Takaya Natsuki’s Fruits Basket
~*~Shoujo Manga Maniac~*~:
Takaya Natsuki’s Fruits Basket
By: Meg Humphrey
Let me preface this first installment of Shoujo Manga Maniac (I foresee more in the future as I spend too much of my time on scanlation websites) with the fact that I’m a manga (Japanese comics) nut. I have a fondness for anime, but it can’t compare to my love of manga. Even 10 years ago when I was doing Japanese self-study, I had monthly subscription to three big manga magazines (Ribon, Nakayoshi, and Hana to Yume). This is serious business.
I finally got around to reading Fruits Basket. I had watched the, at the time, fansubbed anime just a little bit after it had completed in Japan. It was cute, but wasn’t super great. It was only 26 episodes long and ended well before the manga was finished. To be fair, with only one season it didn’t have a chance to become anything spectacular. On the other hand, the 23 volume series might be the very best manga I’ve ever read.
Fruits Basket is about Honda Tohru (last name first, guys) whose mother was recently deceased in a car accident. After living alone in a tent for a while, she ends up moving in with Souma Shigure, Souma Yuki and Souma Kyou. The gimmick of the manga is that certain “blessed” members of a Souma family have the spirits of the 12 Chinese Zodiac animals (plus the cat) living inside them. When they are embraced by a member of the opposite sex they turn into their respective animal! They can still talk and are generally super adorable (Hattori’s transformation happens to be my favorite). As time goes on Tohru meets all members of the Zodiac, as well as the head of the family, and helps them come to terms with their curse.
I know, it sounds pretty cheesy, but I swear the entire manga is pure gold! There are three main points of why this manga stood out.
First, it’s not centered on romance. Almost every slice-of-life (set in real world Japan) manga I’ve read over the past 10 years is centered around a girl and a guy and them falling in love and the drama that comes with it. Fruits Basket does indeed explore love (and does have possible romantic pairings), but mostly in the way where everyone is trying to figure out what “love” is. The love of a mother, the love between friends, love throughout a family and what individuals sacrifice because they love are more important subjects then who is kissing who.
The second thing I really enjoyed about the manga is that it spent a good amount of time on ALL of the central characters. There are over a dozen of them, so it’s not the easiest mission to accomplish! Every Souma family member has background as well as Tohru, her deceased mother, and her best friends. It brings an element of reality and sincerity to the manga and allows the reader to develop a stronger emotional attachment to the characters.
Most importantly, Tohru is not a Mary Sue. Too many female leads are surrounded by men who are all desperately in love with her because they are beautiful and perfect and apparently the only lady around. It’s true that most of the Souma family are at least fond of Tohru (and a couple do fall in love with her), but she actually earns their respect and affection. She gives them advice, she listens to their worries, she constantly offers to help, and she is absolutely always there to support her friends and loved ones when they need it. She is as genuinely thoughtful and kind as a fictional character could possibly be, even though she’s suffered hardships and is caught up in the struggles of the Souma family curse. She reaches out and changes the hearts of all those around her, not just the men. I can’t help but want to be more like Tohru.
If you have an interested in manga at all and haven’t read Fruits Basket, I recommend you go out right now and do so! All 23 volumes have been released in English by TokyoPop (if you’re lucky enough to have a library system that carries graphic novels, Fruits Basket is popular enough to be available to borrow!). It is also available to read online in scanlation form, but be warned that quality/translation varies depending on which group handled each firstname.lastname@example.org