Title: Fruits Basket
Author: Natsuki Takaya
Published: Series running from 1999 to 2006
Genre: Shoujo manga
Tohru Honda was an orphan, living with her grandfather, when one day fate kicked her out of the house and she forced to take up residence in a tent in the forest. Little did she know that the land she was staying on belonged to the Sohma family, a mysterious clan.
After Stumbling upon the teenage squatter, the Sohmas invite Tohru to stay in their house in exchange for housework. Everything's going well until she discoverse the Sohma family's greatest secret: when hugged by members of the opposite sex, they each turn into their Chinese Zodiac animal!
I was hesitant to start this series--I mean, really? They turn into animals when hugged by their male/female counterparts? Really?
But no. Oh no. Fruits Basket is much, much, much more than that. It is the complex fabrication of the social dynamics of the most psychologically tormented family you'll ever come across. It documents their struggle to connect with one another without drowning in each other's sorrow. It's a story of rage, guilt, obsession, loneliness, shame, regret--and redemption for all of these.
I fell in love with the characters. Even the ones I hated at first. Because this series showed that there is always something more than what's on the surface. At first glance, one character--Hiro--came off as rude, annoying, and stuck-up. You'd think him a spoiled brat and disregard him entirely. But the author Takaya doesn't leave you there; she drags you, kicking and screaming, along on his journey with him. You discover that he has complex family issues, an intense desire to protect those he loves, and deep feelings of guilt for times he didn't.
Yet another character: Akito. When we see Akito, we see a man so cruel, so evil-hearted, that he enjoys inflicting pain and suffering on everyone around him. Through his unceasing acts of cruelty, we, the readers, are conditioned to hate Akito with a fiery passion.
Until our eyes are opened and we see the truth, when we learn his story, his past, and can see the desperation dragging him down to levels lower than we thought possible.
Fruits Basket is an incredible achievement. At volume one, I was given a disturbed, twisting web of a family that will undoubtedly disintegrate into nothing more than the remnants of the people they could never be. At volume twenty-two, I have already witnessed the redemption of so many characters, so many people that have, directly and indirectly, been affected by one girl: Tohru Honda.
I highly recommend Fruits Basket; it is unlike anything I've ever read. It is advertised as a mindless, fluffy girls comic--and that does it so much injustice. It was a series that made me feel. What did I feel? Pretty much every single emotion imaginable: confusion, joy, hatred, affection, disgust, pity...
All I can say is: read it.