Title: Fruits Basket (volumes 1-14)
Story: Takaya Natsuki
Art: Takaya Natsuki
Publisher: Tokyopop (originally Hakuensha)
Fourteen volumes? Yes, fourteen volumes. Fruits Basket, or Furuba, to use the series' nickname, has been called the best-selling shoujo manga in America. I'm sure there are sales figures floating around somewhere to prove that, though that's not really that important.
I hesitate to call Furuba a slice of life series only because I can't recall any slice of my life in which I've hugged a member of the opposite sex who then promptly transformed into an animal. Well, it's supposed to be a closely guarded secret, so I can accept that although it's never happened to me, it could. (Okay, not really, but this gets back to the whole suspension of disbelief thing.)
Before I get started, a quick note on romanizations: The Tokyopop translations stuck a bunch of "h"es in where "o"s and "u"s go. This is supposedly an accepted romanization style for long vowels, or "u" extensions of vowels. However, these mystically appearing "h"es made my life miserable when I was just starting out in learning the Japanese language, so I won't use them. There is no plain "h" in the Japanese language. Don't misunderstand, there are "h" sounds, but they are all "h" plus vowel. (HA, HI, FU, HE, HO, respectively.) Thus, Tohru becomes Tooru, Sohma becomes Souma, and so forth. The same applies to many words with extended vowels, but in a purely English-translated text, the names are the only place that romanization should be an issue. ... ... ... Anyway, rant over, I suppose. On with the show.
Whether or not it can be called slice of life, the series certainly can lay claim to a quality mix of comedy and drama, along with an enjoyable cast. The story opens with Honda Tooru living out of a tent, because her grandfather's house is being remodeled. She happens across a house near where her tent is set up, out in the middle of relative nowhere, which, like the land she's pitched the tent on, belongs to the Souma family, and is inhabited initially by Soumas Yuki and Shigure. It would be nice to say that the Soumas took her in out of kindness and human decency, but saying that it's because none of them could cook or clean worth a lick is much more accurate.
The Souma family, or at least particular of its descendants, are cursed by what are referred to as the "vengeful spirits of the Chinese zodiac". Each of the twelve, plus the cat, have associated weaknesses, likes, and dislikes based on their animal to go along with the general "transforms into that animal when hugged by a member of the opposite sex" bit. Needless to say, this isn't exactly something that the family would be pleased about if it were to become common knowledge.
While it's not really something to recommend a manga based on, the author talk sections are easily some of the most memorable in memory. Just for a taste: "When a character dies in an RPG, my first thought isn't, 'Oh, how sad'... It's 'Please give back the items you had equipped, okay?' Then I feel bad about being so cold-hearted."
At some point, which I didn't think to pin down at the time (probably around volume nine or ten), the story shifts from Tooru living life while trying to hide the Souma family secret to her getting the idea that she might be able to find a way to break the curse.
The review feels like it cuts off quite abruptly, but I'm not sure what else I can say without going into excessive spoilers and ruining things for potential readers. So, I'm going to leave it at that.
With this, plus the eventually forthcoming reviews of the five books of the Belgariad by David Eddings, and The Tempting of America by Robert Bork (and the review that I won't be doing of volumes 5-8 of KareKano), I've clobbered the March reading challenge with room to spare, even if you want to count English-language manga at 3-to-1, 4-to-1, or even 5-to-1. (Go me? Heh...)