Fruits Basket Collector’s Edition, Vol. 12

By Natsuki Takaya. Released in Japan by Hakusensha, serialized in the magazine Hana to Yume. Released in North America by Yen Press. Translated by Sheldon Drzka.

At last we come to the end of one of the most influential manga series out there, at least in North America. Fruits Basket brought so many new people into the fandom, and also made so many more want to create. It was almost like lightning in a bottle – Takaya’s two series after this are good but did not have nearly the same amount of popularity, and the less said about Fruits Basket Another the better. But Fruits Basket itself is compulsively re-readable, incredibly emotional, and thoroughly satisfying, even if it is also flawed, as this last volume so amply shows. The curse is now broken, but the aftermath still needs to be dealt with, and nothing is going to be the same again.

My favorite moments in the book were the things that didn’t quite happen, even though they should have in order to provide closure. Akito attempts to apologize to the rest of the zodiac, but can’t quite pull off the words, instead giving what amount to exit interviews to most everyone as she deals with her tortured feelings for Shigure, who is at last willing to reciprocate them, since they’re entirely on his own terms now. The Shigure/Akito relationship is easily the most problematic of the series, and trust me that’s saying something. It leaves me with a vague sense of emotional dissatisfaction, even as it makes the most sense in story terms. Takaya even says she felt a bit uncomfortable with it. Meanwhile, Rin is looking at everyone else smiling and moving on and wondering why she’s still filled with rage and hatred. Healing is something that happens different ways for everyone, and it doesn’t have to happen overnight, especially when you’ve been abused as much as Rin has. And the Sohma’s head maid is offered a chance to help Akito forge a new path with the Sohma Family… and walks away from it, unable to let go of the past, in one of the starkest and best moments in the volume.

As for the main cast, everyone gets a brief few pages to show how they’ve changed and grown, and also to show that almost everyone is now romantically paired. You have to feel bad for Momiji and Kagura – if you’re going to pair everyone up in the most cliched way possible, why not simply go all the way? In general, the more attention paid to the couple during the manga itself, the better the scene – Kyo and Tohru get the bulk of the pages, obviously. Some pairings are a bit last minute hookup, like Hatori and Mayu. And some pairings feel like a gag taken one step too far, like Kazuma and Hanajima, where you get the sense that Takaya simply finds the idea of this too funny to not go through with, even though it doesn’t really work. It’s also nice to see Shigure’s editor happy at last, but again, this reads like connecting the dots. Fruits Basket works best when the romance is focused on Kyo and Tohru.

The second half of the omnibus, as predicted, was a sort of combination of various parts of the two fanbooks, showing off favorite scenes/pairings/characters along with some discussion of clothing and the like. There’s also an interview with Takaya that was done recently, where she looks back at the series. I don’t think the extra content is worth buying in and of itself. But if you want to upgrade your old Tokyopop paperbacks, and don’t mind that the series has a noticeably different translation (“you did your best”, FYI) , you should absolutely get this, and relive a magical shoujo classic. Also, the second to last chapter still makes me cry every single time.

Konosuba: God’s Blessing on This Wonderful World!: Love, Witches & Other Delusions

By Natsume Akatsuki and Kurone Mishima. Released in Japan as “Kono Subarashii Sekai ni Shukufuku o!: Chūnibyō demo Majo ga Shitai!” by Kadokawa Sneaker Bunko. Released in North America by Yen On. Translated by Kevin Steinbach.

First of all, I would like to state, for the record, that it was Yen On’s decision not to use an oxford comma in the subtitle. I am merely replicating their choice. And if you think that’s a somewhat silly way to start a review, then you’re clearly not the right audience for KonoSuba, whose second light novel is content to replicate the choices of its first, showing that it is quite happy to have its dysfunctional cast behave badly in hilarious ways. Kazuma whines and moans (and tries to get laid with a succubus, which works about how you’d expect); Aqua is the brattiest goddess you’ll ever see (indeed, the book begins with a much nicer example); Megumin cares about explosions and nothing else, and Darkness’ masochism is in full force. There’s a hint the next book will advance what passes for a plot, but in the meantime, enjoy the antics.

The book starts off on the right foot – indeed, it may be my favorite part – with a story about a foolish young man, seeing Kazuma surrounded by hot girls and not much else, offering to switch parties with him for the day. Kazuma, who is no fool, accepts, and you’d think we’d stick with other guy and watch the fallout. But no, instead we follow Kazuma and see his normal day with a normal party. He uses his adventuring powers wisely, helps save the day, gains the respect of his teammates – it’s peaceful, heartwarming, and would no doubt be incredibly dull it it lasted any longer than it does. We then return and see the aftermath of Dust’s day with Aqua, Megumin, and Darkness… and yup, he’s begging to switch back. Predictable, but still hilarious.

Even when the book takes a turn for the slightly serious, there’s still gags lurking in the background. That’s a good thing, to be honest – this really isn’t a series you want to see depth and feeling in. Taking it too seriously would ruin the point. So when we get the climax with everyone fighting against the giant spider mecha with the bomb inside it, it’s undercut by the creator’s hilariously mopey diary about the building of the thing. There’s even some mild romance in this, though as ever I see the group as more of a family than anything else. When Kazuma requests a “dream visit” from a succubus, he’s clearly expecting Darkness based on his reactions – we’ve heard before that were it not for her masochism, she’s exactly his type – and Darkness’ atypical reactions seem to suggest she’s far more open to this than you’d expect a comedic harem girl to be. Of course, nothing comes of it…

The book ends on a cliffhanger, and the afterword is already announcing side-stories to be released (which have not, as of yet, been licensed here, I add for clarification). Clearly it was a runaway success in Japan. You can see why. It’s mocking a very popular Japanese light novel genre, and doing it well.

Toppu GP, Vol. 1

By Kosuke Fujishima. Released in Japan by Kodansha, serialization ongoing in the magazine Afternoon. Released in North America by Kodansha Comics.

It is somewhat mindboggling that we did not arrive at this point a good 35 years ago. No one has put more effort into writing motorbikes into series that did not necessarily need a lot of motorbike attention as Kosuke Fujishima has. You’re Under Arrest was a buddy cop manga, but right from the start it was clear that both girls were about driving fast, and making their cars and bikes as fast as possible. Oh My Goddess! had goddesses, demons, heaven, hell, and so many motocross races it wasn’t even funny, to the point where entire volumes barely focused on anything but racing. Even minor series such as Paradise Residence or EX-Driver have found a way to show off bikes and souped-up engines. Yet somehow, Fujishima has never written a pure, modern-day racing manga until now. Can we blame Initial D?

For the most part, it’s been worth the wait. You can argue all you want that Fujishima sometimes skimps on characterization, but there’s no doubt the man knows how to write a race. The racing here is sort of like the dancing in Welcome to the Ballroom – exciting, understandable, fast, and it makes you want to find out more about it yourself. The hero, as you might guess from the title, is Toppu, a young kid who was just interested in building Gundam models and not much else. But he has two big things going for him to get him into the world of Grand Prix racing: a) an ability to analyze how to best race by merely watching others, and b) a massive crush on the girl next door, Myne, who’s a very talented GP rider and is convinced that Toppu could be even better. And, after finally getting on a bike to try it, he discovers a love of racing himself.

As you might guess from Toppu’s grumpy mug on the cover of this volume, he’s not exactly filled with the joy of everyday living. Myne makes up for that, being such a force of pure cuteness and verve that I had to check to make sure this wasn’t being written by Mitsuru Adachi. (Actually, like Adachi, I wonder if Myne might end up being a posthumous character as this goes on – Toppu’s “I hope you’re watching this” to the skies in the starting flashforward is ambiguous – but I suspect Fujishima is not the sort to kill off his cast quite like that.) She gets some development as well – when two brothers bend the rules in their favor to try to topple Toppu (say that three times fast), she goes after them in the next race out of pure vengeance – which she realizes, thankfully, pulling back and reminding herself of the joy of racing.

And really, that’s why you want to read this, more than the plot or characters. It is a giant love letter to motorbikes, their care and maintenance, and the way that they move around a track. I’m not sure when the next volume will be out – we’re already caught up with Japan – but I can’t wait for more.