Let’s Get Visual: Fruits Basket

MICHELLE: So, we’ve been talking about Fruits Basket all week, but I’m certainly not yet weary of the topic. How about you, Melinda?

MELINDA: I suspect I could discuss Fruits Basket for weeks on end!

MICHELLE: Me too. We’ve already discussed the general awesomeness of the story and characters this week, but one thing we haven’t talked much about yet is the art. Takaya’s style evolves a good bit over the course of the series, and while I used to think I preferred her earlier style, I’ve lately realized that that is not the case at all. Do you have a preference yourself?

MELINDA: Hm, well, I definitely appreciate the prettiness of the series’ early volumes, and I do think there is some detail lost later on, but one thing the series never lacks is expressiveness, and that goes for the artwork as much as anything else.

MICHELLE: I think the expressiveness actually improves later on, at least insofar as Tohru is concerned, since she loses those really, really, really big eyes of hers. I will forever mourn the changes to my beloved Hatori, though, who goes from looking like this to looking like this.

It’s not that he’s become unattractive; he’s just lost a certain bishounen quality that I had certainly appreciated.

MELINDA: I do think Takaya does a wonderful job of aging the characters subtly over the course of the story, and I’m not necessarily just referring to their physical ages. I think she matures them overall, letting their outsides reflect their insides.

MICHELLE: That is definitely true, especially with Kyo, Yuki, and Momiji. Probably Momiji most stunningly of all.

MELINDA: Yes, there is quite a bit made of Momiji’s growing up, isn’t there? And though it’s more difficult to see that transformation as “subtle,” it’s certainly striking and oddly poignant.

MICHELLE: Takaya really does well with “striking” and “poignant,” doesn’t she? Which leads us to our specific picks for this month’s column!

Many of the most powerful and affecting moments in Fruits Basket occur between just two characters. To exemplify this trend, Melinda and I have both chosen scenes starring only Kyo and Tohru.

Melinda, why don’t we start with you?

Volume 15, Chapter 87, Pages 129-134 (TOKYOPOP)

MELINDA: Okay, well, I’ve chosen a scene from late in volume fifteen. After losing his temper in a confrontation with Yuki, Kyo returns to his classroom to find Tohru waiting for him, alone. In terms of script alone, the scene is not especially remarkable. There are some dramatic moments in Kyo’s inner monologue, but they’re both being careful not to *say* anything out of the ordinary. What makes the scene really work, though, is their body language.

At this point in the series, both Kyo and Tohru are just barely beginning to realize how they feel about each other, and Takaya plays this beautifully. The way Tohru lights up the moment she realizes Kyo is in the room, Kyo’s impulse to lean against her, their excited nervousness about being close, and especially Tohru’s last page alone—you can actually feel the tension between them in every panel. It’s so well done.

I especially like the last panel, with a flushed Tohru hurrying out of the frame. Somehow, leaving us with the empty space behind her keeps us lingering in the moment, much as she would herself, if she hadn’t been called away. There’s a sense there that the moment still looms large for her, too, even as she’s hastily left it behind, emphasized by the flowers still present in the frame. Like her absence in the frame is saying, “Really intense and possibly scary feelings happened here… run away, run away!” Does that make any sense?

MICHELLE: It absolutely makes sense! I’m always interested in how mangaka use open space, and I think you’re quite right that in that final panel it’s being used to keep us in place while Tohru dashes off. On the first page, the oddly tall panel of Tohru alone in the classroom employs empty space to emphasize how she really is the only one there.

This example reminds me of your pick for our “Duds” column, Baseball Heaven, and how the artist in that case utterly failed to establish convincing body language between two characters who were meant to be attracted to each other. Perhaps Ellie Mamahara needs to read more Fruits Basket!

MELINDA: Oh, good call, Michelle! Yes, that’s the perfect choice for contrast here. Everything that’s missing in that scene from Baseball Heaven is demonstrated spectacularly here, and as a result, this actually plays as a love scene much more convincingly, despite not actually being one. Even the use of small frames to emphasize the hand or face—something that just felt distracting and fragmented in Mamahara’s scene—adds to the tension here. It’s wonderfully done.

So what about you, Michelle? What scene did you choose?

Volume 22, Chapter 128, Pages 96-99 (TOKYOPOP)

MICHELLE: The scene I’ve chosen is from volume 22, quite near the end of the series. Tohru has been hospitalized and her friends have barred Kyo from seeing her while she recovers, since she gets stressed at the mention of his name.

As Kyo makes his nervous way to the hospital, the size and shape of the panels reflect his mental state. They’re cramped, dark, and dominated by his inner monologue. “Do I really still like her? What do I like about her?” We catch incomplete glimpses of the things Kyo passes on his journey, because he is so wrapped up in his thoughts that he too is hardly noticing them. Finally he arrives at the hospital, and the tension as he catches Uotani’s eye is palpable.

And then… Tohru appears and the world falls away. Suddenly, everything is so clear. The doubts are wiped away as if they have never been, because the minute he sees her, it is so very simple. “I love her.” Even as Kyo’s focus narrows to include only Tohru, the pages still have a wide-open and airy feeling that suggests gentleness and infinite possibility. This is the first time Kyo has really allowed himself to acknowledge these feelings, and it’s so beautifully done that it gives me goosebumps.

MELINDA: Oh, absolutely, I have the same reaction here! Everything you’ve said about the size and tone of the panels is exactly spot-on. Also, watching Kyo’s face the few times we see it is striking, panel-to-panel. His first expression, as he’s approaching the hospital, is one of extreme trepidation, and it feels to me that he’s sort of hiding behind his bangs. He doesn’t want to be seen by anyone, especially someone like Uotani, whose gaze he reacts so intensely to. He’s terrified of his own feelings and of screwing things up, and he knows that he’s historically bad at dealing with emotional situations. He’s simply terrified on all fronts.

Then, when he sees Tohru, all of that just drops away, leaving him with an expression of pure longing and vulnerability we’ve really not seen on him before. Just as the air opens up, so does Kyo, completely unguarded for one long moment. It’s really stunning. I think both of these scenes we’ve chosen would play just the same with all the text removed—they’re so much driven by the emotion in the artwork.

MICHELLE: Longing, vulnerability and sheer wonder, I think. :)

And yes, I think we have a knack for picking scenes where text is not really necessary. Even here, body language is certainly telling a lot of the story for us, even in small ways like Kyo’s tensed, half-flexed arm and clenched fist as he finally reaches his destination. You can almost see him willing himself to get through this without messing up.

MELINDA: There’s just so much emotional nuance here, in every panel. When I’m reading scenes like this in context, these are details I don’t consciously notice as I let the emotions just sweep me along, but when we actually take the time to break it down like this, I can’t help but be amazed by how much thought has gone into each line on the page.

MICHELLE: Me too. It sounds like we’ve convinced ourselves that, yet again, Fruits Basket is awesome.

MELINDA: Indeed we have!

MICHELLE: Thank you, Melinda, for joining me once again! And to those reading this column. Do you have a favorite artistic moment in Fruits Basket? Tell us about it in the comments!

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Comments

  1. I’m so glad you two wrote about this! *^^* One of the things I very briefly considered for my MMF piece had to do with Takaya’s use of body language, which I think is absolutely exquisite all the way through. She conveys so much through it.

    In particular, I think it’s amazing that you can so often tell not only what the characters are feeling in specific moments, but also how they move. I think of myself as completely non-visual, but I have a remarkably clear mental picture of how most of the characters walk and gesture.

    I also love the scenes you each chose here. Watching Tohru and Kyo together is lovely.

    • That’s a great point about how characters move. I think Ayame is probably the clearest example of that. I mean, with poses like this one, you can just tell there was some dramatic flourishing going on. :)

  2. I think one of my favorite things about reading Fruits Basket, is watching Takaya’s art mature along with her characters. I mean, she becomes a better artist over the course of the series, and it matches up amazingly well with the progression of the characters.

    • It seems that she—even though she already had several series under her belt by this point—was developing more of a personal, signature style than she had used up to that point. The art in Twinkle Stars is especially lovely.

      • That’s probably what I meant to say. :) That she was finally settling into a personal style. Her earlier works look like someone totally different drew them. They’re rather generic looking. Like, what every manga artist looks like when they’re just starting out. Which isn’t surprising, considering how the system works. With Fruits Basket, she finally developed her signature style. Which then matured as she continued the series.
        I don’t know if you’ve looked at her Tsubasa: Those With Wings series, but I love how she redesigned the characters in her style for the covers, and in the little bonus comics at the back of the volumes.

  3. Cool, I hoped that Fruits Basket MMF would also include some artwork discussion. I actually prefer the earlier volumes artwork, though I agree Tohru’s eyes were too big. They seem more finely detailed in the hair, clothes and background than the later volumes. I think you can see a difference just in the 2 screenshots you posted from vol 15 to vol 22. In the later volumes I had difficulty in distinguishing between the short-haired male characters. I remember reading Takaya suffered hand injury which forced the style change.

    • Now that you mention it, their hair is waaaay simpler looking in the vol. 22 screenshot. Interesting! :)

      And yeah, I’d heard that about the hand injury, too. Or maybe it was a wrist.

  4. danielle leigh says:

    Interesting you both picked Kyo / Tohru scenes (and fun for me since those are my favorite characters and my favorite relationship in the entire series). One of my favorites between these two is on the class trip when Tohru finds Kyo surrounded by cats. When he brushes them aside coldly and leaves them behind, she unconsciously grabs onto his arm, realizing that he will probably leave her behind one day like that. It’s just a great gesture, all the more heartbreaking because she does it without thinking.

    Awesome discussion, you two!

    • Any scene wherein Kyo is beset by kitties is always guaranteed to make me smile. I particularly love it when Takaya gives them amusing inner dialogue. And then, of course, there’s the kitty near the end who looks at Kyo and then just turns away, unimpressed.

      And thanks!


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