Fruits Basket Manga — Final Thoughts

Fruits Basket Manga — Final Thoughts

Fruits Basket Manga -- Final ThoughtsBack in 2004, I decided to rent an anime series that I’d heard a lot of good things about — Fruits Basket. By the time I got through the 3rd disc of the FUNimation release, I had an order to Amazon in; I enjoyed the anime that much that I felt taking the risk on the 4th and final DVD was justified. As tends to happen with long-running manga titles that get early adaptations into anime, the anime story ended well but was obviously far from complete. As such, there was nothing left for me to do but to begin purchasing the manga, which fortunately TokyoPop had begun to release. I’m glad I did.

The manga series starts with HONDA Tohru, a girl who’s living alone in the woods following the death of her mother. What she doesn’t know is that the land is owned by the very large Sohma family and nearby is the home of writer SOHMA Shigure and Tohru’s classmate SOHMA Yuki, Shigure’s cousin. They discover Tohru’s plight and in exchange for agreeing to keep their house clean, they will provide Tohru with a place to live.

Soon joining them is SOHMA Kyo, who’s also a cousin and who is desperate to defeat Yuki in a fight no matter what. Kyo’s arrival soon triggers an event that causes Tohru to learn the secret of the Sohma family — Shigure, Yuki and Kyo are all possessed by the spirit of the zodiac so that if they embrace a member of the opposite sex, they turn into an animal (Shigure a dog, Yuki a rat, and Kyo a cat). From here on, Tohru is taken deeper and deeper into the Sohma family where she eventually meets all twelve members of the zodiac and learns that they are in fact suffering from a terrible curse. She’s determined to find a means to lift the curse, especially since it means that the one Sohma she has fallen in love with will be imprisoned for life upon graduating from high school. However, the head of the Sohma family, Akito, has other plans.

Fruits Basket Manga -- Final ThoughtsThe initial five volumes of the manga are mostly a lot of fun as Tohru begins meeting other members of the zodiac including Kagura (the boar), who is madly in love with Kyo and tends to become very manic; Haru (the ox), who has a “Black-san” side that gets pretty violent and his normal side which is pretty kind despite his punk appearance; Hatori (the dragon/sea horse), who’s the Sohma family doctor and the same age as Shigure; Momoji (the rabbit), the half-German Sohma member who’s older than he looks and acts; and Kisa (the tiger), who’s a 6th-grade girl who’s picked on because she doesn’t look like a normal Japanese girl thanks to the curse.

Also in the mix are Tohru’s best friends. The first is “Hana-chan,” who is a strong empath and psychic who can also send out “denpa waves,” by which she can inflict pain, fear, or other negative element into someone’s mind. The second is “Uo-chan,” who is a former “yankee,” a delinquent and gang member. Both are very protective of Tohru and upon learning of Tohru’s living arrangements, they have to inspect things for themselves.

With volume six, Takaya-sensei introduces us to the first truly dark elements of her story by revealing Kyo’s true form. This is the event that begins to set Tohru down the path to eventually free the zodiac from the curse. From here, the fun elements very slowly begin to fall away to be replaced with more serious elements of the story. This picks up pace somewhat with the introduction of SOHMA Rin (the horse), who’s Haru’s former girlfriend and who’s also looking for a way to lift the curse.

Along the way, Takaya-sensei fleshes out the characters of Hana-chan and Uo-chan and reveals the tragedies in all of the lives Tohru is attached to, namely the Sohma zodiac family members. After a while, the feeling of the manga has noticeably shifted from being fun with a somber element in the background to a more somber manga with lots of angst and only a little bit of fun in the background.

Does this make it bad?

No. That said, the manga becoming more and more angst-filled as it nears its end may be a turn off for some. It wasn’t a turn off for me, but at times I did find myself missing some of the wacky elements of the earlier volumes, especially with Uo-chan and Hana-chan.

Fruits Basket Manga -- Final ThoughtsThe romantic elements of the story have some sweetness to them to be sure, but they aren’t too mushy and they aren’t what I might consider traditional romantic stories. Instead, there is a feeling of realism to them in that the romances play out in unexpected ways. Some of the relationships play out better than others though. I liked Rin and Haru’s relationship in how Rin was ready to sacrifice everything for Haru and Haru ends up saving Rin. I liked the flirtatious relationship between Hatori and Mayu though we don’t get a great deal of that story thread as Takaya-sensei didn’t want to have the main story derailed.

The relationship between Yuki and Machi is my favorite because of how it starts and plays out. The relationship between Kyo and Tohru is there from early on, but Takaya-sensei builds it so slowly that by the time it is confirmed late in the manga, I really didn’t have much of a feeling either way. I was glad to see these two characters together finally, but unlike the Yuki/Machi relationship, the Tohru/Kyo relationship still seemed somewhat unreal and not as romantic as I would have enjoyed (if that makes sense).

The best element of the Fruits Basket manga is Takaya-sensei’s clear story strategy which starts from the very first volume of the manga. So when it is revealed that Tohru has connections with Kyo and Yuki going back to her childhood, this revelation does not feel unrealistic as Takaya-sensei has laid down the foundation for that revelation. This goes for the eventual Kyo/Tohru relationship as well, as the foundations of that are laid out in the first volume. When one reads the the entire manga and then re-reads it, the amount of foreshadowing and the table setting in earlier volumes to prepare for later volumes is pretty incredible. I applaud Takaya-sensei for this because it is the kind of storytelling I like.

While the story works quite well as a whole, there is one story element that didn’t quite come off well to me and that is Hana-chan’s back story. Initially, we were shown how Tohru and Uo-chan met and their story works quite well and fits in nicely. However, until we saw Hana-chan’s backstory, her character had been a very fun one with her unique ability. So showing her to have had a tough childhood may be real, but her experiences with her powers as a child don’t fit with how she uses her powers as an older teen. I think Takaya-sensei knew things don’t fit well because when she wraps Hana-chan’s story, she does acknowledge the inconsistency in how things were compared with how the character is today. This is just a small complaint though.

Fruits Basket Manga -- Final ThoughtsA bit more frustrating for me is Takaya-sensei’s shift in character designs starting with volume 9. While the character designs had shifted from the start of volume 1 and by the end of the volume 2, things had pretty much stabilized. I detect minor shifts in character designs through volume 8, but these changes were all positive and added to enhance the manga experience. All of the characters had personality from the start via the art. There was no mistaking any character for another in the first eight volumes.

With volume 9, Takaya-sensei begins changing her character designs and not for the better. She begins going with a more simplistic character design which begins to drain away the visual personality of the different characters. Within a few volumes, the character designs are quite a bit different so that if you did a close up of Tohru, Kagura, or Machi, you wouldn’t know who was who. That wasn’t the case in the first eight volumes of the manga. While Takaya-sensei has borrowed character designs from her earlier works, they still looked good and took on their new roles well in the early volumes. Now when Takaya-sensei borrows character designs (as seen in her current manga, Hoshi wa Utau or on the new covers for the bunkobon versions of Tsubasa: Those With Wings), it is very difficult to tell if this is a new character or an old character based solely on the art. This is unfortunate, but I guess that her simplistic new art style is due to the injury she suffered with her drawing arm years ago.

Still, there’s no denying the power of Fruits Basket, which was TokyoPop’s bread-and-butter manga title. Alethea and Athena Nibley translate and adapt the series from the start and do a fantastic job. They keep the adaptation in line with the Japanese perspective, meaning that they keep the Japanese honorifics and any Japanese terms they feel are helpful in presenting the Japanese perspective including “yankee” and “denpa.” As you guys know, I’m a huge supporter of retaining the Japanese perspective for manga, anime subtitles, and light novel adaptation so I am very pleased with the translations.

Fruits Basket Manga -- Final ThoughtsFurther, the Nibley adaptation disproved the theory that Americans would not accept an English adaptation filled with Japanese honorifics and the like; the idea being that no matter how good the story is, the audiences would be dazed and confused by Japanese honorifics or Japanese terms and as such the audience should be protected from such things no matter what. As I said, Fruits Basket became TokyoPop’s cash cow and I strongly believe that this is due not only to the series having universal themes, a good story, and good characters, but an embrace of Japanese culture that is like icing on the cake. I also believe that because of the success of a manga like Fruits Basket, it showed publishers like Del Rey and even Viz that they too could embrace the Japanese culture in their adaptations and not lose their audience.

Ultimately despite the character design failure that started with volume 9, Fruits Basket is a wonderful manga that has a well crafted story, good characters, and themes that cross the cultural and language barriers. Despite being a “shoujo manga,” I found it does not get too cliched with traditional shoujo manga elements and has appeal that goes well beyond its intended young girl audience to appeal to adult men and women alike. I suspect that for many, it will have a high re-read appeal as well. ^_^

Fruits Basket Manga -- Final Thoughts

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3 Responses to “Fruits Basket Manga — Final Thoughts”

  1. Ysabet says:

    On a technical note, the Twins didn’t adapt Furuba–that was Kelly Sue DeConnick, Jake Forbes, and Lianne Sentar over the course of the series. Most or all of the things you (very rightly!) praised about the English version would have originated with the Twins and Jake (also the original editor), though. ^_^ They did a fantastic job.

  2. Anonymous says:

    The foreshadowing is probably my favorite thing about Takaya’s story telling if I had to pick one. It really is amazing. I’ve always aspired to get a firm grasp on the art of foreshadowing in my own writing ever since I read Furuba.

    ^^; I liked the art change. I didn’t like the very early artwork too much and volumes 7-8 are actually my favorite for the artwork. 9-11 seemed really rough. I’ll never get over that one scene with Kyo and Tohru on the beach where both their necks are way too long. Their like freakin giraffes! After that I rather enjoy 12-16 or so because it’s kinda similar to 7 and 8. Then for all the ending volumes it isn’t the most stellar work but I prefer it over the very early style and really have no qualms with it. Actually I like it quite a bit for most of the characters (especially Yuki) but Kyo looks too simple at some points as well as other characters. But overall I like it ^^;

  3. AstroNerdBoy says:

    In regards to the art change, I do understand this due in no small part to Takaya-sensei’s arm injury. But we all have our different tastes. ^_^

    Which reminds me, I need to blog her new series again. I’ve been slacking.

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