manga bookshelf

Off the Shelf: Fruits Basket

MELINDA: It’s time once again for the Manga Moveable Feast, this month featuring Natsuki Takaya’s Fruits Basket, which just happens to be a favorite series for both of us! Though one of the Feast’s greatest draws for me is the opportunity to try things I otherwise might not, I have to admit that sometimes it’s nice to simply have an excuse to wallow in things I already love. I suspect you feel the same, Michelle, yes?

MICHELLE: Oh, definitely. Particularly when it’s something like Fruits Basket, where there’s just so much going on. It really provides ample opportunity for wallowing, and even for sounding scholarly while one does it!

MELINDA: Well, I don’t know what my chances are of sounding scholarly, but I’m sure I’ll be able to natter on and on. Where shall we start?

MICHELLE: How about with some background regarding our own introductions to the series? Mine’s a bit of a long story, so you can go first if you like!

MELINDA: Well, as you know I got into manga much later than most, so by the time I’d even learned what it was, Fruits Basket was already a phenomenon in the US. My online friends who read manga raved about it. There was even a girl in my office, who, when she found out I was into manga, rushed to tell me about her own love for Fruits Basket. Like most long-time nerds, I was instinctively suspicious of anything popular with the masses, and I was still battling my own issues with “girly” things at the time (yes, I rant because I understand), so I assumed Fruits Basket was not for me.

Then, in October of 2008, I went to the New York Anime Festival for the first time. I’m incredibly shy in person—a condition that seems to have worsened over the past ten years or so—and though I’d met a few manga bloggers previously online, I was much too terrified to approach anyone. Thankfully, a couple of them introduced themselves to me, one being the lovely Ysabet Reinhardt MacFarlane, who as you probably know is a major fan of Fruits Basket. So on the final day of the convention, overtaken by some kind of gratitude-induce madness, I found a copy of the first volume of the series and bought it.

When I got home, I hardly knew what to do. How could I have purchased something like that? What insanity had possessed me? In mortification and despair, I sat down to read it, and shockingly discovered that it was good. I had one major issue with it (we’ll get to that later), but really, I was so intrigued by the story’s odd set of characters, that I simply couldn’t wait to read more. Fortunately, my dear friend Deanna (who also introduced me to Wild Adapter, if you recall) felt my distress and sent me her entire collection of the series in the mail. I think I consumed the whole thing in the course of a day or two—what was published in English, anyway. Then I joined other US fans in the agonizing wait for the series’ last few volumes.

MICHELLE: I think I knew most of that, but not Ysabet’s involvement!

I was introduced to shoujo manga and anime in late 2001 and attended my first convention, Shoujocon, in July of 2002. The big hit in the anime-viewing rooms that year was Gravitation, and I too fell under the sway of its charms. So much so that when I got home, I sought out a fansub videotape of its OVA, which had not been shown at the convention.

The Gravitation OVA is only two episodes long and, completely unbeknownst to me, the kindly fansubber had decided to fill the extra space on the tape with the first two episodes of Fruits Basket. I had seen merchandise for the show at Shoujocon, but knew nothing about it, so it came as a wonderful surprise when I immediately fell in love. My timing was good, because the first DVD of the Fruits Basket anime came out in October 2002. I vividly remember watching it with my friend in her apartment, replaying the most amusing Shigure bits. (He’s a lot less complicated in the anime.) Around the same time, I bought a bunch of the manga in Japanese and, with the help of text translations, started making my way through it.

The fourth and final volume of the anime was released on DVD in May of 2003, and during that year I also read volumes two through ten of the manga in Japanese. Finally, in February 2004, the first TOKYOPOP edition came out in English. Throughout 2004 and 2005 I read the English editions while continuing to keep up with the Japanese, but eventually, when we were only four or five volumes behind, I stopped importing and just started following new developments via summaries posted on a mailing list. I didn’t actually read the final volumes until this week, since knowing how it ended allowed me to postpone the moment when it would really be over.

So, to sum up this incredibly lengthy saga… I’ve been a Fruits Basket fan for almost a decade!

MELINDA: So, I think most manga fans are probably familiar with at least the general premise of Fruits Basket, but I think it’s worth establishing just in case. Recently orphaned (and exceedingly cheerful) high school sophomore Tohru Honda, through a series of wacky circumstances, comes to live with three pretty young men, one of whom is the typical “prince” at her school. As it turns out, the three are part of a family possessed by spirits of the Chinese zodiac, which causes affected family members to transform into animals when physically stressed or when hugged by a member of the opposite sex.

On the surface, this sounds like the most simplistic romantic comedy—at best a series of madcap scenes featuring lots of running around, accidental hugging, and cute animal transformations, at worst yet another tale of an intellectually vacant shoujo heroine who is inexplicably pursued by a series of dreamy bishounen. And though it might be possible to maintain these expectations a volume or two in, it soon becomes clear that both Fruits Basket and its characters are something else entirely.

MICHELLE: I think the first inklings that we are in for something far darker start in volume two, when Tohru visits the main house to talk to Hatori. He cautions her to leave Shigure’s house and not involve herself with the Sohma family any further. “I’m sure Shigure didn’t make clear the gravity of our condition,” he says. “The Sohma family continues to be possessed by vengeful spirits. It’s not the fun and games you might think. It’s bizarre… sinister… cursed. Before you regret getting involved with the Sohma… get out.”

That’s a pretty chilling development for what had seemed to be a simple romantic comedy! It only gets darker from here—though elements of humor definitely remain—as Tohru learns more about the curse and how it has affected those afflicted. By the end, we see that even Akito, long set up as the villain of the series, is not immune to damage resulting from frantically trying to maintain a tight grip on the family members sharing the so-called “bond.”

MELINDA: The hints are there even earlier on, I think. In the first volume, when Tohru witnesses Kyo’s transformation for the first time, she’s told that the head of the family may order to have her memory erased, as he did years ago with some children who accidentally discovered Yuki’s secret. It’s discussed almost casually, but that’s actually what makes it feel so sinister. Though we still know so little, we’re suddenly aware that we’re not in some kind of whimsical fantasy where it’s natural that people might transform into animals. What’s going on with the Sohmas is serious enough, and has been going on long enough, that they’d think very little of erasing children’s memories to protect it. Personally, I found that a bit chilling, though it isn’t given great weight until later on.

MICHELLE: I sometimes forget, especially as the series progresses, that Hatori actually has the ability to erase memories. And yet that ability plays such a huge factor in his own personal tragedy—recounted in volume two—as well as Yuki’s childhood anguish. As the series goes on, he’s usually called forward to tend to physical injuries caused by Akito’s paranoid rage, but not to protect the family secret in that way.

Speaking of protecting the family secret, we eventually learn that Tohru was allowed to remain at Shigure’s house because Akito was desperate to prove that the bond between “God” and the cursed members of the Zodiac was real and strong, and not something that could be put into jeopardy by the presence of one girl. It’s an interesting perspective that shows all of Akito’s cryptic pronouncements about the tight family bond in a new light—no, this doesn’t make Akito any less unstable or dangerous, but now we know it wasn’t so much calculated menace as sheer terror of being left behind.

MELINDA: I think you’re right, and I feel like the series gets pretty much to the heart of things in terms of Akito’s motivations being out of fear just as much as anyone else’s. I think what makes the curse so insidious is the fact that it’s been passed down for generations, so nobody involved now is really making the rules. Akito’s ruling by and out of desperate fear because that’s what “God” is taught to do. The bond has been perpetuated so long and twisted so hard, generation after generation, it can’t possibly be okay for anyone. The zodiac animals get the bulk of our sympathy because Akito is the one who is in the position to inflict the most pain, but Akito’s running on a particular brand of terror and pain that belongs only to the one who must be “God.”

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have tons of sympathy for Akito. Regardless of what we’re handed, we still all make our own choices. But I think in Akito’s position, many of us would be too weak to be any better, and I’m not willing to claim with certainty that it could never have been me.

MICHELLE: That’s a great description of why the curse situation is so awful for everyone. Perhaps those most responsible for the misery of our characters are those who continue to place them on a pedestal because of their supposedly exalted status. We know the zodiac can’t help but feel drawn to Akito—there’s that memorable scene where Shigure and the others cluster around a pregnant Ren—but I wonder if they have the same effect on the rest of the family. Maybe the servants and extended family couldn’t help but revere them, but how much healthier it would’ve been for everyone involved if they were simply treated as ordinary people.

MELINDA: Ah, but there’s the thing, right? They can’t really be treated like ordinary people because they live in a world where ordinary people don’t transform into animals. This isn’t in the story at all, but when I’m thinking about how this all started, generations and generations ago, I’m imagining that the original Sohma members of the zodiac might have had to cultivate fear and awe in the other Sohmas in order to save themselves from persecution, even within the family.

Obviously in the universe of Fruits Basket, we’re meant to believe that the curse is a real thing and accept that as a supernatural force, but when you think about it, mankind has always dealt with the unknown by creating myth around it–usually myth based on fear and awe. So if we look at the Sohma’s curse in that light, it seems likely that those originally carrying the curse (and the people who loved them) might have done the same thing to protect themselves. Just a glimpse into Momiji’s life or Kyo’s gives us an idea of the way some members of the family react even with that protection in place.

MICHELLE: I see your point. I suppose I tend to personally downplay that aspect of the curse just because it seems that everything else that comes along with it is so much worse, but on a most fundamental level, it’s the transformation that truly cripples their ability to form relationships with outsiders and sometimes even their own families. (As a side note, I’d be interested to know where in the story (as in which volume) the characters stop transforming as a result of wacky hijinks. I’m thinking it’s pretty early on, actually.)

Momiji and Kyo are both rejected by their families because they are cursed, and that’s not something they’re ever going to be able to forget. Momiji at least seems to harbor no ill will towards his family, soldiering on to find his own happiness somewhere apart from them, but that doesn’t make it any less terrible. I’m grateful that Takaya gave us Hiro’s loving family as at least one example where one of the zodiac has been raised in an environment of warmth and love.

MELINDA: I think it is pretty early on that the wacky transformations disappear, and by the time we’re getting around to discovering things like Kyo’s true form, if they’d still been happening I think they would have seriously damaged the story. Though some of the later, softer transformations are favorite moments for me. Pretty much every time Momiji hugs Tohru, it’s the sweetest thing in the world (even when it’s very sad), and Tohru’s reaction to Hatori’s transformation will always be hilarious and charming.

MICHELLE: Momiji’s hugs are indeed both adorable and heartbreaking. He just wants to hug her so bad, he doesn’t even care what will happen as a result. I think, though, that I probably prefer older Momiji, whose method of choice for breaking hearts is his sad smile.

(I begin to think we could write a whole column about Momiji.)

MELINDA: I know I could!

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So, I mentioned early on that there was one major issue I had with Fruits Basket when I first began reading the series, and that issue does persist throughout. While it’s always easy to talk about what we love in a column like this, it can be harder to bring up the things that we don’t. Do you have any caveats you would attach to this series?

MICHELLE: When you’ve loved something for as long as I have loved Fruits Basket, I think one starts to just accept all the less-awesome parts. So, no, there aren’t major issues or caveats I would attach to the series, though I have a feeling you’re going to point something out that’ll make me go, “Oh, yeah. That.”

There are definitely some minor things about the story that I think could’ve been handled better, though. As much as I am happy that Yuki found someone in Machi, for example, I can’t deny that she isn’t very developed as a character and reads much like (in David Welsh’s words) a “consolation prize.”

MELINDA: I was surprised at that, actually, when David first said it, because I’m incredibly fond of Machi, but when I thought about it, I realized that what really endeared me to her so emphatically was the fact that she bought Yuki a bag of fertilizer. It’s such a small thing, but with that one action, I completely fell for her as a character. In retrospect, I realize that may not actually constitute effective character development, but for some reason it spoke volumes to me when I first read the series.

MICHELLE: It at least shows that she knows how much Yuki’s hobby is important to him, and that he’s on her mind enough that when she happened to spot it in a store window, she thought of him.

MELINDA: I just thought, y’know, who would do that? Who buys someone a bag of fertilizer as a present? Then I realized the answer was, “Someone right for Yuki.”

MICHELLE: So, what is this major issue?

MELINDA: Ah, yes, my Issue. I had one major issue when I read the first volume of the manga, and that was Tohru’s utterly sincere declaration that marriage is every girl’s greatest dream. At the time, I hoped very much that one of the points Takaya intended to make with the story was to prove Tohru wrong on this, but alas, the entire series, and particularly the last few volumes, is dedicated to making sure this dream comes true for as many of her characters as possible.

Now, obviously this isn’t the most urgent statement the series is making, and I do think Takaya has a lot to say about human connection, the importance of acceptance, and a whole lot of other really worthwhile topics along those lines. But on this particular issue, she and I strongly disagree. In fact, I think the one other real issue I have with Fruits Basket is inextricably tied to this one. I’m bothered by the way Takaya so carefully heteronormatizes (can that be a word?) everyone at the last minute, as though any issues regarding gender and/or sexuality are just part of the dysfunction of the curse and can be cast off as easily as soiled robes the moment it is broken. It’s obvious, though, that this is done specifically to make sure that everyone can be paired off tidily to conform to the series’ matrimonial ideals.

As thoughtfully as Takaya explores so many aspects of identity and human relationships, and as much as I love this series, this is one area in which I really feel she fails me as a reader.

MICHELLE: I completely forgot that Tohru had made any such declaration. So while I obviously couldn’t help but notice “Gee, everyone is pairing off here at the end,” I didn’t tie it into reinforcement of matrimonial ideas so much as a shoujo-style idea of what a happy ending entails. Marmalade Boy does something similar, for example.

However, I admit that I did have a moment’s pause when Tohru agrees to go away with Kyo after graduation, saying, “I want to always be by your side,” which is essentially the same sort of thing I recently complained about in my review of Backstage Prince. The difference being, of course, that Tohru has expressed a desire to find a job and will likely (hopefully) do something with her life other than sit around and be a wife.

So, while I certainly can’t disagree that everyone ending up perfectly straight after exhibiting not-exactly-heterosexual behavior is kind of disappointing, I’d stop short of ascribing it all to “yay marriage.” Maybe it’s just “yay shoujo romance.”

MELINDA: Tohru’s declaration in the first volume struck me so hard, it was almost the only thing specific I had to say about the volume at the time, so it’s really impossible for me not to follow that thread to the end, but I can understand your interpretation. I would say, though, that reading the last volume, I did not get the impression that Tohru was intent on pursuing a job, and since the only information we’re given about her future is that she’s a very contented grandmother, I don’t think this was a priority for Takaya in terms of her storyline.

Tohru’s earlier talk about getting a job is focused entirely on her lack of other means with which to support herself, something which her friends are hoping she won’t have to do, as they eye up Yuki and Kyo as potential marriage prospects for her. So I would be surprised if that was really part of her future in the author’s eyes.

Moving on, though, let’s get back to the more pleasant pastime of discussing what we love! Michelle, do you have a favorite theme in Fruits Basket?

MICHELLE: I haven’t actually read that first volume since 2004, which was before I started reviewing, so my initial reaction to that line (which probably involved scoffing) is lost to the mists of time.

As for themes… Sometimes I feel like a broken record, but I do so love stories where someone finds where they belong. Essentially, that’s the entire theme of Fruits Basket, since the game from which the series derives its name involves children being selected based on the fruit name they’ve been assigned. In the beginning, this theme manifests as Tohru finding her place with the Sohma family, but later on, it starts to change, as the main characters start to embrace the freedom to choose their own paths for themselves. When they all finally start looking toward the future—planning their lives with genuine enthusiasm—it’s so simply triumphant for all of them that I find it really affecting.

MELINDA: That is one of the series’ nicest themes, though I think as someone who is still searching for this on some level (and maybe always will be), I suppose my personal reaction to it is somewhat angsty. I think my favorite theme is related, though, so overall we’re on the same page!

I am particularly fond of Takaya’s emphasis on self-acceptance and self-awareness in the series. Nearly every character in Fruits Basket is fixated on his or her own flaws (or perceived flaws), often to the point of finding someone else to blame for them. Kyo and Yuki of course are the poster boys for this, each blaming the other for being everything he thinks he should be or wants to be. And since the zodiac “bond” is primarily maintained through repeated application of shame, this is an issue that touches everyone. Even Tohru is not immune, as she obsesses over whether she’s being unfaithful to her mother’s memory.

I have a lot of reasons for connecting with this particular theme, but most of all, I think it’s one that Takaya handles particularly well, resorting to trite platitudes as little as possible.

And speaking of trite platitudes (or the lack thereof) I’d also like to mention how beautifully I think Takaya writes Tohru. It would be so easy for a character like that to fall into the worst kind of Pollyanna stereotype, and Takaya never lets this happen. She writes Tohru as a real character, and as a result, her healing influence on the Sohma family feels really genuine.

I once said in a review, “Few of us can claim to see the world through eyes as open, joyful, and compassionate as Tohru Honda’s, but the great appeal of Fruits Basket is in that it manages to make us believe we can, at least for an hour or so.” That’s really how I feel about Tohru, the way Takaya has written her.

MICHELLE: It definitely takes skill to write a character like Tohru and make her not only likeable, but realistic. Too often, characters are mad for a heroine who possesses no redeeming qualities to engender that devotion, but that’s absolutely not true here. We see, time and time again, exactly how much these characters need someone like Tohru in their lives, and even if they are resistent to her particular brand of optimism (like Rin, for example) they still value that a person like her is able to exist and are slowly healed by her proximity.

And yet, Tohru has demons of her own. It occurs to me that she has taught the Sohmas how to see beyond their pain and carry on with life, but it’s this very thing that she herself keeps doing when it would be better to stop and be selfish for a moment! So, they teach her something in return. By the end of the series, she’s prepared to accept that Kyo doesn’t love her, and has built herself up to smile when she next sees him again, but she’s finally confronted with something too meaningful to her to just give up on like that.

MELINDA: I think one of my favorite scenes near the end is that very moment you describe, when Tohru is released from the hospital and runs away from Kyo, because she realizes she can’t follow through with her resolve to smile when she sees him. Though I think perhaps I love even more her earlier declaration that if her mother did, indeed, tell Kyo she wouldn’t forgive him, she’d have to go against her. It’s the first time in the whole series that she really makes a choice for herself that isn’t motivated by the desire to please her mother, and that makes me very happy.

Of course, it’s just a bonus that we know this decision would have pleased her mother more than anything else in the world. But it’s meaningful that Tohru does not know that, and makes the decision anyway.

MICHELLE: I plan to talk about that very scene in further detail in this Saturday’s Let’s Get Visual column!

But yes, the decision to go against her mother is definitely a big moment, but I also appreciate her conviction later that Kyoko couldn’t have really meant that she wouldn’t forgive Kyo for letting her die. She believes it so, so strongly, so absolutely that I hope it convinces Kyo that she is right (as we indeed later see is the case).

Speaking of things that viewers are allowed to know but the characters don’t, I really appreciate that Takaya gives us a chapter (131) almost entirely devoted to the origins of the curse. It was supposed to be something created with bonds of love, but over time, people changed and the feeling of love was replaced by pain. The God who originally created it regrets all of that, but is also grateful to those who shouldered that exhausted promise for so long.

This nicely illustrates the fact that it’s impossible to make someone love you, and if you have to make them stay with you rather than allowing them personal choice, how is that worth anything at all? I wonder whether Akito’s change of heart was in any way fueled by a vague consciousness of the original God’s feelings.

MELINDA: That’s an interesting question, Michelle. I think I’d have to reread a few volumes again to see if I could come up with an answer.

And going back to Tohru’s best moments, I realized as I was thinking about this, that the moment I realized I really loved Tohru was when she physically pushes Akito away from Yuki in the school hallway, when she can see that Yuki’s in pain. Tohru’s a great character, and extremely likable from the start, but I think that’s when I became aware that I genuinely loved her. It’s a completely spontaneous reaction—hardly more than a reflex—that, on the surface, seems completely opposed to her natural gentleness, but that’s what makes it so great. It’s really the first time in the story we see the strength of her will demonstrated in this way, and it is awesome.

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Tohru’s action here reminds me somewhat of Orihime Inoue’s power to heal people by (essentially) mentally rejecting their injuries. She’s utterly rejecting Akito’s presence in Yuki’s world at that moment, because she just can’t accept that Yuki should feel that pain.

MICHELLE: Thinking about that scene gives me goosebumps, actually. Tohru really is possessed of extraordinary selfless determination, especially in her efforts to find a way to break the curse and free those whom she has come to love. No wonder Yuki sees her like a mother!

MELINDA: Speaking of that, I can’t help but be influenced by some of the entries we’ve seen for the MMF so far, especially David’s, and it’s been really interesting reading comments to his posts. One of the topics that’s come up a couple of times is the original love triangle between Tohru, Yuki, and Kyo. Obviously there’s a shift in the middle of the series, when Yuki becomes aware that it’s Kyo who Tohru is actually attracted to in a boyfriend kind of way, and of course right around that time, he’s got Akito telling him that he’s using Tohru as a mother figure.

There’s a lot of stuff there, and it’s fascinating to watch Yuki process everything and get to where he does by the end, but I was absolutely stunned to see someone say in comments to one of David’s posts that she never thought at any point in the series that Yuki was romantically interested in Tohru. Because wow, I certainly did. In fact, at the time, I considered his scene with Tohru at the end of volume ten to be a freakin’ confession! Whatever conclusions Yuki comes to later in the manga, it was clear (to me at least) that he believed himself to be in love with Tohru earlier on, and certainly that he was attracted to her—something he discusses at length later with Manabe. What’s your take on this?

MICHELLE: It’s rather difficult for me to remember exactly what I thought of the love triangle in early days, but I think I did believe that Yuki had romantic feelings for Tohru. Even so, and as much as I grew to love Yuki very much, I was always rooting for Kyo and Tohru to get together. Maybe even then I sensed that there was something different about Yuki’s feelings for her.

Regarding the new spin Yuki’s conversation with Manabe puts on some of the more romantic-seeming moments (in essence, that he was actively trying to summon romantic feelings)… I have to wonder how much of this was planned from the start, or if it’s some kind of retcon. The same holds true with Kyo’s initial meeting of Tohru. Did Takaya plan from the start that Kyo was experiencing everything that took place while already knowing full well who Tohru was? Did she plan that Yuki was just faking it? It’ll be strange/interesting to go back and reread the series from the beginning and see whether there’s any evidence one way or the other.

MELINDA: Actually, I’ve reread most of the series over the past week, and I’d say that it reads to me as genuinely planned, in both cases. Kyo has some really uncomfortable moments early on with Tohru that are very revealing on a second read. I have no doubt that was planned from the start, rereading it now.

And while it’s perhaps not quite as obvious early on that Yuki might be confused about his feelings for Tohru, reading it all right alongside his conversation with Manabe, it feels true. I think what really sells that for me is Yuki’s deliberate use of his “prince” manners when he’s making the moves on Tohru. Like, he knows how he’s supposed to act to make a girl’s heart flutter, so he puts that into motion. But we all know that’s actually not his personality at all. In those moments, he’s playing a part, just like he does at school during the first half of the series. If it’s retcon, it’s really good retcon, because you can’t tell at all.

It helps that I think he’s genuinely confused in those moments. I mean, it’s not as if he doesn’t love Tohru or doesn’t find her attractive. He does, and that’s what makes it so hard for him to sort out what it all means. And I would even go so far as to say that, regardless of the fact that he was looking for a mother in her, he probably was a little in love with her as well. These kinds of feelings are not so cut-and-dried. After all, it’s not as if she’s actually his mother.

Now, off-canon here, keeping in mind that I’m not really a believer in the idea that there’s just one perfect person for everyone, personally, I think there’s every chance that Yuki could have ended up with Tohru, had Kyo not been in the picture. It might not have been the same kind of relationship in some ways, and maybe there would be more of a contented, domestic vibe than a super-passionate one, but had Kyo not been there, it seems likely to me that Tohru and Yuki might have fallen in love in their own way (like they maybe already did, though it was eclipsed by Tohru’s feelings for Kyo) and ended up being very happy together. That’s not the story Takaya was telling, obviously, but I think it could have been, given the characters she created.

MICHELLE: I am so relieved to hear that. So many other aspects of the series have been exquisitely planned, I suppose I should have had faith. And that’s an excellent point in regards to Yuki’s adoption of princely manners and how that equates to playing a part. Maybe that was what I was picking up on when I just couldn’t really believe that they ought to end up together.

If Kyo hadn’t been there and if Yuki had been able to be his real self around Tohru, then yes, I suppose I think it’s possible they could’ve ended up together. But then she might’ve just as easily wound up with Momiji! (See how it always comes back around to Momiji?)

MELINDA: As well it should! Regardless of the fact that I was pretty invested in Tohru and Kyo’s romantic relationship by the end, I could have been deliriously happy had the plot suddenly shifted to Tohru/Momiji! I really do adore Momiji. I’d like to read a sequel to the series that continues on with his story.

MICHELLE: Me, too. But only if it’s, like, a string of just really awesome things that happen to him.

Speaking of follow-ups to Fruits Basket, I am honestly baffled that Takaya’s Twinkle Stars (complete in Japan in eleven volumes) has not been licensed here. I’ve read the first two volumes in English and the third in French and, okay, it’s not Fruits Basket in terms of epic scope, but it’s still plenty interesting, with a heroine who tries to be cheerful despite the massive amounts of darkness she’s already experienced in her life.

MELINDA: I’d certainly read it, if it’s even half as compelling as Fruits Basket.

MICHELLE: Well, hopefully we will all get the opportunity to read it in a no-importation-required kind of way in the near future. Takaya’s also recently begun Liselotte to Majo no Mori, which I don’t know much about (only a couple of chapters have been published so far) but man, does it ever look gorgeous. Behold:

MELINDA: Gorgeous, indeed!

Any final thoughts about Fruits Basket?

MICHELLE: Don’t be fooled by first impressions. Fruits Basket is amazing, and pretty much required reading as far as I’m concerned.

MELINDA: Well said, Michelle! I wholeheartedly agree.

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  1. Michelle, just a little extra note… I am finally almost done with my complete re-read, and wow… I’d forgotten just how incredibly harsh the scene is between Shigure and Tohru when he tells her that all the zodiac secretly is happy that the cat will be locked up, because he’s the only thing worse than they are. I would have gone on about it here, if I’d reread it earlier. Holy crap.

    Also, the scene with Tohru and Kyo with the sheets! GAH. Volume 19, you are too good.

    • There is seriously so much we could’ve gone on to discuss. Maybe some roundtables are in order.

      Also, seeing that scene between Momiji and Tohru where she agrees with him that there’s no such thing as a memory that’s okay to forget makes me realize that Takaya really carries this thread all the way through the series, as Tohru carefully picks up every one of the beads from Kyo’s bracelet after he strips it off, and keeps them in a little bowl alongside other precious mementos seemingly forever after.

  2. You guys, this was so lovely to read. I don’t quite know how to phrase this, but you both have a knack for writing about emotional stuff in the way that works best for me as a reader, so this whole post made me ridiculously happy. There’s just so much to unpack in Fruits Basket. As I think I said on Twitter, I could read/talk about it forever.

    I can either write a really long comment here or keep it short, and I think for now I’ve got to keep it short, but thank you for such a great post. I’m looking forward to anything else you have waiting in the wings this week!

    (And Melinda, I’m [obviously!] so glad that gamble on vol. 1 paid off for you. *^^*)

    • I don’t quite know how to phrase this, but you both have a knack for writing about emotional stuff in the way that works best for me as a reader, so this whole post made me ridiculously happy.

      What a nice thing to say! Thank you!

      And thank you for helping to push me towards Fruits Basket. If I’d never read it, that would be a tragedy.

    • Thank you!

  3. The talk about marriage reminded me of something that struck me when I first read the last volume. The thing is, there’s no definite proof that Kyo and Tohru ever got married. I mean, when Kyo asked her to go away with him, he didn’t propose marriage, and when we see them as grandparents at the end, neither of them is wearing a wedding ring. The only possible evidence is a picture on the last page that appears to be from a Japanese-style wedding ceremony, but the details in that photograph are so vague that you can’t really tell who the people in it are. It could be Kyo and Tohru, or it could have been from their child’s or a friend’s wedding. At the time, I actually wondered if Takaya was maybe anti-marriage, because when you think about it, marriage is supposed to be an eternal, sacred bond between two people, somewhat similar to the bond between the Zodiacs and their god. I thought because of that, perhaps Tohru and Kyo had decided not to get married, instead staying together because they wanted to and not because they were obligated to.

    Then again, it could just be that Tohru decided to follow her mother’s example, asking for a blender instead of a ring. *laughs*

    • “I thought because of that, perhaps Tohru and Kyo had decided not to get married, instead staying together because they wanted to and not because they were obligated to.”

      That’s an interesting point and seems possible to me. When pondering their decision to leave town after graduation, I realized that with the lack of close family on either side, there was really no one to say “no, you can’t just run off together.” So there wouldn’t have been any particular pressure to marry, and I can see why they might want to prove that bonds will last just fine without being forced.

  4. “I’m bothered by the way Takaya so carefully heteronormatizes (can that be a word?) everyone at the last minute, as though any issues regarding gender and/or sexuality are just part of the dysfunction of the curse and can be cast off as easily as soiled robes the moment it is broken.”

    Melinda, you summed up exactly what bothered me about the series! I actually didn’t connect it to Tohru’s ideals about marriage, maybe because I read the series over such a long period of time that I’d forgotten what she had said in the first volume. But it really bugged me that Akito, Kureno, and Shigure were presented as what appeared to be a gay love triangle, and then when Akito was revealed to be a woman, it was like, “Don’t worry, it’s okay—everyone’s straight!” And the way Ritsu’s cross-dressing was presented bothered me, too. He couldn’t just be a guy who happens to like dressing in women’s clothes—it’s something he does out of insecurity, and he’s apparently “cured” at the end after gaining some confidence and a girlfriend. To me, it gave the impression that homosexuality (or gender issues like Ritsu’s cross-dressing) is something bad (or maybe “dysfunctional” would be a better word, to borrow from your quote) that needs to be cured, along with the curse. I’m sure that’s not what Takaya-sensei was trying to say, but it did seem to have an unconscious message of heteronormativity=good.

    Which kind of makes it sound like I hated the series, which is absolutely not true. Based on the summary, I picked up the first volume expecting a lighthearted romantic comedy, and discovered that it was so much deeper and more complex than that. I loved it for all reasons you guys did, and I think that because I loved it so much, I was all the more bothered by what I saw as a flaw in an otherwise great series.

    Other brief impressions:
    I really liked that Rin could not forgive Akito in the end. I do feel some sympathy for Akito since she was a victim, too, but it doesn’t erase the pain she inflicted on Rin and the others, and it would seem unrealistic to me if everyone was able to forgive her that easily.

    And it’s probably unrealistic for everyone to have a happy ending, but I did so want Momiji to have one, and my heart just breaks for him. Not that I necessarily wanted to see him paired off with a girlfriend, but I wished for some sign of hope that he’d be able to reconcile with his family someday, although that seems unlikely. It seems sad and a little odd to me that just about everyone else got a happy or at least hopeful ending, while his story ends on a melancholy note.

  5. Reading this long piece of writing, not that I mind it is long, reminded me about all the characters that I liked so much. And this series has my favourite couple ever. The relationship between Akito and Shigure is so twisted that is cute. (I have a strange sense of cuteness) These two are my favourite characters and I wish they appeared in the manga more frequently. I would love to see a sequel in which they and Hatori are the main characters.

    On the other hand, Tohru I have never liked. Her goodness, her sweetness all of it seemed somehow artificial to me. I couldn’t shake off the feeling that she is a product of imagination rather then a real person while reading the manga. Her constant sweetness was bugging me, at first I couldn’t put my finger on it, but, later, it struck me that her behaviour reminds me of the children that give sweets to others so that their peers will like them.

    This is, of course, just my personal opinion. I know that there aren’t many people who share it.


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