Fruits Basket, Vol. 1

Cover of Fruits Basket: Volume 1, courtesy of Barnes and Noble

From Barnes and Noble:

Tohru Honda was an orphan, living with her grandfather, when one day fate kicked her out of the house and she was forced to take up residence in a tent in the forest. Little did she know that the land she was staying on belonged to the Sohma family, a clan of beautiful and mysterious people. After stumbling upon the teenage squatter, the Sohmas invite Tohru to stay in their house in exchange for cooking and cleaning. Everything’s going well until she discovers the Sohma family’s greatest secret: when hugged by members of the opposite sex, they each turn into their Chinese Zodiac animal!

The Hoot-Worthy

The series had been on my to-read list for some time and while not overhyped, I was fearful the volume wouldn’t be as fun or charming as I’d hoped. But over the course of the volume, I found myself completely engrossed and giggling like an enamored 12-year-old. Despite being a bit simple and almost too-optimistic at times, Tohru’s truly sweet and enthusiastic about life. She’s independent and selfless almost to fault, but wields a fierce determination to remain true to herself and be as happy as she can despite her circumstances. Though I don’t think we’d be BFFs, I think I could learn a thing or two from Tohru’s perseverant spirit.

The rest of the cast is as quirky and engaging as our plucky protagonist. The three main members of the Sohma family we’re introduced to – Shiragu, Yuki, and Kyo – all have very different personalities and the tensions between them are interesting to watch. Yuki and Kyo are constantly carping and butting heads (literally and figuratively) with each other while Shigaru watches on like an amused older brother or cousin. He definitely knows more than he’s letting on about the curse and Tohru and I hope we’ll get some more glimpses into his past and his secrets. The entire family likes her despite themselves and their rules and this Darcy-ish tendency is an enjoyable, if predictable, rom-com trait.

The series’ premise is easily and neatly explained and I had no difficulty following the plot and character actions. Takaya’s artwork and panels are engaging and charmingly drawn. The members of the Sohma turn into cute, huggable animals AND still talk like a human while in animal form. The panels of Tohru walking down the street while talking with a bipedal Yuki-rat were just delightful and filled me with happy twitters.

Takaya playfully and subtly acknowledges the conundrum placed on the family by the curse, specifically how it’s passed down. If you can’t hug members of the opposite sex, then how do you have sexy times and make cursed babies for the next generation? Shigaru mentions the difficulty of sex and is about to launch into an explanation when everybody shushes him for being a perv. Don’t shush him, silly children! I wanna hear the man!!! Like any good creator, Takaya is fully aware of the questions her readers may be asking and I totally loved her tongue-in-cheek nod to it. I personally think there’s some kind of soul mate loophole, but I’ll have to wait and see.

Overall, the characters and action are light, steady moving and fun. The interesting series title is explained by the end of the volume and it’s just as sweet and heart-warming as you’d expect from a series like this. Tohru still is an onigiri (rice ball), but a much loved one in a basket of really crazy, cursed fruit. I can’t wait to see meet more of the Sohma clan and find out their various abilities, personality and curse specifics.

Owl Pellets (or what I had trouble digesting)

Initially, I found it hard to suspend my disbelief. Not over the magical curse part, but with the fact that Tohru is LIVING IN A TENT IN THE WOODS. I can’t really imagine a teenage girl willing and able to do this, but after reading the whole volume this selfless behavior really is congruent with Tohru’s character. She doesn’t want to inconvenience friends or the rest of her family and views it as a new kind of adventure.

I also had some minor characterization issues with the volume. The story emphasizes that Tohru’s  best – and only – friends prior to meeting the Sohmas are Uo and Hana, but we really don’t see much of her interactions with them outside of school. Uo can detect psychic vibrations and Hana is the more physically intimidating of the group. The pair are complete opposites and it would have been nice to have seen more of their characterization and how the three of them becoming friends.

The lack of a symbol or phrase index irritated me quite a bit. All of the sound symbols are in Japanese and some cultural phrases aren’t explained. Oddly enough, this introductory volume includes neither an English translation nor a term thesaurus. I tried to use context clues, but neighboring panels can only indicate so much before I just had to disregard text I hoped wasn’t necessary. These exclusions make more work for the reader and could be off putting for someone just dipping their toe into the manga waters.

Overall: 3 owls

Birds of a Feather 

Given the subject matter and tone, I’d recommend this to 12 years old and up. The story and content is frothy and fun, with a hint of romance between Tohru, Yuki, and Kyo. I don’t have much familiarity with manga or middle-grade reads, but fans of light romance, twists on legends, and wacky family and friend dynamics will really enjoy this great introduction to shojo manga.

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