If you’re into slice of life manga at all, then you most likely have heard about Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou. Many see it as the genre’s quintessential title, and there are some good reasons for this. Just to warn you in advance, this will be a very positive review, as it is definitely in my top 5 favorite manga of all time, alongside Aria and some others.
Slice of life manga are about showing a little window of a character’s (or group of characters’) life, and therefore there are two things that are highly important to make a manga in this genre good: The characters and the passage of time. The first one is obvious, but the second one requires an explanation.
Manga (well, literature in general) in other genres have a thing called plot devices, which are the actions or events that move the story forward. So what happens when there is no plot, no story? Then the only thing that moves the story forward is time, and it is essential to SOL manga.
If this is done poorly, such as with time-skips or stating the date at the beginning of each chapter, it can very quickly get boring, since there’s no such thing in real life. If a mangaka is trying to show a slice of a character’s life, then it has to be fluid, it has to feel like time is actually passing.
Genius writers like Ashinano or Amano do it succinctly, for example slowly showing the characters wearing warmer and warmer clothing and then showing snow and having the characters mention it as the first of the year, allowing the reader to figure out about what time of the year it is and how much has passed.
Plot & Pace: 10/10
Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou follows the story of Alpha, an immortal robot who runs a countryside café in a post-apocalyptic world in which humanity is slowly starting to die out.
Most slice of life manga show a fairly short, or at least defined, time period: The 3 years of high school, university, from the beginning to the end of a certain job, stuff like that. YKK’s story over the 14 volumes covers a long, long time. Some characters start out as children, and we see them grow up into adults. Some grow old. Only Alpha, in her immortality, remains the same throughout the series, although she also grows up and changes as a person (she is a very human-like robot).
The actual passage of time is rarely mentioned. The different events in the characters’ day to day lives, the small, gradual changes in their appearances, and the change in the setting showcase how much time is actually passing. For example, as the oceans rise, some areas visited by the characters beforehand become inundated on a later chapter.
So we’ve established that the pace is masterful, but how do you judge a slice of life manga’s plot? Most SOLs are set in the same space thorough the entirety of the story, or with very few variations lasting for a chapter only (for example, the infamous “beach episodes”). Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou, although mostly set in Alpha’s Café, manages to smoothly alternate fairly long arcs, set in different locations with different characters, with the usual setting.
There is an arc in particular in which Alpha decides to travel. Usually I don’t talk about specific parts of the manga I review, but I felt it was worth a mention because it’s just beautifully done and captures the feeling of solo travel perfectly, with a different setting every day.
Overall, YKK is the best paced manga I’ve ever read.
Does YKK have the best art ever? No. Does it show what it needs to show and more? Yes! The art in Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou is actually critically acclaimed, but of course it doesn’t compare to some of the greatest of all time (like Takehiko Inoue), which is why I couldn’t give it a perfect 10.
I’ve talked plenty about YKK’s pace, and it really is what makes this manga, but the art actually plays a huge role in this. There are many chapters in this manga that are basically silent, with only one or two text bubbles thorough the whole thing. Sometimes even zero! This only works because of the mangaka’s ability to tell a story through his art.
The way he draws a character’s expression to unequivocally portray a specific feeling, the way he uses scenery shots to slow down the pace… I just can’t find any words to describe his talent to someone that hasn’t read the manga. He can make an entire chapter about Alpha riding her scooter and you will thoroughly enjoy it, as each panel tells a story on its own.
It’s not just that, but there is a certain creativity in the perspectives he uses to draw each different chapter. There is one chapter in which the story is from the point of view of one of Alpha’s customers returning to the café for the first time in many years. So Ashinano actually draws each panel as if seen through the customer’s eyes – literally a point of view chapter.
He also loves painting sceneries with the characters seen from far away, which make them look like impressionistic paintings of sorts. The manga is filled with them and each one is worth taking a look at.
These are things that written literature just cannot do; if there is a change in the narrator/perspective, it has to be explained or indicated. Ashinano knows perfectly well what a mangaka can do thanks to the art, and executes it flawlessly.
The cast of Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou consists of Alpha, her neighbors, the friends she makes in different places in Japan, among others. I really, really love the characters in this manga. They feel like actual people, human beings, with a distinct personality that’s not overstated or overacted.
Many times, mangaka try to make a character be a certain way. They think of, for example, a strong-willed character, so they put them in hard situations to show their strong will. This can make characters a bit one dimensional. The world seems to revolve around them. In real life, people are not defined by a simple trait, they are their own selves, each one different from the rest. YKK shows this so well. Each character is just who they are, a simple human being. And they are so lovable, so wonderful, that you can’t help but think whether all humans have something worth loving.
Yet another strong point of this title is the progression of the main character. Alpha, who is immortal, has to deal with the aging of her human friends. Some become old, some become adults, and she grows in between as well. It’s never quite clear how old she is, but you can see her mature thorough the series. The side cast evolves naturally as well, some characters being replaced as they move away and get less screen time, but when they do appear again, it is clear that time has passed and that they have changed, at least a little bit. Again, this is done without any clear cues other than art.
Ashinano Hitoshi is a true mangaka who works on his titles meticulously and lovingly. Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou, although only 14 volumes long, was published over 12 years! The amount of thought put into each chapter, each bubble of dialog, each character design is flabbergasting, and it makes this title one of the, if not the, biggest gems in all of manga.
It will instill a feeling of calmness, even a sort of nostalgia at some points, which is unique in the industry, and in literature in general. Ashinano is a sort of emotional alchemist, conjuring such feelings from everyday things and leaving you with a satisfied mind after every reading session.
This manga appears simple in style and it’s very easy to read, but every chapter, every panel, every text bubble is carefully constructed to instill the desired feelings onto the reader. I didn’t put Ashinano on my top 5 mangaka list, because YKK, as amazing as it may be, has not had the influence on the industry that the ones on the list have had. In my heart, however, he is #1.
Pretty much the highest rating you’ll ever see me give. I tried to be as objective as possible thorough the review, although Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou is more than just the sum of its parts. Making something both simple and good is not as easy as one may think. It requires a kind of meticulousness, a talent, and a desire to bring forth a certain feeling of calmness.
The way it uses all of the available resources of the medium to their full extent, the great characters and most importantly the carefully crafted pacing make this one of the greatest manga of all time.