>> Tuesday, August 16, 2011
If I'm going to talk about my favorite manga, I have to start with the one that first captured my interest: Fruits Basket by Natsuki Takaya. I never read comic books as a kid. I was neither enamored or repelled by the anime I'd seen to date, though husband and daughter were both fans. Even the shows I'd seen and liked really didn't have a profound impact on me. Then, my daughter, who was a fan of both anime and manga, asked me to watch the anime Fruits Basket with her (first disc rented via Netflix). I was enamored before the disc was completed and had to rent them all. Then buy them for her, then for myself. Then I read the first manga of the series. Then the rest.
The series is over now at 23 volumes and, yes, I have them all, pre-ordering the English version as soon as I could. I've read the whole series now multiple times and I still can't tell you exactly why it so appealed to me. I think that's part of my manga obsession, the fact that there's an ineffable something that calls to me in some of these manga that I can't put my finger on. I know that Fruits Basket (anime and manga) have made me laugh, made me cry, made me think, made me feel. Really, what more could a story do?
I'm not alone in my admiration. Fruits Basket is the #2 Shojo manga in Japan and it's #1 in the US, at least according to Wikipedia (which is a terrific resource for anime and manga information). There's something about this complex, character-heavy (and this is a true ensemble cast), often desperately sad manga that touches people. It touched me.
Anime: Yes Volumes of manga: 23 Status: Complete
My rating: Gotta have 'em all (anime, too)
Age range: I wouldn't personally have an issue for 12+ kids, but I'm pretty progressive.
Taboos and "warnings": Some sexual innuendo, some violence, neither of it particularly graphic. Homosexual flirting and cross-dressing. There's indication of some underage sex between teens. Romance between adults and teenagers (over the Japanese age of consent).
Premise: (Perhaps one of the stupidest premises ever) Thirteen members of the wealthy and influential Sohma family will transform into their zodiac counterparts (+ cat) when stressed or "hugged" by someone of the other gender (who isn't a zodiac counterpart). Tohru Honda stumbles into this secret and becomes an integral part of the secret part of the family, striving to undo the "curse."
Common manga themes: (1) overwork=fever=collapse (2) no one is irredeemably bad (3) who one is is more important than what one is (4) acceptance of others goes hand in hand with accepting oneself (5) our view of ourselves and what others see can vary to alarming degrees (6) novelists are perverts (though, admittedly, this might not be a manga theme so much as my own observation). Like most of the mangas I've seen, brainy boys are popular (though they frequently excel at sports, too), in contrast to how they are frequently perceived here in the States. Food for thought there.
What works: I think it says a great deal that this story works despite the silly premise and the Pollyanna main character. Tohru, the focus in many ways, is almost painfully humble and always looks for the good in people. That could readily get sickening, but it turns out to balance nicely with the emotionally scarred Sohma clan (and doesn't entirely negate her own scars). Her refusal to be judgmental, her acceptance of everyone, even if they are overtly hostile, and give in return really indicate a strength instead of a passivity, which is appropriate in my opinion, and that's how it's portrayed. Her cloying humility does get frustrating at times, but her defenders are legion and she never hesitates to stand up for others even if she doesn't stand for herself so much. She's quite intrepid if she feels its required, though perhaps more polite than always strictly called for.
Pacing is frequently a challenge, particularly for a long manga, but I think this one works despite its length largely because the cast is so diverse and complex (rather than pat standard side characters). Although there is a potential for the shojo standard reverse harem (one girl with many male potential admirers), it's generally more family-like with really only Yuki and Kyo as serious potential love interests. The side stories and complicated emotional histories of the various characters have considerable depth and, frequently, charm. Sometimes, they are downright heart-wrenching and it's somewhat intriguing to me how the author used the silly premise to highlight some key family interactions. Momiji's past (and his Tohru-like acceptance) of a horrific situation was particularly touching for me.
Interspersed with the considerable drama are moments of hilarity and believable teenage interaction. Shigure is frequently hilarious and sarcastic (especially when tormenting his editor), but Yuki, despite a deep sweetness for Tohru, can be equally cutting. Hatsuharu's method for proving his white-on-black hair color is natural to the Student Council President is probably my favorite moment ever. Much of the "violence" is funnier than it is, well, violent. Some of it definitely is not.
The artwork can be quite effective, particularly in relating emotion and mood. Boys and girls both tend to look a bit on the effeminate side, but the emotion that can be conveyed with just pictures is truly amazing and frequently effective. The author's style changed over the course of the manga to smoother faces and blanker looking eyes. I'm not sure that I didn't like the earlier style better, but that's probably a personal preference.
Favorite character: Hatsuharu. Of the main trilogy (Kyo, Yuki and Tohru), Yuki is definitely my favorite, but, overall, I love Hatsuharu. He does everything 100%, he's loyal and protective. He's sharper than you think. He's deadpan when he delivers his most delicious lines. Although less charismatic than Yuki, he probably is more effective in getting things done in his quiet way. No fanfare. I even love his dark side. Although younger than our main three, he is far more progressive in many ways, not the least of which is sexually. And he's tough, defending others, older and younger, without question.
Some of many quotes I liked:
Shigure: We have just witnessed a classic example of what I like to call 'misdirected rage.' I believe the technical term is 'being an ass.'
Yuki: I wish you'd stop making your inferiority complex my problem.
Kagura: I will forgive him right after I kill him!
Shigure: Perfect, now why don't you heat that up for us, Yuki?
Yuki: You're kidding, right?
Shigure: Of course, you're not too handy in the kitchen, are you? Well, Kyo, I guess that leaves you.
Kyo: Why do I gotta do it?
Shigure: No, no, it's all right. If you don't mind letting the last of the wonderful beef stew that Tohru put her heart and soul into preparing for us get burnt to a crisp, than neither do I. After all, I suppose burnt beef stew would be just as satisfying as burn miso soup or burnt rice or burnt eggs or any of the fine burnt dises Yuki used to make for us before Torhur fell into our lives. Ah well, we all seemed to do quite well on our charcoal-rich dieat and I'm sure there's no reason why we won't grow accustomed to it again.
Hatsuharu: Do that again and they'll be tracing you with chalk.
What I didn't like: I could easily have done without the Yuki fan club and most of the whole student council nonsense. I frequently skip those sections when I read the manga. Although a common theme, the tendency to have everyone redeemed at the end can feel contrived and make conflict lackluster, something I think happened toward the end. Given the extent of the early malevolence, it all seemed too gentle.
The curse and the devotion toward Akito that came with it made the male characters (in particular) seem more passive than I usually like in male or female characters (perhaps why Hatsuharu stands out for me). Sohmas were largely reactive and passive, wanting things to change but waiting for someone else to do it. I don't often say this, but the story could probably have used a bit more testosterone.
Also, Tohru did not end up with who I wanted her to end up with. Given my love of romance, it says something about the story that this was a minor point.
The anime, which did not move anywhere near as far into the story as the manga, was charming, has a lovely set of dubbed voice in English and did everything for me the manga did, only in less time. If you're not sure who'd gonna get the girl, the end of the anime gives a pretty strong hint.