Sunday, December 04, 2005

Can This Many Fruits Basket Fans Be Wrong?

So, Fruits Basket is, like, one of the most popular manga series out there in the American graphic novel market (heck, it is one of the most popular graphic novels PERIOD), so I thought it would be nice to take a look at the first volume to see if the title lives up to all the hype.

Short answer? I believe it does.

Long answer? Read on...hehe.

Here, off the back of the book, is the description of Fruits Basket, and it will show you how little a description can really tell you of a book -
Tohru Honda was an orphan when one day fate kicked her out of the house and on to land belonging to the mysterious Sohma family. After stumbling upon the teenage squatter, the Sohmas invite Tohru to stay in their house in exchange for cooking and cleaning. Everything goes well until she discovers the Sohma family's secret, when hugged by members of the opposite sex, they turn into their Chinese Zodiac animal!
I cannot be the only one who does not sound such a setup not all that interesting, can I?

I mean, they turn into animals when they're HUGGED?

How weird is THAT?

However, if you were to judge this series based on strictly the concept, or the super girly cover,

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then you would be doing yourself (and this series) a great disservice.

Natsuki Takaya does what all good serial writers should accomplish - she creates a world filled with interesting characters who interact well, and each one of them contains a good deal of layered personality traits.

Tohru is a young high school girl whose mother rose her to be nice - at all costs. It is a bizarre thing to see, as she is a very nice girl, however, for all her kindness, there is always, in the back of your mind, "Is this natural?" The way she talks, it is almost as if her mother brainwashed her to be nice, so all the pain and dejection she has gone through in her life (she was sent to live with her grandfather when her mother died, but her grandfather was renovating, so Tohru decided to live in a tent in the woods, while going to school AND working extremely hard at a job) never seems to really have a time to process in her brain. Heck, it does not appear as if she even really has the ability TO do so! That is why it is so amazing to see her able to solidify her feelings towards the end that she DOES want to stay with the Sohma's, as family, she relates, is what you make of it. In her blood family, she was the rice ball in a fruits basket (hence the title). In the Sohma family, she is an important, and one might say NECESSARY ingredient to the mix.

And what a mix!

The three Sohma cousins, who are the other stars of Fruits Basket 1, transform in front of our eyes. Yes, they also ACTUALLY transform, into the animal of the Zodiac that they each belong to (including Kyo, whose animal, the cat, was left out of the Zodiac), but rather, they also transform from a series of cliches to developed characters.

The transition is done well, with a good deal of humor mixed in to the story.

The three cousins are Shigure, the oldest, who is the head of the house, and Yuki and Kyo, the two cousins who constantly quarrell (Kyo's whole goal is to someday defeat Yuki in a fight). There is a love triangle, of sorts, between Tohru and the two younger cousins, as she manages to bound with both of them very easily, and in very different manners, making it impossible, after just one volume, to really have any idea who she would lean to, or even which one would be BETTER for her. Always a good sign of a good ongoing series, when there is a real air of mystery, but also of EXCITEMENT, as to what the characters will do in the future.

All of this is wrapped in nice art by Natsuki Takaya, who illustrates her own stories well (although the Japanese sound effects are is sometimes SLIGHTLY confusing).

With all said and done, Fruits Basket is an engaging, complex story that is also FUN to read. So look past the cover on this one, folks, there is a GOOD reason why this series is so successful in America right now, sales-wise.

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Anonymous Cayman said...

But it looks so girlie!

12/04/2005 12:01:00 PM  
Blogger T. said...

I won't lie, the cover deterred me as well. Maybe I'll try it now.

12/04/2005 12:17:00 PM  
Anonymous Iron Lungfish said...

"Can This Many Fruits Basket Fans Be Wrong?"

If it's anything like the show, then yes, absolutely.

12/04/2005 12:21:00 PM  
Blogger T. said...

Does the show suck?

12/04/2005 12:35:00 PM  
Blogger Mark Fossen said...

Brian -

You're completely right.

12/04/2005 12:42:00 PM  
Blogger Brian Cronin said...

"If it's anything like the show, then yes, absolutely."

Well, I have not seen the show, but one review I saw of the manga was that it gave you depth not seen in the TV show.

If you took away the character depth, and relied just on the PLOT, then yeah, I could see this being pretty lame.

So the TV show being bad would not surprise me.

12/04/2005 02:15:00 PM  
Anonymous Patrick said...

I'm sure this is a solid manga indeed, but I think I'm going to stay away, primarily because... well, I have some dignity, and there's a large enough wealth of material out there that I still need to read. If I ever get around to Fruits Basket, it will be very, very far down the queue. Closer than Infinite Crisis, perhaps, but still very unlikely indeed.

Admittedly, though, I haven't been able to get as into manga as I'd like, primarily because the volume alone frightens me. I don't doubt that there's a ton of cool stuff, but I'm overwhelmed enough by all the great American comics I can never get around to reading, so the prospect of bringing in an entire other hemisphere is a little intimidating.

I have really enjoyed what I've read, though. I was particularly amazed by Planetes which is probably the most compelling science-fiction I've ever read in sequential art format.

12/04/2005 08:18:00 PM  
Blogger Alicia said...

The cover is girlie because, shockingly, this is a comic meant primarily for girls. Most of the people buying it in America are also girls and young women.

I would say Fruits Basket disproves the old adage that women just don't like comics very soundly. You just have to write comics about something that girls are more socially inclined to give a damn about - like relationships.

12/05/2005 05:21:00 AM  
Blogger Brian Cronin said...

Right, Alicia, but, for instance, I would not recommend a Sweet Valley High book to a grown man with no general interest in that style to read, as I presume he probably would not be interested.

However, I WOULD still recommend a Fruits Basket or a Kare Kano to that same person.

Just like how I would recommend Jane Austen to folks who do not like romances normally.

And no, I do not think that Natsuki Takaya is as good as Jane Austen, but the same basic concept holds! :)

12/05/2005 10:22:00 AM  
Blogger kelvingreen said...

I've seen the anime, and it put me off ever looking at the book. It manages to make an insane premise completely dull and lifeless.

I shall check out some of the manga though, as recommendations from this blog are rarely wrong. However, I reserve the right to bring you all up on Judge Judy if I don't like it.

12/05/2005 11:36:00 AM  
Blogger David Welsh said...

Now, see, I've seen the anime, and I think it's kind of lovely. I find it more reflective than lifeless, and I think it gets to the emotional meat of the manga in a more direct way. And since I find the emotional meat of the manga lethally potent, I obviously have to consume the anime in small doses.

But I have notoriously weird taste in anime. Half the time, the voice work makes me want to drive ice picks into my eardrums. (Naruto, for example.)

12/05/2005 02:16:00 PM  
Blogger Brian Cronin said...

But if you had to recommend one over the other, you'd recommend the manga, right, David?

12/05/2005 02:23:00 PM  
Blogger David Welsh said...

Oh, without question, Brian. The cumulative effect is amazing as the volumes progress.

12/05/2005 02:59:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The anime was enjoyable to me, but has the basic problem that they never really had time to get past introducing everyone, since the cast is THE SIZE OF A MOUNTAIN, and thus didn't even have time to fully unleash the plot. ^^;;

But Fruits Basket is a great series, which becomes more and more intense as it goes along.

12/06/2005 03:57:00 AM  
Anonymous Sir Tim Drake said...

Thanks for the review, Brian. There are so many manga being published today that it's well-nigh impossible to tell which of them are worth reading. It's nice to be informed of one that is. (Worth reading, I mean.) I'd like to see more manga reviews on this blog.

12/06/2005 08:14:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've read them all!
It's better than it looks.

5/28/2007 06:09:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Fruit Basket roks me and my boyfrnd are always about who is the cat we really believe that the cat should be included into the zodiac heck we would be so happy plus by adding the cat many cat lovers will fall in love with the book i think this book can really get to you...[the only thing is that the graphics of the book change and it will make you feel like its another totally different story]

7/24/2007 06:32:00 PM  
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