Welcome back to the next post in my read-through of Fruits Basket, where I’m finally going back and finishing this series after years of not getting the chance to complete it. The new anime will be premiering next week, and I’m hearing good things from the people who managed to see the first two episodes in theaters yesterday. Unfortunately, I couldn’t make it myself, but I’m super excited to see how they wind up remaking this series. But enough about that, I really want to delve deep into volume three’s story today. There’s so much going on in this series with each cast member getting their own intricate and often interwoven backstories, troubles, and growth. We haven’t even seen all of the zodiac members yet, but we’re getting there slowly, and I think that’s the best course of action for this story, to let it unfold slowly and let the pieces fall into place.
Volume three continues the story of the curse Sohma family. Cursed to turn into animals of the zodiac whenever they are hugged by the opposite sex, they guard their secret closely. That is until high school student Tohru Honda stumbles upon it and begins to get wrapped up ever tighter in their lives. The volume starts with the Sohmas — Yukie, Kyo, Shigure, and Hatori — taking Tohru to their family’s lake house for a vacation. But the chapters jump off from there and very soon we’re being introduced to the next member of the zodiac, Kisa the tiger. Kyo’s doujo master makes an appearance as well and we find ourselves delving deeper into Kyo’s past and the darkest secret of the zodiac curse.
I think the first bits of characterization we get to see in this volume is another look at Hatori’s failed relationship and how he is dealing with his lingering feelings for her after her marriage to someone else. In an effort to make sure he didn’t spark any flashbacks from her erased memories of their time together, he has been actively avoiding coming into contact with her again. But we see clearly in Chapter 26 that he is still dealing with his feelings for her but now only wishes she could find happiness for herself. But I think after his talk with Tohru in previous chapters, he’s come to see these memories as not so much a burden, but a chance to grow stronger as a person. Thinking about Kana is painful for him, but he doesn’t want to forget either and I really think that’s admirable.
In the next chapter we jump to an introduction, Kisa, the tiger of the zodiac. She’s brought to Shigure’s house by Haru who has been looking for her after she ran away from home. She refuses to speak or interact with anyone, and we find out later that her inability to talk is due to her being bullied harshly at school. It’s a plot-line that we see a lot of in manga and anime, but I really like how it’s handled here. When Kisa’s mother comes to see her, her words to her daughter who has been struggling so much with bullying struck me as tone-deaf. “Why are you causing trouble to everyone around you?”, “Why didn’t you say anything about being bullied?” I think these can be things that every parent thinks at some point, but in a situation like this they do more harm than good. It’s Tohru who steps in and accepts what’s happening with Kisa for what it is, the only way she knew how to cope. Fear and shame are powerful weights on anyone, and through her own experiences she’s able to connect with Kisa like no one could, not her mother or even Haru.
But Kisa’s story is tangled so much into the characters of both Yuki and Haru as well. I loved seeing Haru in these chapters. He comes off as a sort of backbone of some of the younger Zodiac members. His support for Kisa as she’s going through this tough time in her life is admirable. He may not know exactly how to help, but he’s there looking after her and taking an interest in her life. It’s related in part to his relationship with Yuki as well, as we learn more about the psychological torture he was put through at the Sohma house. Haru sees in Kisa a younger Yuki from his past, one who also bottled up his words and refused to speak because of what was happening to him. Maybe to Haru this is a form of retribution for what he couldn’t do back then, and maybe he just genuinely cares, or even a little bit of both. But through this unfolding of Kisa’s story we see these tangled threads of story, of Yuki’s and Tohru’s past with bullying and Haru’s connection to Yuki and Kisa.
In all of this we get this sweet message that trying to like yourself is one of the most challenging things that you can try to achieve. Everyone struggles with it in some sense, and, as Yuki says, it’s only after someone accepts you for who you are and tells you they like you that you can finally start to see the good in yourself. And I think this has to do with support. We all need people around us to off support through our toughest times, to know they’ll always accept you no matter what’s happening in your life, to challenge those thoughts that come from deep rumination. It’s definitely harder for people to see the good in themselves, to recognize what they’re talented at, and that’s where a support network comes in.
Chapter 31 starts the deep look into Kyo’s past and one of the darkest of the Zodiac secrets as Kyo’s doujo master pays a visit to check in on him and Tohru. We come to find out that the real reason for his visit is to force Tohru’s hand to see if she’ll be able to accept all the parts of Kyo, even the most horrifying ones. In one swift action, he tears off the beaded bracelet Kyo has been wearing throughout the manga, revealing his true form as an abomination of the cat zodiac spirit. Horrified to have this revealed to Tohru, he rushes off into the wilderness to avoid everyone. It’s only through Tohru’s unquestioning acceptance that Kyo finds his way back to everyone. I’ve never been super thrilled with this arc in general, but I can sort of understand the symbolism here of Kyo’s true form and what it means in the context of the overarching Sohma family and the curse. This is also where the original anime ended, pretty much using this event as the climax of the series, even though we’re only 31 chapters in. I was honestly surprised at how quickly this comes up in the story, for some reason I had through it would be much later, maybe just because of how weird and semi-important it is.
Kyo’s true form is that of an almost alien, with elongated limbs, two long almost antenas poking out of his head, with oversized feet and hands. He’s supposed to give off this smell of rotting flesh that is pungent enough to make people throw up when they get near. In essence, he is the culmination of the hatred of the Sohma family towards the curse manifesting in physical form. He is the thing the Sohma’s most want to keep secret as his very appearance reminds them of the curse and just how much hatred and loathing it has sparked within and between the members of not only those cursed with the zodiac spirits but the wider Sohma family as a whole. And while I understand this to a degree, I’m still not super on board with its inclusion in the series. I think there’s enough going on with the character’s backstories, the stress the curse puts on individual families, and each member of the zodiac’s relationship to Akito. Adding this monster form for Kyo just seems like overkill at this point. Symbolically, I can begin to see where this might take the series as Tohru is forced into the darker secrets of the Sohma family, and it’s through her acceptance of Kyo in this form that we get a sense of just how much Tohru can endure. As I’m reading on though, I wonder if this will continue to be talked about or just glossed over for a while.
Out of this story though, I love seeing the relationship between Kyo and his master, Kazuma, who has become like a father to him in spite of the rejection of the Sohma family. It seems as though Kazuma was the grandson of the previous cat of the zodiac, and seeing the rejection of the family around him towards this person who had always been kind to him created a sense of guilt. In order to resolve that guilt, he decided to raise Kyo like a father, to be there for the cat even if the rest of the family rejects him. Kazuma is probably one of the only people who can call Kyo out on his true feelings as well, calling him out on his hatred for Yuki as a way to avoid his true feelings and problems. Using that hatred as an excuse and a shield. But he’s also one of the few people who recognizes Kyo for who he is regardless of the curse, and in that vein him and Tohru are very similar.
Thanks again for sticking with me as I go through this classic series again. My look at volume four should hopefully be up by the end of the week, so keep an eye out here or on my Twitter. Be sure to also leave a comment and let me know what you think of the series or what part of the manga you’re most excited about seeing in the anime next week.
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2 thoughts on “Fruits Basket Manga Read-Through: Collector’s Edition Volume Three”
Hi! I’m enjoying your thoughts as you re-read the manga. I can’t wait to get the new editions myself.
I wanted to offer a different interpretation of Kyo’s ‘true’ form. I think you’re right that the zodiacs project their self-loathing onto it, but there’s more to why it exists in the story than you’ve given it credit for. This involves spoilers of the zodiac myth at the heart of the story, so SPOILER WARNING UNTIL YOU’VE FINISHED READING THE MANGA… Kyo’s monstrous transformation is a divine punishment visited specifically on the Cat spirit because, as he was dying, he rejected the ‘eternal banquet’ that God and the other zodiacs yearned for. He didn’t want to be reincarnated as he foresaw the dysfunction and stagnation that would result, but was tricked into drinking the sake that would bind his spirit to God and the other animals. When he expressed this they, in turn, felt betrayed and offended by the Cat’s supposed ungratefulness, and so he was cast out and cursed to be a monster. The beads that suppress this form are Buddhist prayer beads, and in fact the zodiac myth and subsequent events of the manga reflect the Buddhist philosophy of escaping the cycle of reincarnation and suffering.
The existence of the Cat’s monster form is certainly a source of horror for the Sohma family, but ultimately I think it’s less a symbol of their shame than it is about the Cat spirit’s unique role in the creation of the curse, and the multi-generational abuse inflicted on those possessed by the Cat. When I first read the series I was confused as to why the Cat would have this repulsive aspect, but looking at the story as a whole I think it helps to underscore its Buddhist themes and how the zodiac bond, founded in deceit and selfish denial of the ephemeral nature of life, was a spiritually void idea doomed to engender pain. And of course, Kyo finally breaking his beads wouldn’t be half as impactful without the existence of the Cat’s monstrous form.
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Thank you for this! I havent gotten that far yet, but that does make a lot more sense. Though i think in a way he is representative of the dark secrets and hatred of the Sohmas as Shigure does say later that they all look on the cat as a sort of comparison for their own lives, thinking well at least I’m not him.