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Fruits Basket, vols. 1-3 (Natsuki Takaya)

OK, this was very cute, and most of the time it wasn't too cute. Mostly it was sweet - "like a good apple" rather than "like cotton candy." I will say that I was happier when the edgier characters were "on screen" and when there were hints about things being darker than they might seem at first. But that's because I'm a worldly person who likes the Lymond Chronicles (Dorothy Dunnett) and Cyteen (C.J. Cherryh) and stuff like that ... (not to mention older teen shounen manga).

Sweet young teen Honda Tohru, a recent orphan, is living in a tent in the woods by herself so as not to inconvenience her grandparents (they think she's staying with friends). The land she's on turns out to belong to the powerful, mysterious Sohma family, many of whose members are afflicted with a strange curse. One eventful night, Tohru falls ill and her tent is buried in a landslide. She's taken in by a little sub-household of Sohmas: successful young novelist Shigure and his two teenaged cousins, Yuki and Kyo, who attend Tohru's school. I'm tempted to say "hijinks ensue," but I'd feel cruel - and it actually doesn't really begin to cover the range of events.

Fruits Basket 1-3 (review)

I'm not even going to attempt to summarize the stories - too much happens! It's amazing how many plots and plotlets are stuffed into these three smallish volumes. There are echoes of other things I've read: Tohru's steady optimism has a positive effect on those around her - like Anne in Anne of Green Gables (and I understand that Anne is extremely popular in Japan) - except instead of cheering up embittered old folks, Tohru is charming a family that seems to consist mainly of cute guys ranging in age from (in these volumes) 14 to 30 or so. The darker side of the secretive, magical Sohmas makes me think of the Leroy-Perry family in Diana Wynne Jones' Fire and Hemlock (I'm sincerely hoping their head of family isn't quite as evil as Laurel ...). Shigure is a dead ringer for a younger (and somewhat shallower) version of Sanada Yukimura in Samurai Deeper Kyo, in his looks, his playboy persona, and the fact that he's up to something sneaky that he regrets (at least to some extent). I'm not bringing any of this up as negatives for FB - on the contrary, these echoes give the series a more solid feel for me.

Most of the things that jarred me had to do with the characters' apparent ages and the ways that actions and attitudes didn't seem to match those ages. I'm guessing a fair amount of this is cultural. Momiji, for example, drives me nuts - how could a 15-year-old boy anywhere be wearing ruffled bubble shorts? (With thigh-highs, yet ... .) And why was everyone verbally pounding Kyo at the onsen when Momiji suggested that Kyo was hoping to share a room with Tohru ... but Momiji actually ends up doing it - and no one cares! The Sohmas know he's only a year younger than Kyo, even if Tohru doesn't. And then Hatsuharu, also a year younger than Kyo, already knows how to punch all sorts of sexually charged hot buttons ... not only with his crushing on Yuki (which was pretty cute, actually ... ) but also in making suggestive remarks about what he might do to Tohru, as a way of goading Kyo into fighting him. And Kyo has not a clue as to what's going on, except that it pisses him off. There's a disconnect here that I'm not following... .

Some things I liked: the crazy onsen hostess, who seems to have escaped from an Edward Gorey story; Shigure (yeah, I'm sure the SDK crew saw that coming - not to mention that I'm also a Dog); Hatsuharu (I'm always partial to witty sexually ambiguous characters, and he's got that wild sentimental streak - not to mention that fabulous wardrobe in his first scene ... white duster with a fur/feather collar and black motorcycle chaps ... to ride a bicycle, LOL!!!); Tohru's school friends, Uo and Hanajima. (Actually, those are all people, aren't they? But this is a character-driven story.) Also: the melodrama with the announcement of the endurance run (I didn't get the full flavor of that until I re-read it, working with the notes about the SFX in the back); Shigure's editor showing up on his doorstep with what seems to be a mat knife as a suicide weapon; Uo's "blood-stained pipe" (I keep thinking there's a more mundane explanation there ... ); Hanajima on the Chapter 8 title page dressed up (apparently) as a Western-style witch (and looking like she's about to go on tour with Hazel from Saiyuki Reload).

I think I'll have to keep reading this one!


( 10 comments — Leave a comment )
May. 18th, 2007 04:39 am (UTC)
Shigure is very much like Yukimura, and like Yukimura he has a darker, somewhat manipulative side - generally good intentions, but not always the best methods. I like him lighthearted, though, especially when he's flirting with Yuki's flamboyant brother, Aya, to irritate Hatori. ^^

Hehe, I guess you haven't come across the bizarre apparent age range in Japanese schools~ It's even worse in the shounen manga Prince of Tennis which features middle schoolers... who look like they're pushing 30... Momiji kind of gets on my nerves, but the "shotacon" (boy jailbait) type is really popular in computer dating sim games for girls.

But even with familiar manga stereotypes, I found the characterisation in Fruits Basket to be a little hard to believe... Tohru is just so idealised and good that she comes off as a rather flat character at times, which is not a quality that I look for in heroines but it seems to be a pretty common type in shoujo manga. The flatter the better, in fact... most of the characters are stereotypes drawn directly from popular girl's computer games like Angelique and Harukanaru toki no naka de where you play as a girl of idealised purity and optimism to date your choice from a harem of stock characters. Katie and I have a theory that the lack of personality in female leads is so the player/reader can project her own identity into the story, just like the "love interest" in shounen manga tends to be devoid of characteristics beyond "being really, really nice" so the male reader can substitute her with his own ideal girl.
May. 18th, 2007 10:32 pm (UTC)

There's an awful lot of boys flirting with just about anyone in this, isn't there? It was a lot of fun, but I kept getting a "We're not in Kansas anymore, Toto" feeling, because this is for little teenybopper girls - and no one minds! And of course they shouldn't mind! But it was still a strange feeling ... I think of teenaged boys like my friend TK used to be, who could still be beaten to a pulp for that in a good deal of the real world U.S. today ... .

Arrrgh, Momiji could only appeal to a girl who was feeling really timid about the idea of guys in general!! I've seen pix of the guys from Prince of Tennis - I never would have guessed that they're meant to be middle schoolers.

Well, Tohru is definitely the classic "patient Griselda" type (an ISFJ on speed ...), but there were a couple of moments when I connected with her a bit, and that kept me from totally washing my hands of her. At one point (and damned if I can remember where), she was fretting over whether her own behavior was genuine - something along the lines of "Maybe I'm not really nice - maybe I just act nice so people will like me." That definitely struck a chord (and was a little more introspective about her own feelings than she generally is). The other thing, silly as it was, was when she went on the double movie date, and there's a shot of the four of them. Yuki looks like he's wishing he was elsewhere, Kyo is pretty plainly waiting with happy anticipation for the next fight scene, Kagura is clearly one of those annoying people who disseccts the plot aloud as the movie progresses ... and Tohru is in agony because the little Mogeta critter is being tempted by evil!!! Yeah, that's where I'd be too ... .

Hey, remember when I was asking you about endearments and such? They're doing the thing with the names that Hotaru did with Yuan - in fact, some of them call Yuki that same babytalk nickname, Yun-Yun. And they're calling Kyo "Kyon-Kyon." So is that terminal "n" cutsie (at least with the syllable duplication), like -i/-y in English? (And does it have anything at all to do with nyan-nyan for kittycat ... that's just probably straight onomatopoeia , I'd guess - )

(Angelique .... huh. Could that possibly have influenced Kamijyo's choice of names for Ian and Julian's second daughter? The one who looks just like a shoujo character? In fact, she looks a lot like Hanajima ... . Here I go with the wild speculation again! Wiki says the original game was release in 1994, so the timing is reasonable ... )

May. 19th, 2007 06:49 am (UTC)
*laugh* I forgot you were new to shoujo! Homoeroticism is practically a fixture of shoujo manga - it's what makes anti-romantic people like me read it in the first place. Of course it's totally unrealistic and real guys would get beaten up in Japan if they acted like Momiji (and rightfully so!! hehehe). I guess Momiji appeals to the super-shy, naive type of girl... but even so, he doesn't figure into the massive Fruits Basket fandom pairing fest too much.

Yeah, I guess Tohru is a little better at first when she's worried about being fake (kinda mirrors how Yuki feels) but that's as introsepective as she really gets... which is kind of frustrating to me, because I want to like her! But I end up liking Uo more. ^^;

*laugh* Hmm, I don't think "n" is any kind of generalised diminutive, but it's not rare to see it like that... like in Bleach, there's a girl named Hiyori who gets called Hiyorin in a cutesy way... I think it's just meant to sound like baby talk with repetition and intentional mispronunciation. Hehe, cat is "neko" but cats go "nyan" so "nyanko" for cat is pretty common! That's super cutesy, too~

Well, Angelique is some of the ultimate shoujo... I can't believe I played the game. o_O; It's enough to put you in a diabetic coma. Hehe, I think Kamijyo was just trying to get "an" and possible "ri" into every one of the siblings names~
May. 20th, 2007 01:34 am (UTC)

You know what's funny is how this is making me re-evaluate some of my initial thoughts on SDK - which is part of why I'm doing this, too. For example, Yukimura is much less outrageous in this context. In fact, the only piece of outrageousness left is, I suppose, that he's older than Onime-no-Kyo (and Shinrei, and Tora ... but he wasn't flirting seriously with them), which flies in the face of "the rules" as I understand them. But of course he's shorter by a good amount ...

Uo is very cool! She's a good friend to have. I was more like Hanajima, but I wouldn't have had the guts to sit out the endurance run!

You know, the translators for Fruits Basket are the ones who do Saiyuki! Alethea and Athena Nibley ... I wonder if they're twins ... I presume they're sisters. I wish they'd do SDK - I bet they wouldn't get significant characters' names wrong!

May. 20th, 2007 03:35 am (UTC)
*laugh* Yukimura isn't even outrageous in the context of most shounen manga~ The "bishounen" type (good looking, ambiguously gay) has been around forever - if anything, I think mainstream manga artists are a little more conservative now! Hehe, yeah, the height rule and the age rule... I think Yukimura slides by on the age rule because he's not depicted as a guy in his late 30s.

Yeah, it's always good to have a friend in organised crime, isn't it? *laugh* I love yankee characters for some reason... but I'd probably sit out the endurance run like Hanajima~ Unless it was a really short endurance run...

Ooh, yeah, Fruits Basket does have a good translation! It's actually an improvement sometimes over the syrupy sweetness of the Japanese dialogue. ^^ Alethea and Athena? Eeep, those are unusual names!
May. 20th, 2007 03:52 am (UTC)

Well, of course with Akari now on the scene in SDK, Yukimura's behavior has faded into the woodwork by comparison ... . (Actually, I've got a translation question for you on that. When Akari is having her little fantasy about how Kyo rode up on a white horse to rescue her, and Hotaru starts complaining about his assigned role in the fantasy, does he use "ashigaru" for the word Tokyopop translates as "servant"? Because you had translated it as "footsoldier," and he and Akira certainly look like the pix of ashigaru in my Osprey books ... )

Yeah, I figure that the Mss. Nibley must have had classics scholars for parents! "Athena" is pretty obvious, but "Alethea" is also a Greek name - it means "Truth."

Re Yankees: Apparently the folks who publish FY Genbu Kaiden are doing a novelization of "Kamikaze Girls" - there was an extract in the back of one of volumes I got.

I was horrible at running, but I did my damnedest when we had to do the 660 in gym, way back when. I sort of staggered the last half of it ... . I was a totally coward when it came to authority figures back then.

May. 20th, 2007 04:20 am (UTC)
*laugh* I don't remember exactly what was in the manga, but if I translated it as "footsoldier", there's a 99% chance that the original was "ashigaru." ^^;

And then the kids go on to study Japanese... how ironic! *laugh*

Oooh, that sounds good!! I wonder if it's an original novelisation or a translation?

*shudder* I took a running class for one of my required gym credits... that was hell. I was never the *last* one to finish (and I didn't count beating the poor Muslim girl who was forced to run in full burqa because the low-impact classes had filled up too quickly) but running wrecked my joints so I'd go lurching about for the rest of the day. ^^;; But I despise perky gym teacher women who threaten to mark you absent if you opt for a fast walk instead of a run (and three unexcused abscences is an automatic F!), and who cheer "work it! feel the burn!!" while you're in horrible pain...
May. 18th, 2007 05:20 pm (UTC)
I think everyone was OK with Momiji sharing with Tohru but not Kyou because Kyou acts his age and Momiji doesn't, regardless of their actual ages: so Kyou might hit on Tohru and she might go for it, but Momiji wouldn't and even if he did, Tohru would be all, "Eeeek! You are just a little kid! Run and play, now!" That being said, I think it's weird too.

Hatsuharu, Shigure, Uo and Hanajima all have terrific storylines later on. It's hard to comment further on your post without spoilery hints. Except that the story continues to get deeper and darker.
May. 19th, 2007 01:01 am (UTC)

(Hee, I need to make some more icons ... the only manga ones I have are for Samurai Deeper Kyo ... )

Kyou actually might not hit on her ... he's really surprisingly innocent for 15/16 (witness his reaction to Hatsuharu taunting him about Tohru). I wonder if the whole "you're the outcast, therefore you must be guilty of everything and anything" is coming into play here, poor kid. And the very fact that Momiji is bringing that whole issue up makes me suspicious of the little attention-addict ... .

It sounds terrible to say "ooooh, good!" to the idea that the story gets darker, but I guess I'll say it anyway .... and I appreciate that you're not spoiling it.     :-)

Jun. 2nd, 2007 06:03 am (UTC)

(BTW, I have now blogged vols. 4-7 ... I'm putting this here because I know your flist will be yards deep by the time you get back from A-Kon. - Cho)

( 10 comments — Leave a comment )


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