Tuesday, July 18, 2006


Haphazard, spoiler-laden thoughts on Fruits Basket vol. 20 (chapters 114-119) below the fold.

Almost my first reaction to the volume, before I even started reading it per se, was "Oh my God, is that Tohru? She's grown! When did that happen?" (This was prompted by the shot of Tohru on page 10.) And, looking back at vol. 19, her maturation still seems rather sudden. But I'm not opposed to Tohru's new look in itself, though I suppose this is the "new style" I've seen people complain about.

One of the difficulties in reading Fruits Basket is figuring out who is saying or thinking what. Reading vol. 20 a second time really helped me in this respect. I'll record my conclusions here, for the benefit of those still perplexed (or who may wish to take issue):

1. The text printed against a black background on pages 49, 59 and 60 are Akito's thoughts. I think so, anyway: I'm not entirely sure, but I can't think of any other possibility that makes sense, and the black-background text in Chapters 117 and 118 is clearly Akito's thoughts.

2. The narration in ordinary boxes in Chapter 115, beginning on p. 50, is Kureno's. (The first time around I thought it was Ren's, but in panel 1 on p. 52, it refers to Ren as "kanojo" ("she").)

3. On p. 69, the balloon in the first panel is Akito's and the others are all Momiji's. (The first time around, I also failed to grasp that in the last three pages of this chapter, the panels with Akito and the panels with Momiji are separate scenes, and that Akito is woken by psychically sensing Momiji's curse being lifted.)

4. Even though Takaya does tend to put very small tails on her word balloons, I'm pretty sure that the almost-invisible mark on the upper right border of the first balloon in the last panel of p. 139 is just a stray bit of ink, and both balloons in this panel are spoken by Ren.

5. The text in boxes on pp. 164-168 is Kyou's thoughts.

Until I read this discussion, and especially this comment, I missed the significance of Akito's shocked appearance in the last panel of p. 124. But I'm afraid I still don't feel sorry for the adult Akito. Yes, she had an unhappy childhood. Yes, her upbringing was twisted and messed her up psychologically. But she's not so messed up as to not be responsible for her actions, and these actions were evil. She deliberately tried to break the juunishi down psychologically by playing on their weaknesses, to prevent them from being happy with anyone but her.

Events in Fruits Basket cast long shadows before them. One example is Tohru's realization that she loves Kyou (though unless I'm mistaken, she still hasn't actually said "I love him," even to herself). To anyone familiar with the symbolism of shoujo, the last page of vol. 18 was a dead giveaway that Tohru loved Kyou, even if she didn't realize it yet. But even before that, in vol. 13 (which I've been rereading in preparation for the next batch of translation notes) there are plenty of signs of how the Tohru's developing feelings for Kyou.

But a more dramatic example is Kureno's stabbing. This took me completely by surprise; and, judging from the reactions I've read on the web, so were most readers. And yet Kureno's death was foreshadowed as early as vol. 2, long before Kureno even appeared. On p. 40 (Tokyopop edition) of that volume, we read this narration: "Whether good or ill will come of this venture even God doesn't know." The leftmost panel shows a close-up of a dead bird -- one that resembles the dead bird on p. 153 of vol. 20 (though they're not identical). And as a further connection between the scene in vol. 2 and vol. 20, on the same page Akito says: "After all, I'm asking for the unattainable." (My own translation, because Tokyopop's translation is wrong; the Japanese is "Douse boku wa naimononedari sa.") And on pp. 129-30 of vol. 20, Akito thinks: "from the beginning I was asking for the unattainable." (In Japanese, "hajime kara naimononedari datta koto.")

I deliberately said "Kureno's death." When I first read the volume, the possibility that Kureno might not be dead didn't even occur to me. In fact, I thought that the dead bird Arisa and Ayase found was Kureno, who had somehow regained the ability to transform with his imminent death. These threads made me look again, and now I realize that the bird can't be Kureno. I still think Kureno is dead, though. The scene with the dead bird in vol. 20 implies his death so strongly that it would feel like cheating on Takaya's part for him to turn out to be alive. And we saw him deliberately walk away from potential help -- presumably his way of "taking responsibility" for the way Akito turned out. Moreover, the foreshadowing described in the preceding paragraph would make no sense if Kureno were to be merely injured.

One very interesting thing Takaya does in this volume is to set up parallels between Kyou's story in ch. 119 and Akito's story in the preceding four chapters. Some are verbal: both accuse other characters of betraying them, and both claim at one point that something is not their "sei": a word that in this context can mean both "fault" and "responsibility." Some are visual: the placing of the character's thoughts against a black background, and the symbolic splattering of blood on the page (pp. 130-31, 184), a fascinating variation on the traditional shoujo rose symbolism. These similarities point to a deeper similarity: both Akito and Kyou cut themselves off from a character who wants to rescue them, though they do so in completely different ways and for different reasons. Of course, all these similarities only emphasize the enormous differences between Akito and Kyou.

The reservations about ch. 119 which I mentioned here have nothing to do with any of this, but rather with the sheer improbability of the chapter. It didn't bother me to learn that Yuki had met Tohru as a young girl, long before he began going to school "outside," or that Kyou had known Tohru's mother. But that Kyou, after not having seen Kyouko for several years, ran into her by chance just in time to witness her death, is just too much of a coincidence. It may seem strange that I'd be criticizing improbability in a manga about people who turn into animals, but it's easier for me to accept outright fantasy than excessive coincidence. (It's conceivable that Kyou's running into Kyouko then will turn out not to be a coincidence, but the result of some mystical connection between Kyouko and the Sohmas, and that again is something I would accept more easily.)

In my main blog, I haven't had comments. Here I'm going to allow comments on selected posts, including this one. PLEASE don't include spoilers for anything after vol. 20 (ch.119 for those who read the chapters as they come out). I haven't seen later chapters, and I don't want to know anything about them until I can read them for myself. Also, I suppose I should say for the record that I reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason, though I don't anticipate having to do so very often.

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