Manga Village

It’s just the girls this time as the Manga Villagers discuss the latest title for the Manga Movable Feast this month, Fruits Basket. This is a shojo title created by Natsuki Takaya and published by Tokyopop. This 23 volume series was among the first big hits in the US, and was Tokyopop’s biggest seller. It’s the story of Tohru Honda, a high school girl who has recently lost her mother, and through some circumstances, comes to live in a tent in the mountains, which also happens to be near the home of classmate Yuki Sohma, who is living with his cousins Shigure and Kyo. The Sohma family has a secret. They are cursed by the thirteen signs of the zodiac. Tohru accidentally learns their secret, but after promising to keep their secret, she is allowed to live with Yuki, Shigure and Kyo.

What were your initial impressions of this title?

Connie: (as a disclaimer, I re-read the series a few years ago, and read the ending two years ago, but haven’t picked it up since then. I didn’t have the volumes with me to re-read it for the feast. my impressions aren’t terribly fresh.)

I couldn’t wait to read it when they announced the license! I’d been hearing so many good things about it at the time, and was excited to see what all the fuss was about.  If I remember, I wasn’t that impressed at first, and it took me a few volumes to figure out what made this series special.  The characters were good, but it took me a few volumes to really warm up to them, and otherwise, it wasn’t offering a whole lot story-wise that I hadn’t read elsewhere. But it was the relationship between Tohru, Kyo, and Yuki at the beginning of the series that started making it stand out for me.

Lori: I wasn’t interested in shojo when Fruits Basket first came out, and reading the first volume didn’t impress me any. It took a few volumes for me to really warms up to the series too, and it was the characters that held me back initially. But for me, it was the plot that really sucked me.

Amy: Intially I liked the first volume of the manga but it took me til at least the third for it to become one of my favorite shojo series I’ve ever read. Also it being one of the first manga series I’ve gotten into does create a bias for me.

What do you think of Tohru Honda? Does she make a good lead? What about Yuki and Kyo, who form the other two sides of the triangle?

Connie: I do like Tohru.  She’s easy to like since she’s just so gosh darn nice.  There were times when I got bogged down with questions as to why every single character in the series liked her, and early on, whenever this weighed too heavily, it seemed to be timed perfectly with a flashback to her dead mother or a reminder of her homeless situation that made me feel guilty.

Mid-series, Kyo and Yuki both started to wear on me.  They were both moody and unfriendly at different points, and after so many hints and confrontations, I began to get bored with their personal dramas and impatient that nothing was ever-moving forward in their romantic lives.  It was Yuki I liked best at the beginning of the series, and Kyo at the end, though, since I felt that Yuki grew less interesting as the series went on, whereas Kyo was definitely a major player at the end.

Lori: People who are too happy all the time tend to irritate me, but strangely, Tohru didn’t. I think because underneath her constant Pollyana-outlook there still was a girl hurting over the loss of her mother. It kept her from being too one-dimensional.

I did not like Yuki and Kyo at the beginning. Both had traits that grated on me at first, but as I read more, and they started to tone down, they became alright. It was Kyo that I warmed up to first, maybe because he was the outsider trying so hard to get in. I tend to go for the underdog.

Amy: I’ve always felt that Tohru is a genuinely sweet and nice girl that is always on the outlook for those both far and near to her, I believe that given her background it makes her more than just a uberly nice character. I feel that though she has had many struggles she has used them to develop and become stronger in the end.

In the beginning I wanted to smack Kyo! But after awhile both Yuki and Kyo’s personalities began to become less annoying the more I read about each.

There are a lot of characters in this story, with their 13 zodiac animals as well as family and friends. Do you think it’s too much, or does Takaya do a good job of juggling them all?

Connie: Too many!  Way too many!  I hate hate hate series with a huge cast of characters like this, especially characters that are introduced to fulfill a role (in this case, because there needs to be 14 Sohma family members) and then don’t figure into the story at all later.  Ritsuka is the best example in this series, but that was the worst case scenario.  Takaya does do a good job of juggling all the other characters, but the side effect is that the main story seems to drag on forever.  We get all these cryptic, sad hints about what is actually going on, then the main story is constantly put off as all these moody, sad characters appear, have some terrible emotional trauma, are dealt with, and then reappear intermittently for side stories that distract from what I want to hear about.  The student council members in the latter half of the series were the worst for me.  While well-written, with good stories, I was constantly cursing their appearance and the frequent stories that involved them, no matter how they linked with the main characters.

Lori: I understand the need for so many characters, being based on a story of the Chinese zodiac, but it does become hard to keep track of them all, especially when they get introduced in such quick succession at the beginning. I had to keep re-reading the volumes to keep track of who appears when. I do agree that Takaya does a good job of juggling them, and it helps when they become more regular characters such as Momiji and Hatsuhara do in volumes 2-4.

Amy: I think Takaya did a great job juggling so many characters but at times it did feel rushed with introductions but in a way I feel way this series was as many volumes as it was mainly due to the fact of having to fit them all in somehow. Don’t get me wrong I love Fruits Basket but I would have rather it focusing on a few from the zodiac along with the main characters instead of trying to keep up with the whole Sohma clan.

The series starts out on a lighter tone, but soon moves into darker story lines. Did this change your opinion on the story?

Connie: Mmm, no, not really.  I think I enjoyed it more when it had a lighter tone, and I loved the stories in the first few volumes, but I didn’t mind the darker tone as the series went on.  Well, in terms of the main characters, anyway.  I did hate that eventually every character that was introduced had a terrible, dark past that made them moody and unstable.

Lori: I’m actually drawn to the darker tones of the title. Rom-coms are a dime a dozen in shojo manga. Getting something not just aspires to more, but drops hints that it’s coming at the beginning really shows well thought out planning by Takaya. I know all the melodrama that comes with the darker tones can start to wear on the story, but if it’s done right, it makes the payoff at the end all the more enjoyable.

Amy: Like Lori I was really drawn to the series when it started to take a darker tone. I feel because this was one of the first shojo series I’ve read that I judged some romance comedies a bit more harshly for feeling generic in comparison.

This series deals with themes of loneliness, growing up, and the need for family. Do you think this could have contributed to it’s success among teens?

Lori: I think teens probably found a lot they could relate to in this series. The teen years are about change and finding out who you are, and being accepted as that, and that’s a big part of the theme in this series. Tohru is able to accept the cursed with no question, no revulsion, and that probably appealed to a lot of teen girls who were looking for just such approval.

Because of the “people transforming into animals” concept, this series is often compared to Ranma ½. Do you think this is a fair comparison?

Connie: Not at all, really.  The gimmick is the same, but Ranma is a comedy that uses it as a gag.  I would say that Fruits Basket is more of a romantic drama, and the transformation is more of a shameful curse here, though it is used comically early on.  It’s unusual common ground, to be sure, but the series are nothing alike in my mind.

Lori: I never even thought of the connection until I read about it as I researched this title. Ranma and Fruits Basket really are two different animals, and making a comparison based on a similar gimmick really doesn’t seem right to me.

This was Tokyopop’s biggest series, and along with Sailor Moon, really put the publisher on the map. Do you think Tokyopop would have become as big as it did without this series?

Connie: I don’t think so.  I’m under the impression that a blockbuster series like this pays for others that may be good, but just aren’t as popular.  If Tokyopop hadn’t had this and Sailor Moon (and probably all those CLAMP series), I’m guessing we wouldn’t have had the pleasure of series like Dragon Head, Immortal Rain, +Anima, and the Erica Sakurazawa books.

Lori: While Sailor Moon and the CLAMP titles did attract attention to the publisher, I do think it was this series that made the serious player they became. We can’t know the historical data when the series first stated, but it’s obvious its sales were enough to help the company bank roll more titles. At its end of life, when most series have wound done, Fruits Basket was still hitting the top 10 manga titles lists, and even holding the number 1 position for more than a week, something that only a few other shojo titles have managed.

Amy: I really think it it wasn’t for the success of Fruits Basket may other series may not seen the light of day. Even after the last volume was published they put out omnibus editions too! Thought it isn’t an incredibly long series all the volumes were able to be published.

Fruits Basket went out of print when Tokyopop shut down in 2011. Do you think this is a series that should be brought back in print? If so, in what format, omnibus, digital or both?

Connie: I definitely think it should be brought back into print!  I think Viz is the best candidate now, since they publish so many other series from Hana to Yume.  I think omnibus is the way to go for this one.  I’m still phobic of digital releases due to my lack of an e-reader, but I think that this one is definitely a good choice for schools and libraries, who benefit more from the physical copies anyway.  Or maybe I’m just behind the times.  Or have terrible judgement, maybe this isn’t a good choice for schools and libraries.

Lori: I really like to see this series return in both formats. Having a print copy for libraries is really important to keep the title in the reach of its target audience. And I agree with the omnibus format. At 23 volumes, it’s not the longest series by any means, but it would take up a lot of space on a shelf. And just for that reason I would like to see a digital edition as well, especially for people like me who are coming to this banquet late.

Amy: Run the presses! I feel this series shouldn’t die because of Tokyopop shutting down. I would love to see either a digital or print re-release for this series. Since it was already in the midst of being released in omnibus format I could see that happening again for this series if it is ever picked up by another publisher.

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