Mangaka: Natsuki Takaya
My rating: 3.5 of 5
As one of the outcast “Nameless” (her society’s term for orphans), Kotobuki has had to make her own way in the world–which she’s done by becoming a fairly skillful thief. The one person who always seems to be able to catch her in the act is an elite member of the military by the name of Raimon. Only Raimon seems completely uninterested in arresting her; he’d rather gaze at her adoringly and maybe offer her a candy bar. Eventually, Kotobuki decides to take the high road and become an upstanding citizen who works for a living . . . if only it were that easy to get a job! Lucky her (?) Raimon decides to quit the military and become her traveling companion, providing when she can’t find work. It’s got to be love (or at least obsession).
As a huge fan of Fruits Basket, I’ve been trying to find more of Takaya-sensei’s manga to try. Tsubasa is one of her earlier works, and it shows in somewhat more cliche plotlines and characters, as well as in a slightly less mature art style. But there are a lot of things about this manga that simply scream Takaya-sensei as well: the deep, dark pasts; the sweet, innocent girl who changes everything; the unexpected romances; the insane obsessions. Really, this is quite an enjoyable shoujo sci-fi manga–best for a bit older audiences, though. Partly because of the nudity and ecchiness at parts; moreso because of characters like Raimon who have really unhealthy motives that would be really bad for younger kids to read about and imitate. I do find it interesting that, although it’s called Tsubasa, the tsubasa don’t actually become a serious focus of the story until about halfway through; until then it’s much more slice-of-life focused on Kotobuki’s job search and her growing relationship with Raimon. But I do have to say that, when they do come in, the tsubasa are one of my favorite parts of the story, especially Rikuro. And, typical of Takaya-sensei, there’s a huge cast of unexpected and interesting characters–including an unlikely gang of thieves who strangely remind me of Team Rocket! All told, I think Tsubasa: Those With Wings is a good manga for people who already like Natsuki Takaya’s writing to try–and bonus, it’s only three volumes long, so it’s a pretty quick read.
Mangaka: Natsuki Takaya
Following her mom’s death in a car accident, Tohru Honda finds herself living on her own in a tent. Not that she’s about to let any of that get her down! Shortly after setting up . . . um, house? . . . Tohru stumbles upon a large house nearby–only to find that her classmate the oh-so-popular Yuki Sohma lives there with his cousin Shigure. And, apparently, his violent, grumpy cousin Kyo. What with one thing and another, they discover her circumstances and convince her to move in and do their housekeeping (they desperately need the help!). However, it’s not long until Tohru discovers that the Sohmas are keeping a secret: when they get sick or are hugged by members of the opposite gender, several of them will turn into the various animals of the Chinese zodiac! Tohru’s more than willing to keep their secret, but the closer she gets to the Sohmas, the more she realizes there’s more to this curse than just turning into cute animals. . . . There is a deep, painful secret hiding in the Sohma family, and Tohru is desperate to free the people she loves from that painful curse, whatever it takes.
Fruits Basket is probably my absolute favorite shoujo manga ever. Maybe even my favorite manga, period. Mostly because it’s chock full of wonderful characters–again some of my absolute favorites. Momiji Sohma, for instance–super-cute and kiddish (think Honey from Hostbu), but full of surprising insights, kindnesses, and selflessness–absolutely makes my heart melt. But really, the entire cast is deep and full of surprises; they’re excellently developed and fascinating to get to know. At first glance, the plot seems veeery stereotypical shoujo–I mean seriously, death by car accident, damsel in distress moving in with a bunch of guys, random fantasy curse–but it takes those stereotypical elements as a jumping-off point for something much richer. The story is intricate and emotionally moving–few stories make me laugh and cry more, or leave a more lasting impression. I think I never really understood the concept of kindness until I read this manga; it hit home in a meaningful way to me. Regarding the art, Takaya has a distinctive style, shoujo and cute/pretty, with big, limpid eyes–in my opinion, it suits the story well. If you’re interested in a sweet, moving shoujo manga with lots of intricacies and great characters, Fruits Basket would be high on my recommendations (just be aware that it’s long–23 volumes).