Reviews: Fruits Basket
Sweet and original, but ultimately a failure
Fruits Basket is one of the most popular shoujo series in both its manga and animated form and has zealous defenders ready to tear apart its detractors. I know because a friend of mine posted a critical review of it and he got hate mail over it for months. Regardless, I will follow in his footsteps and explain why this series is overrated. The main reason why Fruits Basket is so beloved, I think (BTW, I have friends who like it so I sympathize with both points of view), is because of its original premise. Not the hugging thing, but the emphasis on emotional problems and human companionship over generic romance (which is what most Shoujo revolves around). From what I've read, Tooru genuinely cares about the Souma boys, and although they're all very pretty 'cause it's a shoujo manga, she doesn't seem to have ROMANTIC FEELINGS for them. It's all about helping people with their problems and forming healthy relationships with them. That said, it is poorly executed. First off, although part of me has a tug of sympathy and smiles on Tooru for her cute Pollyanna-ness, she is unrealistic. She is totally a Purity Sue. C'mon. Her only possible flaw is being psychotically concerned with others and dismissive of her own substantial problems. People like that do not exist, period. It may be nice and heart-warming, but it's also annoying because it makes the whole series seem that phony. And then there's everything else. Takaya is a so-so writer and her characters aren't very interesting. From what I've read, for the most part, it's difficult to sympathize with their dramas. Kyo in particular is a jerk and it's frustrating to see Tooru feel sorry for him when he's being so pointlessly hostile. The martial arts aspect feels tacked-on. Heck, even the Zodiac premise is dumb. O noes, I turn into animals when someone hugs me. Cute, cute animals. How can I live with myself? I also find the English translation by Tokyopop to be unnatural-sounding and inappropriate with the tone at times. Finally, the art is mediocre (by professional standards, at least); in particular, the eyes look creepy most of the time. I have both read the manga and watched the anime, and although I understand that the anime cuts off the story rather badly, I enjoyed it more than the manga from what I saw.
I have watched a little of the anime and read all of the manga. Personally, the latter is my favourite as the anime does not delve deeply enough into the characters in my opinion, though is still an enjoyable romantic comedy. The manga is probably one of the best ever drawn- Takaya's characters are complex, but not so much that it is confusing. Everything is done gradually, the only exceptions are when we need immediate information- like the start of the series or like sudden revelations. Everybody is believable and human eventually, and while the story starts out as a simple, lighthearted comedy drama which has just enough seriousness to remain interesting, the art evolves beautifully as time goes on and so does the story- we learn more about the characters. We laugh for them and cry for them. We understand and empathise with them. Tohru begins to engage more actively with the plot, turning the world of the Sohma clan upside-down. Had the story remained at the same level of depth, I would have lost interest, but this story grows with the reader, and has a positive but still realistic message behind it- it's too late to change the past, but you can still make the future bright. Of course, this doesn't mean that there are no more comedic or heartwarming moments after Tohru's decision, but they are better spaced out, and the tone of the story is more mature- in a good way. Overall, I would say that this is a masterpiece that everybody should give a go. Don't be put off by the cliched premise- the story is so much more than 'oh dear, I turned into a fluffy animal, let's fall in love'. Takaya has a deft use of foreshadowing, and the art is fantastic- the characters are still wonderfully varied, though people unfamiliar with the cast may get confused. It's worth many, many re-reads.
The Best of the Best
Okay, I love Anime, and I love Manga. In fact, I'm a bit of a fangirl. And this is easily my favorite manga. It is not perfect, but the story is wonderful and the emotions are amazing. It's deep, but not so deep that you get bored or anything. There is never really a time when you feel like rolling your eyes or groaning. All the characters are amazingly developed, and they really do stand out after awhile of reading. However, the anime is not as good as I would have hoped. It is definitely enjoyable, and I liked watching it a lot, but it just cannot beat a few others I've seen. Overall, both are excellent. To this day, Fruits Basket is my favorite manga, and one of my favorite animes. I would recommend it to any fan of either.
The premise and writing is great... and then it goes downhill.
I've seen both the anime and manga, and for quite some time preferred the manga greatly over the anime. I liked how the manga delved deeper into the emotions of the characters than the anime, and how every character of the zodiac was introduced. The anime stops around volume eight of the manga, before Rin and Kureno are introduced. Now that's my only issue with the anime and I strongly prefer it to the manga. The two mediums have basically the same plot, although the anime wraps up differently (and more openly) than the manga. I grew up with this series, and as a young teenager didn't really have the life experience to connect with many of the characters. Now in my late teens, I've gone back and re-read and re-watched the series and connected far more than before. The fandom tends to overlook much of the backstory of the characters and focus on the gorgeous cast. Whenever I recommend the anime now, I emphasize that parts are tough to get through, and that people with a history of emotional abuse will likely be triggered by certain scenes. Natsuki Takaya is an incredible writer and knows how to make her audience connect with the characters wonderfully. The series as a whole is very uplifting with the addition of Tohru Honda, the optimistic naive-yet-wise-beyond-her-years girl who is brought into the secret world of the Sohma family. The Sohmas have a curse that directly affects 14 of the family members. When stressed or hugged by a member of the opposite sex, 12 of them turn into their respective zodiac animal, the 13th is the cat whose been shunned by the rest, and the 14th takes on the role of God. For the first 11 volumes of the manga, Tohru focuses on being there for the members of the family and healing them to the best of her ability. For the remainder of the series, the focus switches to breaking the curse. New non-cursed characters are added (none of which are particularly interesting in comparison to the Sohmas), revelations about characters' genders are made, and we find out that certain characters just sleep around a lot to manipulate everyone. It's a major, major case of Cerebus Syndrome. (Plus the art quality declines in spades. You literally can not tell some of the characters apart in the manga.) Watch the anime. It doesn't wrap up nicely, but its tone is consistent.
Idealism is Inspiration
This story is filled with characters who are hurt and worn down by life. In fact, life seems to be trying to destroy them slowly and every reveal about their past makes it more and more clear that these characters need something to hold on to. Cue the main character: Touru Honda. This character will essentially make or break the series for you as a watcher/reader. She takes her own tragedy and uses it to make herself stronger. She lacks talent in any area, but is willing to help anyone to the best of her ability. She may not be able to solve your problems, but she will lend an ear to any problem you have and do her very best to understand and say what needs to be said. She's garaunteed to piss off any cynic who happens to look in her direction. Touru is a genuinely good person, and they will hate her for it. She is a very strong person, quite possibly stronger than a lot of the people who view her story, and reading about someone stronger can piss off some people whose self worth comes from thinking that "They do their best and no one else could do better." That said, if you have any shred of hope for humanity, she embodies it. She is a person who anyone could be if they were willing to work at making their outlook on life just a little brighter, regardless of the darkness of the situation itself. Essentially, if you can enjoy this character, any flaws in the series will be obsolete ("Who really cares about complex animation in a slice of life drama? Especially such an inspiring one!") However, if you can't stand this character, even non-issues of the series will seem like huge issues ("There's nothing happenning in this series! When are the characters going to start dieing?!"). In conclusion, this story is idealistic and unashamed of that fact. It could almost classify as a reconstruction of drama in the vein of Touched By an Angel. It's not perfect in either medium, but if the title of this review reflects your own views at all you will probably get a lot of good from it either way.