Slice-of-life comics often have a wide appeal. So much so, in fact, that it's surprising that the smaller publishers are just now realizing this and starting to bring them over to the U.S. Kiyohiko Azuma however, is a known author here, with his anime and manga series Azumanga Daioh being a staple of college anime clubs for years. So it makes perfect sense that Yen Press would rescue the license for Yotsuba&! and continue to bring it out for American audiences.
Yotsuba&! (pronounced Yot-su-ba-to and meaning Yotsuba and...!) Volume 1 starts with the introduction of our titular character. A five-year-old girl with a vague resemblance to a four leaf clover, she's recently been adopted by Koiwai, who she calls 'dad,' and the two of them have just moved to town. Yotsuba's origins are a little bit vague, as she says she says she lived with her grandparents on an island 'to the left.'
From that sketchy backstory comes one of the most charming, naïve and just plain odd little girls in manga. One has to wonder just what island she came from that she doesn't know what doorbells, air conditioners, or department stores are, and yet speaks Japanese perfectly well, as well as reads at an age-appropriate level. Beyond that oddness, though is the wonder of being a young child. Somewhere between preschool and adulthood, things like playing in the rain tend to lose their charm. And that's a shame.
Along the way, we meet a slew of recurring characters from the neighborhood. The Ayase sisters take Yotsuba in as either another sister or perhaps as a pet, depending on the the personality of the sister. Their mother too joins in, becoming something of a surrogate mom to Yotsuba. We also get to meet Jumbo, who probably isn't all that tall by Western standards, but leaves people in shock and awe of his 'Jumbo-ness' at first meeting.
All in all, Yotsuba&! has a certain 'Andy Griffith Show' feel to the neighborhood. The people in Yotsuba's life are essentially good people, and even the ones who tend to play jokes aren't mean-spirited about it. And that makes for a nice, reliably sweet comic suitable for all ages.
Highs: A five-year-old's interpretation of global warning
Lows: Of course, it's a manga, so Jumbo has a crush on the eldest Ayase sister
Verdict: A sweet, innocent slice-of-life comedy
Further Reading: Chi's Sweet Home, Azumanga Daioh