Title: Fruits Basket フルーツバスケット
Mangaka: Natsuki Takaya 高屋 奈月
US Publisher: Formerly TokyoPop, now Yen Press
Level: Middle School, High School
How Essential Is It?: Must Have
Curricular Connections?: N/A
Reader’s Advisory Tags: Grief, abuse.
Content Warnings: Discussions of mental and physical abuse.
Fruits Basket, commonly referred to as Furuba (フルバ), is one of the most beloved manga of all time. Like Ouran, Furuba is one of my absolute favorite manga series of all time, and one that I think is essential to a good manga collection.
The premise of Furuba is initially relatively simple, but the manga has complexity and an undercurrent that really makes for compelling storytelling. It also has one of the most satisfying conclusions I’ve seen in a manga.
Tohru Honda is a young girl who has recently lost her beloved mother in an accident. When her paternal grandfather, her guardian, needs to live with his family while his home is being renovated, he asks her to stay with friends. Not wanting her friends to worry or be put into a difficult spot, Tohru opts to live out of a tent. The land she chooses to stay on turns out to belong to the Sohma family. Yuki Sohma is Tohru’s classmate, and he and his cousin Shigure live in the house on the property. When Tohru’s tent is buried in a landslide, they offer to let her stay in exchange for doing the cooking and cleaning (something they hate and Tohru loves). Tohru’s such a polite young girl they don’t have to worry about her hugging them out of nowhere- something they are desperate to avoid.
It’s all going very smoothly until Kyo Sohma bursts in through the ceiling, demanding to fight Yuki. Tohru goes to stop him, trips, and accidentally embraces him from behind. When she does so, the Sohma family secret is quickly discovered: when hugged by members of the opposite gender, they turn into the animals from the traditional legend of the Chinese Zodiac. Kyo is the cat, the one animal not included in the Zodiac.
Initially, the manga follows Tohru learning more about the Sohmas and their curse. As it progresses, the relationships among the various members are more parsed out, and it becomes clear that the curse isn’t all cute animal transformations and fun. Furuba ultimately is about healing and moving past grief. It’s about connection, both of the past and the future. It’s also a story of chosen families, escaping abuse, and breaking cycles. It’s a story about how bonds can sour, and how people need space to grow.
I’m going to say, emphatically, that Fruits Basket is a must-buy for a school librarian looking to build a collection of manga. It’s sweet and gentle. It can be quite dark, especially in later volumes. The darkness comes more in the form of emotional torment and manipulation from the character’s pasts, and in the form of heavy doses of romantic angst as one of the boys falls for Tohru. It all ends, though, with healing and understanding. Everyone, even the perpetrator of much of the abuse in the series, breaks free of a cycle born out of misunderstanding and longing in order to build a fresh new future.
Some readers complain that Tohru, the main character, is a “doormat”. But personally, I’ve never interpreted it that way, and the newer translation is much clearer that Tohru’s weakness is that she’s self-sacrificing to a level that is harmful to her. Tohru has to learn to be more selfish as the series progresses. In my teens and twenties, I had a lot of the same traits as Tohru. I was the “mom” of my social circle and eventually learned that this was not sustainable or healthy. When I originally read the series, it went over my head that I was in a similar mode and that I needed to learn to practice self care. In my reread of the series, the distance I now have helped me realize how similar my younger self was to Tohru, and that I could have possibly pulled some lessons from her progression.
To understand how beloved this series is, I’d like to point out that the new anime is a prestige anime with beautiful animation, simultaneous release in Japanese and English, and screenings in theaters. It’s basically all the otaku community was talking about since the press release that it was going to be released. The first anime was good for 2001, but it came out before many of the reveals of the series happened, so things were animated and voiced incorrectly. It ends well before the resolution of the plot. (We’re now four episodes in, and I have to say that it is absolutely perfect. The amount of care and love the series is getting from the production is wonderful.)
Anime adaptations like the original Fruits Basket are incredibly common. There are many series that you never got an adequate conclusion from if you didn’t go to pick up the manga. It’s very, very rare for a story to get a second shot in animation. It’s becoming slightly more regular, but mostly shōnen titles get that chance (exceptions being Sailor Moon and Here Comes Miss Modern). For so many resources to be put into the new Furuba is pretty big for the industry, and does a lot to value the impact of shōjo. And if anyone would like to ask, I have a list of other anime I think needs a remake- and others I think it would be a crime to touch.
In short, get this manga, if you don’t have it already. Students love it, and it’s a beautiful story. It’s about finding your place and connecting with others. It’s funny, sad, and thought-provoking.