Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Manga Review: Fruits Basket, Vol. 1

Author: Natsuki Takaya

Released: February 10th, 2004

Publisher: Tokyopop

# of pages: 200

Summary from Goodreads:

Tohru Honda was an orphan, living with her grandfather, when one day fate kicked her out of the house and she was forced to take up residence in a tent in the forest. Little did she know that the land she was staying on belonged to the Sohma family, a clan of beautiful and mysterious people. After stumbling upon the teenage squatter, the Sohmas invite Tohru to stay in their house in exchange for cooking and cleaning. Everything's going well until she discovers the Sohma family's greatest secret: when hugged by members of the opposite sex, they each turn into their Chinese Zodiac animal!

Plot: Tohru Honda is a shy, cheerful girl who has been recently orphaned and now lives in a tent pitched in a field. When exploring the land near her field, she stumbles across the Sohma house, where the cousins Shigure and Yuki Sohma live. The guys can't seem to keep the place clean, and Tohru desperately needs a home and family, so they take her in as a sort of housekeeper/little sister combo. Conflict arises when a third cousin, Kyo, moves into the house and causes Tohru to find out the family's centuries-old secret.

The premise is definitely wacky, but that's common for for shojo (girls) manga. The fact that the curse is hug-activated is ironic and really adorable, and the curse is often played for laughs--when Tohru accidentally bumps into Kyo and he turns into a cat for the first time, her reaction is priceless. But beyond the humor, the curse is also shown to be tragic, since it isolates the Sohmas from close non-family friendships.

Characters: The characters are the big draw of the series. Yuki Sohma is so highly adored, the girls at his school actually call him "Prince Yuki" and have a fanclub that decides who gets to spend time with him. Yuki's kind of brooding because he's been brainwashed by Akito, the head of the Sohma family, to think that he's a freak of nature. Once Tohru knows his secret, Yuki is pleasantly surprised that she still wants to be his friend. He's mostly cool-headed and reserved, and is the Rat in the zodiac--due to the culture gap, being a rat actually doesn't carry any negative connotations with it.

Kyo likes martial arts and trains extensively so that he can beat his rival Yuki, but Yuki always wins their fights. Tohru feels extra sorry for Kyo because he's an outcast even among the Sohmas, and doesn't get along well with other people. Kyo is the Cat, and is harboring his own dark secret, but he's a little one-note in this volume, and most of his development comes later in the series.

Shigure the Dog is a professional writer who lounges around the house in his robe and is always turning his wit on whoever happens to be nearby. He's an adult and is nominally in charge of the teen characters, but he's naturally irreverent and doesn't really discipline anyone.

Tohru's determined to make her own way in life and she works part-time to earn money for college. She never complains, to the extent that she'll do without things she needs to avoid burdening her friends, and she feels like she's all alone in the world. The title comes from a memorable game of Fruits Basket she played as a child, when the other kids intentionally left her out of the game.

Graphics: It's a serviceable art style. Nothing too gorgeous, but nothing left underdone, either. I usually read Takaya for the story, not the art.

Series info: There are 23 volumes in the Fruits Basket series, so if you plan to read the whole thing, brace yourself for an epic saga.

Some of the traumatic emotional themes may make this series inappropriate for younger readers.