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Friday, May 25, 2012

Reader's Diary #831- Natsuki Takaya: Fruits Basket Volume 1

The only manga I've read before is Katsuhiro Otomo's Akira. It was one of the first widely popular manga titles on this side of the Pacific, and almost convinced me that perhaps I could like this form after all. After a childhood of not appreciating Astro Boy, I'd been skeptical.

But there was one part of me that still wasn't convinced manga was for me. Akira, as great as it is, was adapted to the North American market much more so than manga tends to be today; at least in terms of the layout. Akira reads like the rest of our novels: front to back and left to right. Most manga sold in North America today (correct me if I'm wrong) follows the original Japanese style: back to front (which I realize is a North American way to refer to it) and right to left. I've not read books told in this way before but I know it has an ever growing fan base here, so clearly we can adapt.

But I did find it difficult. It took me much longer to get moderately comfortable than I'd ever expected. Granted, I'm not sure how much is a manga thing and how much could be attributed to Natsuki Takaya, the author. Besides reading it in the opposite direction than I'm used to, I was also confused by the dialogue that sometimes appeared outside of speech balloons, or speech balloons that sometimes didn't point to any particular speaker. Lots of the time I didn't know who was saying what and more importantly what the heck was going on. This is what I figured out: a girl named Tohru Honda (shown on the cover) is orphaned and winds up living with a family who all are possessed by Chinese zodiac animals, plus one guy who is possessed by a cat (who, according to folklore, was cheated out of his chance to be part of the zodiac by the rat-- likewise, their human counterparts also don't get along.) Whenever these people are hugged, to their dismay, they turn into their respective animals-- making life rather difficult at times. But that's basically just the premise of the book and you can get that from Wikipedia. Beyond that I was mostly lost. Random notes from the author thrown in that didn't relate to the book at all didn't help.

It would perhaps be easy to chalk it up to a cultural gap. However, there are two problems with that theory. One, it and subsequent volumes are some of the bestselling manga of all time in the U.S.. Two, the person who recommended it to me was a white English Canadian with no Japanese roots at all. There's also the fact that it's shojo manga; that is to say it's aimed at teenage girls and that may have played a part. I didn't realize that it was aimed at that demographic, nor was I familiar with the term shojo, before I started reading it (perhaps the cover should have been a strong indication). Or maybe it was a combination of those reasons and more.

Unfortunately, being confused by the book, I dwelt perhaps too much on other details. For instance, I really thought the artwork was rather weak (then, Akira would be a tough act to follow). And I didn't give a rat's (or cat's) ass about the characters.

Reading Fruits Basket Volume 1 was a rather painful experience.

4 comments:

Nicola Mansfield said...

LOL! Great review. Manga doesn't suit the tastes of everyone. I was a late starter but am addicted now. Haven't read this one, it doesn't appeal to me, nor do most shojo.

I'd recommend "Death Note". A fantastic dark series, part crime, wits against wits, shonen (aimed at teen boys, may fav. kind, rated 16+ I believe). Though again I am a white Caucasian female with no Japnese roots recommended this to you.

Nicola Mansfield said...

recommending - I meant to say.

John Mutford said...

Nicola: Thanks for the recommendation-- I haven't given up all hope!

The part about the white English Canadian wasn't that such a person shouldn't be recommending manga, it was that it made it harder to suggest that I didn't like it because of a cultural gap.

Perogyo said...

I have to tell you I feel similar about most manga in the original language. Reading a novel back to front in Japanese isn't a cakewalk for me, but it's easy compared to almost all the manga I've tried. I think that part of it is I don't really know where to go next with my eyes when there is competing text/dialogue, but mostly it's that I do not enjoy the aesthetic of those giant eyes. This made me shy away from graphic novels until this year, which is unfortunate- then for your challenge I read Emiko Superstar and that pretty much convinced me that I could find graphic novels that suited me if I looked (and that particular one suited me!).

One manga I really did like was GTO: Great Teacher Onizuka. I haven't read the English version but I know there is one.