Fruits Basket another, Vol. 1

By Natsuki Takaya. Released in Japan by Hakusensha, serialization ongoing in the magazine Bessatsu Hana to Yume. Released in North America by Yen Press. Translated by Alethea and Athena Nibley.

There are some stories that cry out for sequels, leaving loose ends and plotlines that would easily carry a new series forward with exciting, fresh ideas. Then there are series that ended nearly perfectly, with pretty much everything resolved, and the idea of a sequel fills you with foreboding and a sense that it’s going to ruin the franchise. Such a series, I’m afraid, it’s Fruits Basket another, the next-generation sequel to one of the most beloved manga of all time. Note I said next-gen: apart from one or two minor characters in small roles (Hanajima’s brother is a teacher, for example), don’t expect any of the original cast in this first volume. Instead we see the sons and daughters of Sohma, who are blissfully not cursed, happy and content, and living the good life at the same high school their parents went to. There’s even a Sohma fan club run by the daughter of the Yuki fan club president. Into this lovely arrangement comes Sawa, our heroine.

The late, lamented Sayonara, Zetsubou-sensei introduced a girl named Ai Kaga, who thinks everything that she does is a bother to someone else and makes her feel tremendous guilt. It’s meant to be a parody. That said, if you took Ai and made her 100% serious, you’d come close to Sawa in this first volume. Sawa lives alone with her mother, whose absence is hinted to veer towards actual neglect. She suffers from amazingly low self-esteem, not helped by various childhood incidents that have only reinforced it. Now she’s in high school, but she’s late her first day because her landlord yelled at her for something that’s her mother’s fault. If Tohru was a ray of sunshine and hope into everyone’s lives, then Sawa is a black cloud floating overhead. Fortunately, she soon runs into Mutsuki and Hajime Sohma, the sons of Yuki and Kyo respectively. Soon she’s blackmailed into being on the Student Council and hanging out with more and more Sohmas, incurring the wrath of the girls of the school even as she wonders “why her?”.

The biggest question I have with this series is “why was it written?”. No, seriously. What new story needed to be told here beyond “oh look, Sohma kids!”? If Fruits Basket sometimes felt a bit like “every new Sohma gets to reveal their backstory and angst before being healed by the power of Tohru”, this is meant to be the exact opposite – despite the occasional stab at Mutsuki and Hajime having a “rivalry”, the fact is that the next-gen Sohmas are happy and content. Which is good, y’know, because we don’t exactly want to Fruits Basket main characters to be horrible parents, but it’s also fairly boring. As for Sawa, you can tell that Takaya is trying not to simply write Tohru Mk. 2, but her self-hatred really is through the roof – she’s not plucky like Tohru (or, for that matter, Sakuya and Liselotte) and so she simply grates.

There is a hint in the cliffhanger ending that we may see a Sohma who is not happy and content (Shigure and Akito’s kid – gosh, what a surprise), but for the most part the first volume of Fruits Basket another commits the cardinal sin of being deadly boring. And while normally I wouldn’t be pissed off about that sort of thing, the fact that it’s a sequel to one of my favorite shoujo series AND it’s also put Liselotte & Witch’s Forest (which I’d rather be reading) on hiatus just makes me more annoyed. If you loved the original Fruits Basket, preserve your memories and give this half-baked sequel a miss.

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.

Fruits Basket Collector’s Edition, Vol. 11

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.

This is the penultimate omnibus of Fruits Basket, and has most of the things you’d expect to see. Kyo finishes telling Tohru about his past with her mother, and because he hates himself, is really upset that Tohru doesn’t get mad about it. Akito is also dealing with self-hatred, and it’s to Takaya’s credit that the resolution to Akito and Tohru’s talk is not being stabbed with a knife (though admittedly, the crumbling cliff feels VERY deus ex machina, and I could do without the ‘kissing the concussed girl’ too). And of course the curse breaks for everyone, which allows those in couples to hug their loved ones, or those who aren’t in couples to wander the streets alone in tears because I dunno, Takaya is just mean. In any case, it’s Fruits Basket. All the feels are contained within.

Ren has the cover but doesn’t feature in the book personally. Her presence is felt throughout Akito and Tohru’s confrontation, though. Tohru realizes what the reader has, which is that Akito is in many ways similar to the other Sohmas, i.e. she’s dealing with emotional trauma from parental abuse. This doesn’t excuse what she put everyone through, but it does help Tohru to understand why her declaration of “I’m going to break the curse” meant, to Akito, “I’m going to destroy your life”. Tohru is still reeling from Kyo’s “disillusionment”, but more power to her for talking Akito down, and helping her to understand that the paralyzing fear of being rejected is what love is all about. And then there’s that cliff fall, which is *so* ridiculous that Shigure has to ask Akito if Tohru was pushed.

The remainder of the volume has Tohru in the hospital, and Kyo undergoing a huge torrent of abuse because, thanks to Yuki, everyone knows what he said to Tohru right before the accident. This does allow Kyo to attempt to move on from his past, which means confronting his birth father, who is an amazingly awful monster, but who Kyo also now sees as sad and small. It’s one of the better scenes in the book, and shows off that, despite what the rest of the cast has been screaming at him, Kyo has matured. Of course, the best scenes in the book are those where the curse breaks, and we see the aftermath from everyone’s eyes. Kyo and Tohru reuniting and declaring their love for each other is wonderful, but it’s easily topped by realizing that Kyo, despite being hugged, isn’t transforming, and his ripping off his bracelet. Tohru’s face as he does this may be the best panel in all of Fruits Basket.

Things aren’t perfect. Aside from the deus cliff machina, Takaya’s side pairings aren’t always developed as they should be, and she relies on the audience connecting dots that she hasn’t actually put into the manga itself. Thus while I like the basic idea of Kureno and Uotani, there’s no real feeling or emotion behind their getting together. (I do agree with his thoughts that he needs to be far away from Akito). Yuki and Machi fares a little better, and certainly she tried to develop it in the later books, but it still feels rushed. I did like the idea of Yuki calling her out to explain the curse, only to have to break right as she arrives. And now we have only one volume left to go, and given there’s only one regular book left to put in it, I expect there should be some extra content included as well. What will it be? Find out next month. In the meantime, still one of the top shoujo manga, despite its faults.