As I pondered this week’s Manga Moveable Feast, my thoughts naturally turned to poor old Yuki Sohma, one of the lead characters of Natsuki Takaya’s Fruits Basket (Tokyopop). I can’t help but think of him as “poor old Yuki,” even though he has as nice an outcome as just about anyone in the manga. So why is that?
Well, it’s partly Takaya’s fault. For roughly the first half of the series, Yuki is enmeshed in a fairly intense love triangle with his outcast cousin, Kyo, and Tohru, the good-hearted orphan who’s changing the family’s dark destiny. At the midway point of the series, it becomes clear to readers (and Yuki) that he’s out of the running in that particular contest.
Of course, Takaya loves her characters, no matter how vile they may be, and, since Yuki is about as far from vile as any Sohma gets, Takaya uses the remainder of the series to present a series of consolation prizes. Yuki isn’t really central to the breaking of the family curse, but he can live his life in ways that support the value of breaking that curse. As I mentioned in comments on a previous post, there are two subsets of anti-curse folk in Fruits Basket. There are the aggressive, special-ops types like Tohru, Rin, and Shigure who actually take steps to end the damned thing.
Then there’s the “lead by example” type, the “live your lives, go to Disneyland, buy a new car” breed, embodied by Yuki. He may suspect that the rest of his life will be dominated by Sohma sorrow, but for now, he’s going to live as much on his own terms as he can. This is perfectly admirable, though it removes Yuki from the most emotionally resonant part of the narrative. And it forces him into frequent contact with his school’s student council. I get the point of this group, I really do; they’re “real” people outside of the Sohma bubble who have things to teach Yuki. I don’t even dislike them, except for Kimi, who refers to herself in the third person and hence must be destroyed.
And when you learn about Yuki’s specific pain, you want him to keep walking and never look back, no matter how many Kimis he stumbles across along the way.
Now, just about everyone in the series aside from Tohru had parents, particularly mothers, who couldn’t hold it together. They were either too weak to deal with their children’s tragedies, or they were too craven to care. Yuki’s mother falls into the latter category, and, Ren excluded, she’s probably as horrible as a parent gets in Takaya’s fictional universe. The worst thing about her is that her values are the exact opposite of what her sons need to be happy.
But, as I said, Yuki doesn’t let that deter him from pursuing his own values, even in the face of romantic disappointment. It’s perhaps appropriate that he breaks the curse cycle in a number of meaningful ways before the curse itself concludes, because Yuki is the type to do things on his own. That’s poor old Yuki’s burden, but it’s also his strength.