by Natsuki Takaya
published by Tokyopop
Tokyopop has released two books designed to appeal to fans of the long-running, now-concluded, cash cow Fruits Basket, both by the same author, Natsuki Takaya. (The publisher provided review copies.)
The first is an obvious tie-in: Fruits Basket Banquet is a fanbook, a grab bag of art, including cast pinups and sketches, pictures of tie-in merchandise and translated book covers, fan drawings… The first 16 pages are in color, a nice touch, but it makes the immediately following images and photos look washed out and wrong.
There are interviews, games, and quizzes. Much of this is bonus material from the original magazine serialization, with no new comic work. The author comments on fan-favorite chapters and couples with art excerpts, but only those who love the story and are very familiar with the series will gain insight from any of this. The pages are crowded and cluttered. I think this would have worked much better in an oversized glossy album instead of a rough-paper manga-sized book. Only the most devoted will want to spend the $14.99 US for it in this format. (I suppose those 16 color pages aren’t cheap.)
Songs to Make You Smile ($12.99 US) has a similar trade dress and a prominent blurb, “Stories from the Creator of Fruits Basket”, but it contains four unrelated tales and a “Tsubasa: Those With Wings Bonus Fun Chapter”.
The artwork is stiff, and everyone has ridiculously pointed chins. (My theory is: The sharper the chin, the earlier the work.) The story material didn’t ring true to me: A boy in a band who’s made fun of has pity for a similarly bullied girl while he tries to figure out whether to seek popularity or express true emotion with his songs. A girl is helped by her stepmother to better understand her deceased father. (To this reader, he seems to have had mental issues, but that’s not the conclusion we’re supposed to draw.) A well-trained, prize-winning violin student is fascinated by a girl who follows her passion. A little girl helps a male relative reconsider what’s important in life. They’re formula works that don’t rise above, with various twists to make the requisite happy endings feel deserved.
Takaya never struck me as the kind of creator who had followers because of her art. Fruits Basket struck a chord because of its magical soap opera and how readers became involved with the characters and their love triangle. I don’t think those missing it will find these bits ‘n’ pieces satisfactory, because the over-the-top emotional beats ring false in shorter lengths.