Posts tagged ‘Natsuki Takaya ‘




Manga Moveable Feast: Fruits Basket

This review was written for the Manga Moveable Feast, but I tried to make it as spoiler-free as possible. I won’t say that there are absolutely no spoilers, but there are definitely no major spoilers. However, I cannot guarantee the same for any possible comments that may be made, so read those with caution.

TITLE: Fruits Basket
AUTHOR/MANGAKA: Natsuki Takaya
PUBLISHER: Tokyopop
RATING: Teen (13+)
CATEGORY: Shoujo
NUMBER OF VOLUMES: 23
SCORE: 10 (Masterpiece)
RECOMMENDED FOR FANS OF: Fruits Basket anime, Natsuki Takaya (mangaka of Tsubasa: Those With Wings and Phantom Dream), fantasy, romance, humor, drama, slice-of-life

Right off the bat, I’m going to admit that Fruits Basket is my favorite manga series of all time. I’m not even going to try to come across as unbiased during this review, because I’m not. I’m totally, completely 100% biased, and I make no apologies for that, because Fruits Basket is just that awesome.

Fruits Basket is the story of orphan teenager Tohru Honda. Not wanting to be a burden to anybody while her grandfather’s house is being renovated, she decides to camp out in the woods. Yuki Sohma — a classmate of hers and the “prince” of their school — and his older cousin Shigure happen to come across Tohru’s tent one night and inform her that she has been unknowingly trespassing on Sohma land. Tohru offers to pay them rent if they will let her continue camping in the forest, but snce neither Yuki or Shigure is good at cooking or cleaning, they offer to let Tohru stay with them in exchange for becoming their housekeeper instead.

Shortly afterward, Tohru meets another member of the Sohma family, the martial-arts-obsessed Kyo, whose goal in life is to beat his rival Yuki. It isn’t long, though, before Tohru learns that Kyo, Yuki, and Shigure are under a terrible curse. Whenever certain members of the Sohma family are hugged by a member of the opposite sex, they transform into an animal from the Chinese zodiac! As Tohru meets more of the cursed Sohmas and comes to care for them, she becomes determined to find a way to break the Sohma curse, once for all.

One could be forgiven for thinking that Fruits Basket is a fluffy shoujo high school romance at first glance. It does come off mostly as a romantic comedy at first, what with people turning into adorable animals and losing their clothes in the process, but it quickly becomes apparent that the Sohma curse is far more dark and sinister than it first seems. All the cursed Sohma members hold a deep pain in their hearts and have experienced plenty of darkness in their lives due to the curse, ranging from mental and physical abuse and bullying to rejection from family members and the loss of lovers. If you were to ask me who I thought was the worst off, I couldn’t even give you an answer, because the majority of their pasts are just that horrible. The Sohmas are the very definition of a dysfunctional family. In fact, it’s hard to think of a character in Fruits Basket who doesn’t live with some secret pain. Even Tohru and some of the more minor characters have their own tragic backstories.

Even with all the angst, though, Fruits Basket never completely loses the humor and warmth present from the beginning. Honestly, one minute I’ll be laughing my head off, then the next I’ll be on the verge of tears. I don’t think I’ve ever been quite so emotionally invested in a manga series before. What’s more, it’s the type of series that makes you analyze and consider things you might never have thought of otherwise.

Takaya is known for putting little “lessons” in her works, and there are two from Fruits Basket that particularly stick with me. The first is Tohru’s brilliant “umeboshi” analogy. She tells Kyo that everybody has a umeboshi (a plum usually used as flavoring in a rice ball) on their back, and the reason why people probably become jealous of each other is because while they can see the umeboshi on other people’s backs, they are unable to see their own — meaning they are unable recognize what is good about themselves. The second comes from a speech Yuki gives to Kisa, who has been the victim of bullying at her school. Her teacher sends home a letter, telling Kisa that if she wants her classmates to like her, she should try liking herself first, but Yuki realizes that it’s not that simple. A person needs to told that they are liked for who they are before they can start liking themselves, because otherwise, they won’t know what it is to like about themselves, only what they hate. I know from personal experience that is true, so Yuki’s speech really struck a chord with me.

There are other such lessons I could go on about — such as Momiji’s story of the Foolish Traveller or any number of things Tohru learned from her amazing mother — but this review lovefest is already getting ridiculously long, so I’ll leave those for readers to discover and ponder on their own.

The main draw of Fruits Basket, however, is the characters and the various relationships between them. It’s actually rather amazing how well Takaya handles such a large and varied cast. The characters are integrated so well with each other, with the possible exception of Ritsu Sohma, who basically disappears from the story after his introductory arc. That was a bit of a shame, but at the same time, Ritsu is the type of character who is most effective in small doses. He had the potential to become annoying very quickly, so perhaps it was for the best that he didn’t appear too much in the story.

The cast of Fruits Basket holds the honor of possessing not only the manga character I quite possibly love the most, but also the character I quite possibly hate the most. Those two characters would be Shigure and Akito Sohma.

For those who watched the anime before before checking out the manga like I did, the differences between anime!Shigure and manga!Shigure will probably come as quite a shock. The anime (which I also adore and consider one of my all-time favorites) version of Shigure, while incredibly hilarious and loveable, lacks the complexity and somewhat manipulative nature of his original manga personality. Underneath his goofy, lazy, and perverted exterior is a man who will stop at nothing to get what he wants, even if it means possibly hurting those he claims to care about. He’s sadistic and selfish, yet at the same time, he does ultimately have good intentions. That contradictory nature of his makes for a fascinating character to watch.

Akito, on the other hand, makes my blood boil like few other characters. It’s difficult to put into words just how much I loathe the character, who is the cause of so much pain and suffering to the cursed members of the Zodiac. Perhaps the best way I can put it is that even I, an avowed pacifist, wouldn’t hesitate to punch Akito in the face if we were to ever meet. Though Takaya does a good job of showing exactly how Akito came to be that way and even manages to draw up a little sympathy near the end, it doesn’t change the terrible things Akito has done. Yet I still really appreciated the utter ruthlessness of Akito’s character, for it underscored exactly how disturbing and messed up the curse was.

Another thing I loved about the series is the love triangle between Kyo, Yuki, and Tohru. When it comes to most love triangles in shoujo manga, it’s usually pretty obvious who the heroine will end up with, right from the start. The unlucky suitor is mostly just there to cause drama for the main couple before they inevitably get together. Not so in Fruits Basket, since Tohru is not initially interested in either boy in the romantic sense. Her relationship with both of them starts out as just friendship, which to me, who whole-heartedly believes that the best romances happen when the couple starts off as friends, makes the gradual growing of romantic feelings that blossom naturally over time that much sweeter when they happen. Really, the romance is such a subtle development that up until about the halfway point of the series, when it becomes clear who Tohru has actually fallen for, I could see her ending up with either guy. Truly, one of the most well-done love triangles I’ve ever read, and the resulting romance is just as wonderful.

But romantic relationships aren’t the only relationships of importance in the series. Friendships and family ties — whether or not the people involved are blood related — are given just as much focus. I particularly loved the stong friendship between Tohru and her two best friends, former deliquent Uotani and mysterious Hanajima. There’s also the hilarious Mabudachi Trio, featuring three of my favorite characters: the aforementioned pervy Shigure, the straight man Hatori, and the over-the-top Ayame, who also happens to be Yuki’s older brother. Yuki himself becomes a part of a rather ecletic group of friends when he joins the student council later in the series. I know there are a lot of people out there who tend to dislike the student council and the chapters that focused on them, but I actually rather adored them. They (especially Kakeru and Machi) served an important part in developing Yuki’s character, turning him from a guy I really didn’t care much about at the beginning of the story to a character I actually loved by the end. And they made me laugh in the process, which is always a plus in my book.

When it comes to family relationships in Fruits Basket, there are a lot of complications due to the nature of the curse, especially when it comes to mothers who give birth to cursed babies. It is said that mothers of Zodiac members tend to either become overprotective of their child or reject them. We see examples of both kinds throughout the story, and it is truly heartbreaking to witness some of the more painful rejections, such as Momiji’s and Rin’s. Even those parents who don’t totally reject their children — such as Yuki’s and Ayame’s materialistic mother — are often cold and unfeeling toward them, and being the overprotective sort can be just as bad, such as in the case of Kisa, who can’t bring herself to tell her mother about being bullied, or Kyo, whose mother tries so hard to love him that it basically destroys her. It’s no wonder that several of the cursed Sohmas come to view Tohru as a surrogate mother.

Perhaps the most important familial relationship in the series, though, is that between Tohru and her late mom Kyoko, who raised her as a single mother after Tohru’s father’s early death. Even though Kyoko dies before the series begins, she’s one of the most important characters in the series. Her influence on Tohru continues well after her death, as Tohru strives achieve the dreams Kyoko had for her, but her bond with her mother is so strong that it also holds Tohru back from truly moving on and letting her go, which serves to support the main theme of the series — that there is no such thing as “unchanging” or “permanence” when it comes to bonds between people, that it is okay for things to change and to end.

Boy, this thing turned out way longer than I thought it would be. And to think I was actually holding back on a lot of things I wanted to say, since I was trying to keep this review as spoiler-free as possible. I think my overwhelming love for the series is pretty clear by this point, so the only thing more I can say is that if you haven’t read this yet and can get your hands on it — it’s unfortunately out-of-print now that Tokyopop has closed — do it. Obviously, I can’t guarantee that you’ll love it, but there’s a pretty good chance you will if you just give it a try.

11 comments July 29, 2011

Songs to Make You Smile

TITLE: Songs to Make You Smile
AUTHOR/MANGAKA: Natsuki Takaya
PUBLISHER: Tokyopop
RATING: Teen (13+)
CATEGORY: Shoujo
NUMBER OF VOLUMES: 1
SCORE: 6 (Fine)
RECOMMENDED FOR FANS OF: Natsuki Takaya (mangaka of Fruits Basket, Tsubasa: Those With Wings, and Phantom Dream), romance, humor, drama

Songs to Make You Smile is a short story anthology from Natsuki Takaya, mangaka of the megahit Fruits Basket. It contains four standalone one-shots, plus a bonus story featuring the characters from another one of her series, Tsubasa: Those With Wings.

For me, the Tsubasa story was the real highlight of the collection. Called “Princess Dark Black”, it’s an alternate universe retelling of the fairy tale “Snow White”. Fans of the “Sorta-Cinderella” play that Tohru’s classmates put on in Fruits Basket will probably like this story as well, although it’s even funnier if you’re familiar with the characters from Tsubasa: Those With Wings. Shoka was always one of my favorite characters from that series, so I enjoyed her getting the lead role in this story as a Snow White with a terrible personality. (Kotobuki, the heroine of T:TWW, gets relegated to the minor role of the Dwarf — yes, there’s only one.) Since part of the fun is seeing where the Tsubasa characters will pop up, I won’t reveal the rest of the cast, but I will say that I think readers will be able to enjoy the story even if they aren’t familiar with the main series. It’s just as easy to read as a seriously-demented version of the classic fairy tale.

Unfortunately, the rest of the stories range from “eh” to “good, but not great”, and none are really all that memorable. The weakest of the bunch is the title story, “Songs to Make You Smile”, about a teenage boy named Atsushi Takahashi who sings in his friends’ band. Most of his classmates are scared of him because he allegedly always looks mad. (I say “allegedly”, because he doesn’t look scary or angry to me at all — not like, say, Kasanoda from Ouran High School Host Club, who has a similar problem. If I had to describe him, I’d say he comes off more creepy-looking, in the vein of the Hanajima siblings from Fruits Basket.) He’s actually quite nice, though, and has a crush on one of his bandmates’ cousins, a girl who is always looking down at the ground and never smiles thanks to the bullying she received in middle school for allegedly being too cute. (Again, the “allegedly” because she doesn’t seem that special to me, looks-wise.) Atsushi’s dream is to make her smile again, and you can probably guess how he does so based on the title. It’s a sweet enough story, I guess, but I think the character designs really underminded the effect.

My favorite of the one-shots is probably “Ding Dong”, which, based on the differences in Takaya’s character designs, I believe is probably the earliest of the stories in this collection. In the Christmas story, a teenage girl named Chisato has recently lost her father, leaving her in the care of her new stepmother Shizuko, who he had just married a few months before his death. Chisato’s mother died when she was very young, and her father threw himself into his work, never spending much time with his daughter. He never even gave her presents for her birthday or Christmas, leading Chisato to believe that he didn’t care about her at all. With some help from Shizuko, however, Chisato learns the truth about her father’s feelings for her and begins to understand him a little better. Though the character designs are a little…off and, well, kind of goofy-looking, the story itself is quite heart-warming. 

I also rather liked the Valentine’s Day story “Double Flower”, about a young man who works at a craft shop and is in love with his boss. Next to “Princess Dark Black”, it’s the funniest of the stories, largely in part to Suguru’s step-niece Aya, who is an expy of Adelaide from Tsubasa. The final story is called “Voice of Mine”, and is about a couple of musicians who admire each other’s music. There’s nothing much I can think of to say about it. It’s not bad, but it’s nothing special, either.

The stories were produced during different points in Takaya’s career, so the art quality varies. Like I said earlier, I believe “Ding Dong”, with its more awkward faces, is the earliest of the stories, with either “Songs to Make You Smile” or “Princess Dark Black” as the latest offering. It’s interesting to see how her style developed over the years.

Songs to Make You Smile is an okay anthology of short stories, I suppose, but I don’t think it would appeal much to non-Natsuki Takaya fans. Even those who are fans of hers, like I am, won’t be missing much if they decide to pass this up. Her series are much stronger than her one-shots. Still, if you’re a fan of Tsubasa: Those With Wings, I’d recommend it just for the “Princess Dark Black” story, which is a lot of fun.

Add a comment August 11, 2010

Phantom Dream

TITLE: Phantom Dream
AUTHOR/MANGAKA: Natsuki Takaya
PUBLISHER: Tokyopop
RATING: Older Teen (16+)
CATEGORY: Shoujo
NUMBER OF VOLUMES: 5
SCORE: 7 (Good)
RECOMMENDED FOR FANS OF: Natsuki Takaya (mangaka of Fruits Basket and Tsubasa: Those With Wings), Yurara, Rasetsu, drama, romance, action, supernatural

Ever wondered how Natsuki Takaya, the mangaka behind the shoujo hit Fruits Basket, got her start? Well, here’s your chance with Phantom Dream, Takaya’s debut series.

Around a thousand years ago, there once lived a beautiful woman with omnipotent powers who was considered the guardian of Japan. She had two companions named Hira and Saga, both who also possessed strong magical powers which they used to help people in need. She and Hira were also lovers, but when the woman was savagely murdered, Hira’s grief turned to anger toward the entire human race. Naming himself the head of the Gekka family, Hira began using his powers to turn humans into jaki — demons filled with jashin (negative emotion) — in the hope that they would destroy themselves. Saga, in opposition to Hira, formed the Otoya family, using his powers as a shugoshi (priest) to exorcise the jashin from the humans-turned-jaki.

This ancient feud between the two families has continued onto the present day, when the story of Phantom Dream begins. Sullen seventeen-year-old Tamaki Otoya is the new shugoshi of the Otoya family, a direct descendent of Saga. Though powerful, he hates the fact that he is unable to prevent people from turning into jaki. All he can do is “clean up the mess”, so to speak. By his side is his ever-cheerful girlfriend and childhood friend Asahi, who provides him with unwavering love and support. Though aware of the fact that Tamaki will have to marry a girl of power his family chooses for him, Asahi wants to continue loving him for as long as she can. Things change, however, when Eiji — the jahoutsukai (black magician) of the Gekka family — appears, demanding the return of the Suigekka, a magical sword that once belonged to Hira. Surprising revelations then are made, putting in motion events that will lead to the ultimate battle between the Gekka and Otoya families.

I have to admit I was not very impressed with this series at first. It isn’t until about halfway through that things started to pick up, yet by the end, I quite liked it. I still don’t think Phantom Dream is as good as Tsubasa: Those With Wings or Fruits Basket, but considering that it was Takaya’s debut series, that can be forgiven.

What can’t be forgiven is a certain character quirk of Tamaki’s that I cannot believe Takaya gave him. It pretty much ruined the entire character for me and was one of the reasons why I didn’t care for the series at first. The thing is, Tamaki has a bad habit of (playfully) hitting and kicking Asahi — and we’re supposed to consider it funny. It’s not. I know it’s a total double standard, but while girls (usually tsunderes) hitting guys can sometimes be played for laughs — see Kagura from Fruits Basket and Kaname from Full Metal Panic, but not Naru from Love Hina, who pretty much just abused poor Keitaro — the same cannot be said for guys hitting girls. I can’t think of any situation in which that would be acceptable (except maybe a battle), much less funny. The thing that really gets me, though? In a bonus side story at the end of Volume 4, we learn that Asahi’s widowed mother is physically abusive toward her. Tamaki has known this since they were kids, yet he still hits her! Urgh! And to top it all off, when one of Asahi’s friends tries to tell Tamaki to stop hitting her in that same bonus story, Asahi says, and I quote, “It’s just how we show our love!”

No, hitting someone is never a way to show love. I don’t care if Tamaki never actually hurts Asahi, it’s not funny, it’s not cute, and it is definitely, definitely NOT romantic, and I am quite frankly horrified that Takaya would try to portray it as such when she handles the topic of abuse — both mental and physical — so sensitively in Fruits Basket. Fortunately, except for that bonus story, after Volume 2 these scenes disappear due to certain spoiler-y circumstances, so the reader can focus more on the plot instead of how much they want to pummel Tamaki into a bloody pulp. (Or maybe that was just me.)

Speaking of plot, the beginning starts off slow, with a kind of Monster-of-the-Day vibe as the reader is gets to know the main characters and learns about Tamaki’s various powers as a shugoshi, but things start to get a little more interesting with the introduction of the jahoutsukai Eiji and the rest of the Gekka family. I have to say this series has some great twists that are genuinely surprising, in particular the true nature of the jahoutsukai, which I found fascinating. Actually, anything involving Eiji tended to pique my interest, since Eiji was one of my favorite — if not the favorite — characters from the series. (I almost wish Eiji had been the main character instead of Tamaki. No, scratch the “almost”. I do wish Eiji had been the main character.)

Though the little life lessons Takaya becomes known for in her later series are occasionally sprinkled into the narrative of the story, to me, they didn’t seem to resonate as strongly. For example, Asahi’s “everybody has a star in the night sky” metaphor (meaning that there’s a little light (goodness) in everyone) just doesn’t have the same oomph as Tohru’s “there’s an umeboshi on your back” metaphor (about how people become jealous of others because they’re unable to see what’s good about themselves) from Fruits Basket. Still, Phantom Dream does explore some of same themes as FB, such as how things can never stay the same and letting go of the past, so it’s kind of interesting to see the seeds being planted.

Phantom Dream is undeniably Takaya’s most plot-based work. Fruits Basket was character-driven slice-of-life, and while T:TWW was somewhat plotty, it still felt more like the characters were moving the plot instead of the other way around. I mention this because the characters in Phantom Dream are generally not as vibrant or well-developed as the characters in Takaya’s later series. I’ve already ranted about how much I dislike Tamaki, but even if he wasn’t hitting Asahi all the time, I doubt I would have liked him. The way he kept moping about not being able to protect every one from the very beginning of the story, quite frankly, kind of annoyed me. Nobody can protect the entire human race. That’s just ridiculous. I might have liked him more if he had been more of the “I’m going to try my best to do what I can” school of shonen heros than an angsty, moody shoujo lead, depressed about how useless he is when he obviously isn’t. He was a little too passive for my taste to make for a compelling main character. As for Asahi, she’s very much the airheaded, cutesy, refers-to-herself-in-the-third-person, overflowing with love kind of character — almost bordering — if not crossing — into Mary-Sue territory. She definitely not a strong female lead in the mold of Kotobuki and Tohru, and I have a feeling that her personality will turn off a lot of readers at first, but I will say that she does become less grating as the story goes on due, again, to certain spoiler-y circumstances. Really, the only people on the “good guys” side I found remotely interesting were Kaname (Tamaki’s mother) and Hideri (one of the higoshi who are the protectors of the shugoshi).

It’s actually the members of the Gekka family who are the most intriguing characters to me. Each is given detailed backstory, and almost everybody gets the chance to grow and develop as a character, unlike those on the Otoya side, who stay fairly static (with the exception of Kaname, Hideri, and maybe Asahi). Some of the most touching scenes in the series are focused on those of the Gekka family. Like I said before, had Eiji been the main character instead of Tamaki, I might have enjoyed the story more.

You may have noticed that I’ve been flinging around quite a few unfamiliar Japanese words during the course of this review. Feeling confused yet? If you are, you may find yourself fighting the urge to throw these manga volumes across the room in frustration, because they get used — a lot. I don’t usually have a problem when manga translators choose to keep some vocabulary in Japanese, but the thing is, there are roughly about a dozen terms the reader has to keep track of, and a lot of them look very similar: shugoshi, shichiboujin, shieki, gohou, Suigekka, juzu, jahoutsukai, jaryoku, jashin, jaki, higoshi, hi, haku, kon. See what I mean? A handy rule of thumb is that all the words that begin with an “S” are terms related to the Otoya; likewise, all the words that begin with “J” are Gekka words, but that rule doesn’t hold true for “Suigekka” and “juzu” (prayer beads). Suigekka was Hira’s sword and rightly belongs to the Gekka family, while the juzu belonged to Saga and are used by the shugoshi of the Otoya family. It doesn’t help with the confusion that a proper glossary of terms isn’t provided until the third volume. I would have appreciated it more had they added the glossary from the very beginning. That might have been helpful.

Artwise, since this was Takaya’s debut series, it’s not as polished as her later works, but around Vol. 3 or so, you can start to see her start to improve. I believe this is around the time she started on her next series Tsubasa: Those With Wings, so you can even see some the characters in PD starting to look more like those in T:TWW. The change is probably most evident in Eiji, who begins to look like Kotobuki’s twin.

Overall, Phantom Dream is a decent debut, but if you want to check out Takaya’s work, Fruits Basket and Tsubasa: Those With Wings are stronger series. However, if you are still interested in Phantom Dream even after reading this review, I suggest you skip over the bonus story in Vol. 4. It’s just a filler piece with no real bearing on the series, and it’ll probably just make you angry.  I know it certainly made me furious.

2 comments May 19, 2010

Tsubasa: Those With Wings

Originally posted at LiveJournal on Jan. 19, 2010.

TITLE: Tsubasa: Those With Wings
AUTHOR/MANGAKA: Natsuki Takaya
PUBLISHER: Tokyopop
RATING: Older Teen (16+)
CATEGORY: Shoujo
NUMBER OF VOLUMES: 3
SCORE: 9 (Great)
RECOMMENDED FOR FANS OF: Natsuki Takaya (mangaka of Fruits Basket and Phantom Dream), Chobits, science fiction, fantasy, philosophy, romance, action, adventure, humor

It is no secret that I absolutely adore Fruits Basket, so I was happy to see more of mangaka Natsuki Takaya’s work licensed in English. Of her two previous series that have come out here in the U.S. — the other being Phantom Dream — I definitely prefer Tsubasa: Those With Wings. While not perfect, this series shows the potential later realized more fully in Fruits Basket.

The story takes place at the end of the 22nd century in a country named Neelse (located in the area of modern day China and southeast Asia). Thanks to the many wars of the 21st century, Earth has gone to ruin. Water is polluted and fields have fallen in decay. Only those in the upper classes — the rich, the politicians, and members of the army — enjoy any kind of comfortable life. The rest struggle just to survive.

The lowest of the low is a group called the Nameless, made up of orphaned children and those abandoned by their parents. They are considered “nameless” because the government refuses to issue them identification if they don’t belong to a family and have a family name. Most people treat them like trash, and opportunity to improve their standing in society is pretty much non-existent, as they are even denied a proper education. Most Nameless resort to a life of crime to survive.

One such Nameless is the sixteen-year-old thief Kotobuki. She isn’t much of a burglar, never stealing anything of real value, but she is fast and agile, making it easy for her to outrun the army police. Kotobuki, however, dreams of one day making an honest living and decides to put her life of crime behind her in order to find a legitimate job. Joining her on her journey is the brilliant Raimon Shiragi. A former army captain, he has been in love with Kotobuki ever since the first time he saw her fleeing the scene of one of her burglaries. After months of chasing her, with no real intention of ever arresting her, Raimon decides to resign from his army post, give up his life of privilege and prestige, and start a life with Kotobuki, whether she likes the idea or not.

Together, they travel various different towns as Kotobuki searches for a job. Along the way, they meet several people who are looking for the legendary Tsubasa. The Tsubasa, according to popular myth, has the ability to grant people’s wishes. Kotobuki initially isn’t interested, but when she discovers that an army colonel implanted a bomb in Raimon’s brain to prevent him from crossing the border and leaving the country, she decides to join in the search for the Tsubasa to find a way to save him. But to find the Tsubasa, they must also go up against the army, who are also looking for the Tsubasa — and Raimon — for their own nefarious purposes.

As with Fruits Basket, the greatest strength of this story is the characters. Kotobuki shares some similarities to Tohru, the heroine of FB, in that they are both kind-natured with an optimistic, can-do attitude and have the same kind of work ethic, but their personalities couldn’t be more different. Kotobuki is brash and isn’t afraid to speak her mind. She also has no problem getting violent should the situation arise, and there are people she doesn’t like, which makes her feel more realistic than Tohru, who tends to love everybody she meets. Raimon, meanwhile, is definitely not your typical shoujo lead. Underneath his laid-back, kind of goofy and pervy demeanor (similar to Shigure from FB), he’s pretty much a psychopath. The only thing that matters to him is Kotobuki and her happiness. He couldn’t care less about other people, including himself, and has a habit of blowing up buildings, which becomes a bit of a running joke through the series. Yet it’s hard not to like him and even feel sorry for him when his past is revealed. Other fun characters include: Shoka, the sexy leader of a small group of thieves looking for the Tsubasa in order to wish for, in her words, “boys, booze, power, and prestige”; Adelaide Wilson, a smart little rich girl Kotobuki befriends while working as a maid; Yan Mizuchi, the leader of Teki, a Blue Rose resistance group that provides assistance to them; and Major Tohya Ingram, who has a bit of a hilarious obsession with Raimon.

Another thing this series shares in common with Fruits Basket are the little “lessons” that are interwoven throughout the story, things that seem like they should be common sense, yet are easy to forget. One that particularly sticks in my mind is that the Nameless are human and were born of human parents, even if those parents are dead or have abandoned them, just like everybody else. Obvious, right? Yet the way characters treat the Nameless, a lot of them don’t seem to remember that and consider them less than human. It’s incredibly sad, and echoes how even some people today look down on the homeless or members of the minority.

It is a bit unbelievable, though, that people would be so prejudiced against orphans in the future, to the point that they are denied last names and identification. That’s really what I consider the major flaw of this series: the fact that the whole situation seems really unlikely to ever happen in modern times just due to a devastating world war. (Maybe a meteor hitting the Earth, or something like that, but just a war?) I know, fantasy doesn’t have to be realistic, but I find it hard to believe that, for example, most records of the 21st century were destroyed, to the point that most people don’t even remember there ever used to be a country called “Japan”. That’s a lot to destroy, and I would hope that the survivors would do their best to record their memories. Then again, there is the Tsubasa… Well, I won’t spoil what happened, but I suppose it makes the world of the story a little bit more believable. Just be aware that you’ll likely have to suspend your disbelief a little to truly enjoy the story.

Another weakness is the romance aspect of the story. There’s a lot of “love at first sight” happening, with little to zero development afterwards. This is especially apparent with Yan and his love interest, whose relationship is completely shallow. Even Raimon fell in love with Kotobuki at first sight, although Kotobuki’s falling in love with him is handled much more realistically over time. Too bad it seems at times that the only reason she loves him is because he’s so in love with her. Seriously, when the guy only cares about you and you alone, what else is there about him to fall in love with? (Besides looks, of course. Raimon is rather handsome, although, personally, I find Tohya the hottest guy in the cast.) Well, I suppose Raimon has a fairly decent sense of humor, and he is kind to her, but he’s basically a jerk to everybody else, which makes it rather strange that a girl like Kotobuki, who cares a lot for other people, would fall in love with a guy like him.

On the technical side of things, the translation is kind of all over the place in respect to the romanization of names, especially between the first and second volumes. It’s understandable, as the first volume was translated by a different person than the last two, but it is rather distracting to have Kneels/Neelse, Toya/Tohya, Adilyte/Adelaide,  Phere/Fia, etc. Likewise, honorifics are used rather haphazardly. Concerning the artwork, it’s close in style to how Takaya drew at the beginning of Fruits Basket, so if you prefer her older drawing style, you’ll probably like it.

Despite these flaws, I found Tsubasa: Those With Wings to be an involving, entertaining and thought-provoking series. For fans of Takaya’s work, especially Fruits Basket, I definitely recommend checking it out.

Add a comment March 27, 2010

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