, where literally everything around us is a product of humanity’s rapid inclination towards convenience. Pictures are no longer stored in a photo album; pictures are now a tap and a click away from your virtual collection of selfies. These days, them spoiled kids would rather wish for the latest iPhone for their birthday, rather than a new set of toys to go along with Mr. Troll’s assorted crew of recyclables. Remember that doll with a pink mohawk who’s probably Chucky’s younger brother? That’s him, and he’s the commander of my fleet when I was 12.
For the record, I’m not really generalizing anyone here. Of course, we’re obviously not born in the same generation, much less in the same year. Some of you may have experienced the chore of rewinding a bunch of VHS tapes. Some of you probably got caught in those good ol’ days when Pokemon is actually a thing. Or, maybe you’re just like me who can hum the lyrics to every Westlife/A-1 songs there are. Whatever the case is, drawing a fine line from the now and then pervades me with a wave of nostalgia, and thinking back on all of these made me realize how easy it is to be influenced by the current trend in our society.
As we grow older, we normally leave behind the childish and innocent wonder in which we use to view the world with. The accumulated experience we gain from youth to adulthood will eventually take over that part of our personality. We are, after all, molded by the external influences we expose ourselves in, both culturally and ideally — zeitgeist, if you would. Just like memories, our naivety and immaturity — and whatever quirks that define us back then — will be stored in a corner of our mind, only to resurface again during dinner-time conversations. However, I didn’t need any jab from my older brother reminding me of how scared I was with injections and blood when I was still a cute little brat. All it took for those should-be forgotten stories to be rekindled is a chapter or two of Yotsuba&!.
A Time Capsule
A manga by Azuma Kiyohiko, best known for his work on Azumanga Daioh, Yotsuba&! follows the day to day life of a 5 y/o girl named Yotsuba. Some of you probably know her as the mascot of 4chan, or the pedigree of the famous cardboard robot you see in toy photo shoots. Otherwise, it’s more likely you’ve heard of her and the manga through hearsay and reputation. If not… then I strongly urge you to read this piece of art now. Okay? Okay.
On surface, it’s a fantastic display of Azuma-san’s comedic expertise. At its core, Yotsubato&! is an authentic slice-of-life experience. One of the primary contributor to the organic realism of Yotsubato&! is with its cast of characters. You see, I have this self-imposed rule I use when gauging how parallel a character is with a real person. If I don’t need to suspend my disbelief in order to digest someone’s character, then it means it’s easier to imagine him/her as part of our own diegesis, and not someone who was made to fit into a world different from ours. Of course, everything that results from this “rule” is subjective, as there are countless factors we have to consider first when passing our judgment. This is specially true in the case of varying perspectives from person to person.
It’s important to note that during Yotsuba&!‘s earlier chapters, the gags are rather exaggerated and over the top in fashion. It’s hard to comprehend at first how Yotsuba, a five year old, can climb a telephone pole on her own, or, as with the case on other similar instances, how she can attempt something without flinching at the prospect of danger. This can probably be attributed to the nature of the manga itself when it started out rather than to Yotsuba’s own guilelessness — it’s a gag/comedy manga first and foremost; a successor to Azumanga Daioh. It’s almost like a deliberate shout-out to Buster Keaton’s style of gag to say the least. However, as time passes by, noticeable changes on how the characters act and how the punchlines are delivered became easily apparent. Instead of relying on exaggerating objects, actions, to deliver a punchline, Yotsuba&! has started to deviate to something more natural and organic. At this point, digesting the characters and the story makes it easier to be immersed with the narrative — thus creating that sense of belonging; a vicarious feeling of nostalgia.
Yotsuba&! is a time capsule, particularly Yotsuba herself. It’s a time capsule in a sense that it offers a definite window from the present to the past through mimesis — the act of imitating life through art. Most of the time, an anecdote-joke is funnier when you can relate to it. And, the fact that Yotsuba&! is a story about a five year old kid doing five year old stuff is one reason why it’s easier for the readers to connect to the story and the characters. It’s no wonder why the fan demographic of Yotsuba&! is so diverse. Teenagers can see their lame and corny selves from Fuuka’s own attempt with puns; adults can relate to the woes of being a parent, single or not, through Yotsuba’s dad; kids — for some unknown reason — understands the logic behind Yotsuba’s non-sequitur acts. It’s precisely because of this minimalistic and realistic approach to daily-life comedy that draws people into it, with Yotsuba at the center of the attraction. Alternatively, Yotsuba&! can also draw you out from the view of its characters, then back into your own past and circumstances. If we find ourselves drawn into the life of its characters, then we should also assume that there is something from our dusty box of memories we can use to relate to the medium.
Oh, me? I have a lot. I was an annoying brat, you see, and seeing Yotsuba with such care-free gusto trudge the vistas and wonders of the world without a single worry in mind earns her my utmost appreciation. There’s a reason why she’s my avatar and why she’s the banner image of this blog after all.
A product of its own time
One interesting aspect of Yotsuba&!‘s nostalgic underpinnings is with how time passes by in its world. A recent interview with Azuma-sensei has defined the progression of time in the manga. Put simply, a chapter translates to a day within its world — it’s quite literally a day to day adventure of Yotsuba. To date, there are currently 13 volumes and 91 chapters in publication. If we use the equation above and factor in the lapses in-between the changing seasons, we can come to a figure of 4-6 months give or take.
The funny thing is, Yotsuba&! started its serialization on 2003. Meaning, Azuma-sensei has to make each chapter in correlation to its current timeline. Whatever we’re reading, it’s dated back a decade ago wherein kids uses styro-cup phones rather than fancy tablets. This trait, along with a realistic set of characters, has made Yotsuba&! a product of its own time. It was no longer a medium of entertainment I read for the laughs and lulz; it has become a gateway to the past, a refreshing breeze of environment largely different from the digital age we live in.
As parting words, Yotsuba&! is also a realization of how much I’ve been missing in my life just because I’m right here, laptop handy, mashing the backspace button whilst racking my brains on what to write next. From hot-air balloons, to bicycles, even the ringing call of cicadas remind of the simpler times. Amidst the rustle and bustle of the city, amidst the stress of every day work, amidst the media we immerse ourselves in, perhaps we can still evoke the long lost childish wonder within us. In the eyes of Yotsuba, the world is an incredibly vast place waiting to be discovered with a hop and a skip. Now, it wouldn’t be bad once in a while to break free of the chain we tied ourselves into, right? With that said, I’ll end this post with a couple of short thoughts. Maybe I’ll pay the local zoo a visit or… when is the next hanabi festival again?
- Even if you haven’t read the manga, you’ll get an idea of how Yotsuba&! works just from the answers of its mangaka in the interview.
- Just a minor spoiler here: there’s a chapter wherein a character is using an iPhone. Now, if I recall correctly, the iPhone 3G was released around 2007-2008. In which case, we can assume that Azuma-sensei did an unsuspecting time-skip from 2003 to 2007.
- To be fair though, any anime that you watch with a character using a flip-phone can be an indication that it’s dated back years ago.
- The only thing I’m not a fan of of this manga is its slow releases.
- I’m currently watching Azumanga Daioh. I can see why Azuma-sensei is not in favor of adapting Yotsuba&! I’m not saying that the former was bad. It’s just that there’s a certain quality or imagination a manga instills at you, in comparison to the tangible elements an anime provides.