What on Infinite Earths is: Fruits Basket?
This month is JRPG (Japanese Roleplaying Game) July! What have video games got to do with comics? The art style and story direction of western comics has had a very distinct influence over video game creators and it is much the same in Japan, with entire genres of video game springing up in reflection of sub-genres of Manga. Animation is tied to the comics industry in Japan in a way that would seem unusual to the more independent American studios. So to celebrate Japan’s artistic contributions “What on Infinite Earths” will be covering some of the very best comics (also known as Manga) that Japan has ever created!
Up front, here is a little disclaimer, all of the Manga that I am reviewing have been translated into English. My Japanese is really not up to the task of reading them in the original language. Most of the time this doesn’t really mean much, you may lose some wordplay and context clues about elements of the story but sometimes the translators, or rather the companies that hire the translators, decide to make attempts to “adjust” certain story elements or references to suit their western audience. To my knowledge, none of the Manga that I am reviewing has been altered but… you never know.
Fruits Basket is part of the massive, amorphous, young adult genre blob that is “girl’s manga.” It has dramatic elements, comedy, romance, tragedy and a thread of the supernatural binding it all together. It follows orphaned schoolgirl Tohru Honda as she tries to get on with her regular life while living alone and paying her own way. She becomes embroiled in the drama of a wealthy family who take her in after discovering her living in a tent on their land. The magical twist to the story is the curse that has been set upon this family for as long as they can remember, certain members of the Sohma family transform into animals if they are embraced by a member of the opposite sex. The animals that they become are tied to the animals of the Chinese zodiac and while certain character traits carry over from mythology there is also a bizarre degree of acting out the characteristics expected of the mythical creatures too. For instance, the character who becomes a cat, a creature that is not a member of the official Zodiac due to being tricked by the rat, spends a great deal of his time and energy attacking the family member who becomes a rat out of a misguided sense of vengeance and the hope of one day assuming a proper role within the family. This is all made massively worse by the head of the Sohma family, the androgynous Akito, who has a secrets all of their own. Expanding the cast further on top of the huge family of transforming animal-people are Tohru’s friends, negligent relatives and classmates.
Fruits Basket is a massive undertaking for people that are new to Manga. Like many of the popular series in seems to go on and on. The sheer length of it is made even more difficult to manage by the ponderous pace of the whole endeavour. However, given the size of the story being told and the way that the gentle pacing incrementally draws the reader further and further into the world it is hard to begrudge the many hours that you will sink into it.