The back cover of Yotsuba's ninth volume says something very, very important on it: the age rating. While these are normally throwaway or just plain silly, in this case the age rating says something surprisingly perceptive about the series.
It says "All Ages" - not 10+, not 6+; All ages. And it honestly is a manga that is deeply enjoyable for everyone of all ages, whether you are a cynical 25 year old (like me) or someone two decades younger. This, I feel is the core of why Yotsuba, and this volume in particular, is so outstanding.
So what happens in this volume? Well, the titular Yotsuba, curious 5-year-old extraordinaire, is given a teddy bear, eats at a restaurant, and goes to watch hot air balloons. Her rather silly dad and his immature friends Jumbo and Yanda show up for some parts, and in other chapters the girls who live next door also appear and say some funny things. No revelations, no world to save, no mysterious dark pasts. In a traditional sense, nothing ground-breaking is covered in Yotsuba. However, what is shown is so utterly engaging and charming that who the hell cares about grand, sweeping plot lines?
As has been previously noted by others more perceptive than I, Yotsuba thrives on evoking idealised nostalgia through it's characters and events, usually by making them as fun and enjoyable as possible, creating a warm blanket around you while you read. The chapter revolving around Yotsuba picking out a teddy bear particularly effected me as it brought forth warm fuzzy memories of my own childhood companion who I still have with me today. One particular page which shows Yotsuba holding her new teddy bear sums it up best - simple emotions well expressed without any schmaltz or irony.
The art in Yotsuba is pitched just right, especially now that all the characters and conventions of the series have been standardised in the preceeding volumes. All of the characters are drawn in a simple, expressive style that clearly show their expressions without having to remain a slave to an overly detailed character model. In comparison the backgrounds are lushly drawn and shaded, a difference that works to the series benefit - you already know what the characters look like, and so by placing them into believable backdrops your imagination can do the rest in conjuring the two rather disparate levels of detail into a single cohesive scene. The manga will often switch focus in this way - using character detail when they are interacting and background detail when they are simply present in a larger scene. The chapter focused on hot air ballooning is a keen example of this - when the “camera” of the panel is pulled back to show the landscape, the characters take on a low-detailed version to help draw your attention to where it is desired.
The series is very well localised, combining a desire to preserve the original jokes with a clear intent to make the series as approachable as possible for people who are not already manga readers. Translation notes that are included on the page itself in-between panels - this feels a lot more natural than the practice of sticking a text dump at the end of the volume, especially given the wide age range that Yotsuba appeals to. I can’t imagine a six-year old bothering to skip to the end of the book (which is back-to-front already) just to find out how a translator had to change a joke slightly to maintain it’s meaning. A particular thing I feel is praiseworthy is the translation of Yotsuba's childish nonsense speak as it strikes a perfect balance between being instantly identifiable and comedic.
The supporting cast are all just as interesting as Yotsuba herself, being genuinely interesting and loveable normal people, saying and doing normal things but with a charming levity. They all feel like they could be lead characters of their own individual spin-off mini-series and are not simply present to be either a springboard for, or foil to, the main character and her antics.
The end result of all this is that this volume of Yotsuba is a perfect storm - a great mix of enjoyable nonsense that will leave anyone except the most stone-hearted feeling warm and fuzzy. You might even find yourself hugging the book in glee.
A little nugget of wonder that will leave you feeling warm and fuzzy, without fail.