Sunday, April 29, 2007

Fruits Basket

Tokyopop promoted Fruits Basket as its “most eagerly-awaited manga series”, and sales figures and top rankings have borne that out. With its blend of comedy, romance, fantasy, and drama, all expressed in an attractively mainstream art style, there’s something here for everyone.

An eternal optimist, Tohru Honda is proud of taking care of herself, even though she’s been living in a tent after her mother’s death. She’s on the property of the Sohma family, a rather unusual group whose members are possessed by the spirits of the Chinese Zodiac. When they’re hugged by a member of the opposite sex, they turn into their corresponding animal.

Fruits Basket Book 2 cover
Fruits Basket Book 2
Fruits Basket Book 1 cover
Fruits Basket Book 1

She knows Yuki, a mysteriously aloof charmer, from school; he’s the Rat. He and Kyo, the Cat, fight constantly because of a legend about the Rat tricking the Cat out of his place in the zodiac. Kyo’s determined to beat Yuki and regain his place in the family, but his anger often gets in the way of his desires. Combined with cousin Shigure, the Dog, it’s almost cartoony.

The guys feel sorry for Tohru, who’s trying so hard to be the daughter her mother wanted. They also need someone to take care of them and do the cooking and cleaning. (The situation is vaguely reminiscent of Wendy and the Lost Boys.) In return, she gets a place to stay and a family who cares about her. She also gives them a new appreciation for their relatives, even with the burden of their curse.

Not every Sohma is male; Kagura (the Boar) is female. She’s got a crush on Kyo, which she acts out rather violently, while reminding him that family members can hug each other without transforming. (At this point, the reader may justifiably begin wondering if “hug” is code for something else.) Other family members represent the Rabbit, the Dragon, the Ox, the Snake, the Tiger (Cub), the Ram, the Horse, and the Monkey. Over the course of the series, we meet them all.

Fruits Basket Book 4 cover
Fruits Basket Book 4
Fruits Basket Book 3 cover
Fruits Basket Book 3

The second book sets up a cultural festival where Tohru’s class decides to make onigiri (rice balls) to sell. More relatives, the half-German Momiji and the doctor Hatori, make appearances, challenging Tohru’s knowledge of the family secret. Hatori’s ill-fated past romance makes him a tragic figure and explains his resistance to Tohru’s presence, even though she’s having a good effect on the younger family members. Then New Year’s for some of the characters means deciding which family to spend the holiday with, the one they were born into or the one they’ve made for themselves.

In the third book, a school race is the setting for Hatsuharu, another relative, to battle Kyo, but their fight is interrupted by Yuki’s sickness. Valentine’s Day means a double date for Kyo, Kagura, Yuki, and Tohru, followed by a trip to a hot spring resort.

Book four opens with Momiji and Hatsuharu starting at the school Tohru, Kyo, and Yuki attend. The class president is a bit put off by their unapologetic individuality, but the real threat is head of the family Akito. He appears to be their age, but he’s more maturely devious, frightening all the others into obeying his dictates. We also meet Yuki’s older brother Ayame, whose flamboyance disturbs many of the others. He runs a costume shop and often behaves outrageously in comparison to Yuki’s reticence.

Fruits Basket Book 6 cover
Fruits Basket Book 6
Fruits Basket Book 5 cover
Fruits Basket Book 5

The group spends a week at the family’s lake house in book five. When they return, Tohru meets another relative, Kisa, a middle schooler who doesn’t speak due to teasing. Tohru can identify, and she winds up acting as Kisa’s temporary mom. Yuki also helps overcome Kisa’s silence, revealing more of his internal struggles as he does so.

Book six, in contrast, focuses more on Kyo. His curse sometimes manifests in an unpleasant way, and Tohru is challenged by the results. Kyo’s sensei, almost an adoptive father, is also present for the encounter. Interestingly, Tohru thinks the way she cares for Kyo is selfish, because it’s based on her wanting to continue sharing experiences with him, when it’s really just what he needs.

The book ends with a visit to Ayame’s shop, a tailoring establishment specializing in outfits for men’s fantasies (such as maid and nurse outfits). While Ayame explains to Yuki that he’d rather they fight than feel nothing for each other, Tohru models a darling outfit.

Fruits Basket Book 8 cover
Fruits Basket Book 8
Fruits Basket Book 7 cover
Fruits Basket Book 7

Hiro, introduced in book seven, is a selfish, obnoxious, conceited kid with the ability to twist anything anyone says into a failing on their part. He’s always on the attack, always ordering people around, and always complaining. He also has a crush on Kisa. He’s a complex personality, quickly established through his twisty dialogue, and humanized through his jealousy.

Tohru’s friend Arisa gets a lengthy flashback as well. She was a gangster-type, a near-criminal troublemaker, until Tohru’s mom took her under her wing. Now, she still looks and sounds tough, but she and Tohru have an unbreakable bond.

With only a few more animals to go, book eight introduces the compulsive apologizer (and Monkey) Ritsu. Emotional exaggeration is the theme, with Hatsuharu sinking into depression (alternating with fury) after a breakup and Ritsu’s panicked self-effacement at the slightest hint of potential offense becoming a twisted way to gain attention. Tohru, Yuki, and Kyo are asked to write about their future plans for school, which sends them into reflective moods of self-examination, especially when it comes to wondering about the possibility of relationships. It’s a subtle reminder that the past affects the future. Often, the chapters are heart-warming stories of encouragement, with Tohru providing moral lessons of determination or patience or endurance.

Fruits Basket Book 10 cover
Fruits Basket Book 10
Fruits Basket Book 9 cover
Fruits Basket Book 9

Summer vacation starts in book nine. Tohru’s concerned about homework, Yuki’s preparing to be the next student body president, and Shigure is bemoaning that his adult status means no summer off for him. There’s a flashback to Tohru’s other friend Saki, focusing on her unusual ability to sense the emotions of other people. Her psychic abilities and goth-like appearance make her an outcast, another oddball like her friends. It’s a surprisingly deep portrayal of what it’s like to be left out and to think that you deserve it. Kyo’s sensei also returns in a chapter exploring how much Kyo has been growing up.

Book ten opens with seaside enjoyment as the family vacations at their summer home. Even while goofing around, the characters’ feelings for each other reveal themselves through the way they tease and who they play with. More family members, including Hiro and Kisa, join the group for vacation, while Shigure, back in town, visits a former girlfriend who also has connections to Hatori.

Her story provides a more mature, melancholy contrast to the lighter summer fun, and when the story returns to the larger group, the tone carries over. Hiro finds out that his mother is pregnant and he’ll soon have a sibling, which leads to meditations on the nature of family. Tohru realizes that not everyone might have had the close, loving relationship she had with her mother. Other people deal in more complex ways with their parents and family members, especially once Akito arrives for a visit.

Fruits Basket Book 12 cover
Fruits Basket Book 12
Fruits Basket Book 11 cover
Fruits Basket Book 11

In book eleven, Akito joins the family at the summer home, instantly forcing himself into the center of attention. He’s playing jealous games, demanding the others spend time with him instead of Tohru. Although she barely knows of him, he sees her as a threat and a monster. He’s not above using guilt and threats to manipulate the other family members, fighting a competition she’s not even aware of, although she’s too good to be hurt by his schemes. When he tries to arrange for her to be left alone, she barely notices, as she’s happy that the other family members can be together. Caring wins out over fear, and Yuki demonstrates a growing maturity as he begins to understand Akito’s games and motives.

As summer vacation ends, the characters return home in book twelve. The family feels that they’re fated to do what’s in their blood, but Tohru is determined to fight against their fate, if necessary. These are key questions of Japanese culture. How much does the past influence the present? What are one’s responsibilities to the family when their desires conflict with those of the individual?

That’s even more apparent as book thirteen begins. Yuki’s absent mother attends a parent-teacher conference geared towards planning Yuki’s future. His mother, cool and remote, takes it for granted that he will do as he’s told, going on to college and preparing to take leadership of the family, regardless of his wishes. His silent personality is a result of her refusing to hear him and ignoring anything he says that she doesn’t agree with. Her treatment has warped him, affecting how he’s able to interact with others, including both Tohru and Yuki’s older brother.

Fruits Basket Book 14 cover
Fruits Basket Book 14
Fruits Basket Book 13 cover
Fruits Basket Book 13

Book 14 is a focus on Rin, another of the Sohma family members, and her quest to remove their curse because of her love for Haru. It’s a very emotional tale, revolving around her emotional isolation and the reasons for it. Her motives are unstandable, but the reader wants to somehow find a way to soothe her pain.

The fundamental conflict of the book is between Tohru, and her optimistic belief in the future and improving change, and Akito, consumed by his power and determined to keep things as they always have been. He hates her because he recognizes her disruptive force for good. She loves the family, even in the face of their eventual separation. The variety of types of love displayed are complex: unspoken, until both partners are ready to accept it; destructive, aimed only at controlling the emotional object; protective, even if it appears to be desertion at first; resolute, determined to help.

The distinction between Tohru and Akito is foregrounded in book 15, as Yuki tells the story of his childhood. It’s a complex and affecting story, contrasting Yuki’s loneliness with his supposedly favored status. Others considered Akito’s personal attention to Yuki to be a sign of Yuki’s specialness, but they didn’t realize how Akito tormented Yuki. It’s a powerful exploration of how deeply children can feel and the long-standing effects certain encounters can have.

We also learn more about Kyo and Yuki’s competition from a young age. All Yuki wanted was a friend, someone who was happy to be in his presence. That’s what Tohru provides for him, almost a mother figure with her loving acceptance of him no matter what he is or how he behaves. That’s why he’s jealous of the different kind of relationship Kyo and Tohru have; he doesn’t necessarily want Tohru as his girlfriend, but he doesn’t want to lose the time and attention she gives him.

Fruits Basket Book 16 cover
Fruits Basket Book 16
Fruits Basket Book 15 cover
Fruits Basket Book 15

The second half of the book takes a lighter turn as the focus turns to preparations for a school play. It’s Cinderella, and Kyo is playing Prince Charming, with Tohru miscast as the wicked stepsister, goth Saki as the lead, and Yuki as the fairy godmother. Yuki’s brother Ayame is providing costumes, and given the personalities of those in the roles, they have to rewrite the story somewhat to gain willing participation.

Book 16 opens with an exploration of Tohru’s mother’s past. As so often happens, she was able to give her daughter what she never had as a kid — the feeling of acceptance and love that could be relied on, no matter what. The mother’s own childhood was one of acting out due to neglect, with a near-criminal past, until one person finally had faith in her.

Over half of this book tells her love story, leading to her marriage and the birth of Tohru. Two outsiders built their own kind of family together, able to overcome their individual uncertainties together. That tells the reader more about where Tohru gets her strength and her belief in the power of love to make impressive changes.

Underneath the fantasy transformations of this series, the emotions feel real and varied: jealousy, a longing for acceptance, friendship, dealing with a legacy, facing one’s fears, learning to care for others unselfishly. There’s an underlying theme of memory and loss, pondering when, if ever, it’s ok to forget, and whether memories are valuable even if painful. The themes are deep and meaningful, providing much material for thought underneath the entertainment.

The art is typical for manga, huge eyes dominating pointy-chinned faces under spiky hair. The emphasis is on faces and figures with minimal patterned backgrounds, but the animals are simply shaped, emphasizing their oddness, and cute. Tohru and the kid characters are cute like baby pets, and the boys are cute like teen idols.

The title comes from a game Tohru played as a child. We called it “Fruit Basket Upset”, where every kid was given a fruit name, and when their fruit was called, they changed places. When her class played, Tohru was named “Onigiri”, or “rice ball”, instead of a fruit, symbolizing how she doesn’t fit in with the family she was born into.

The large cast can be a lot to keep up with, so the introductory pages listing names, signs, and basic characteristics are much appreciated. Some books also have extras, which may include background on the zodiac signs, creator interviews, game rules, or fan art.

Manga News Service Launched

Celebrating the start of it's 8th year online, Anime News Service, the internet's leading and first English language anime news site, has announced launch of spinoff content hub, Manga News Service. Anime News Service defined online anime journalism upon it's launch in 1998 and currently serves thousands of visitors daily (anime fans and industry professionals alike) with the richest news content on the medium from around the world. ANS specializes in exclusive content on new properties and trends directly from Japan and delivers it to English readers before it can be incorporated into the monthly news cycles of most popular magazines on either side of the pacific (or atlantic) on many occasions. Manga News Service will capitalize upon the unrivaled resources and experience of ANS, being solely dedicated to covering the pop Japanese print industries: Manga, Doujinshi and Light Novels. The site's content umbrella will also cover the strongly emerging realm of Korean Comics (Manhwa).

Founding editor, Jonah Morgan comments on the launch: "Manga has seen uprecedented growth in the North American market in recent years, with strong support and enthusiasm coming from both the fans and industry alike. Originally a niche market dominated by smaller companies, major publishing houses have just recently stepped into the market, rolling out their own Manga licensing divisions across the USA, and licensing some of the medium's premium content in Japan. Also, Manga style has also been adopted by all the major American comic giants, it's definitely something that's here to stay. The time for a dedicated news service for Manga has long past. The diversity and exclusivity of the content we deal with around the clock on a daily basis will ensure the site will become a resource few interested in either anime or manga will be able to pass up."

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

VIZ Media Named Master Licensor for Blue Dragon™ Anime Series

San Francisco, CA April 16, 2007 – VIZ Media, LLC ( VIZ Media ), one of the entertainment industry's most innovative and comprehensive publishing, animation and licensing companies announced today that it has secured from a consortium including TV TOKYO Corporation and Shueisha Inc, the television, home video and non-video game merchandising rights for the Americas, Europe and Oceania to BLUE DRAGON, a new anime series based on the popular Microsoft Xbox 360 Role Playing Game.

VIZ Media makes the announcement in conjunction with its participation at the MIPTV conference, the world's preeminent audiovisual and digital content market, taking place in Cannes, France, April 16-20. VIZ Media has a prominent presence at the show in Booth #AO12.

The Xbox 360 game “BLUE DRAGON” is developed by Hironobu Sakaguchi ( the creator of Final Fantasy ). BLUE DRAGON also features characters by Akira Toriyama, the creator of the best-selling DRAGON BALL series of manga ( which is published in North America by VIZ Media and featured in SHONEN JUMP Magazine ). The anime series debuted in Japan on TV Tokyo on April 7, 2007 and is produced by Studio Pierrot, which is well known for its work on NARUTO and BLEACH, also licensed by VIZ Media. BLUE DRAGON television broadcast and key licensing partners will be determined shortly. The BLUE DRAGON video game has already established itself in Japan as one of Microsoft's hottest releases in the RPG category and will be released in North America and Europe in August 2007.

In the European market, VIZ Media will proactively distribute and market Blue Dragon through VIZ Media Europe, S.A.R.L, ( VME ) its Paris-based subsidiary established in late 2006.

The BLUE DRAGON Anime is a classic adventure story of magical Shadow powers, flying air fortresses, and unbounded heroism! Brought together by fate, Seven Soldiers of Light must awaken the Shadow within themselves in time to overcome a despotic power and bring peace to their land. Their ensuing journey through a rich fantasy world is also an internal journey to awaken the great power within each of them. Journey with them into the world of BLUE DRAGON!

“BLUE DRAGON represents the latest convergence of video gaming and anime. We look forward to leveraging the tremendous momentum that drives both to make this property a success across multiple market sectors and age groups,” says Linda Espinosa, Vice President of Content Management, VIZ Media. “Anime continues to be one of the most robust segments of the entertainment arena. BLUE DRAGON's story of overcoming conflicts through adventure and friendship will both entertain and inspire.”

“It is an immense privilege to be entrusted with BLUE DRAGON in Europe. BLUE DRAGON fuses the genius of Akira Toriyama and Hironobu Sakaguchi, with a beautiful story and incredibly rich animation. We expect an enormous response in Europe,” says John Easum, President of VIZ Media Europe.

About VIZ Media, LLC Headquartered in San Francisco, CA, VIZ Media, LLC ( VIZ Media ), is one of the most comprehensive and innovative companies in the field of manga publishing, animation and entertainment licensing of Japanese content. Owned by three of Japan's largest creators and licensors of manga and animation, Shueisha Inc., Shogakukan Inc., and Shogakukan Production Co., Ltd. ( ShoPro Japan ), VIZ Media is a leader in the publishing and distribution of Japanese manga for English speaking audiences in North America and a global licensor of Japanese manga and animation. The company offers an integrated product line including, magazines such as SHONEN JUMP and SHOJO BEAT, graphic novels, videos, DVDs, audio soundtracks and develops and markets animated entertainment from initial production, television placement and distribution, to merchandise licensing and promotions for audiences and consumers of all ages. Contact VIZ Media at 295 Bay Street, San Francisco, CA 94133; Phone ( 415 ) 546-7073; Fax ( 415 ) 546-7086; and web site at

About VIZ Media Europe, S.A.R.L. ( VME ) Headquartered in Paris, France, VIZ Media Europe ( VME ) is a subsidiary of San Francisco-based VIZ Media, LLC. Representing three of Japan's largest creators and licensors of manga and animation - Shueisha Inc, Shogakukan Inc, and Shogakukan Production Co, Ltd. ( ShoPro Japan ) - VME specializes in the development, marketing and distribution throughout Europe of Japanese animated entertainment and manga. It handles some of the most popular Japanese manga and animation properties from initial production, through television placement and distribution to merchandise licensing and promotions for consumers of all ages. VME offers both "shonen" manga ( aimed at male readers ) and "shôjo" manga ( aimed at female readers ). Current VME animated properties include BLEACH, DEATH NOTE, HONEY & CLOVER, MÄR, MegaMan Star Force, and ZOIDS GENESIS.

Friday, March 30, 2007

TAF 2007: TAF Attendance Figures Announced

Anime! Anime! has announced the final attendance numbers for the Tokyo International Anime Fair (TAF), which took place from March 22nd through the 25th at the Tokyo Big Sight Convention Center.

The total number of people who attended TAF is 107,713 people, up 8.8% from last year. 942 of the people at TAF came from overseas, most of whom were also in attendance on the event's two designated "business days." Although the number of Japanese companies attending the festival far exceeded the numbers of foreign companies in attendance, the increase in foreign attendance underscores the continued growth of the international Anime market.

Next year's TAF has been scheduled for March 27th through March 30th. The event will again be held at Tokyo Big Sight, which is also the site of some of the largest comic conventions in Japan.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Tokko: Volume 1

Anime fans have had more than their fair share of demons, scantily clad heroines and brooding protagonists over the years, but can the latest series from Manga Entertainment squeeze any more mileage out of this winning formula?

‘Tokko: Volume 1’ serves up the first four episodes of a thirteen part series, and focuses on Ranmaru, a recent graduate of the Special Mobile Investigations Troops First Division training academy (otherwise known as Tokko), and his first few days on the job. A survivor of a massacre at the Machida apartments, he is every bit the wide-eyed rookie, seeking vengeance for the murder of his parents.

First on the scene of a series of gruesome murders Ranmaru quickly realises that something far more deadly than a deranged psychopath is on the loose – human-faced-maggot spewing zombies, multi-limbed demons and a scientist with more than a couple of eyes too many are just a few of the horrors our hero must confront. It’s a good job then that the mysterious Tokko division are on hand. Wielding swords instead of pistols, Tokko are the explanation for the severed limbs and an enigma that Ranmaru must unravel,

This is by no means an anime masterpiece, yet these opening chapters are never the less fairly enjoyable. Borrowing liberally from films such as ‘Urotsukidoji’, ‘Wicked City’, ‘Men in Black’ and ‘The Matrix’, it wears its’ influences on its sleeve. This combination of elements does bear fruit, with the production often achieving a genuine sense of unease (a creaking sound-scope of digitalised static lending a perfect atmosphere to the on-screen gore). The plot is not stunningly original, but it does generally succeed in retaining the viewer’s interest despite occasionally losing momentum.

‘Tokko’ does suffer from moments of ‘comedy’ that will most probably leave everyone but die-hard anime fans scratching their heads. Largely revolving around suggestions of an incestuous relationship between Ranmaru and his sister, Saya, these light-hearted interludes do function as a respite from the melodrama, dismemberment and foghorn voiced police chiefs nevertheless.

‘Tokko’ clearly revels in the absurd, yet there are moments of real drama, with Ranmaru’s flashbacks handled with particular finesse. It is solidly scripted, well animated and, although the characters rarely move far beyond anime stereotypes, the plot (though often absurd) unfolds at a satisfying pace. It does little to lift itself above the competition in a very crowded genre, but is worth a look nonetheless.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Legends of Corocoro 10 Comic Series Debuts in May

To celebrate the 30th anniversary of the popular manga magazine "Corocoro Comic", the magazine has announced that they are launching a special, 10 volume series called "Legends of Corocoro" (Corocoro no Densetsu). Each volume represents a two year period when the original Corocoro Comic was published (1978-1979, for example), with each volume featuring the most popular comics from certain series from that time period.

The special releases are aimed at a much older audience than "Corocoro Comic", which has long been viewed as one of Japan's most popular manga magazines for younger children. Corocoro publisher Shougakukan is publishing the volumes by year so that adult readers can find a volume that corresponds to their childhood and read some of the stories that they read when they were young.

Shougakukan expects the "Legends" series to be a success, partially due to a strong showing at the World Hobby Fair that took place in Chiba last month.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Viz Media - Manga

Viz was happy to announce that their manga division has been doing well, with several hit titles. Particularly notable is Naruto, whose volume 7 won the 2006 Quill Award for best graphic novel. Last year also marked the end of three long-running series: Dragonball Z, Rurouni Kenshin, and Ranma 1/2. This year will see the end of Death Note and I�s, as well.

There are several new properties that are slated to be released in 2007. GYO and Uzumaki will be released under Viz's �Signature� imprint in October, while the �Media� imprint will see the release of Togari (Jul), Portus (Oct), and Hoshin Engi (Jun). Other titles to be released include Gin Tama (Jul), Pretty Face (Aug), and Strawberry 100% (Jul) under the Shonen Jump Advanced imprint, and Millennium Snow (Apr/Jul), Yurara (Jun), and Love Com (Jul) under Shojo Beat.

The panelists also expressed an interest in releasing more novels in the future, the next of which is Brave Story by Miyuki Miyabe. The novel was a bestseller in Japan, and was adapted into a full-length feature film.

In terms of the manga magazines, Shoujo Beat will hit its 2-year anniversary this July. The issue will feature cover art drawn exclusively for the magazine by Yu Watase.