Manga fans got some great news last week with the announcement that Yen Press has picked up the license for Natsuki Takaya’s Fruits Basket, along with two of her other series, Liselotte & Witch’s Forest and Twinkle Stars. Fruits Basket was revolutionary in its time, a shoujo manga that regularly hit the best-seller lists (the general best-seller lists, not the comics-only ones) and resonated with a whole generation of readers. Alas, with the demise of Tokyopop, the series went out of print. Now it’s coming back, in deluxe two-in-one volumes that will mirror the “Collector’s Edition” that is currently being released in Japan. Since it’s been a while, we thought this was a good time to discuss what made Fruits Basket so great—and what we hope to see when it returns.
When did you first find out about Fruits Basket? What was your reaction?
Lori: I was at work scanning my Twitter feed at lunch when I saw Yen Press’s tweet. My reaction was one of happiness, but also it was about time. A series like Fruits Basket shouldn’t be out of print.
Brigid: I was working late when I saw the Tweet, and I was elated. Fruits Basket was one of my first manga—my kids loved it so much that they would save their allowances so they could each buy their own copy whenever a new volume came out. They kept trying to explain it to me, and finally I started reading it and got hooked.
Robin: When I saw the news via social media, my immediate thought was, “Yay! I can finally replace the sad, yellowing copies I’ve kept on my library shelves through a sheer unwillingness to let the series disappear.” The general reaction in the library world also seems to be much rejoicing.
Lori: I think the light rom-com feel with an undercurrent of darker tones made it a real draw to teens. Also the theme of finding a place to belong would have appealed as well.
Brigid: Although Fruits Basket has many shoujo manga tropes, such as the plucky orphaned heroine and the mysterious kid who was nice to her when she was young, it’s done in a way that feels more real than most manga. The setup is totally crazy, but within that setup, the characters behave like you would expect them to. It feels very grounded.
Robin: I feel it balances well between a sweetness factor and a romantic comedy feel without ever going either too ridiculous or suddenly super dark or violent. Nothing is more off-putting than reading a series that seems one flavor of manga to have it veer off track into violence or explicit sexuality that the reader wasn’t expecting. Her style is also clean and unintimidating for new readers of manga.
Do you have a favorite character or storyline?
Lori: I’ve only read the first few volumes of the series, having not read it until it was out of print, but in those volumes I like Torhu’s two best friends, Uotani and Hanajima. I also liked Tohru, but the protectiveness of her two friends combined with their quirky personalities made them fun to read.
Brigid: I think I like Shigure the best, just because he’s such a goofy character.
Robin: I have to go back and re-read! Kyo will always have a bit of a spot in my heart because, well, cat.
Yen Press is publishing a deluxe edition with a new translation. What features do you hope to see in this new edition?
Lori: Color pages around always nice, and maybe some essays about the creation of the series and its impact on the manga market here in the west.
Brigid: I like the fact that this is a deluxe, oversized edition. For new readers, translators’ notes that explain some of the very Japanese concepts (yakuza, onigiri) would be helpful.
Robin: I agree color would be nice, especially as I presume there are a slate of extras and notes we may not have seen before.
Why is this important to you?
Lori: Fruits Basket is an iconic series, much like Sailor Moon, that helped build and shape the market for manga and should be in print for future fans to read and enjoy. For me personally, this will give me a chance to finally read the series without the desperate hunt for volumes.
Brigid: Most of the best selling manga are shonen, and I look forward to seeing a shoujo manga make the charts again. I hope it will bring more attention to shoujo manga and comics for girls in general. And since it is a very readable series, I hope it picks up a new following and helps expand the comics audience.
Robin: I do think that Fruits Basket is an especially strong choice for middle school readers who love manga but may not be ready for the more mature aspects of many shojo series. I’ll be glad to have such a ready series on my shelf again. I admit, though, I do wonder how many of today’s readers will take to the series—if it will need to be hand-sold a bit more at this point, with teen readers who are much more used to manga. The series started when my teen readers were toddlers, and I’m not sure whether it will show its vintage in a negative way with them. The series may not seem as remarkable to them as it felt to those of us who remember it when it debuted in the States.
Any recommendations for read-alike manga or graphic novels to distract us while we wait?
Lori: Kamisama Kiss, by Julietta Suzuki and published by Viz Media, has a lot of the same elements as Fruits Basket; a young girl in need of a home, supernatural beings, and a love interest that is antagonist at first but slowly warms up to the girl.
Brigid: Vampire Knight has the supernatural love triangle thing going for it, and like Fruits Basket, it gets dark at times.