Friday, July 29, 2011


Among other things, Fruits Basket is a relentless catalogue of the ways parents can damage their children. From major characters like Kyo, Yuki and Akito, through secondary characters like Rin and Momiji, to minor characters like Machi, character after character suffers the scars of their parents' indifference or active dislike. But there's one shining counter-example: Tohru's mother Kyoko. Far from messing Tohru up, she made her into the good, loving person she is. In fact, Kyoko is a model parent. At least, she appears to be one during most of the series.

There's one discordant element from the start, though: Tohru's constant self-denigration. Even as she's unselfishly helping everyone, she feels guilty for not being unselfish enough. My favorite example is the time when, after visiting Rin (who doesn't even like her) in the hospital, she condemns herself for having forgotten for a moment about her goal of lifting the curse. If Kyoko was so wonderful, why was Tohru so bent on punishing herself?

The first hint that Kyoko was not as perfect as Tohru and Arisa's recollections made her out to be is Kyo's flashback of Kyoko completely freaking out when Tohru had gotten lost. But it's not until volume sixteen that we get a more complete picture of Kyoko and Tohru's relationship. In another flashback, Kyoko tells Kyo that after Tohru's father Katsuya had died, she (Kyoko) had been plunged into despair, and was on the verge of killing herself so that she could be with Katsuya again. At the last moment, she heard a kid yelling "Mom!" and was reminded of Tohru (then a very young child) and realized that she had been neglecting her. She rushed home, apologized in tears to Tohru and embraced her. After telling this to Kyo, Kyoko says: "Maybe the world doesn't need me. But there's still one person who's kind enough to need me. I only need that to live."

A heartwarming story with an affirmative moral, at least on the surface. But when you look more closely, there's a darker side. Whether she realizes it or not, Kyoko is in effect imposing upon Tohru the responsibility of keeping her alive, which is a terrible burden for a parent to place upon her young child.

Am I reading too much into this scene? Am I being overly cynical? I might have thought so if not for volume nineteen, where we see this dynamic from Tohru's side. At Kyoko's grave, Kyo meets Tohru's grandfather, who in the course of conversation asks him if he knows why Tohru speaks in such a polite manner. When Kyo says no, Tohru's grandfather tells him that she's imitating her father. At Katsuya's funeral, she heard some relatives saying that because she didn't look like Katsuya, she would be "no consolation" to Kyoko. When Kyoko fell into depression, Tohru asked her grandfather: "Daddy went somewhere far away, didn't he? Will Mommy go there too? Is Dad calling her? She's been sad for a long time. She won't talk to me. Is she sad because I don't look like Dad? What can I do to be like him? Will Mom get better if I'm just like him? Will she stay here?"** Since Kyoko's return, Tohru has been talking like her father.

Pondering this conversation, Kyo asks Tohru herself if her father looked like her. Nervously and with a forced smile, she tells him that they didn't look too much alike, but everybody said that they talked alike, even her mother. Then, in one of the most heartbreaking moments in a series full of heartbreaking moments, Tohru says "That's a lie.... I'm just mimicking the way he talked."*** She had been afraid that her father would take her mother away. and to try to hold on to her, she had imitated her father.

When I read this, everything about Tohru's character fell into place. Ever since her father died, she had been afraid that her mother would go away -- i.e., kill herself. And she had been continuously making an effort to keep her with her. She was always cheerful on the outside so that Kyoko would want to stay. She was unselfish to the point of abnegation because any demands of her own might drive Kyoko away. And she constantly felt guilty because the real Tohru wouldn't be able to keep Kyoko from going away, as she wasn't after Katsuya died. Even after Kyoko died (which she blamed herself for) the patterns of behavior she had learned continued. Without meaning to, Kyoko profoundly damaged her, even though she loved her.

Once I realized this, I saw some of the earlier scenes in a new light. For instance, it was now clear to me that for a schoolgirl to live alone in a tent when she has friends who would gladly put her up, so as not to bother them, isn't an endearing quirk but a sign of serious psychological problems (something I should have realized before).

Of course, Tohru is genuinely kind and good, and Kyoko is responsible for that too. Kyoko isn't a bad person, but in Fruits Basket even good people keep hurting each other without meaning to. Though Takaya gives her characters happy endings, her vision in Fruits Basket is hardly a cheerful one.

*This post may come off as a rebuttal to Kristin Bomba's contribution to the Manga Moveable Feast. I do have some disagreements with what Kistin writes about Tohru and Kyoko, but I've had these ideas for a long time, and I had decided to write them up for the MMF before I read Kristin's post.

**In the Tokyopop edition, there are quotation marks around each of these sentences, but not in the Japanese edition.

***I've used my own translation here. The Japanese, for those who want to check, is "Uso ... desu ... kuchimane o shite iru dake desu" (first ellipsis Takaya's).

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Monday, July 25, 2011


I recently bought a copy of Billy Bat vol. 6, which came out a few weeks ago, and I just finished reading it. The first three-quarters of this volume continue the story of the previous volume. We learn more about how Chuck Culkin replaced Kevin on "Billy Bat," and we see Chuck in the present as well. And we continue following Kevin and the man whose identity I'm withholding because it would be a huge spoiler. The last quarter of the book takes place in New York in 1963 and introduces a whole new batch of characters. When I first skimmed through this portion I saw a figure who looked like Bob Dylan and saw the katakana for "Bob Dylan," and I thought "Urasawa wouldn't ... would he?" As it turns out, he didn't: it's just a character who looks like Dylan and is a big Dylan fan. And he's not the main character of this section, anyway: his Japanese-American ex-girlfriend is. This volume doesn't reach the storytelling heights of some of the earlier volumes, and it dissipates some of the urgency I felt coming out of the last volume. But it's still a good volume, without the lenghty weak section that mars volume five.

The blurb on the obi (the paper band that wraps around the bottom half of the jacket) says "Mysteries will be made clear!!" But they aren't, for the most part. We do learn the motive behind the Shinoyama case, which played a prominent role in the first volume-and-a-half but has pretty much gone unmentioned since then. And the Bat reveals something of his true nature (if we can believe what he says, that is), but his words raise at least as many questions as they answer.

Though there are no shocks in this volume to compare to those delivered in vols. 2 and 4, it nevertheless changed my expectations for the series. At the end of the last volume, everything seemed to be building towards a decisive confrontation at a certain place and time, and sooner rather than later. But now my guess would be that we're in this for the long haul. If that confrontation takes place, it will probably be indecisive, like several such confrontations in Monster and 20th Century Boys. And the introduction of what looks to be a major new character, and a major new arc involving her, makes it unlikely that Urasawa will be wrapping this up very soon.

I'm getting a bit worried about the licensing prospects for Billy Bat in the U.S., though. Again, I have to be vague for fear of spoilers. But I can say that an American historical figure is depicted in a way that, while patently fictional, might still anger and even outrage some people, and Kodansha, Billy Bat's publisher, might possibly be worried about offending the U.S. market.

A note for those who have read, or are reading, this volume in Japanese. You may have come across the word "Angorumoa" and been baffled, as I was. Upon searching, I eventually discovered that it's not the Sgt. Frog or Transformers character: it's the Japanization of "Angolmois." (To avoid creating false expectations among those who recognize the word or have Googled it, I'll add that nothing in this volume takes place later than 1963. If this makes no sense to you, don't bother trying to figure it out; it's not that important.)

Billy Bat is 196 pages long, and sells for 600 yen. It's published by Kodansha in their "Morning" line, and its ISBN is 9784063870015.

(Reviews of the previous volumes are here, here, here and here.)

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Thursday, July 21, 2011


Neon Genesis Evangelion, the groundbreaking and popular anime series, is currently being remade as a series of four theatrical films, collectively entitled Rebuild of Evangelion. I watched the first of these films, annoyingly titled Evangelion 1.11: You Are (Not) Alone, when the DVD came out, but don't remember much about it, other than that it deviated little from the plot of the original. And yesterday I watched the second installment, Evangelion 2.22: You Can (Not) Advance. I didn't have high expectations going in, but even so, I was disappointed.

Evangelion 2.22 feels like, more than anything, like one of the many ripoffs of the original Evangelion. The main characters have lost their specificity and become cliches: Shinji is now a typical tortured teen protagonist, Asuka is a typical tsundere character, and Rei is, well, a typical Rei Ayanami-type character. The other characters are barely developed at all (including the new pilot featured on the cover, who plays very little role in this installment). What made the original Evangelion so fascinating and infuriating was that it was in large part an expression of Hideaki Anno's tortured psyche. Evangelion 2.22 seems to have been made solely to make money

Evangelion 2.22 does deviate from the plot of the original Evangelion in important ways. For those who remember the original, this produces one genuinely shocking moment. But it's not worth watching the whole thing just for that moment.

If you do watch Evangelion 2.22, don't turn it off or skip to the preview when the credits start rolling. The filmmakers have placed after the credits, not the sort of extra you sometimes get as a reward for sitting through the credits, but a brief but crucial scene. And this scene comes before the chapter break separating the credits from the preview.

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