Fruits Basket Manga Read-Through: Collector’s Edition Volume Nine

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The last couple volumes that we’ve read have all been about seeing the kinds of scars children can develop when they’re abandoned by their parents and how they can slowly begin to recover through the support of loving friends and found family. Volume nine continues this theme but in a different direction, showing the kind of destructive mental and emotional issues that can arise from poor parenting and lack of emotional support. We’re shown these kind of life progressions through the lens of Akito and Machi’s differing ways of reacting to the pressure and issues that arise from their parents lack of support. Their two very different stories, but in a way tell a similar narrative of stunted emotional growth and destructive tendencies. There’s always so much to talk about with this series, and with every volume I feel like I find some new psychological concept to really dig into. I’m really hoping you all are enjoying what are turning out to be short almost essays of Fruits Basket. We’ve got three volumes left and the story is starting to move fast towards the conclusion.

Volume nine continues the story of the previous volume with the examination of Kureno’s relationship with Akito and the fall-out surrounding him finally watching the DVD of Uo in the school play. The story takes us into their past and present relationship and the reasons why Kureno feels like he can never leave as well as a look at the tension that exists between Kureno and Shigure, all revolving around Akito. But in Tohru and the younger Sohma’s world, graduation is fast approaching for all the third years at the school which means a flurry of preparations, many of which centered around the student council. In the background of all of this, Tohru can’t help but have a bad feeling because she hasn’t seen Rin in a while and no one seems to know where she is.

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So what do I mean when I say Akito and Machi have similar narratives? Well, let’s take a look at Akito’s history. We’ve been learning slowly, volume by volume, more about Akito’s life up until this point and what makes her tick (I’m using her here because it’s in this volume that we learn that she is actually a woman) and how she views her position as both head of the Sohma family and God of the zodiac. Her childhood is really a mess of both abandonment and the development of narcissism through too much support from both her late father and the members of the Sohma family. I think it’s this severe dissonance between her two parents levels of support that seems to cause the most problems. Her mother, Ren, rejects her for who she is, forcing her to live as a boy and discounts her relationship to the rest of the zodiac, saying that their perceived bond is all a delusion. Her father, however, repeatedly tells her she is God, the most important person in the Sohma family, born to be loved by the zodiac. So, in the end, she develops this deep love for her father and this deep hatred for her mother that continues till this day. And I think it’s this dichotomy that leads to her development of a narcissistic personality, extreme jealousy, abandonment issues, and stunted emotional growth that manifests in destructive tendencies.

Now take Machi’s past. We find out from our first meeting with Machi that she’s different and prone to destruction, particularly of the freshly cleaned Student Council room. We find out that she and Kakeru are half-siblings, with Kakeru being the son of a mistress, and both parents pitting their children against each other for the title of heir out of pure personal spite. But where Kakeru turned out to be a fairly carefree and open person, Machi in contrast became closed-off and emotionally immature. In this volume, we see a bit deeper into her past to find out that her mother pushed her to become perfect in everything from grades to extracurriculars in an effort to one-up the woman that stole her husband’s affection. But when push came to shove (ie, they finally had a son of their own) Machi was cast out in favor of a male heir regardless of how much work she put in to earn her place as next in line. This subsequent flip from overwhelming support to outright rejection snaps something in Machi and she takes out her frustration in the only way she knows how, destroying the object of her frustration physically, or in other words messing up anything that reflects perfection. But all of those years training to become the perfect child in her mother’s eyes meant that she had no time for herself and especially no time to mature emotionally and mentally, leaving her feeling empty and unable to grasp who she is as a person in her own right.

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And here is why I think they’re so similar. The subsequent rejection paired with outside pressure seems to have prevented both Machi and Akito from learning how to emotionally relate to people in healthy ways as well as preventing them from developing appropriate coping mechanisms. Instead, in order to release frustration, they turn to destruction and violence, physical violence in Akito’s case. For Machi, this destruction has become a compulsion she acts on in order to rid her of thoughts of her past and painful memories of rejection from her parents. For Akito, her violence may not be as compulsive, but also stems from a place of fear, fear of rejection and abandonment. In pretty much all cases of Akito committing violence against one of the zodiac, it originates out of this fear. She hurts Hatori because she thinks he loves Kana more than her. She tortures Rin because Rin is both trying to break the bond Akito holds dear and is also monopolizing Haru’s love. She hurts Yuki at New Years because she sees in him a growing distance that may signal rejection and a change in their relationship.

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The difference in their character progression lies in their differing levels of support from the people around them. Machi was kicked out of her house by her parents, but still has the support of Kakeru and now the Student Council, including Yuki to begin to learn and grow. Akito, however, is sheltered by the Sohma family. Ren has been removed from her presence and they generally don’t see each other, but she is constantly supported by Kureno, Hatori, and lower levels of the Sohma family. The bond with the zodiac members is ever present and reinforced constantly through their submission to her wishes. And I think it’s in this volume that we begin to really see what part Shigure plays in all of this. Shigure is both her lover and the person most able to challenge her, and I think it’s this challenge to her authority and her actions that will be instrumental in her own growth emotionally.

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I feel like right now Akito comes off as almost child-like in her reactions. A lot of this goes back to this idea that she hasn’t been given the chance to mature emotionally, but also because no one has bothered to challenge her on her actions. She regularly gets away with physically harming people, pushing Rin off a balcony or beating Kisa until she’s in the hospital, and all of these actions or reactions of hers come off as a child who doesn’t know how to properly express their emotions and so defaults to just throwing a tantrum. Through Shigure and now Haru’s actions (after he finds out what happened to Rin), she gets the push-back and the emotional slap-in-the-face she needs to really reconsider what’s going on. It still takes her a while of trying to foist the blame on other people that comes from a place of narcissism, but it’s the action of holding her accountable for her decisions that sets the wheels of change in motion.

And isn’t that how all children learn, by experiencing accountability first hand? Don’t all (or at least most) children start off as tiny narcissists who have to learn empathy and healthy coping mechanisms over time? For Akito and Machi, their growth just took a lot longer due to the actions of their parents. This in no way excuses their actions, especially Akito’s, but can at least provide an explanation and a way to examine their progression through the story.

This turned into more of an essay rather than a review, but I think it works for the context of this volume and where we are now in the story. The push-back against Akito in this volume spells the beginning of the end for the relationship or bond that she holds so dear, so it’s really interesting for me to be able to take a step back and say how did these characters get to this moment and where can we see them going from their history and characterization so far? Let me know in the comments what you thought of this short ramble about Akito and Machi and whether or not you thought Akito’s gender reveal was actually as pivotal a moment as Tohru made it out to be, because I certainly didn’t feel it.

~~Thanks for Reading!~~

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