136 chapters ago, orphaned high school student Tohru Honda came to live with the Sohmas, a family with a bizarre secret; when hugged by a member of the opposite sex, they turned into the animals of the Chinese Zodiac. Now, the series has finally concluded- all the tears have been shed, the confessions have been made, and we can at last get on with our lives. But what should the final verdict on Furuba be- was it the best manga ever, or did it simply outstay its welcome?
Like many people, my Furuba experience actually started with the anime, a series that was highly enjoyable but also one that ended too soon. Having been drawn so fully into the heartfelt and bittersweet world of Tohru and the Sohmas, I was desperate to find out what happened next, and with that in mind, the manga seemed the logical next step.
And indeed, when I started reading the manga, it seemed an entirely worthy experience. Over the course of the first twelve or so volumes, Fruits Basket wove a deceptively simple story of drama and romance, the tale of one pure-hearted girl’s catalytic effect on a group of people too trapped and scared to save themselves. Their problems may have been more extreme than most, but they were still ones that the reader could identify with, based as they were on the feelings of isolation, loneliness and uncertainty that almost everyone experiences at some point in their lives. What could be more satisfying, then, than to watch them slowly opening up and putting aside the pain that had haunted them for so long?
Yes, for a time, Furuba was onto to a good thing, and I was only too happy to be swept along with it. I let myself be absorbed into the world of these unique and likable characters, smiling when things when worked out for them, and even shedding a few tears at the most bittersweet and sorrowful moments (I don’t want to give anything away, but suffice to say that you should have a few tissues handy when reading volume six). It all seemed nothing short of excellent, and I was only too happy to include Furuba in that select list of favourite series.
Unfortunately, as with so many things, the good times were not to last forever. As the series moved into its second half, I began to feel a niggling sense of dissatisfaction- a treacherous yet inescapable feeling that Furuba simply wasn’t engaging me to the same extent that it previously had. As the weeks passed and still more chapters came my way, I couldn’t deny it- Furuba was losing its impact.
Aside from a select few exceptions, most series have a limited lifespan, and Furuba was already approaching its expiry date. Between its extended cast and their various problems, Furuba was already walking the fine line between engaging drama and over-the-top angst, and now it was about to topple over the edge.
The downhill slide began with the introduction of no less than four new characters- the student council that newly elected president Yuki Sohma would be working with. Furuba hardly needed more characters, but not only did it bring in an entire quartet to occupy Yuki, but it gave two of them complicated and traumatic histories that were the equal of anything the Sohmas had experienced. From then, it felt as if the series had simply gone too far; not only did almost everyone featured on its pages seemed to have some kind of troubled past filled with family conflicts, deceased relatives and other distressing incidents, but Tohru became the ultimate Mary Sue, magically healing all their wounds with just the power of her smile. What had once been such an excellent series was now beginning to bear a distinct resemblance to a tangled and melodramatic soap opera.
Equally disappointing in the later chapters is the laziness with which the main storyline is finally resolved. The curse of the Sohmas is the driving force behind the series, and the question in every readers mind must have been whether or not it would be broken, especially in the case of Kyo, who as the Cat, bore the brunt of it. It seemed reasonable to expect that everything would end happily for our protagonists, but given the care taken in setting up the curse, surely it would receive an equally well thought conclusion? Unfortunately not; apparently the situation would have worked itself out over time no matter what happened, effectively rendering the events of the entire series somewhat pointless.
Any series could be proud of laying claim to twelve volumes of excellence, but enjoyable as they were, such heights quickly pale when balanced with a further eleven volumes of intense angst and a focus split between far too many characters. It could be argued that Furuba’s ending was never going to be anything but a little bit cheesy and disappointing, but even so, it didn’t have to take quite so long getting there.