Fruits Basket Ultimate Edition Vol. #01 -

Anime/Manga Reviews

Mania Grade: B+

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  • Art Rating: B+
  • Packaging Rating: C-
  • Text/Translatin Rating: A
  • Age Rating: 13 & Up
  • Released By: TOKYOPOP
  • MSRP: 14.99
  • Pages: 434
  • ISBN: 1-4278-0689-5
  • Size: 6
  • Orientation: Right to Left
  • Series: Fruits Basket Ultimate Edition

Fruits Basket Ultimate Edition Vol. #01

By Greg Hackmann     December 26, 2007
Release Date: October 30, 2007

Fruits Basket Ultimate Edition Vol.#01

Creative Talent
Writer/Artist:Natsuki Takaya
Translated by:Alethea & Athena Nibley
Adapted by:Kelly Sue DeConnick & Jake Forbes

What They Say
Can't Miss Collector's Item: It's Furuba--The Ultimate Edition! Featuring a premium hardcover treatment with Fruits Basket Volumes 1 & 2, this beautiful hardcover includes interior color art and a new cover.

The Review
While it's an economical way for new readers to get acquainted with the Fruits Basket juggernaut, this double-dip release offers almost nothing new for readers who've already picked up the paperback versions -- unless you count some new printing quirks.

The first Ultimate Edition of Fruits Basket is very much a mixed blessing when it comes to packaging. The biggest plusses of this new release are apparent as soon as you see the book sitting on a shelf: the page size has been expanded to a generous 6 inches by 9 inches, and the whole thing is wrapped in an attractive hardcover binding. The cover has even been festooned with new artwork to boot, featuring Tohru looking her girliest against a solid sea-green backdrop. Though I was initially apprehensive that the book's low price would result in a sub-standard printing and binding job, I was pleasantly surprised right off the bat to see what Tokyopop delivered for the price.

Unfortunately, my enthusiasm for this release waned once I actually started reading: it quickly became obvious that Tokyopop has just shoveled the first two paperback Fruits Baskets volumes into one omnibus compilation without adding any new content, or even doing the requisite proofreading before going to press. Footnotes and backmatter sections direct readers to links on that were presumably valid when the first two volumes of Fruits Basket were released in paperback form, but have long since gone dead. The second volume's sound effects glossary is now virtually useless for quick reference, since the page numbers haven't been updated to account for Volume 2 starting at page 220 in this omnibus release. The appendix section describing the rules to "Dal Hin Min" abruptly ends mid-sentence when the text flows off the bottom edge of the page. And that "interior color art" that the marketing blurb promises? Try a single front-and-back page that exactly reproduces the front covers of the original domestic paperback releases, replete with the Tokyopop banner. (How generous.)

The schizophrenic handling of this release is both puzzling and disappointing. It's clear that Tokyopop went to extra lengths to give this volume a nice shelf presence, and readers new to the series will appreciate the extensive supplemental content ported over from the paperback releases. At the same time, the screw-ups in printing actually make this omnibus collection into less than the sum of its parts; and I expect more than enlarged pages and a nicer cover out of a self-proclaimed "Collector's Item".

While Takaya's artwork starts off a little shaky in the beginning, she starts to hit her artistic stride by the time the first volume concludes. With two volumes printed back-to-back, it's particularly interesting to watch the evolution of her compositions: where early on she tended to crowd panels with too many characters, the second volume reveals more restraint on her part. Takaya generally stays on-model throughout these two volumes; again, there are some slight slip-ups in the earlier chapters, but these issues fade away by this collection's last chapter.

The print quality is really no different from Tokyopop's standard paperback releases ... just bigger. The enlarged page size brings out banding issues in some of the backdrops and clothing, and the contrast in many of the darker panels is a little underwhelming. For the budget price, though, I'm willing to overlook these quibbles.

In an uncommon (but appreciated) move for Tokyopop, the English translation preserves the Japanese honorifics and translates many of the Japanese SFX inline. Takaya's myriad rants and musings in the margins have been preserved, and a handful of cultural notes have been added in-between panels. The second volume's backmatter even contains a full sound-effects glossary, though as noted above its usage is greatly hampered by the now-incorrect page numbering.

Dialogue is printed in a wide variety of fonts -- I stopped counting at five typefaces -- with varying degrees of legibility. Fortunately, since the artwork has been blown up for this larger hardback edition, the often-exotic fonts don't pose much of a readability challenge.

Contents: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
The Sohma family has hidden a bizarre curse from the outside world: when members of the family are hugged by members of the opposite sex, they each turn into different members of the Chinese Zodiac. The practical implications of this curse have forced the family to live in compounds fairly detached from the outside world, only to have their privacy compromised when recently-orphaned high school girl Tohru Honda accidentally stumbles upon one of the Sohma houses. After hearing that the homeless Tohru has been camping out on their property while her grandfather's house is being refurbished, the residents of the household -- Yuki, Kyo, and Shigure Sohma -- take pity on her and agree to let her live with them for the time being. While the three men appreciate her female influence on their domestic lives, things soon become complicated when she inadvertently discovers the family's curse. Nevertheless, the eternally-cheerful Tohru convinces the family to let her stay, pledging that she will never reveal their curse to the outside world; as new members of the extended Sohma family enter into the picture, she even makes a game out of guessing their Zodiac counterparts.

Tohru's living arrangements don't go unnoticed by the outside world, either. Tohru's classmates, who have long fawned over the enigmatic Yuki, are clearly jealous that Tohru has shacked up in the same house with him; even Tohru's best friends Hanajima and Arisa regularly intrude on the Sohma household to check up on her. Of course, Tohru's reality is a little less glamorous than her friends and classmates make it out to be. Yuki and Kyo, respectively possessed by the Rat and the Cat, constantly bicker over Kyo's place in the family and often tear apart the house during their heated fights.

Even some members of the Sohma family are less than enthusiastic about the news of Tohru's stay. Hatori, the Sohma family doctor, warns Tohru to stay away from the Sohma family; he goes so far as to reveal that he would erase her memories of the entire situation if it were up to him. Tohru soon discovers the reason for Hatori's reluctance: years ago, at the insistence of the Sohma family elder Akito, he was forced to erase the memories of his heartbroken fiancée. Needless to say, Akito's overwhelming efforts to keep a lid on the family secret don't bode well for Tohru's future with the family. Despite this revelation, Tohru decides to remain with the Sohmas for the time being, all the while trying to unravel bits and pieces of their family history.

Okay, I'll admit it: I'm that guy. You know, the last manga reader on the planet who hasn't been exposed to Fruits Basket? Yep, that's me. So when I heard that Tokyopop was starting re-release some of their most popular catalog entries as hardbound editions, I was naturally anxious to find out what all the Fruits Basket mania was about. And I'm going to state upfront that, while Fruits Basket generally makes for an entertaining read, at this point I'm still scratching my head a little bit over which direction Takaya is trying to take the whole darned thing.

The story so far has Takaya covering an awful lot of bases: gradually introducing the massive Sohma family, installing Tohru into various comedic slice-of-life scenarios, and advancing the main plot about the Sohma family curse. Even with two volumes' worth of material, it's a little hard to get a concrete feel for how well all these elements mesh at this point. With the obvious romantic subplots still in their early stages of development, Takaya's comedic angle is the biggest appeal of these chapters. While the comedy is a little scattershot early on, story elements like the rivalry between Kyo and Yuki or Shigure's (ahem) colorful writing career start paying off by the time the second volume kicks off.

The more serious subplots (namely the history of the Zodiac curse and the many possible pairings for Tohru) aren't quite as memorable here, since characters are still regularly coming and going from the story at this point. But at the very least, there's just enough plot development so far to suggest that Fruits Basket's more-serious elements could take an intriguing turn in future volumes, if Takaya is willing to buckle down and focus on some of the core story elements are little more closely. (Given that Fruits Basket is currently on its 18th volume as of this writing, I'm going to assume that she takes her sweet time to work all of these story threads out.)

Plot discussion aside, I'm a bit torn about the way Tokyopop has handled this re-release. On the one hand, the $14.95 MSRP is very reasonable for readers picking up Fruits Basket up for the first time, especially since the per-volume price is identical to the boxed paperback collections and actually lower than the regular edition releases. On the other hand, some of the glaring errors have no business existing in the "Ultimate Edition" of a flagship title -- did no one think to give the whole volume a proofreading pass? -- and Tokyopop offers little extra incentive for collectors to double-dip. In the end, I'll give a slight nod to this volume for new readers, since it wins over the older paperback editions in terms of both price and form factor; but existing collectors should pass on this cash-in repackaging effort, unless larger artwork is worth the $15 asking price.


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