Tuesday, July 18, 2006

FRUITS BASKET VOL. 20: WITH SPOILERS

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.

17 Comments:

Anonymous Ysabet said...

It's interesting to see how people's perspective on the series can differ depending on how it's read--in some ways your reaction, after getting the whole volume at once, is similar to our collective chapter-by-chapter response, but I think the connections you got out of it are different, even though you're winding up in the same place. (*laughs* And then I had to go back and check my files to remind myself of exactly what happened when--I agree that this is a series that should totally not be spoiled.)

For the most part, this isn't a volume that made me analyze things--I'm such a diehard Haru/Rin specialist that chapter 114 is still my main focus from it, especially the scene between Rin and Kagura, which completely broke my heart--and yet so much happened in it that I was very glad that Flamika wrote so much about it. (It's very cool that you're linking to her so much. *^^*)

Akito's progression through this volume is striking to me because it's such a systematic destruction of her world. People throw the phrase "hitting bottom" around, and seeing her reach that place really did break my heart--which infuriated me even as it increased my respect for Takaya-sensei AGAIN, because feeling anything sympathetic for Akito, after how badly she's hurt my most-beloved-character-ever, is a more than a little traumatic.

. . . and at this point, I lose the ability to discuss it without being spoilery. My main response to the whole Akito-development thread came a few chapters later [January 17 post in response to chapter 121, for the curious--bear in mind it's from the NEXT volume and has appropriate spoilers], and it's evolved somewhat since then, but I'll probably always feel deeply conflicted about her.

Other than the Akito thread, the main discussion that was going around after chapter 119 had to do with Kyo and his involvement in Kyoko's death, and whether he was actually in any way responsible for it. I maintained--and still do--that although it's understandable that he blamed himself, it is not in any way his fault. I believe that he froze up for just an instant, doubly trapped by his fear of revealing himself and the genuine lack of a "catching" instinct, which 12shi just aren't in a position to develop--it only makes sense that they're completely conditioned to move *away* from a possible trigger, not towards it. (Not that you'd guess that from the anime.)

I think that's all I've got right now, unless anyone wants a cheerful sidenote about chapter 114's insights into how Rin's still dealing with massive issues from her childhood abuse, and the fact that it clearly shows that she and Kagura understand each other better than one would ever have suspected. ^_^

5:51 PM  
Anonymous Flamika said...

Great discussion! ^^

Your views are Akito are totally understandable. Even I don't believe that her horrible past justifies her current actions, but it does help us understand her better. My greatest hope for Akito's character has been to see progression beyond the chains of her past--the ones others put on her, and the ones she willingly put on herself. This volume was agonizing for me because I saw my favorite character in pain and harming my second favorite character, but like Ysabet said, this volume was a landmark is Akito's progression even if we had to see her crash horribly and take Kureno with her.

Akito is a strong person, really, and her beliefs are just as strong; the problem with that is that strong beliefs and delusions don't die quietly. When I got over my initial shock of seeing Akito stab Kureno (which was so cruel after Chapter 117 gave me such hope for her character), I realized that his words must have struck something inside of her, and sparked the words she yelled at the sky--"So it's my fault, then?!". Akito fears the ugliness I think she's always known is inside of her, and so she reacted horribly to her own burgeoning guilt by putting the knife in Kureno. I still maintain that Akito's never really liked herself despite the image she projects, and given her past of never being seen for herself or allowed to be the gender she was born, it's a totally understandable disposition. I think what happened to Kureno set off things inside of her, something that went beyond the realization that the curse wasn't going to hold. What she did to Kureno started to make Akito realize that things are all her fault, and now that Akito has hit rock bottom, she's come to a crossroads where she can either choose to go up, or remain in the dark place she's fallen into.

One thing that amazed me about this volume--Chapter 117 in particular--is that even as Akito's delusions stayed strong through all the years, beneath them, a bit of maturity and rationality still remained and started to emerge as her world began to fall apart. I think that, more than anything, showed Akito's true strength and potential. Chapter 118 threatened to douse my hopes for her completely, but her words at the end rekindled it even though I think I was too busy mourning Kureno to make a significant post about it.

Akito aside, I really didn't have much else to say about the other chapters, as you probably noticed. ^^ But to be honest, I never liked the whole Kyoko side story or the fact that Kyou had known her. I see what role it played and Takaya obviously had it planned from the beginning, but I just... didn't like it. But Kyou's carrying around plenty of emotional baggage that I don't think was his to bear in the first place, and I understand how he reacted to Kyoko's death even if it all did seem a little too convenient.

...I think that's all I have. I hope most of what I said made sense; with Akito, I always feel the tendency to lauch into a full manifesto when I start analyzing her. I look forward to your thoughts on the next volume! ^^

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