Fruits Basket volume 1
by Natsuki Takaya
Translated by Alethea & Athena Nibley
English adaptation by Kelly Sue DeConnick & Jake Forbes
BW, 216 pgs
$9.99 US / Higher in Canada
Natsuki Takaya’s Fruits Basket is a manga about a family, a very large, important, and mysterious family, which also happens to be extremely dysfunctional. The family in question is the Sohma family, a family that is trying to hide a terrible secret. As it turns out, this secret is really a curse. The curse, which affects only certain members of the Sohma family, was caused by vengeful spirits of the Chinese zodiac. This curse causes the possessed to turn into an animal of the Chinese zodiac when they are hugged by a member of the opposite sex (or if they become too weak). One immediate result of the curse is to split the Sohma family into the in-group (family members that know about the curse) and the out-group (family members who don’t have a clue). Accordingly, members of the family who are cursed are sequestered from the outside world as much as possible, which is another source of friction between family members.
As the Sohma family soon finds out, no secret can stay buried forever. Enter Tohru Honda, a cheerful, optimistic and kind student. Beneath this cheerful façade is a sadness that stems from the loss of her mom in a recent accident. This has left Tohru to live alone in a tent, out in the middle of the woods. Unbeknownst to Tohru, her camp site is located on Sohma property, which is something she will soon find out. And it is a fact that will soon change her life, as she is invited to stay at the Sohma residence (an “outside” residence, which is not located on the grounds of the main estate).
This outside residence is home to three members of the Sohma family. Shigure Sohma is the unofficial “head” of this residence (but not the head of the family). Shigure is an extremely relaxed and easy going person, who also happens to be a bit of a pervert. He also tends to be the easiest of the three to approach and talk to, except in matters that concern himself, in which he tends to be extremely aloof. Next up is Yuki Sohma, a quiet, serious and polite individual. He also happens to be a classmate of Tohru’s; he even has the nickname of “prince charming” at school, as well as his own fan club. Despite his popularity, Yuki tends to keep people at a distance, thus preventing them from getting to know him better. Kyo Sohma is the polar opposite of Yuki. In fact, the two can’t stand one another, and fight when given the opportunity. Kyo is rude and quick to anger, as well as being socially awkward, especially when it comes to the opposite sex. Kyo is also a fellow classmate of Tohru’s.
Unfortunately, Shigure, Yuki, and Kyo are all possessed by zodiac spirits. Naturally, Tohru eventually stumbles across their secret. However, Tohru is perfectly willing to accept their curse, as she is beginning to see them as family. Also, Akito, the mysterious head of the Sohma family, allows Tohru to keep her memories of the curse. However, manga-ka Takaya hints there may be an ulterior motive for allowing this to happen.
In the introduction of Fruits Basket, Tokyopop makes an appropriate claim that it is not an ordinary manga that can fit into ordinary categories. To me, Fruits Basket, seems to be a mixture of Ranma ½ and Fushigi Yugi, as shades of both series can be seen.
So, what makes this series the number one manga in North America? I would argue it is its strong cast of characters that make it so popular. This series has a fair sized cast of characters, all of which have depth to them. And as the story progresses, more of the characters’ history and feelings are revealed. Their various histories and feelings help to form an intricate web of relationships, which not only helps to connect the characters, but also helps to add layers to the story.
Supporting the strong cast of characters is excellent artwork. Fruits Basket contains character designs that are nicely varied and detailed; with facial expressions that convey a sense of emotion. I also like how members of the Sohma family resemble each other, which is a nice touch that helps to reinforce the fact they are a family. One downside I discovered was the artwork can get crowded within some of the panels; a side effect of having such a large cast of characters. However, this is a minor complaint, which really doesn’t detract from the flow of the story.
Overall, Fruits Basket is a nice blend of action, romance, and comedy, as well as having an interesting mystery that is being revealed at a nice pace. Throw in great artwork and an interesting and likeable cast of characters, and it’s no wonder why Fruits Basket is number one. (Ikiria Era)