It’s been such a long time since I’ve thought about Fruits Basket. It was one of the first shoujo manga I ever read and I think I still have some of the original manga volumes. But manga was expensive for a middle-schooler in those days, rising to 10 dollars per volume in high school, so my friends and I would trade off buying volumes and pass them around to read at school. Because of this my collection of manga volumes isn’t complete. I think I’m missing a good chunk of them and I don’t think we ever got through reading the whole series, at least I don’t think I did. Other manga and books caught my attention and I just naturally moved on from series to series, getting sucking into the growing Toonami scene and fanfiction writing. Well I’m determined to rectify this problem this Spring and finally finish the whole series from start to end. With the new anime adaptation coming out in April, I figured it was as good a time as any to revisit this classic shoujo manga that has always held a place in so many manga fan’s hearts.
Fruits Basket has always seemed to me to be one of the quintessential shoujo mangas of the genre, embodying the aesthetics, characteristics, and thematic elements of what we should think of as a typical shoujo series. The story focuses on the naive but good-hearted high school girl Tohru Honda who has just lost her mother, and is left homeless as her grandfather renovates his home. Too much of a caring friend to impose on the crowded homes of her two school friends, she strikes out on her own in a tent in a forested part of her neighborhood that just so happens to be owned by the Sohma family, one of which is the Prince of her school. Caught without a home again after a landslide, she is offered a place at the home of Shigure Sohma where she discovers the well-kept and well-guarded secret of the Sohma family.
What facets of a shoujo romance series make it quintessential then, and why do I consider Fruits Basket one of them? For one, the naive but good-hearted main character who is often set against the tougher, more knowledgeable men or female characters. Tohru, this girl who cares deeply for her friends and the people around her, almost to a detriment of herself, is suddenly face-to-face with Shigure who flaunts his womanizing and desire for high school girls. She’s put against Kyo who, while good-hearted himself, is tempermental and violent, holding an extreme hatred for certain members of his family. She’s even in contrast with the women in her life: her mother, the former gang leader; her best friend Uo, also a former gang member; and Hana, a dark yet loyal friend. All of these characters around her acting as foils to heighten the sense of her purity and welcoming heart.
For another, we see the common storyline of home and family troubles combined with the contrast of a wealthy or at least comfortably wealthy love-interests. Tohru Honda is one among many main characters, mostly young girls, who lack one or more parents. Now Tohru’s father died from an illness and her mother died in a care accident, but stories of parentless children are abound in shoujo manga. It’s a trend that not only points out societal issues in Japan due to the economic downturn and work culture but it’s also a well-used plot device to remove obstacles to these forming relationships. If there’s no parents or limited parent oversight, these teenagers now have more freedom to hang out and interact. Even better if they get forced to live together. Even better if him or his family is rich. I see this one a lot as well and for many of the same reasons. Money gets rid of problems surrounding plot difficulties and allows the characters more freedom to go out and travel and do fun things within the manga, like when Tohru and the Sohma’s went to the Sohma family hot springs.
Fruits Basket has become this classic shoujo story with a supernatural twist, holding a lot of shoujo storylines and following this path to girl becomes the savior of this family through her kindness and acceptance. It’s almost like a manic pixie dream girl story except that I feel like Tohru is less like a whirlwind of energy and more like a supportive foundation for the Sohmas, someone they know absolutely will accept them for who they are while this larger family and personal conflict happens around them. She is the outsider to their family drama, someone with fresh eyes, who hasn’t been raised in the history of the family, and as such she becomes this almost port in a storm.
I know I’ve been rambling a lot about the overall nature of Fruits Basket as a shoujo manga for probably a bit too long, so let’s take a look at the first volume of the collectors edition. Published by Yen Press, the first volume covers up to chapter twelve and includes all the original, full-color art from the Japanese volumes alongside the full chapters. I’m not entirely sure if this is a new translation, but it’s entirely likely that the translation was redone or touched up while Natsuki Takaya’s art has been preserved in all its classic, late 90’s glory. It’s a nice one inch thick, large format version with what looks like newly drawn covers, though I’m not entirely sure.
I’m not sure what I thought my opinion would be of this manga as I was rereading it after more than a decade. A lot of times it happens where a series you’ve read and loved in the past you find that you just don’t like it as much anymore. It happened to me with Imadoki, and I was worried it would happen again with Fruits Basket. I’m happy to say that’s not the case, and it actually swung the other way. I found myself loving the series more than I remembered, seeing all of the nuances and depth of the story in more clarity than I remembered. It might have been that I didn’t truly understand some parts of the story when I was younger, or it could have been that the years of not revisiting the series kind of warped my view of it over time.
There really is so much in just these 12 chapters to talk about, and I don’t think I’ll have the time to do that here. But I wanted to at least talk a little more about some of the major themes these chapters bring up besides the general overarching themes I mentioned above. Firstly, with every story rife with family drama we have this concept of found family. Tohru lost her parents and was taken in by her grandfather when no one else in her family would, but she lost that home shortly after with the construction and then again right after she moves back in with him. Tohru’s extended family looks to not approve of her partly because of who her mother was as Chapter 6 shows us. Tohru’s relatives insult and berate her for living with the Sohma’s, even going so far as admitting they hired a private investigator to look into her past. It’s her grandfather who finally steps in and defends her, telling Tohru there is no reason she has to stay and put up with this. To Tohru, the Sohma’s have become her family, their home the place she now calls her own home. The Sohmas are more accepting of her and who her mother was than her real family.
This sentiment extends to Uo and Hana as well and we see their relationship with Tohru contrasted against Yuki and Kyo’s relationship with her repeatedly. Uo and Hana are an integral part of her found family as they consistently stay by her side and defend her from bullies at school. Through them I think we begin to understand Tohru a little better and begin to see the other major theme of the series: learning that it’s okay to speak up for yourself and what you want. Tohru has enormous trouble speaking up for herself, instead becoming a bit of a doormat sometimes. We see this in Chapter 6 when she finds it hard to say she wants to stay with the Sohma’s instead of moving back in with her Grandfather, and we see if again in Chapter 11 where she finds it hard to say she wants Yuki and Kyo to stay with her for New Year’s instead of going to the main house. To her, it almost seems as if she sees herself and her wants as a burden on other people, and through the course of the manga I’m sure we’ll see her slowly gain confidence to speak up for herself and realize that her wants have value.
One of the last major character development we get out of this volume is a look at Hatori’s past and his struggle with the zodiac curse and the almost equal curse of being tied closely with Akito. We find out in the later chapters that Hatori has the power to erase people’s memories and has been used by Akito to make sure the secret of the zodiac curse does not leave the confines of the family. But we also find out that he was once engaged to someone who knew his secret and accepted him for who he was. It was Akito who got in the middle of their relationship, blinding Hatori in one eye, and driving his fiancee to an emotional breakdown to the point where Hatori had to make the choice to wipe her memories of their relationship from her mind forever. It’s an extremely heavy story filled with tough choices and deep emotional undercurrents, but I think in Hatori revealing this to Tohru, he sees in her an echo of his fiancee and finds a measure of comfort to move on and come to terms with everything. Tohru in essence is a comforting presence for all the Sohma’s she meets.
I think this is where I’m going to stop it for tonight. This definitely turned out to be longer than I intended, but I’ll continue this discussion in our reading of volume two which will hopefully be up later this week. Let me know in the comments what you thought and I’ll see you all in volume two!
~~Thanks for Reading!~
Volume 2 >>>
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