Here is the last of my “quick” reviews for this week! Please enjoy it!
Fruits Basket, Vol. 22
By Natsuki Takaya
Published by Tokyopop
With the level of drama that volume 21 of Fruits Basket provided, it was hard to imagine that the next volume could actually be stronger, but it is. Still barred from visiting Tohru in the hospital, Kyo decides to face down his own demons by visiting his father who rejected him so many years ago. It is a painful meeting and provides nothing even close to reconciliation, but Kyo is at least able to declare his determination to live regardless of carrying the cat’s curse. Meanwhile, Akito makes the decision to end the curse entirely, resulting in emotional scenes for everyone and Akito most of all.
This is an incredibly lovely volume with everyone’s hearts laid bare and by the end, when the true, heartbreaking story of the curse is being revealed (“…that the Cat’s wish was finally granted”), I had tears in my eyes. What’s especially skillful about Natsuki Takaya’s storytelling in this series is that she balances the romance and the supernatural story just right, ensuring that the reader is equally interested in the outcome of both, so that when the story really finds its conclusion it is satisfying on more than one level. Not only that, she manages to make each of the character’s personal arcs intensely compelling, even those of minor characters, so with all of these achieving their dramatic climax at once, the effect is really quite stunning. It’s impressive too that after all this time, the character whose story here is probably the most moving is Akito’s. “I don’t have to be ‘special’ anymore. I don’t have to be ‘God’ anymore,” she says just before her final goodbye, filled with both terror and relief. “I can just be… me. Right?”
The art, which I’ve always felt was one of the weakest points of the series, plays a significant role in the effectiveness of this volume with so much emotion to be expressed, and it’s all done quite beautifully. Many of the strongest moments are purely visual, such as Kyo tearing off his bracelet as he realizes he’s been freed. And though the character designs have never been anything really special, I can’t deny that just the sight of the little cat in the ancient tale is so cute and heartbreaking that it brought me to tears really all on its own.
Takaya’s only truly unfortunate habit is the way she lays out text, and while in the previous volume I felt that it actually helped slow things down to reveal more clearly the story’s deeper layers, in this volume it has returned to its usual role of messing with the pacing and making it difficult to tell what is dialogue and what is just thought. This is a small complaint in the scope of everything that is outstanding about this series, but there are moments in which it is quite significant.
With just one volume remaining, it’s hard not to feel sad about this series finally winding down. It’s such a treat to read a series with so many compelling characters and such consistently strong storytelling, and I will miss it very much.
Danielle Leigh saysApril 2, 2009 at 7:27 am
*sniff* Damn. I think my heart hurts now….
Having done the scanlation thing on this series I’ve been hoarding volumes 19+ to have a great big sob-a-thon once the whole series is released (Just one volume left to go!)
Melinda Beasi saysApril 2, 2009 at 8:39 am
It will be a sob-a-thon indeed! *heart*
Michelle Smith saysApril 2, 2009 at 9:42 am
Heh. I’ve been doing the same with 21+. I followed it via translations and summaries, though, so at least the images will be new to me.
Melinda Beasi saysApril 2, 2009 at 9:48 am
You will die from the very very cute cat! :D
Michelle Smith saysApril 2, 2009 at 9:57 am
Yeah, I must admit the prospect of the kitteh was tempting me to go ahead and read vols. 21 and 22 now. :)
Michelle Smith saysApril 2, 2009 at 9:40 am
Just your review has made me a bit teary, particularly Akito’s quote. It’s like in Battlestar Galactica: the arc of one of the most reviled characters was what I loved best about the finale.
Melinda Beasi saysApril 2, 2009 at 9:47 am
Akito’s journey is so poignant and well-written. I don’t know if you remember a tweet that I deleted (it was spoilery, and I felt weird having it out as my facebook status, etc.), but it was about how a girl at the con last weekend said (in the panel about villains) that Akito was cruel because she was forced to live as male. Which was not only shockingly inaccurate, of course, but frankly insulting both to the mangaka and the character I thought. That character is so carefully and brilliantly written, to reduce it to that just really… well, I had a hard time controlling myself and ended up sort of muttering angrily in the corner while making unfortunate tweets.
Michelle Smith saysApril 2, 2009 at 9:52 am
You’d removed that tweet before I saw it. But wow, oversimplification much?
Melinda Beasi saysApril 2, 2009 at 9:54 am
She is also the person whose points throughout the panel were all in support of her very first statement, which was that manga was stupid (which led one of the panelists to make the unfortunate comment about manga just being “not very deep”). It was a rough panel for me.
Ysabet saysApril 2, 2009 at 10:27 am
That girl’s theory about Akito made me incredibly twitchy, even just hearing about it secondhand. UGH. I have profound, profound issues with Akito (due partly to other character bias), but I think she’s beautifully developed, and the fact that Takaya made me care about her quite a bit—albeit in a very odd way—is one of the things that impresses me most about Fruits Basket overall.
Also, why would people who think like that go to cons? (I assume it was an anime con, not a more generalized one?) If they’re into anime, surely they must have noticed that the manga versions are almost always stronger stories…
Melinda Beasi saysApril 2, 2009 at 11:45 am
It actually *was* a pretty generalized con (sci-fi/fantasy/anime/gaming) and it’s small and almost all college students, so I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised? Though I have to say overall I was disappointed with the level of discussion coming from the audience in panels, which was lower than what I’d expected at such a respected school. Still, I think most people there were sci-fi and fantasy fans, and not necessarily interested in or knowledgeable about anime/manga. This was definitely the impression one would get from the panels and chosen guests, certainly. What was awesome about the con was its focus on female creators and fans (Smith is an all-girls college), but it sorely needed a couple of panels on female mangaka and manga for girls and women. :) They had a “gender bending” panel that would have been a great place to talk about Fruits Basket, but by then I knew better than to bring it up.
Heh, I think there’s no way to avoid having profound issues with Akito. She’s an incredibly cruel person, at least for most of the series. But her character is so… well *earned*. She was made cruel, maybe even purposefully by those who raised her. After all, giving a human the power of a god has never worked out well, and that goes double when the god is a frustrated, jealous child. Her original character *and* her slow transformation are both written so well (though I think Takaya glosses over the gender issue in the end), to make a statement like that girl did… well, it was painful to hear.
Ysabet saysApril 2, 2009 at 2:06 pm
Ah, that demographic makes it less confusing, although no less frustrating.
One of my friends was fairly conflicted about Akito because Akito was one of her two favorite characters, and then Rin was (IIRC) her third favorite. (I know a lot of people who love Akito very intensely, which also helped humanize her for me despite how utterly angry I was with her for most of the series.) Rin being by far my favorite kept me from having any such conflicted loyalties. But Akito is excruciatingly human and believable by the end, and it was incredibly powerful to watch her develop.