I've spent more time covering male-targeted anime than female targeted anime at Sketchy Details. The plain truth is that more shonen titles get released in America and impact the way anime and manga are talked about stateside. The beauty of manga in Japan is that the system is built around everyone at all ages reading it. Shonen manga, targeted at boys about 10-18 years old, is matched with shojo manga, targeted at girls about 10-18 years old. The shojo titles tend to focus more on relationships than the shonen titles, though they cover all the same genres.
Fruits Basket is one of the most critically acclaimed manga/anime properties of all time. Created by Natsuki Takaya, the fantasy shojo series focuses on high school Tohru Honda. She is forced to move into a tent and take care of herself when her mother dies in a car accident. By chance, she's invited to live with her classmate Yuki Sohma. The Sohma family hides a deep secret that Tohru jeopardizes just by living there. Every Sohma is cursed to transform into a member of the Chinese zodiac if they are hugged by a member of the opposite gender who isn't in the family.
The main difference between the anime and manga is how dark it gets. Natsuki Takaya goes darker than you might expect with some aspects of the curse. One Sohma boy is destined to die at a very young age in the manga; in the anime, he's replaced by a girl who doesn't have any additional curse. The slightly more optimistic tone is balanced by an altered ending that had to happen because the anime ended while the manga was still in production.
Fruits Basket is a reference to a traditional Japanese game. It's like a cross between red rover and musical chairs. Players are broken up into two or more teams. They set up a circle of chairs with one less chair than needed for everyone to sit down. Each team is assigned the name of a fruit. One person stands in the center of the circle and calls out the name of one of the fruit. Each member of that team has to stand up and switch chairs; the person in the center has to try to claim one of the open chairs.
The game's relationship to the story of the manga/anime is a symbolic one. The Sohma family are their own team in the world. Tohru becomes the girl in the middle of the circle, passing between the Zodiac-styled curse of the Sohma clan and the regular world that knows nothing about them. Tohru keeps trying to shake up the family and free them of their curse but they all move faster than her. She'll keep calling out for the Sohma clan until she breaks through their defenses.
Fruits Basket has a really charming style. The choice of the Chinese zodiac opens up some really intriguing character traits that play into mythology. For example, an old legend says the cat, not the rat, was supposed to be in the zodiac. However, the rat tricked the cat into missing the banquet where the zodiac animals were finalized and the cat has never forgiven the rat.
The 13th member of the Sohma family is Kyo, the cat. He is the outsider. He leaves to train in martial arts and has no patience for his family's rituals and traditions. Kyo is also put at odds with Yuki, who transforms into a rat. Not only does Kyo think the family favors Yuki, Tohru begins to fall in love with both of them. Her presence in the house only raises the tensions between the subjects of the ancient myth.
As a shojo series, Fruits Basket does put a lot of emphasis on romantic relationships. Tohru is a teenage girl who is exploring her feelings. As she meets all the members of the Sohma family, she learns all about the love they've had and lost. That in itself makes it a far more open and bittersweet story than you might expect from a romance.
Then you actually get into the depth of the fantasy that cracks open the world. Fruits Basket is a quiet and meditative series. The mystery of the Sohma clan slowly unfolds while Tohru begins to open up to living a normal life again. Tension builds just a little bit at a time as the fantastic story of the Sohma family takes over Tohru's life. Every whispered secret shared over tea in a quiet house pulls you in just a little more. The universe is so rich and so well-planned that you can't help falling for the series.
You might not like every episode or chapter of Fruits Basket and you don't have to. It's a very broad-reaching property. It covers high school drama, high fantasy, romance, teen angst, world-building, character study, mythology, and self-reflection. With the anime, each episode is a careful exploration of the mystery of the curse and the Sohma family. The manga is a bit more wide-reaching and meandering but it still consistently draws your eye to the next panel.
The best entertainment is able to transcend marketing and genre bias to appeal to a wide audience. Then, the best entertainment becomes art when it creates discussion and debate over its merits. Fruits Basket is a series that can be enjoyed by a typical YA audience and appreciated by anyone open to a little bit of fantasy in their lives.
You can watch all 26 episodes of the Fruits Basket anime subtitled at Hulu Plus or dubbed at Hulu Plus or Netflix Instant. You can also be really ambitious and buy the entire series at iTunes.
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