Monday, 25 March 2013

Western Fairy Tales & Manga Part 2; Fruits Baskets by Natsuki Takaya

Western Fairy Tales & Manga Part 2; 
Fruits Baskets by Natsuki Takaya

This is the slightly delayed follow up to Part 1 of Fairy Tales & Manga which focused on Tachibana Higuchi's, ‘Gakuen Alice’.  To read part 1, click here.

Part 2 looks at western fairy tales influences within Natsuki Takaya’s Fruits Basket. Fruits Basket is the number one bestselling Shojo Manga in the western world, with 23 books in the series, an anime, and numerous fan books and merchandise. This is my favourite Manga, as it utilises many Fairy Tale storytelling techniques.

The story follows homeless orphan Tohru as she befriends the mysterious wealthy and beautiful Sohma family, discovering their secret curse. Collectively called ‘The Zodiac’, the Sohma’s curse causes some of its members to change from humans into the animals from the Chinese’s zodiac (and a cat with a grudge). As Tohru’s life becomes more entwined with the Shoma’s, she realises that there is more to the curse than metamorphosis; uncovering a dark cruelty, and starting her on a quest to free the family from their curse.

Immediately the books take on a fairy tale quality, with Tohru being  a Cinderella type character, an orphan living alone in a tent in forest, working all hours, with a family that are cold and uncaring. Tohru is also a very self-sacrificing character putting everyone else’s needs before her own, having an ability to see the best in everyone no matter how nasty they may first appear.


The curse, morphing into other creatures, is seen frequently in western fairy tales, The Frog Prince, Wild Swans and Hans my Hedgehog to name a few. However in western fairy tales, the cursed always know how to break the curse, keeping silent for seven years, or a kiss from princess. Fruits Basket is more complex, a mere kiss would not suffice, in fact members of the zodiac change into the animal when they are embraced by a member of the opposite sex, or their bodies are under stress.

Unable to control when they change, means a life of isolation for all its members, who are unable to take the risk of letting people see their animal forms, and take on a Beauty and Beast. The Beauty and Beast twist is further enhanced when Keo, the cat, changes into his true form which is far more terrifying than a cat.

The moment Tohru finds out about the curse from book one; PLEASE NOTE - read from top right clockwise!

Like all Fairy tales there is a dark domineering force working in the shadows to keep happily-ever-afters at bay. In Fruits Baskets this is in the form of Akita, the young hansom head of the Sohma family. Akita is the head of the zodiac, he may not change form, but his tie to the zodiac is the strongest and he will use any mechanism to keep them together.  To dark, confident and cruel Akita, Tohru is his Snow White, innocent, forgiving and loving.

DVD's Fan books and Keo's Beads.

I love Fruits Basket, and could happily talk about it for hours. It is a sophisticated dark tale which is subtly told with beautiful illustrations, and lashings of humour. It is a storytelling masterpiece.

If you'are interested in Graphic Novels check out the 'Sequential Art Blog' press here.


  1. I wish this were a book. Having grown up on that side of the world and an overexposure to Manga, I have no appetite for the illustration ... but I LOVE your description of the story. I am struck by how we who hale from the Far East do not generally subscribe to the idea of happily ever after in our folk lore. It seems to be a Western thing. I wonder if this observation is true.

    1. Candy - it's odd but all the Manga I've read seems to incorporate western Fairy Tales within them, especially the happily-ever-afters. This is the Disney / Grimm effect as western fairy tales don't necessarily end with happily ever afters, not if you look back at the older versions anyway.