Review: Fruits Basket

Review: Fruits Basket

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

Status: Complete.

Level: Middle School, High School

Reader’s Advisory Tags: Grief, abuse.

Anime: 2001: Funimation, Hulu.

2019: Funimation, Crunchyroll.

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. I thought now was the time to talk about Furuba because the new anime has just started airing in simulcast, so school librarians may get an influx of requests for it.

The premise of Furuba is initially relatively simple, but the manga has a complexity and 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, but there’s nothing inappropriate. 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.

Review: Tokyo Ghoul

Review: Tokyo Ghoul

Title: Tokyo Ghoul 東京喰種

Mangaka: Sui Ishida 石田 スイ

US Publisher: Viz Signature

Status: Complete.

Level: Upper Middle School, High School

Reader’s Advisory Tags: Violence, body horror

Anime: Funimation.

Content Warnings: Lots of violence and gore.

Honestly, I didn’t get the appeal of Tokyo Ghoul until I sat down and watched the anime. I read the first volume some time ago, to write a review for this blog, and I just couldn’t get into it. It’s not that I don’t like horror, because it’s an issue of the opposite problem. I love horror. I’ve written in the past about Japanese horror in particular. My husband and I watch a lot of Asian horror films (here’s his review of the excellent One Cut of the Dead, which everyone should watch). I’ve been a fan of Junji Ito, an amazing horror mangaka whose work is probably way too graphic to put on my school’s shelves, for a very long time. And the first volume of Tokyo Ghoul is… okay.

The premise is that Ken Kaneki, a college student, survives a deadly date with a ghoul only by receiving organs transplanted into him from that ghoul. Ghouls are creatures who look like humans, but can only survive by eating human flesh. Kaneki finds out that he has been transformed into a half-ghoul, and desperately craves human flesh. He tries to subdue that desire, but eventually has to give in to his new nature.

My students LOVE this series. I was thinking, originally, that they oversold it to me. The manga is fine, but didn’t exactly rock my world. The violence is tamed by the art style, which is both gorey and contained. That might seem strange to say, but Ishida uses a lot of effects, which obfuscate the more explicit gore. There’s a lot of blood, but that blood honestly creates a barrier. In this double page panel, where a character has had a construction beam fall on her, the gore has been reduced by the effects.

The gore levels are honestly fairly on par with most American comics. The fast pace keeps you from really focusing on individual panels.

When I went to watch the anime, though, it was the same story, but visually different. The manga is dark and difficult to parse through at times from the amount of ink on the page, but the anime is vivid and visually engaging. The pacing is also improved.

So, the question that you’re really looking for an answer to with these blogs is whether you should buy it. And I’d say Tokyo Ghoul is perfectly fine to purchase, and that students really love it. The violence might be a bit much for some, but it’s no more violent than a standard issue of Batman or a book like Not Even Bones. There’s nothing sexually explicit, and the story gets vastly more complex and interesting past the first volume. Female characters are powerful and complex, which is a pretty big deal for seinan manga. There’s a lot going on in regard to being an outsider, and finding power in being an outsider, which is where I feel students really connect with this story. After all, this really isn’t about whether I like it or not- it’s whether this manga is something which school librarians should purchase. And ultimately, I’m on the side of buying it. I’d also say the anime is a good one for clubs to watch.

Because this is seinan, it is written with older teens in mind, but I believe it could work for some middle school populations, due to the lack of any sexual content.

Review: Princess Jellyfish

Review: Princess Jellyfish

Title: Princess Jellyfish (Kuragehime 海月姫)

Mangaka: Akiko Higashimura (東村 アキコ)

First Volume ISBN: 9781632362285

US Publisher: Kodansha USA

Status: Complete

Level: High School

Reader’s Advisory Tags: gender, gender nonconforming, identity, fashion, early adulthood, anxiety

Anime: Available through Funimation

Live Action: Information on MyDramaList

Content Warnings: A major plotline consists of a female character drugging a male character and tricking him into believing they had sex while he was intoxicated. She regularly sexually harasses him and blackmails him as a result. This is seen as a villainous action, and there are consequences.

Princess Jellyfish is a delightful josei manga that happens to be on my list of favorites. It focuses on the denizens of Amamizukan, an apartment building in Tokyo. These tenants are all NEETs (Not in Education, Employment, or Training) who each have their own point of fixation. The tenants call themselves “Amars” (nuns) because they have a severe aversion to men. The tenants have their world turned upside down when Tsukimi, the youngest tenant and a jellyfish enthusiast, meets Kuranosuke. When Tsukimi meets Kuranosuke, he is cross-dressing. Mistaking (or acknowledging) him as a woman, Tsukimi enlists his help in rescuing a jellyfish who is being mistreated at the local pet shop. After Kuranosuke winds up crashing at Amamizukan following the rescue, Tsukimi discovers that Kuranosuke is in fact a man who simply enjoys wearing women’s fashion. What follows is a romp as Kuranosuke eventually teams up with the Amars to save their home and start a fashion line, inspired by Tsukimi’s drawings of jellyfish.

What makes Princess Jellyfish unique is its treatment of gender and identity. Tsukimi and the other Amars are not fashionable women, and for the most part, don’t really care that they are not “stylish”. Kuranosuke is the one most concerned with beauty and fashion, and he has to learn that the Amars are never going to conform to the standards of beauty that he values. While there are makeover moments, the characters are frequently uncomfortable with them, and the makeover doesn’t stick past the moment. However, there is a moment where Kuranosuke explains to the Amars the positive element to engaging in fashion and female performance (and which is affirming to those who chose to present in feminine ways).

© Kodansha USA

When it comes to Kuranosuke’s gender expression, he is obviously gender nonconforming, although the text never uses those terms. While he ultimately falls in love with Tsukimi, it doesn’t deter him from expressing his love for feminine fashion, and it doesn’t go away to make him “straighter”.

The Amars grow through the expansion of their horizons, and Kuranosuke learns to relate to people more deeply.

The other important element is how the text deals with the characters’ anxieties and fears. It’s clear that Tsukimi and the others have varying degrees of social anxiety that is detrimental to their personal growth. There’s no magic wand that makes it go away. Rather, they grow to the extent that each character is comfortable with, and throughout the series establish boundaries.

Also, romance is a theme in this manga, but it’s important to note that it never gets a formal resolution. Throughout the manga, Tsukimi becomes the center of a triangle between Kuranosuke and his older brother, Shū (and at least one other character becomes interested in her. Initially, Shū is interested in an idealized version of Tsukimi that he saw after one of Kuranosuke’s makeovers of Tsukimi. However, he learns to see Tsukimi as a whole person, and not so idealized. Both brothers come to love Tsukimi even as a socially awkward girl in sweats… and Tsukimi realizes that she needs to figure out her emotional self before she can commit to any relationship.

This is not to say Princess Jellyfish is a perfect text. There are moments of sexual harassment, and at one point Tsukimi is forcibly kissed against her will by another character. However, each of those incidents are seen as clearly wrong and as a violation.

Additionally, because I am not trans, I would like to offer this perspective from a trans woman: Trans Women in Media: Kuranosuke Koibuchi.

So, should you buy this manga for your collection? I’d say that it’s a great addition to your high school collection. It might be good for middle school, but I’d be a little cautious because of the plotline regarding the blackmailing of Shū by a woman who convinces him they had intercourse. You also may be in a more conservative school or district than myself, and the queer themes could bring challenges from parents or administration. I myself believe that we have a responsibility to our gender nonconforming students to show them representations of characters that are like them, but you know your school culture better than I do, and should make a judgment that best serves your community.

At its heart, this is a story about a group of people coming together to create things, protect their home, and achieve personal growth. Also, the art is gorgeous!

© Kodansha USA