フルーツバスケット! Fruits Basket!
Having a BA in English Lit, I feel as though I’m allowed to be somewhat discriminating in my literary critiques and preferences. You will never find me within a twenty mile radius of a Twilight book if I can possibly help it. Yet that isn’t to say I don’t enjoy a good fantasy, adolescent themed novel. Hardly! My favorite titles include Harry Potter (my fandom runs deep, I assure you) and my deepest love of all, The Chronicles of Narnia. It is certainly easy to point out the beautifully executed literary techniques in such texts. But last year, a piece of “literature” took me by complete surprise. I put literature in quotes because some would find it difficult to identify as a true text.
Fruits Basket is a Japanese manga — more commonly referred to as a comic book or along the lines of a graphic novel. Though I love Japanese culture, I’ve only read three manga and have seen a handful of anime, a trait most uncommon in fans of Japanese culture. The anime/manga industry is one of the most heavily exported aspects of Japan into mainstream American culture; the others are cars and electronics. But anime and manga have heavily swept across American pop culture. Hello Kitty, Domo-kun, and Naruto dominate stores like Hot Topic and Books-A-Million with merchandise. The majority of teens and young adults who are interested in Japan are only interested in anime/manga. They can spout off dozens of titles, manga-ka’s (authors/artists), and beautiful characters, but they cannot speak Japanese to save their lives. In short: fans go as rabid for any cute Japanese character as the estrogen brigade goes for Edward Cullen (bleck!). Fruits Basket is an extremely popular title that falls into this category.
After all, it is the #1 selling 少女漫画, shoujo manga in America. (Marketed to a female audience roughly between the ages of 10 and 18.) And surprisingly, I happily, wholeheartedly admit, Fruits Basket has my complete love and adoration!
Now, let me again remind you that I concede my academic studies have made me extremely selective when it comes to books. I’ll even go so far to say I come across as snobby. Forgive me, I try hard to keep a handle on it, but it’s true. Many people have often gotten frustrated with me for seeming harsh and elitist on the subject of what is and isn’t quality literature. I understand their perspective. I often have the opinion that if hoards of people from all walks of life are mad over a book, it can’t be of the highest quality. People collectively are stupid and will read/buy anything that gives them an otherworldly, unrealistic, emotional high. Horrible to think, right? I know. I’ve already apologized. But I’ve been happily wrong in the past, and enjoy the sensation very much. Perhaps this is why Furuba (Fruits Basket’s nickname) is so dear to me.
I’d passed by the manga shelves countless of times and looked at the cover and thought… “What on earth is that? What is this crazy story and who is the spaced out girl with the ginormous saucer eyes?”
It looked like something I would never read in a million years, sneering at from a distance. But it just so happened that I was stranded without a ride at the bookstore for several hours and I decided to pick it up out of curiosity and a desire for a good laugh. What I found was a world of emotion and depth that moved me in ways I could never have imagined. Before I knew it, I had flown through all 23 volumes. The series led me through paths of self reflection and existential contemplation that I rarely find in the most celebrated, heady works of literary theory and philosophy let alone straight fiction. I was stunned into silence. I dissolved into purging tears on numerous occasions. When I finally closed the last page and put the book down, I walked away different. It changed me. In some way, I found the true, ugly sides of myself and and the forgiving, loyal, optimistic person who I long to become all at the same time within the characters. The story maintains a surprising level of maturity and balance amidst the lighthearted humor. It successfully transcends the cliches of manga though it certainly incorporates them: a special, ultra-adorable heroine, beautiful beyond belief boys, and love triangles.
Never before have I been so heartbroken by a story. Yet I walked away with a sense of hope and inspiration to live on with others. This is quite the feat for a melancholy, cynical, elitist literary critic like myself. In fact, I break down into smiles anytime I see something related to Fruits Basket.
Perhaps I’m no better than Edward Cullen’s squealing minions after all. (Though I desperately hope so!)
Many are stunned when I break down and tell them that Furuba is my second all time favorite story ever written. (Narnia will always hold top spot. Oh Aslan! ♥ ) I’ve read a lot of books — a lot. I have many favorites: classics, guilty pleasures, and best sellers. I can spout off literary devices and analyze structure while swooning over a nicely written non linear plot development. But I was surprised and completely taken in by a book that is half pictures! I am so glad I was wrong.
In fact, though I flatter myself, I think I’ve even begun to resemble the wide-eyed heroine herself!
I am going to share an excerpt from the text. I have been re-reading the series again, slowly but surely. It gives me a little something extra to enjoy as I’m laying down, falling off to sleep. I can’t begin to express how fluidly the scenes throughout the plot move, but before you know it, the story has you wrapped around its core and is moving upon your soul with an unexpected, cathartic motion. Though it’s hard to gain context, I think the simplistic life lessons in this excerpt beautifully display the underlying current of hope found throughout the text. Read and be blessed.
From volume 8 —
“There’s a feeling you get once you’ve fallen as low as you can…
A moment of true clarity.
When you reach that point,
it changes everything.
All this time
you’ve tried to keep away the beautiful things in life
but suddenly you feel confused.
You begin to love the beautiful things.
For there to be pain
there has to be kindness.
For darkness to stand out,
there has to be the sun.
You can’t have one without the other
and both have their uses.
So even if you stumble and make mistakes,
that’s not useless.”