The manga which kick-started it all off – it has a helluva lot to answer for.
Ah, back in the day when it actually took weeks for me to read a manga with over a hundred chapters… Admittedly that was partially down to an astoundingly dodgy internet connection that took forever to load up the next page and full time education, but hey. It was my first attempt at reading manga, and I in fact read the first chapter backwards (left to right, and not vice-versa) until I figured out that the narrative structure made a bit more sense the other way around. So when I started this blog, it was a natural choice as a review – and bloody hell, it was clumsy.
Honda Tohru has not been having a great couple of years. After her mother died in an accident the previous year, she had been living with her grandfather. Until his house needed re-modelling. Not wanting to trouble him, she said that she would stay with a friend whilst he went off to another relative. Trouble is, the ever optimistic and hardy Tohru knew none of her friends had the space – so she decided to live in a tent. In the woods. However, the woods belong to the Sohma family and after a landslide buries her tent, she ends up as the live-on housekeeper to her “prince-like” classmate Sohma Yuki, his hot-headed cousin Kyo and their romance novelist uncle Shigure. So far, so reverse-harem right? Throw in a big dark mystic Sohma family secret and a whole menagerie of their attractive and screwed-up relatives and you have a modern classic of the shoujo genre.
One of the interesting things to note is that the artwork matures as the characters do. Initially, the proportions are a bit a dodgy and all of the high school characters look a good two or three younger, and everything’s generally a bit pointy and heavily-inked. But, as I mentioned before the series was over a hundred chapters and the artwork develops into a very mature, understated and expressive thing that uses more realistic proportions, thinner lines and curves.
So far so technical, now onto the actual plot. Something I was struck by as I was re-reading it was that Fruits Basket for all its mystical, zodiac elements is essentially very domestic and is a family drama at its core. It’s about family (surrogate or blood-related) dynamics, and relationships and how humans relate to one another as much as anything else. To that end there are a helluva lot of back stories. And I mean, a helluva lot of back stories. Characters who don’t have a traumatic back story, or emotional trauma, or hang-up are very much in the minority – something you really notice as quite often this character background gets a chapter or two dedicated to it. And whilst I can’t think of a single characters’ story which I would drop/isn’t necessary in one way or another, damn it slows down the pacing. However, this might be a by-product of the fact that I re-read it in 48 hours – but there are pacing issues with chapters which are just plain unnecessary to the plot. However something that’s very much in Fruit Basket’s favour is that it balances out its comedy with angst, and has very good three-dimensional characterisation and the resolution – which might have seemed a bit neat – is questioned by at least one of the characters.
I reckon with Fruits Basket, I had a very good spring board into the weird and wonderful world of manga and it will always have a very special place in my heart. Even if the last two pages are so saccharine I want to vomit.
N.B: I know I complained about all the back stories, but special mentions to the mini-arc about Tohru’s parents and their relationship which is so beautiful and funny. Even though you know how it’s all going to end, you’re still with them all the way.