When it comes to reviewing manga in English, I appear to be an anomaly. I read more manga in Japanese than in English and many of the series I most enjoy, I read as they are serialized in the magazines. I prefer to read my materials untranslated, even (especially) if it means it will take me three months to read a novel, instead of two days.
As a result, I have a hard time seeing past a series’ origin. I know the audience for which the series was originally intended, and I find it awkward to pretend that that does not affect the story.
Yotsuba&! was, as many other people have pointed out, a series that was serialized in Dengeki Daioh magazine. Unlike those many people, I actually read Dengeki Daioh for many years and now still read it from time to time. Which is why I cannot pretend that Yotsuba&! is a book for children. Dengeki Daioh is/was also the home to such heart-warming stories about adult men and the pre-pubescent girls they love as Blood Alone and Gunslinger Girl. Call it shounen or seinen, this is a magazine for otaku men, who think that LovePlus (or a soda can) is a viable alternative to a relationship with a real human and who like to imagine themselves with a little girl sitting on their lap. And look at her underwear from time to time.
It’s also been noted by many people that when manga comes to America, most of the gender/age lines blur or completely fade. Stories targeted to the college age set in Japan are inexplicably targeted to young teens here, then censored for being inappropriate. Stories for children, because of the obsession with underwear and nudity one encounters as part of the “humor”in manga, and because of the Puritanism of America, all of a sudden find themselves with Mature Content warnings.
So when it was announced that this month’s Manga Moveable Feast was being hosted by the Good Comics For Kids crowd, my head exploded. I do not, no matter what the good people of Yen Press and other manga bloggers say, consider Yotsuba&! a “Good Comic for Kids.” I get why people can say that. Yotsuba is a delightful child. The comic is light-hearted, it has characters of all ages and personalities, so there is likely to be *someone* any age group can identify with. It’s a fun story; you can see young Dads of young children laughing and smiling, think of their own kids when Yotsuba does something wacky. Mom next door represents Moms wondering what the neighbor’s kid is thinking. Asagi, Fuka, Ena, Yanda and Jumbo all provide masks for ourselves, whoever ourselves may be, so that we can smile and watch Yotsuba and laugh with her…or at her, whichever makes us happiest.
I love Yotsuba&!. I love it in Japanese and love it in English and hope everyone reads it. It’s something a kid *could* read, especially with an adult to share the amusement. But I can’t call it “for kids,” because it’s not. Tora Dora! is not “for kids,” neither is To Aru Kagaku no Railgun, and this isn’t, anymore than Akikan was.
Manga reviewers have taken the girl from the farm and want to pretend that, while she’s standing on 42nd street looking at her options, none of them are less than savory. That’s cool. More power to them. I’ll stick to knowing who is reading it in Japan, and why. And that’s cool too.