MJ: Well, hello, Michelle! Can you believe we’re back again in just two weeks? I hope you’ve had time to come up with a new joke.
MICHELLE: That last one I made was so very bad, I’m starting to feel remorse for inflicting terrible dad jokes on people at the start of these columns. So, you get a reprieve, everybody!
MJ: I dunno, I think you may be disappointing more people than you know!
MICHELLE: If you actually miss the terrible jokes, leave a comment and I’ll do better next time. How about that?
MJ: Fair enough! Well, if we’re not telling dad jokes, I suppose we’d better talk about some manga. What have you been reading this week, Michelle?
MICHELLE: I finally took the plunge and read the first two volumes of Fruits Basket Another, the three-volume Fruits Basket sequel by Natsuki Takaya. I was wary about this one, but though it has some significant flaws, I liked it more than I expected to.
In volume one, we’re introduced to Sawa Mitoma, an exceptionally meek girl who spends so much time thinking things like “Why do I always irritate others without even realizing it?” and being perhaps the most passive protagonist I’ve ever seen that she actually becomes irritating to the reader. She has just started her first year at Kaibara High School, and soon encounters “an incredibly sparkly boy” when she drops her student ID. This boy looks a lot like Yuki Sohma and, surprise, it’s his and Machi’s son, Mutsuki. Be prepared for a bunch of this sort of thing, because in short order we learn that Hanajima’s little brother is Sawa’s homeroom teacher and that Makoto Takei (remember that overzealous student council guy?) is a teacher whose obsession with Yuki has now transferred to Mutsuki. (He’s really creepy about it, too, and desperately needs to be fired.)
Sawa next meets Hajime, the son of Kyo and Tohru, who is serving as student council president. Mutsuki is the vice-president, and soon Sawa’s been drafted to be the first-year member. Over time, she meets more Sohmas, including Riku and Sora, the twin children of Hatsuharu and Rin. She gains confidence by being useful to the council and Riku helps her realize that by always keeping her head down, she’s missing opportunities available to her, like the nice girls in class who want to ask her to have lunch with them.
By the end of the second volume, Sawa has become a much more sympathetic character. Not just because she finally starts taking the initiative and actually engaging with life, but because readers can finally see what Takaya-sensei was doing. It turns out that all of Sawa’s issues stem from her abusive mother, who doesn’t come home for long periods of time, and when she does deign to appear, demands gratitude and apologies from the daughter she viciously belittles. No wonder Sawa got warped into thinking everything she does is wrong and that she’s a useless lump who causes trouble for others!
In the end, the not-very-subtle premise of the series seems to be “this generation of the Sohmas all love their parents very much, so this time they’re going to be the ones to save and accept a girl cursed with a shitty home life.” The execution is rather clumsy, however, as the Sohma offspring talk about their parents way too much for normal teenagers. I did like that Ayame’s son, Chizuru, struggles because he’s the normal one in his eccentric family, and that Mutsuki’s love for his parents is partly due to realizing not everyone has it so good. There’s one worrisome panel that suggests young Mutsuki witnessed Akito protecting her and Shigure’s son, Shiki, from Ren wielding a butcher knife! I hope that’s explained in the third and final volume, as well as whether Shiki was responsible for getting Mutsuki to help out Sawa in the first place.
In any case, I liked it enough to finish out the story, and that’s more than I expected.
MJ: Okay, so I’ll admit that the parade of Sohma children just reminds me how irritated I was by the neat pairing-off of everyone that happened at the end of the original series (Ayame, seriously??) so it’s probably getting off on the wrong foot with me from the start. But more than that, I’m struck by your description of the kids talking soooo much about their parents, like some kind of weird collision of “let’s make more money off of Fruits Basket” and “let’s assume that nobody actually read Fruits Basket and we have so much explaining to do!” Or maybe it’s just “let’s make more money off of Fruits Basket, but in only a few volumes, so DUMP THAT INFO.”
Honestly, the only thing that gives me hope is that butcher knife. Akito with a butcher knife is keeping me alive here. I might read it just for that. Do we have to have the creepy teacher-student obsession, though? I let that stuff go with older manga, but seriously. It’s 2019.
Or wait. Is it Ren with the butcher knife? I think I added a comma in my mind to draw my attention. Without the comma, I’m suddenly less interested.
MICHELLE: Yeah, it was Ren with the knife. She didn’t go away just ‘cos the curse was lifted, so she’s still around being horrible, apparently.
And yes, after everyone paired off neatly at the end of the main series, all of the couples seem to have stayed together for the next twenty years, judging from the age of Hatori’s daughter. At least Hanajima didn’t marry Kazuma! The parent talk isn’t as bad as recapping the events of the original series, at least, but there is a little bit of explanation when introducing new Sohmas to Sawa. Like, no one says Momiji’s name or what particular business he’s doing, but we know he’s extremely successful at it, which is kind of nice.
It’s more like someone saying, “I want to be like them,” which is still more than teenagers generally say, in my experience.
MJ: So, okay, you’re enjoying this more than you expected and you’ll likely read to the end. Should I be following your lead, or should I just reread Fruits Basket? I do suddenly have an urge to reread, especially since I recently lent out the first few volumes to one of my teen students!
MICHELLE: I honestly don’t know. I think it might bug you somewhat more than it did me. Maybe wait until volume three comes out and I can give a definitive answer as to whether this series adds anything to the Fruits Basket experience.
What have you been reading this week?
MJ: This week, I dug into the debut volume of For the Kid I Saw in my Dreams, a new series from the creator of Erased, Kei Sanbe. Like Erased, it was originally serialized in Kadokawa Shoten’s Young Ace and is being published in English by Yen Press.
Senri Nakajou had a twin brother, Kazuto, with whom his connection was so strong, they experienced shared vision and literally felt each other’s pain when the other was beaten by their abusive, alcoholic father. As the older of the twins, Kazuto was intensely protective of Senri and would manipulate his way into taking the beating for both of them, to spare them “double the pain.” He’d also insert himself between their parents when they were fighting, to spare their mother from the father’s abuse. On those nights, Senri, hidden in the cupboard under the stairs, would experience Kazuto’s pain as he took their mother’s beating on himself, until one night, when the expected beating never came. Instead, Senri emerged from the cupboard to find both his parents murdered and his twin missing. Based on the two brief visions he shared with his twin afterwards, Senri is certain that his brother was kidnapped and murdered as well. Now, Senri is a high school delinquent, still searching for the man who murdered his brother.
It takes a chapter or two for Sanbe-sensei to introduce Senri’s twin into the story—a choice that pays off, I suppose, by denying us full insight into Senri’s state of mind, which makes his morally-gray existence hit a bit harder in the beginning. The first things we find out about him are that he was discovered sitting in a pool of his parents’ blood as a child and that he now helps run an ongoing con in which his partners steal someone’s money and then Senri gets paid to pretend to recover it. He’s so cold and remorseless, we’d wonder if he might have murdered his parents himself if we weren’t also looking at his terrifying childhood drawings in which he repeatedly depicts the murderer (whose head he eventually lops off with a pair of scissors). Then the twin revelation transforms him from typical anti-hero into a scarier but more sympathetic anti-hero, which works much better, at least for me.
While Senri and Kazuto’s extreme twin connection doesn’t so far reach the supernatural heights of the protagonist’s time-traveling in Erased, there is a bit of a similar feel in this series that I admit I’m hoping might pan out into something just as fantastical, because an average tale of vengeance doesn’t much interest me. That said, there’s a lot going on here, and I am not at all sure where it’s leading. There is quite a bit of mystery introduced in this volume, beyond the identity of the murderer, and there are some supporting characters of whom I’m already very fond, including Senri’s grandparents, who raised him after he was orphaned, and his childhood friend, Enan, whose backstory is nearly as tragic as his own.
MICHELLE: Aside from an aborted attempt to read volume one, I haven’t read any of Erased, which I’m hoping to rectify this year. And this certainly sounds a worthy successor! I’m a little concerned I’ll have trouble getting into it, as I generally don’t love narratives that focus on remorseless anti-heroes, but it seems like the mystery of what happened to his parents will compel me forward. I confess that, even with this brief synopsis, I’m already expecting kind of a Loveless outcome with the older brother.
MJ: Well, maybe I’m overstating the antihero-ness? Senri’s got a lot of compassion in him (he’s the one who reached out to Enan when they were young and accepted her when nobody else would). He’s just very much intent on being the one to kill his brother’s murderer and it’s what drives his whole narrative at this point. He also tends to inflict physical pain on himself, and I don’t know whether it’s an attempt to recreate the pain he can no longer share with his brother or a survivor’s guilt thing, but he’s definitely a sympathetic character.
You’re not the only one thinking Loveless here, though. I’m also absolutely expecting that the brother is alive.
MICHELLE: Alive and potentially culpable! This really does sound pretty neat, though. I do like a good mystery.
MJ: I’m certainly intrigued! So would you like to talk a bit about our mutual read this week?
Ran and the Gray World is a seven-volume seinen series by Aki Irie. In this first volume, we’re introduced to Ran, a headstrong fourth-grader, who lives with her father and older brother, Jin. Ran and Jin’s mother, Shizuka, doesn’t live with them because her presence is required elsewhere to keep a pair of mysterious giant doors from opening. She’s a Grand Sorceress and it soon becomes apparent that Ran, at least, has inherited her mother’s abilities (and impulsivity). I’m assuming Shizuka also gave her the sneakers, currently far too large, which allow her to transform into a teenage version of herself. For his part, Jin has a magic coat that allows him to transform into a wolf, perfect for tracking Ran when she goes off on ill-advised adventures.
Insisting she’s already grown-up, Ran dons the shoes and hitches a ride with strangers to go visit her mother and, inspired by a special lesson from her kindly science teacher, attempts to fly from the school roof. She has some success at the latter and winds up in the garden of a rich guy named Otaro, who doesn’t endear himself to me when he returns to his apartment building naked, exposing himself to a couple of kids in the lobby in the process. Jin rightly pegs him as fishy, and it’s clear by the end of the volume that he’s become obsessed with Ran. Despite declaring he’d never touch a kid—she’s in teenage form for the entirety of their acquaintance—he soon suggests they become more than friends. He’s a creep, and I’m so glad Ran whisks herself off when he embraces her (“I’m outta here!”) but I do worry about what lies ahead.
MJ: I love a lot of things about the premise, and the art is freaking gorgeous, which is what drew me to the book in the first place. I’m also pretty into what’s going on with Ran’s family dynamic, MAGIC (always a winner), and wow, her mom and brother are both absolutely fascinating characters with so much going on. But I am super creeped out by Otaro and worried about what’s going to happen there. It’s funny as someone from the Big generation, I suppose, that I’m so disturbed by a story in which a young girl is inhabiting a much older body. But at least in Big (and I suppose also in something like 13 Going On 30), the young character is at least at an age where they are already experiencing sexual attraction and an interest in romance, so it somehow didn’t feel quite so incredibly wrong as this. So I’m worried about where this story is going to take Ran in that regard, but I’m trying to be optimistic, I guess?
MICHELLE: Yeah. At the very least, she’s able to extricate herself from these kinds of situations when they arise, but I can’t say I have any faith that she’s going to get any more savvy any time soon.
Jin is hands-down my favorite character in the series. He’s like a Doumeki type or something. Knows that magic exists, but sensible. Looks dour, but actually kind. And so, I side with him where Shizuka is concerned, finding her to be profligate with her magic when she comes to their house. I mean, it looked like people genuinely had car accidents when she rained giant desserts down upon the town!
MJ: You have hit the nail on the head with Jin as the Doumeki type! And that explains why I like him so much, too. I always identify with the Watanuki characters, but I adore and crave a Doumeki for reasons that are probably obvious. Kind of ironic, isn’t it, that the loose canon character here shares her name with him. Shizuka is a terrifying mess and her power lets her get away with it, so I feel that we can count on her to provide plenty of conflict here. We don’t need the creepy dude!
MICHELLE: Definitely not. Perhaps she’ll do us all a favor and turn him into a turnip.
MJ: I could get behind that!
Despite my reservations about Otaro and where that storyline might lead, I am probably more excited and intrigued about this series than anything else we’ve discussed here today. It’s whimsical, original, filled with mysterious potential (what’s behind those doors??), and I can’t overstate how beautifully drawn it is. With the artwork alone, I’m besotted.
MICHELLE: I failed to say this the first time you mentioned the art, but I absolutely agree. There’s a certain retro, Moto Hagio-ish quality to it that’s very appealing.
MJ: Yes, it’s sort of Heart of Thomas meets Bride of the Water God, art wise—detailed and ornate, but also flowing, always in motion, like Ran’s personality. I’m definitely looking forward to more!
MJ is running another Off the Shelf giveaway! Comment to this post or on Twitter with the answer to the question, “Are you a Doumeki or a Watanuki?” and enter to win volume one of Ran and the Gray World! Continental US only, we’re so sorry!