Books: Revolutionary Girl Utena by Chiho Saito

I love Touga Kiryuu. So much so that the one and only time I went to an anime convention, I cosplayed as him. But at that time I’d only ever watched the anime. I’ve owned this really nice box set of the manga for a few years now, and I finally decided to read them.

Me as Touga Kiryuu c. 1998

Shoujo Kakumei Utena is a pretty strange story. Utena Tenjou [note: I’m writing the names in the English order of given name first] lost her parents when she was young, and while grieving her loss one day, she went wandering through the city and fell (or nearly fell?) in a canal or river. But a “prince” saved her. He gave her a ring with a rose seal on it and promised they would meet again some day. Every year she receives a letter from the prince. Finally, some seven years later (Utena is now 13), he says they will soon meet.

Utena transfers to Ohtori Academy, an elite boarding school whose symbol is the rose. In so doing, she stumbles onto a strange ritual performed by the student council (of which Touga is president). They duel for possession of a girl named Anthy Himemiya, who they call the “Rose Bride.” They think being her groom will give them powers “to revolutionize the world.”

It only gets weirder from there. At some point the center of the story ceases to hold and it begins to make less sense; the threads of story are pulled too thin to form full connections. That said, I still really love these characters. Utena is perhaps the least interesting (as is sometimes the way of main characters); the council members are far more fascinating. The angry Juri, the sweet but sister-hounded Miki, the obsessed Saionji… And of course Touga. My favorite. In the manga Touga proves to be even better because he’s given more depth of character, which I appreciate. But I do also much prefer the character designs in the anime.

This manga doesn’t take long to read, and it’s worth reading if you don’t mind a story where you walk away unsure of what exactly happened. There are many “side stories,” too, with maybe alternate universes or??? They’re all good, but they in some ways contradict the main manga. I guess it’s just the author playing with her toys and trying new things with them. Fair enough. If I had characters this amazing, I might do the same.

Manga: Fruits Basket, Collector’s Edition 2 & 3

We recently started watching the anime for Fruits Basket on Crunchyroll, and that made me want to check out the manga it’s based on. Lucky for me, our library has a fairly good selection of manga. We’ve come a long way from my having to order from Japanese bookstores and then painstakingly translate to the best of my abilities… Which were not particularly strong…

After skimming the first Collector’s Edition—which is what our library has, rather than the individual volumes—and discovering that #1 ended right around where the anime we’d already seen did, I skipped that one and went on to #2, therefore getting ahead of the weekly episodes. Now I’m curious to see how much of what I’ve read will make it into the show.

Fruits Basket is about Tohru Honda (note that I’m anglicizing the names by putting first name first), an orphaned girl who bizarrely ends up living with an aloof classmate named Yuki Soma (sometimes spelled “Sohma”) who, along with other Soma family members, is cursed with a spirit of the Chinese zodiac. That is, whenever he’s embraced by a non-Soma member of the opposite gender, Yuki turns into a rat. Because he’s cursed with the spirit of the Chinese zodiac rat. ::shrug::

It’s exactly the kind of setup typical of this strain of anime, quite comedic but tempered with some heavy sentimentalism and the usual teen angst. The mix is highly satisfying. However, the story is far easier to understand via the anime; the manga is crowded with characters whose names are similar (and each one has several nicknames besides), and the art sometimes makes it difficult to tell what is actually happening. Despite these weaknesses, however, I find myself utterly addicted, reading through the omnibuses as quickly as I can get my hands on them. I’ll be so sad when I’ve read it all…

It’s been a long while since I’ve found a manga that I like this much. Hopefully I can discover another great series to sate my appetite once I’ve made my way through this one. Suggestions?