Children’s – 4-koma
Andrea the cheerful bear kid, Pretty Rabbit Girl, and Cute Squirrel (better known as called Baby) are the best of friends. Whether it’s celebrating the holidays or taking an out-of-this-world trip, every day is fun!
There aren’t too many all-ages 4-koma that don’t rely heavily on Japanese culture and/or school life. But what makes ANDREA really stand out is a little rodent who is not a normal member of the protagonist’s group of friends.
While technically the series can be read in any order, each strip is numbered. But there is an issue in the second entry, as some of the strips are out-of-order. That got me really confused since I was looking for the volume that had ANDREA 15, as Happy New Year! opens with ANDREA 19 when it should open with #15. You can search for them in order by publishing date, but because it can be a bit of a mess to search through on Kindle, here’s the order of the comics:
Happy Merry Xmas!
Happy New Year!
Happy Trip to the Spa!
Happy Space Trip to the Moon!
Happy Valentine’s Day!
Happy Spring Publishing!
Happy Music Festival!
Happy Time Travel!
How to Make World Peace Come True!!!
Each issue is about 15 pages and costs $.99.
ANDREA stars a boy bear named Andrea, who is always full of joy but is a bit of a ditz. Andrea is known to bear-dance whenever he’s happy, which is often. He’s best friends with Pretty Rabbit Girl. While she’s a maiden at heart, she’s also pretty strong. In the first volume, Andrea introduces her to “Baby”, who steals the show. Why? Because “Baby” is not a baby bear; he’s actually Cute Squirrel. A fully adult Cute Squirrel.
Told you Andrea is a bit of a ditz!
(Pretty Rabbit Girl and Cute Squirrel are given names, but because they’re only revealed 1/3 of the way through the series, I won’t use them.)
So how does this misunderstanding go on? We don’t actually see the two of them meet, but Cute Squirrel decides to ignore the rude kid who calls him a kid. But then he starts living the good life (always being snuggled by the warm Andrea, getting meals, etc.), so he hides the fact he’s an adult. Well, maybe not “hide”: if a young’un is good at sports and can build shop stands, they may not be a young’un after all! Pretty Rabbit knows the truth, but probably out of a combination of not breaking Andrea’s heart and the fact he probably wouldn’t believe her (or rather, understand) anyway, she doesn’t say anything. In return, Cute Squirrel does think Andrea is a bit of an featherhead (fuzzyhead?), but the gentleman still looks after his “caretaker”, dressing up as Santa and just enjoying hanging out with Andrea and Pretty Rabbit… although he’d rather date Pretty Rabbit than just hang out!
When I started reading ANDREA, I went into it that this might be something for the younger crowd. Surprisingly, though, I found myself really enjoying it. I arguably have kiddish tastes, and if you’re the type that sticks to genres that involve a lot of gore and violence, no, ANDREA isn’t going to change your mind. But if you like a good all-ages series, ANDREA ends up being better than expected thanks to Cute Squirrel. Not saying Andrea and Pretty Rabbit are bad; Andrea is just too sweet, and Pretty Rabbit is neither solely a tomboy or a girly girl.
But Cute Squirrel is the author’s stated favorite. Part babysitter, part leech, part retired superstar — he makes ANDREA have a very unique dynamic in the main cast versus kids hanging out and having fun like in most children-oriented series. Every now and then we discover one of his talents or his attempts to woo Pretty Rabbit. (Don’t ask me how aging works in this world. Andrea is described as a kid, and Cute Squirrel is an adult. So Pretty Rabbit would have to be young, but she’s probably older than Andrea. Either way, she’s not interested.)
As you may gather, each book has a theme (arc) that usually takes up the entire volume. The three have various adventures like playing a sport, celebrating a holiday, or going out somewhere. The three main characters are almost always together, but we also meet some of their relatives. Like most 4-koma, the fourth panel is usually a punchline, but since this is targeted towards kids, the final panel can be sweet. Since this is a series starring anthropomorphic animals, quite a few strips involve humor from them being animals. And since animals can’t normally talk, well, anything goes in ANDREA! Not so much fantasy-wise, but definitely sci-fi wise. But you probably could tell that from the titles above. I prefer to more “normal” ones, like the gang playing basketball with Andrea’s cousins or their unusual take on Cinderella. If any of you have heard of a series called Animal Yokocho (Animal Alley), ANDREA falls in a similar vein.
Since the last book came out in 2015, I am assuming ANDREA is finished. The main story seems to end in Happy Space Travel!, and it does kind of form a full story with it being connected to the first entry in the series. How to Make World Peace Come True!!! is more like a spin-off, an appropriately-titled “how to” book on dealing with conflict. It’s more like the author’s wishes and a lesson for kids, although it could be canon since it features something important between Andrea and Cute Squirrel. But since there was nothing after this volume, only Ogawa knows if this is just an important message delivered using his characters or a part of the ANDREA universe. Since this doesn’t follow the naming pattern of the other ANDREA books, I’m leaning toward the former. As such, it’s not important if you skip it. The other books feature some recurring characters, so I would still recommend buying the story in order even though it isn’t required. Starting with a Christmas episode is pretty unusual, but just go with it.
The art style is simplistic, as it’s targeted toward kids. Think the vein of Sanrio characters (Hello Kitty and friends), Miffy, even the book series inside Chobits. Many volumes include a color strip, but the last few issues have feature color accents in every strip. The early volumes are also rougher, more childish. Like sometimes, the circle that makes up Andrea’s head may have some overlap, or his ears may not fully connect to his head since there will be a slight gap. I kind of wonder if Ogawa originally drew them by hand and then scanned them into a computer before switching to drawing digitally. Either that or he just spent more time touching up and just plain getting better, as the later characters are drawn cleaner and more consistently. That’s even before ANDREA has more color. So while the art can be weak at the beginning, most readers probably won’t be too harsh since this is an indie work and not made to be drop-dead gorgeous. It’s like a webcomic where the artist starts putting more time.
Unlike most 4-koma, there isn’t two strips a page. The blocks are large with the extra whitespace featuring a filler drawing and text, which is the same for an entire book. The comic is read from left-to-right, and there is a flowchart in some of the volumes as well. Despite each book only being about 15 pages, they didn’t feel super short to me. That was another shock to me. I’d be reading and going, “Okay, been reading for a while, sothis must be the last page since it’s only 15 pages!” and then I’d look and still be several pages away from the end. I’ve blasted through some manga that felt shorter. Maybe it’s because each book jumps directly into the story. At the very end, there’s a send-off and thank you message from the author. But I was impressed that I felt like I got to spend some time reading each volume instead of feeling like it’s over before I even got started.
The author translates ANDREA himself. While it certainly is legible, there are several typos, grammar errors, misspellings, and overpoliteness/awkwardness throughout the series. Examples include like “trance formation” for “transformation”, “He needs new vehicle!”, “transparent man” when “invisible” would sound more natural, “poemer” instead of “poet”, etc. But considering Ogawa is doing this all by himself, it’s pretty good. But if you’ve ever read English written by a typical Japanese native, then a lot of these issues will be familiar to you. Fortunately, it’s not garbled Engrish, as most of the issues are relatively minor and don’t hinder readers’ understanding of what’s going on.
There are a couple of instances where the characters shout, “Jesus!” Not incorrect since people use it that way, but for a series like this, “Geezus!” might have been better or, alternatively, “Oh my God!” The characters also mention sexiness a couple of times as well, which probably “so good-looking” or “beautiful/handsome” would have worked better.
The text itself, like the art, also improves and becomes more consistent in size, spacing, etc.
Despite its weaknesses, ANDREA was Happy Reading Time! for me. It was relaxing, cute, and still got several laughs out of me.
ANDREA episodes are also available on Amazon.