Ani-Yoko: My Next Door Neighbor
Shoujo – Comedy, fantasy, kodomo
16 Volumes (ongoing)
Ami’s room has a mysterious door that connects to another world. Three of the residents of Animal Yokochou love to drop by: the selfish rabbit Iyo, the unpopular and quick-tempered bear Kenta, and the gentle, spacey panda Issa. Throw in their enigmatic leader, and with these crazy animals as neighbors, Ami’s life is never dull!
You know, sometimes it’s really hard to figure out what is age appropriate for children. It changes from generation to generation and varies from person to person. Even when you actually describe some of these shows and books, it just sounds wrong:
“A cat and mouse constantly try to kill each other, often using guns, knives, and poison gas.”
I say that because Animal Yokochou is undoubtedly a children’s manga. It actually won the award for best children’s manga at the 51st Shogakukan Manga Awards. When you actually describe the series, though, it sounds pretty bad:
“A little girl is constantly visited by strange talking animals, including a selfish rabbit who will die when she doesn’t get her way.”
The series is made up of short chapters (usually under 10 pages). Either Ami (who is supposedly five, but not even the author believes it) comes up with a fun activity that gets horribly derailed, or the Animal Yokochou (nicknamed “AniYoko”) residents just drag her into a situation that gets weirder and weirder. Fortunetelling that turns into a ritual involving pentagrams on the ground and candles burning. Armor that has the original owner still attached to it. Two diaries with “help me” scribbled with what appears to be blood. Truth or dare in an electric chair. And this is all just in the first volume!
Basically, Animal Yokochou is the culmination of every annoying neighbor in every sitcom ever. Of course, other characters are introduced, but the manga is just about a little girl dealing with her crazy non-human friends as they do everything from going on picnics to celebrating Christmas to planning a newscast. Ami does consider Iyo and the others as her friends; she cries when she thinks she’ll never see them again. A lot of the times, though, I wouldn’t blame her for stuffing them down the door and sealing it up forever. Early on, for instance, Iyo takes Ami’s temperature by headbutting her. Ouch.
Yes, no doubt most of the blame for the insanity falls on Iyo the rabbit. She can modify her body into different shapes and forms, shoot beams, store items, and still manage to “accidentally” injure Kenta the bear. Oh, and her soul will start to head to… wherever AniYoko souls go to if she’s upset, so she gets her way every time. Kenta acts like a tough bear and is the tsukkomi to Iyo’s boke. While he often smacks Iyo for being silly, he’s usually at the other end of Iyo’s random torture. He has the worst luck in the world, and his unpopularity is a running gag throughout the series. (Kenta can’t even make a proper appearance on any of the Animal Yokochou volume covers.) Panda Issa, meanwhile, is basically the team cheerleader / peacekeeper, but some of his comments though are pretty blunt and sharp despite his cheerfulness. Yaminami-san (who is always addressed as “Yaminami-san”) is evidently the leader of the world, and he is apparently in to every business and governmental role ever. Santa, postman, shop owner… basically, if they need something, Yaminami-san is the one they call. Although Yaminami-san is more than just one person horse…
Surprisingly, the humor relies more on the dialogue than the visuals. Most children-oriented works put a lot of gags in the artwork for the non-readers. While there are a lot of funny shots of Iyo trying to look innocent or Ami’s rage face, the real comedy lies in what they say. Iyo is random, Issa can be surprisingly negative, and Kenta and Ami wonder how things are getting off-track and scold Iyo. There will be long (generally made-up) explanations, introductions, and, of course, direct and back-handed insults. In addition, the series does make quite a few references to other anime and manga (“IyoIyo Prismoon Power Make Up!”). Comedies tend to be quick, but the load of text slows down readers’ pace. It also may get tiring or rather boring to read through some chunk of text when you know the next image is going to be Ami/Kenta yelling at how ridiculous or insulting that statement is. But then you get comments like where Kenta casually mentions he never actually said he was male, so it all balances out.
Ami, as I mentioned, is hardly a typical five-year-old. She speaks well, writes well, and can even cook. (And even thinks she needs to lose weight once or twice, but even Kenta wonders ) Because of her maturity, she typically acts as a tsukkomi, getting angry and annoyed at Iyo and the others’ randomness and general misunderstandings of human culture. Although her health and safety is often threatened (for instance, she eats a dangerous ingredient in the first volume that has to be deactivated by Iyo’s electric beam), Ami also can (and will) use those random paper fans or tie someone up. Although I’m not sure where a five-year-old gets a random lighter… Several other residents of the AniYoko world do drop by for one reason or another, and Ami eventually has a human friend to share with her adventures with. As often the case in such stories, there’s always something special about sticking to the original cast members.
In many ways, Animal Yokochou is a 4-koma in a traditional manga format. Pages tend to have five to nine panels, all pretty uniform in size and shape. Some chapters are even more limited with several pages in a row of seven to nine panels. Backgrounds are almost non-existent; the characters themselves are pretty much the only visuals you’ll see. Iyo, Kenta, and Issa all started out as being mascots for Ribon‘s quiz section, so they are A lot of the comedy involves visual gags: paper rabbits, electric beams, and a tall, skinny horse who walks on two feet. Plus with Animal Yokochou being a children’s manga, it’s no surprise the art is rather simple. Iyo looks like she could be Miffy’s cousin, and Issa doesn’t even have pupils in his eyes. Over the years, the artwork does change a bit. Maekawa’s outlines get softer and thinner. What’s most notable is Kenta’s head; it goes from a short and fat oblong-ish shape to a more rounded tall box shape. Expressions are generally limited to kaomoji-type expressions like (≧∇≦), (ʘ言ʘ╬), and Σ(ﾟДﾟ；). The three main animals are made to be easy-to-draw by both author and fans alike. Ami herself has ponytails with hair that somehow defies gravity and points upward, but otherwise she actually looks like a little sister-like character of that age. Okay, she might look a little tall, but it probably has to do with perspectives since Iyo and the others are even shorter than she is. Otherwise, though, this isn’t a series where anyone will be clamoring for an artbook. The art is nothing special; if you’ve seen SD faces in manga before, put them on a stuffed rabbit, panda, and bear toy, and that’s pretty much Animal Yokochou. It’s just that you won’t see too many electric shocks or horse wearing spandex in other series, and that’s the appeal of Animal Yokochou.
Chance of License:
Animal Yokochou is a Ribon manga, so it would almost certainly have to be licensed by Viz Media. They have picked up a few children’s titles over the years, but many of them have been Pokemon related and stuff. At over 16 volumes, I don’t see a lot of Western manga fans reading a manga aimed at younger kids. The New York Times‘ weekly manga bestsellers list often goes weeks — months even — without a single shoujo manga appearing on it. I can’t imagine a simply-drawn manga about three animals (who look like stuffed toys) and a girl would capture a lot of teenagers’ attention series like Attack on Titan and Tokyo Ghoul dominate. As for parents buying this for their kids, the millennial generation — ones who grew up with Toonami and helped propel Japanese media in the West — on average don’t have children old enough to really read this series. So while I do think manga companies may want to start looking at children’s manga to capture the next generation of fans, a story starring a suicidal bunny may not be the best choice. Even as Iyo’s deaths get less frequent, the manga would also require a lot of work translating and editing. A lot of dialogue has to fit into speech bubbles, and many of them are on the skinny side. (Because, of course, Japanese is read vertically.) Finally, the manga makes a lot of anime and manga jokes, which a lot of people would probably understand, but there are also what seems to be pop culture references that are less easy to understand.
Animal Yokochou is essentially a manga version of Looney Tunes and Tom & Jerry.
An English version of the anime does exist, but it was made for the Philippines and has essentially disappeared.