Tag: love



And so, for the second time in my life, I have finished reading through Takaya Natsuki-sensei’s lovely manga series, Fruits Basket. This is a special series for me, because it was the very first manga I ever read, back when I was sixteen or so and just getting interested in Japanese culture. In some ways, this is an odd series to begin with, especially for a sixteen-year-old guy. It’s shojo, or “girl’s manga”–a genre specifically targeted at girls between the ages of 10 and 18. It’s a fairly well-known series, but it’s never gained the popularity of, say, Bleach or One Piece (which is a shame, because Bleach, at least, is a far inferior story). The only reason I ever knew about it was because it was recommended to me by a dear friend, to whom I am forever indebted for introducing me to this story. When I first picked it up, I’ll admit that the cover designs made me a little dubious.

Cover art for Fruits Basket: Volume 1.
   Cover art for Fruits Basket: Volume 1.


See what I mean? But I quickly got over that. It took no time  at all for me to fall in love with this series and especially with its characters. I enjoyed it so much that I was inspired to go on and read many more manga, and I’m pretty sure that Furuba (as the series is nicknamed by Takaya-sensei) was the real beginning of my interest in Japan and all things Japanese. I’d been doing karate for years by the time I read Furuba, so I’d had a curiosity about Japan for a long time–but this story really inspired me. Anyway, that’s a bit beside the point. A few years went by, I moved out  on my own, and I decided upon finding out that a good friend owned most of the series that it was time  to read it again. It didn’t take me long to remember why I liked the story so much–and also to realize that I’d forgotten most of what happened! I still remembered the most important points of the story, but I’d forgotten so much that it was almost like reading the manga again for the first time. This managed to push Harry Potter aside for the duration of my reading it–which is a huge compliment, coming from me! (although I should grant that this is my third or fourth reread of Harry Potter and I’ve also seen all the movies a few times) Anyway, I just finished my reread of Fruits Basket a couple of days ago, and so, I would now like to share a little bit about why I love this story so much.


Where to even begin…? Well, I suppose I’d better start with a short plot summary. This is how the story goes: a young girl named Tohru is living by herself in a tent on the edge of town, because her mother recently died in a car accident and she has nowhere else to go (although that isn’t quite true–more on that later). She discovers, while exploring around, a house belonging to fellow named Shigure Sohma, who is living with two other members of the Sohma family, Kyo and Yuki. They take her in when they realize she was living by herself in a tent, and all they ask in return is that she keep the house clean and cook their meals. She’s grateful to accept, and the story proceeds from there. It follows Tohru’s various trials and travails as she gets to know the members of the troubled Sohma family, who are afflicted with a curse: when hugged or held by a member of the opposite gender, they change into one of the animals of the Chinese zodiac. Over the course of the story, Tohru decides to break the curse on the Sohmas, and also eventually falls in love with one particular Sohma, Kyo.


Now I’ll get some technical stuff out of the way. For one, the anime: in my opinion, it’s hardly worth mentioning. It condenses the entire 23-volume story of Fruits Basket into a 26 episode anime series, and has to leave out so much that it’s hardly the same story. It’s still enjoyable, but, to use a reference to the character of Hatori Sohma, it’s the seahorse to the manga series’ dragon. The other technical aspect I want to touch on is the art–it isn’t terribly impressive. The best part about it is the expressiveness of the faces, which are admittedly some of the most naturally expressive faces I’ve ever seen in a manga. But other than that, the art is nothing to get excited about. Backgrounds are minimal enough to make me think that Takaya-sensei is either plain bad at them, or dislikes drawing them as much as I do. Characters are sometimes awkwardly proportioned, beyond the usual distortion of manga style, and the bare feet of the figures are always just a little bit “off”. But neither the lackluster anime nor the somewhat lackluster art are anything to judge this series by. The most important part of the artwork–the faces and body language of the characters–are done superbly, and that’s really all that matters.


So probably one of my favorite aspects of this series is its characters. There’s quite a few of them–the fourteen characters who are part of the Zodiac curse, Tohru herself, her friends, the student council at her high school (a group which Yuki Sohma eventually becomes part of), and a handful of other side characters. Without exception, they’re all fleshed out and complex. Most of them have painful pasts and, as the series begins, are living in confusion or struggle. Even the unpleasant ones are easy to fall in love with, because they all just hurt so bad. The main trio of the story–Tohru, Kyo, and Yuki–are developed the most, and it’s a mark of Takaya-sensei’s skill that they remain fascinating characters throughout the series, even once we know all their secrets. The characters and their relationships are the most important element of the story. Once you look a little bit under the hood, this story is really about a brilliant  beam of light–Tohru–shining in and dispersing the clouds that have gathered over the Sohmas. The whole meaning of the story could be best expressed in the simple phrase, “Love conquers all.” That would be an easy thing to overdo or to make sappy or to ring false, but Takaya-sensei expresses it beautifully through her story. Tohru is, for the purpose of this story, love. She is able to love truly, in a way that is very rarely depicted in fiction. She isn’t blind. She sees the faults of those she loves, maybe more clearly than anyone else does–and she forgives them. She would sacrifice anything for the people she loves. She is so kind, but she is also courageous, and even implacable. She will stop at nothing to show love to the people around her. I’ve heard it said that the depth of her love, combined with her humbleness, make her seem a little too good to be human. I disagree; I think it is possible for real people to love like she does and to be humble like she is, although that’s an ideal that might be reached for over the course of one’s entire life. But more than that, I don’t think Tohru is meant to be just a normal girl. I would say that she is a saint, and this story shows what might happen if a saint were to come along and impact the lives of a broken, hurting family. But her saintliness is balanced by her humanity. She has flaws and she’s always afraid. But she is still strong and admirable.


It’s the light of love shining through Tohru that softens and heals the Sohma family. She utterly changes their lives, turns their world upside-down. And it’s beautiful. This story is such a powerful expression of the strength of love and forgiveness, of the redemptive power of love, that I can’t help but be a little awed. As a Christian man who wants to write stories that can show those same truths–because they are truths central to my faith–I find this incredibly inspiring. Whether or no Takaya-sensei is a Christian, whether or no her characters have any belief whatsoever in God, there’s still a good deal of holy truth shining through this story. I can’t recommend it enough. The time reading through those 23 volumes of manga with girly fronts and painfully ridiculous blurbs on the backs will be most definitely time well spent.


~ Jared



Caring and Not Caring

There are two basic ways of knowing things, or rather, two broad levels of knowledge–there are the things you know in your heart, and the things you know in your head. Sometimes you know something in your head but you need to make your heart know it also. Sometimes it’s the other way around. But you know what I mean: an intellectual understanding of a thing (war hurts people) as opposed to a deep and heartfelt knowledge of it (you have experienced firsthand the way wars tear apart lives). But this goes beyond knowledge–it also goes into feelings. You can feel something in your heart, or you can feel it in your head. You care about that one annoying fellow intellectually–you know he’s another human and you would (it is to be hoped) help him if he needed it. But that isn’t the same as the deep, heartfelt care that you might have for a sibling or a dear friend. Or consider a complete stranger. I will look at that person and think “there’s a human. I ought to care about that person just because he’s human. I don’t. But I’ll act like I do anyway.” Which seems the fairly typical reaction of most people, because let’s be honest, most humans don’t care overmuch for complete strangers. But not everyone is like that. I have a friend whom I was speaking to about this recently. She looks at a stranger and she sees a human, someone who she cares about for his sheer humanity. She does not have to act like she cares. She really does.


Hopefully that illustrates the difference I’m trying to point out. The ability to care for someone on a real, heartfelt level without even knowing them is an ability that I envy. I have to know a person before I can care for him on that level, and I have to like him, too. I can be frightfully cold towards those who are not part of my own personal group of friends and family. While this is a trait which, I think, is generally considered to be more natural than bad–who can be blamed for not caring very much about the people they don’t know?–we seem to be, by and large, plagued by the feeling that this is a wrong attitude. Why is it wrong? Perhaps it’s not evil. But I think that most everyone would join me in admiring my friend who can care on a heartfelt level about complete strangers. If we find that trait admirable, then it follows that its absence is bad or at least not to be desired.


Some people–myself included, in times past–would say that it’s more wrong to act like you care for someone than to not care for them in the first place. The reason for this is that it seems pretending to care when you don’t would be a sort of falsehood. Better to be honest than to wear a mask, they might say. But this is the wrong way to look at it. Acting as if you care even if you don’t is not wearing a mask and it is not false. Saying that you care and then taking no action is false and a mask. But the acting is the only way to bring yourself to the point where you can care for real. It is like faith; you make a practice of acting as if a thing is true even if you are not sure, and by the practice come to see its truth.


And so I suppose all I want to say is that I find in myself and see in others a general absence of heartfelt care for strangers, and that we all ought to act as if we care until we really do. God is love, after all, and if we want to be like God then we should love as much as we possibly can.


~ Jared

Equal Exchange

Today my thoughts have been rambling and I thought I’d write a little bit about friendship. I’ve learned a lot about the subject in the past year or so, in large part through my own mistakes. My biggest mistake has perhaps been my unyielding sense of fairness. Since the time I was a little boy, I’ve had this idea that everything should be fair and just and even. Of course, that’s a silly idea. If everything was fair than most humans would be dead for their crimes. No one would ever love anyone else. A fair world would be dreary and dismal and not worth living in. Indeed, it would be absolutely deadly to live in. But even so, I’ve always had this persistent feeling that things ought to be fair. And even as I was realizing that a fair world would be an abomination, I still clung to the idea that friendships, at least, must always be fair and if they aren’t that’s indicative of a lack of love on one side or the other. I had this certainty that friendship was about equal exchange. Love would be equally exchanged; favors would be equally exchanged; assistance would be equally exchanged. I would comfort you and you would comfort me. I would help you write a story and you would help me write one. You would show me something that brightened my world, and I would pay you back with something to brighten yours. That seems well and good and logical. But it is wrong.


Friendship, like most of the best things in this world, is illogical. It has nothing to do with equal exchange or with how much anyone can get out of it. The relationship described above is not friendship, but business. In business the terms must be fair to both sides or it would not be good business. One side or the other would go bankrupt. But in friendship, both sides must go bankrupt. Friendship is about giving gifts to each other, gifts of love, compassion, help, kindness, time. And the essence of a gift is that it is given without asking for anything in return. It is not wrong to hope that a friend might give you as much thought as you give her, or to hope that he might buy you a meal in exchange for helping him move something. But to expect these things out of some dark idea that all friendship should be fair is childish and silly, even selfish. And selfish friendship is not really friendship at all, but business.


The objection that my own mind raises to this is always “but if my friend loved me as much as I love her, then she would give back the same that I give in!” Maybe that is so, but it is equally likely that everyone shows love in a different way and what seems like love to one person won’t always seem the same to another. At any rate it is a selfish thought. Perfect love asks for nothing in return. Each one loves to the best of his ability, and if that does not manifest as an equal exchange than it does not make the love less perfect or important. Indeed, it only makes it more perfect, for love that can never be fully returned or repaid is the most holy kind.


Something I’ve been seeing as time goes by. I fully admit to being a bit hypocritical about this, but hopefully I’m learning and getting better. On another note, this blog has become so much more earnest than I originally intended it to be…


Love and peace!


~ Jared

It’s A Love/Hate Relationship

I came across something interesting whilst reading a manga the other night (Kingyo Used Books, Volume I, Yoshizaki Seimu). It was simple, really, just a short two-panel interaction: one character said that she had a love/hate relationship with a certain story, and the other character responded that that’s the strongest kind of love. I found this rather interesting, because I’ve never thought of it that way before. To me, a love/hate relationship was never anything to be desired, appreciated, or liked. They can be pretty painful, after all, and so very complicated.


But this brief interaction in the manga made me stop and think about it a little. It made me wonder if my view of the love/hate relationship might not be wrong. Could it be that the added complexity and pain of such a relationship is in fact what makes it even more beautiful than one that is purely love? I’m in-between on the issue, at this point. My mind may change after some more thought. For now, I think… I think, yes, if there are two people who are committed enough to each other and love each other enough to stay together despite the pain involved in a love/hate sort of relationship, then it is definitely a strong and beautiful sort of love.


Yet at the same time, it’s hard. That sort of relationship is very difficult to be in. It’s stressful and painful. Of course this depends on the intensity of the emotions. Maybe it is sort of a love/hate relationship, but the love far overpowers the hate. In that case, it isn’t so bad…. Still, I suppose the manga said this is “the strongest type of love,” not the nicest or the best or the kindest. Maybe it is strongest. Perhaps it’s the loving despite the pain that makes it so… Hm, well, something to ponder, anyway. I think I shall be done rambling for tonight.


Peace out!


~ Jared