“Basket” case: A tale of mirth and woe

July 31st, 2011

This month’s Manga Movable Feast, hosted by David Welsh over at The Manga Curmudgeon, is offering up a healthy platter full of fruits — Natsuki Takaya’s Fruits Basket, to be exact.

During one of my early, “let’s get a head start on liquidating Borders before the real sale starts and everyone else starts doing the same thing at a lower sale price than I’m getting” Borders runs, I hit upon what I thought would be a great way of approaching this topic: namely, looking at everything else Tokyopop released in the U.S. that was stamped with the words “From the creator of Fruits Basket!” We’re talking Rumiko Takahashi-level marketing of other series by the same artist based on the huge success of one title. Except without those garish yellow stickers, of course.

The honor was warranted, of course. Readers loved Fruits Basket. So much so, in fact, that the hyperbole on the books’ covers gradually built over the series’ run.  Need to be reminded that Fruits Basket was “The #1 selling shojo manga in America!”? There was a blurb for that, starting from volume 5 …

… and lasting through volume 23 …

… and, of course, both fan books.

But maybe you’re holding out for a higher level of praise. Like, say, “the world’s most popular shojo manga.” That started showing up in the back cover copy around volume 9.

But that paled in comparison to it being the “super popular world’s most popular shojo manga” starting from volume 14.

And then starting from volume 17, it was also “Winner of the American Anime Award for Best Manga!” (By the way, was there ever a second American Anime Awards ceremony? My gut instinct tells me no.)

Seeing as how Tokyopop built up this series as, I dunno, the greatest series of all time, it would stand to reason that they’d market the heck out of Natsuki Takaya’s connection to her other series. Which is probably how we got the five-volume Phantom Dream in 2008, followed by the three-volume Tsubasa: Those Without Wings in 2009 and the single-volume collection of short stories, Songs to Make You Smile, in 2010. It’s a bit difficult now to find Phantom Dream on sale anywhere locally, although I did find two libraries, Kalihi and Kapolei, that carry it, and I meant to pick it up. Tsubasa and Songs were Borders pickups. All of this made for the backbone for a really great post idea!

… if, that is, I actually had time last week to write it.

Which, after lunch with a friend on one day off, judging the Liliha Library Anime Art Contest entries on the other day off, and nonstop copy desk workworkworkworkwork leaving me exhausted on the other days of the MMF, I … kinda didn’t.

And so I’ve resorted to Plan B: revisiting everything I’ve written before about Fruits Basket proper. I’ve looked at the series twice in my career as an anime/manga critic. The first time was with a Drawn & Quartered column published in the Star-Bulletin on Dec. 26, 2004, and while it’s a nice introduction to the series — the anime adaptation in particular — it only brushes the surface of what it eventually becomes. I don’t think I had access to all 26 episodes at the time, and the manga had only reached the quarter point in its U.S. run. So it ended up focusing heavily on the whole “Sohma family cursed! People turn into animals in the Chinese zodiac when hugged!” element of the series.

It took me a few years, but I finally was able to put the transformations into their proper perspective and flesh out my thoughts on the series in another essay. Unfortunately, it’s going to cost a bit of money for you to see it in its entirety, or at least make a trip down to your local library. Indeed, it’s part of my book, the long-plugged-in-this-space-and-still-available-for-sale Rough Guide to Manga. Fruits Basket made The Canon, my list of 50 must-read manga series; here’s some of what I wrote:

Tohru’s fragility — seen in her need to belong and her fear of losing her friends — lies largely hidden behind her kind, generous nature. In this way her character is symbolic of the series as a whole — sweetness on the surface, with a constant undercurrent of dark secrets and melancholic moods. The whole “transforming animals” gimmick eventually settles into the background, making way for progressively deeper explorations of the curse that binds the Sohmas. … It’s a progressively complex story that draws you in with its cuteness and keeps you reading with its collection of deepening mysteries.

That, in a nutshell, is why I loved Fruits Basket so much, as well as why I think the series has resonated so much with anyone who’s read it as well. And that’s why I’d love to look at Takaya’s other works in the future. I’ll try to get to it as soon as I can address the 15 or 16 other pending posts that sit and wait patiently and sad-eyed for my attention (hello, untranscribed interview from November 2010 and HEXXP, I promise I’ll get to you before HEXXP 2011).

2 Responses to ““Basket” case: A tale of mirth and woe”

  1. Fruits Basket MMF: Sunday wrap-up:

    [...] Otaku Ohana, Jason Yadao takes a retrospective look at his relationship with Fruits Basket: Readers loved Fruits Basket. So much so, in fact, that the [...]

  2. Diane Masaki:

    You know. Fruits Basket is one of the few manga that I’ve actually been specifically ASKED for when they didn’t find it on the shelf at the library… So world’s most popular manga might not be all that far off…

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