If you haven’t heard of Fruits Basket you could justifiably be accused of having lived in a cave for the past five years. Furuba, as it is lovingly called by its many fans, has topped the manga bestseller lists with each new release, and at its height of popularity, merchandise supporting the series was snuggled in right next to the Naruto headbands and Fullmetal Alchemist gauntlets at your local Hot Topic.
Fruits Basket was one of the first series I read when I began learning about manga and it contributed greatly to my becoming a devoted manga reader. I’d been saving up the last few volumes to read in one big chunk as a reward for making it through another Summer Reading Program, so when Esther threw down her Summer Reading Challenge, I knew just which story I wanted to read.
There are some who may wonder why I’m bothering to post about a series that has been on bestseller lists and that is already in most libraries’ teen collections. And it’s because there are an equal number of people who think that if a book is popular it must be crap. Well, Fruits Basket isn’t crap. It’s sad and joyous, full of wonder and destruction. And it’s good. It’s really, really good.
Title: Fruits Basket, volumes 1-23
Author: Natsuki Takaya
Age Rating: T
Tokyopop, February 2004-July 2009
Review will most definitely contain spoilers. If you haven’t finished the series yet, read on at your own risk!
If you only read volume one of Fruits Basket, you’ll get the idea that it’s the story of Tohru Honda and the Sohma family and how they muddle along trying to keep society from finding out that the Sohmas are possessed by the animals of the Chinese zodiac. And on the surface, you’d be right. Tohru is the nurturer for all the possessed Sohmas, acting as a mother-figure for a group who have either been smothered with care or have been ignored or cast away by their parents. Yuki is the “prince,” the quiet, wounded character who just wants to be understood. Kyo is the angry bad boy and Shigure is the instigator for a lot of the conflict in the story.
Each of the main characters takes on a significant role within the story, and Takaya’s writing is strong enough to keep those roles from becoming clichéd. If you keep reading past volume one, the story begins to change. It becomes about loss and understanding, as Tohru comes to terms with her mother’s death and the knowledge that loving someone else doesn’t mean she loves her mother’s memory less. It’s a story about family and forgiveness, as Yuki learns that chosen family can mean more to a person than the family one was born to. It’s about living up to expectations while still daring to hope for more, as Kyo prepares himself to be locked away while not giving up a single moment with Tohru. And it’s about fighting for what you want, despite what it may mean for others, as Shigure fights for the freedom of the woman he loves.
I know this whole thing sounds incredibly treacle-y, and it kind of is, especially in the first few volumes. The reader is hit over the head with the moral of the story numerous times. The pacing can be torture, particularly when, for … dramatic purposes, … a single … sentence is … stretched … out across the … page. But after volume four, Takaya hits her stride as both a writer and an artist.
Takaya’s writing moves away from the super-girly, lesson-a-day, mid-list shojo blah to true storytelling, where each turn of events builds upon the last. The escalating story enabled me to get in touch with my inner 12-year old and I began to relate to the feelings of alienation and “otherness” the Sohmas were experiencing. I began to care about them as characters rather than caricatures and the mystery surrounding their bond with Akito started to have meaning for me. I would sigh at near kisses and gasp in shock as bonds broke.
Starting from the beginning and re-reading the early volumes paid off. There was foreshadowing I had forgotten about, thanks to the long stretches between each release, and I’d missed many of the clues hidden in what at first seemed like filler stories. Having the details fresh in my mind helped make the denouement that much more satisfying. And I was satisfied that in the end everyone lived ever after, if not happily. That the end was “just the start of a new banquet.”