Tohru Honda is a young orphan girl who is still recovering from the death of her mother. She soon comes into contact with some mysterious males: Kyo, Yuki and Shigure Sohma. She soon comes to learn that they are members of the reputable Sohma family who, with nine other members of their family, are possessed by the animals of the Chinese Zodiac. As a result, they are cursed to involuntarily turn into animal forms when weak, stressed, or embraced by anyone of the opposite sex that is not a member of their family. Upon accidentally learning their deeply-guarded secret, Tohru is determined to help her new friends find a cure for their affliction.
Fruits Basket is a shoujo manga series written and illustrated by Natsuki Takaya. It was serialised back in 1998 by Japanese magazine Hana to Yume (Flowers and Dreams) and ran until 2006. It proved to be a popular read, as the series was also adapted into a 26-episode anime series.
The Fruits Basket story mainly revolves around three main character: Tohru, Kyo and Yuki. For the most part it focuses on their normal, everyday life (or what passes for normal in the Sohma household). As well as this, the reader begins to see that everyone is fighting with their own demons and the unhappiness that the curse is inflicting on them and trying to find their own happiness within that turmoil.
I picked up Fruits Basket a few years after its completion. It had been on my radar for quite a while and, because of its popularity (which was even evident over here in Europe), I felt that it was important that I give it a read.
The first thing I became aware of with this manga is the pace – namely that there is none. Despite having so many characters with varying personalities and their own plot lines, sometimes absolutely nothing of note would happen. I’d just be giving up on it when suddenly everything would happen at once. Something important, shocking or touching would happen that would completely hook me again. Before long, I would be trundling along at a tedious pace waiting for the next exciting development to spring out of nowhere. At times, it would leave me with a feeling that this manga wasn’t worth my time, but in other moments I would think of how this stop-and-go sensation actually helped create a realistic mood and the idea that trying to live a ‘normal’ life whilst having a curse hanging over your head has its risks.
Admittedly, this does make the story more interesting in the long run. It’s almost cruel. The ‘slow’ bits mean that the reader really gets to know the plethora of characters Takaya has introduced (not just Tohru and the Sohma’s, but additional supporting characters which are also given that deeper level), and then a twist would happen to someone that makes the reader want to know what happens after. It’s certainly full of surprises, and each of them reveals yet another facet to a cast of complicated characters. I’m impressed that all of them maintain this level of detail right up until the end. It’s on a level that I rarely see.
The one ‘twist’ I would question was one towards the end that involves that main antagonist. There is a certain event involving the manipulative head of the Sohma household, Akito, that suddenly flips everything around and propels the storyline directly to its denouement. It really stood out for because it went against the personality of quite a few characters, and I found it hard to accept.
The romances in Fruits Basket were equally complicated, often made up of emotional obstacles, torment, with the occasional small, beautiful moment (cue Kyo hugging Tohru despite knowing what it would do to him). It’s an integral part of the storyline, and entertaining as well. The emotional investment I had in some of the relationships developing here was one of the main reasons that I felt I just had to keep reading.
Another thing that really stood out for me here was that all the characters seemed to have a very solid backstory. Not only were they intricate, and ultimately explained their personalities, but they slowly linked together the history of the Sohmas and how they were involved on Tohru’s life before any of them were really aware of it. To top it all off, I could actually believe it. Some characters were meant to be shallow, some ruthless, some cowardly, but that’s what made them all stand out from one another. Having a cast of tortured but surprisingly upbeat Mary Sue’s would have been an absolute disaster.
I can’t really complain about the artwork, either. The style os very fitting for this type of manga and adds to the overall experience. True, many of the male characters (to which there are more than a few) all look quite feminine in their features and style, but this is what gives Fruits Basket its romantic, non-threatening undertones. It’s hard to describe to someone who hasn’t read this manga, but the flowing hair and soft eyes bring a lot of things to the storyline.
Many things can be said about Fruits Basket, but no one can argue that it really is one of those quintessential shoujo mangas: fun, loveable, with some really poignant moments. Even if this really isn’t your thing, it should still merit a look from any manga enthusiast worth their salt.