Monday, September 26, 2005


A few days ago I finished reading Fruits Basket vol. 17 in Japanese, the most recent volume I own (though Fruits Basket vol. 18 came out in Japan a couple weeks ago, and enough episodes have been serialized since then to fill another volume). This is perhaps the most eventful volume since vol. 11. Even if one knows in advance, as I did, that [blank] is a [blank], there are some major revelations in this volume. And while [blank]'s being a [blank] does not, in itself, change things all that much, some of the other revelations do.

In the past few volumes, it's become clear that Fruits Basket is not a string of episodes which can be extended indefinitely, as are most American or European serials, but a single unified narrative in which every episode plays a definite role in the overall work. As far as I know, there's nothing equal to it in American comics. At over 3,000 pages, Fruits Basket is already over twice as long as Bone; it's shorter than Cerebus, but by most accounts Cerebus is structurally a mess. (I stopped reading it early in "Reads," before the infamous issue 186.) I don’t even know how common such long non-episodic series are in manga. I’ve read few series as long as Fruits Basket, so I don't know how many manga manage to sustain a non-episodic narrative for so long without repetitiveness or filler. Of the manga I've read, the closest to Fruits Basket is Kare Kano, but the side stories in Kare Kano are less closely tied to the main story than in Fruits Basket.

I'm aware of the dangers (scroll down to Sept. 12) of overselling a series, and I don’t want to do that with Fruits Basket. It's certainly not perfect. Thematically, it is somewhat repetitive. Tohru's unvarying niceness can be hard to take at times; and does everybody have to have an unhappy childhood, Sohma and non-Sohma alike? And in general, it's difficult for me to evaluate or fully appreciate the series' more subtle aspects, because I have to put so much mental effort into just reading it. This is one disadvantage of reading manga in the original, at least until my Japanese reading skills are a lot better.

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