Tag: manga

Furuba

Fruits.Basket.full.1184173

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

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Randomness

Well, hello there! It’s been awhile since I posted anything here. Sorry about that, I just get inspiration for blog posts so rarely. I don’t have much inspiration for one today, really, but I felt like posting something, so there you go.

 First off, what’s new with me! I should be starting an apprenticeship at a tattoo shop  very soon. I’m enjoying my second to last semester of college (unless I go on to a four  year school… I’m thinking of, perhaps, going to art school eventually). I’m editing the  story I wrote for 3 Day Novel (and it needs a lot of work, I can tell you!). I’m reading  some manga–Fullmetal Alchemist and Planetes, and soon to start Hellsing. I’m in the  middle of an anime, too: Trigun! Which, at episode 11, has finally gotten to be pretty  interesting.

In other news, I’ve also bought several new music albums recently.  I think that shall  be the focus of this post. I haven’t done any music reviews yet, so I might as well, eh?  Okay, so I bought four albums in the past week or so: The King is Dead by the  Decemberists, The Suburbs Deluxe by Arcade Fire, A Maid In Bedlam by the John  Renbourn Group, and The Saga of Mayflower May by Marissa Nadler. They are all completely different and very good. I’ve found, recently, that I’m leaning more towards this kind of music lately… the more folky, indie stuff. I used to be really into metal. Which I still love, but I’m not listening to it as much anymore. At any rate, the albums. I guess I’ll start with….

The King Is Dead

By the Decemberists

This is the Decemberists’ latest album. It’s fairly different from their previous works–a lot simpler, and rather shorter, at only 40 minutes. When I first heard it, I didn’t like it. I thought the songs were boring and didn’t approve of the somewhat Country-ish stylistic shift. After having heard the songs several times, though, something about it has taken hold of me: it’s still the same old Decemberists we know and love, just with a new sound. This album has a more friendly feel to it than many of their others, and the songs, though simpler than in the past, are just as good as anything the Decemberists have recorded. Is it my favorite Decemberists album? No, so far nothing can beat Picaresque. But it’s good and definitely worth buying, whether you’re a fan of the Decemberists or not. Now, on to….

The Suburbs (Deluxe Edition)

By Arcade Fire

Ah, Arcade Fire. A band I’d never even heard of until quite recently. Definitely an interesting band, and a masterpiece of an album. They are, I believe, on an independent label, which is generally a good thing as far as I’m concerned. The songs on this album are fascinating. Musically, they’re good–catchy, complex, a very cool sound–but the lyrics are where they really shine. I’ve never been one to listen much to lyrics, because I for some reason have a terrible time picking them out from the rest of the music. But this album has some really interesting lyrics about modern life that make it well worth listening closely. I’ve listened to it several times and I still don’t feel as if I’ve comprehended its full depth.

A Maid In Bedlam

By the John Renbourn Group

Musically, this is probably the best of the four albums that I bought. It’s got some really lovely, complex songs in the vein of Pentangle, except more traditional. In fact, John Renbourn was the guitarist for Pentangle, and the female vocals on this album are sung by Pentangle’s lead singer. So if you like Pentangle, you’ll probably like this! It is different, however, and a wonderful album in its own right. I’m fairly certain that all the songs on here are traditional songs from the British Isles. The general style sounds somewhat medieval, with a lot of guitar. Very enjoyable, beautiful music.

The Saga of Mayflower May

By Marissa Nadler

The Saga of Mayflower May has, to my ears at least, the most beautiful sound of any of these albums. Almost the entire thing is nothing but Marissa Nadler’s guitar playing and sweet vocals, but you hardly notice that it’s only one person playing, because it sounds so pretty. The whole tone of the album is very haunting and sweet. The songs are very melancholy. It’s one of those albums to listen to when you want to be transported elsewhere….

Okay, I’ve rambled long enough, and I need to do homework now. Bye!

~ Jared

Small Things

“There is no such thing as coincidence in this world. There is only hitsuzen.”

If you’re into manga, you may recognize this as being Yuko Ichihara’s (the time and space witch from CLAMP’s xxxHolic and Tsubasa manga series) favorite thing to say. Hitsuzen is “that which was meant to happen.” So, nothing happens but that which was meant to happen. Destiny and fate exist, and they are powerful. That is one of the central themes of xxxHolic, which is really a wonderful manga, by the way. Who made up the plan? Who put destiny into place? XxxHolic doesn’t go into that side of things, which can be rather sticky, but since I don’t care about having controversial opinions, I’m going to say what I believe: I believe that God–the God of the Christian Bible–is the One who made the plan. The One who decides what is meant to happen. The One who put everything in place. Predestination and fate have all sorts of ramifications on free will and such, but I shan’t go into those in this post, because it can get very confusing and contradictory. Perhaps in the future I’ll delve deeper into my opinions on the subject.

So why am I opening a post on the power of small things by talking about hitsuzen? Well, hopefully the answer is obvious. If nothing happens but that which was meant to happen, then it follows that everything that happens is important in some way. This means that there is no such thing as a truly “small” choice, or event, or circumstance. Everything has consequences. This leads into the next point I’d like to make: everything is connected.

“No man is an island.” You’ve all heard that saying, right? Well, I believe it is true of every single thing in this world. There is an unknowable chain of consequences extending from every action you take. You can never know how many people will be affected, what things will be changed by what you do. Something that seems very small in your mind could have very large ramifications to people who you hardly even know. Which leads to the next point….

Everything has a price. Absolutely everything. A little thought will show you the truth of this: even breathing has a cost, in the energy it takes to respire. Food, transportation, homes–all those things have steep costs, which I’m sure everyone is well aware of. But what not everyone seems to realize is that every action taken has a cost of some kind, and someone–quite often not the person who deserves to, or can even afford to–must pay. Even good decisions have a price. For example: awhile ago I had a friend. We were extremely close, but our relationship was falling apart. It was hurting both of us very much to keep being in that relationship. We both needed to move on and get out of each other’s lives. I knew my friend wouldn’t agree to this, so I took the initiative and ended the relationship. At the time I believed it was the only choice I could make, for both our sakes. At first, things seemed to be going well. I was a lot less stressed; it was nice not to have to fight with this person anymore. But then I found out what the effect on my friend had been… she paid the price for my decision. She paid a very steep price. I will never forget that lesson.

So what do I mean to say by all this? Well, I certainly don’t want to make you all afraid to step outside your houses! Everything has a price and everything is connected, and we can’t know what the full extent of the consequences of our actions will be. But this is no reason not to step outside. You know why? Because there is no coincidence in this world. There is only hitsuzen. And God’s the one who made up hitsuzen.

Considering all that, can any choice really be called “small”? Small things are very powerful. Small people, small events, small changes. There are countless examples from history, from the Bible, from the present day to support this. Think of Jesus Christ. Just a small-town carpenter. Think of how America started. Some people were annoyed with having to pay taxes. How petty and common a thing is that? Think of the way you met your best friend. Did any of the choices leading up to that seem like big things at the time?

I would like to conclude by saying this: be aware of your choices. Understand the price to be paid for each one. Realize that even the smallest thing could have far-reaching consequences. Take heart from the knowledge… and be afraid… and most importantly, don’t let it paralyze you.

And on that melodramatic note, I shall end this post. I hope I’ve given everyone some food for thought.

~Jared