Like most people, I’m probably more interested in Takaya’s post-Fruits Basket work than her earlier series. Tsubasa: Those With Wings had some flaws, but overall I enjoyed reading it. For some reason I just couldn’t get into Phantom Dream. I’m very curious to check out her newest series Hoshi wa Utau if it ever gets translated. In the meantime after the conclusion of Fruits Basket, Tokyopop has brought out a fan book and a collection of Takaya’s short stories.
Fruits Basket Banquet by Natsuki Takaya
I’ve read other reviews that commented the content in this book would be better served if it had been reproduced at a larger size, and I agree. There are several nice color pages in the front, and the remainder of the book is filled with fan art and the results of quizzes and polls from the Japanese run of Fruits Basket. Character profiles and looks back at favorite chapters are also included. I enjoyed looking back at Fruits Basket, but this is the type of book that will mainly appeal to die hard fans of the series. So for people that collect Fruits Basket plushies, cellphone straps, and tote bags, this will be a must buy. More casual readers of the series probably won’t need to pick it up. Personally, I’d rather just reread Fruits Basket again instead of reading a book about it.
Songs to Make You Smile by Natsuki Takaya
I think I actually enjoy early Takaya more in short doses. Manga short stories often seem to have a throwaway element to them, as I wonder if they’re usually written to have something to pad out a magazine as opposed to a short story that stands on its own. I did mostly enjoy this collection, and fans of Takaya can see her address themes that she explores in other works as damaged people are healed by love.
The collection opens with the story “Songs to Make you Smile,” about two misfits who are brought together with the power of music. Music serves as a go-between between a boy and a girl who are unable to express themselves freely with words. In “Ding Dong”, a girl struggles with the death of her father and is helped by her new stepmother and the sudden appearances of a neighborhood friend. “Voice of Mine” details the struggles of a prodigy from a musical family to find his own unique style as he’s the target of rumors and gossip at his music school. “Double Flower” might appeal to fans of Otomen, because while it doesn’t have the satire present in that series the main character is a man who enjoys feminine activities like sewing and quilting. By far the weakest story in the collection was a parody fairy tale featuring some of the Tsubasa: Those with Wings characters called “Princess Dark Black”. There were a few amusing bits in the story, but these had less impact simply because I had a hard time remembering who the side characters were.
Overall even though the stories in this collection represent Takaya’s earlier, less fully formed work I still enjoyed reading the manga. Seeing slightly damaged people come together despite their shortcomings made me feel a little nostalgic for Fruits Basket. Someone who isn’t already a Takaya fan might not like Songs to Make you Smile, but I liked it.
Review copies provided by the publisher.