Alright! Time for my first manga review! I decided to go with the shoujo manga Fruits Basket (1998-2006). It’s the first manga I ever read to completion. I did try reading some others, but I had a hard time getting used to reading from right to left, and to follow everything that was happening on page. So, I actually watched the anime of Fruits Basket first, and because I had a good grasp of the plot, I then read the manga from the start, and stuck to it. The manga is 136 chapters long (in 23 volumes), written by Natsuki Takaya.
What’s it about?
The manga follows Tohru Honda, a sickly sweet high school student, and her involvement with the cursed Sohma family. Through a number of events in the first volume, she goes from living by herself in a tent at the start of the manga to living with the prince of her school, Yuki Sohma, and his cousins Kyo and Shigure. Tohru finds out about the Sohma’s family secret; certain members are possessed by animals of the (Chinese) zodiac, and when hugged by a member of the opposite sex, they turn into their animal. Yuki is the rat, Shigure is the dog, and Kyo is the cat (not actually part of the zodiac, but it’s explained in the manga). Tohru is initially happy just to meet the family members possessed by the zodiac, unknowingly touching the life of each one. However, she eventually sets her heart on breaking the curse, but she has the family head, Akito, to contend with.
I’m going to start with what I think is the strongest part of Fruits Basket… the characters. It is very hard to find a character in this manga who has not been lavished with attention and detail. The manga is very much character-driven; the bulk of it explores their individual stories. And these stories are well-put together; it is obvious that the mangaka has put a lot of effort and time into them. All of the information about the characters creates a rich tapestry that serves as a background to the character interactions that occur in the plot, making them more meaningful than what might appear at first glance. Each character is wonderfully unique, with everything from gothic teenage rebels, plenty of prettier-than-a-girl boys, and even sarcastic down-to-earth characters. There is definitely a character for everyone to like.
Although you can probably already predict the ending of Fruits Basket just by reading its synopsis, the plot isn’t as straightforward as you’d expect, and manages to cover a little bit of everything. Being a shoujo manga, you have plenty of cute romantic scenes, all of which are done very well and are quite sweet and touching. Furthermore, the majority of these scenes feel very natural, and the relationships that result are believable and solid. You also get a lot of funny moments from the characters’ interactions and unique personalities… I loved it whenever I was reading about Shigure’s meddling and teasing, “Black” Haru, or whenever the overwhelming, flamboyant Ayame was present. However, Fruits Basket also manages to deliver an unexpected punch, in the form of psychological and physical abuse that is hurled at the zodiac members by Akito. The inclusion of this abuse makes the manga surprisingly psychologically heavy, and the reader is exposed to references to past abuse as well as explicitly drawn abuse.
Now, I know this is shoujo manga, but the art… it honestly irritates me. The wide-eyed, pointy-nose, unable-to-tell-males-and-females-apart style is certainly not my thing, and this manga really exemplifies this. However, having said that, there is a massive improvement in the art style throughout the manga… not only does it become easier on the eyes, it works out pretty well because it does a great job of illustrating the ‘growing up’ of the characters as the mangaka’s style becomes more refined. Although I don’t like the art, even towards the end, I must admit that the meaningful scenes have a lot of attention given to them throughout the manga, and the characters are styled well (which is really an extension of the attention that each character gets).
Now, remember earlier how I mentioned that a positive thing about this manga was that every character is well-defined and thought-out, having a detail-rich back story? Yeah, I wasn’t kidding when I said every character… While you’d expect the members of the Sohma family to have this going for them, reading a whole section dedicated to the back story of the home-room teacher is certainly unexpected. Bear in mind that in this manga you have a large cast of characters; Tohru and her family, the Sohma family, school friends (and their family), members of the student council (and their family), and partners of previously mentioned characters (and their family), and so on and so forth. Whilst I did enjoy learning about all of the characters, the downfall is that the manga’s pacing is sabotaged; sometimes it feels like it will drag on forever.
The only other real negative that others may find in this manga is the sweet, slightly cheesy ending, especially in terms of the characters pairing off romantically. Whilst I thought it suited the manga perfectly, and bought the plot around full-circle, I’m sure a number of people will roll their eyes and think ‘What did I expect?’.
Anything else I should consider?
Don’t let Tohru’s goody-goody character put you off this manga; there is a lot lurking just beneath the surface that will leave you wanting to know more.
Art: 6/10: I don’t particularly like the art style, but it does improve greatly throughout the manga.
Story: 7/10: Whilst the plot is predictable and drags in a few places, there is a lot that happens to keep the reader interested, and enough twists for a few surprises along the way.
Characters: 9/10: The characters are the strongest part of this manga, each being unique and realistic.
Whilst the overall plot ends in a fairly predictable way, the reader will absolutely love a number of the detail-rich characters, and will want to see what Tohru can do to help them, and if she will succeed in lifting the curse. I recommend this manga to anyone who enjoys romance or shoujo (especially if you don’t want something that’s too lovey-dovey). Furthermore, if you’ve never read manga before and want to start with something easy to follow, and well worth the read, this is it. Overall, I give this manga a 7.5/10.