Girl in the Machine
Wednesday, September 5, 2007
Sidetracked: Personal Outrage

Or, Oh no you didn’t, Natsuki Takaya!

Just to be fair, there’re pretty significant spoilers from Fruits Basket vol. 17 in this article. You’ve been warned. Yeah, yeah, it came out in mid-August, so this isn’t exactly hot stuff… but I just got to it! Real life has had a strangle hold on me and my free time.

Alright, this isn’t about video games. But ever since I read the newest volume of Fruits Basket this week, my head has been reeling from the bomb Ms. Takaya dropped on me. I’m so devastated that I can’t even think about gaming.

Get this: After sixteen volumes—that’s about four years—the male antagonist of the series is revealed to be a woman. I can already hear you asking, “So what’s the big deal?” Well, let’s look at Akito’s past…

Akito: Quintessential badass and master of I-don’t-give-a-damn. To be completely honest, I don’t like hir at all. Ze’s the cruel, merciless, and unfeeling leader of the Sohma clan. As a literal god-child, ze was born to die—you see, in the story of the Zodiac, the Buddha gathered all the animals to him and promised that they would be together forever. While initially a sort of gift, the children possessed by the Zodiac animals quickly came to view it as a curse. Because ze is possessed by the Buddha-figure from the story, Akito wields tremendous power over the members of the Sohma family.

The majority of the characters in Fruits Basket are exceedingly kind and compassionate, highlighting Akito’s madness. To mention just a few of hir cruel acts, Akito has pushed one character out of a window, slammed a twelve year old into a wall, hospitalized the same young girl for two weeks, blinded a family member in one eye, assaulted and terrorized the protagonist, and even attempted to strangle hir own mother.

Through all this, the 5’4”, 98 lb weakling continues to assert hir right to brutalize hir family. With reckless impunity, ze victimizes the Sohmas without an ounce of regret.

Why, then, when we discover that he is a she, does Akito unexpectedly become such a sympathetic character? What makes hir actions suddenly forgivable? Out of nowhere, Akito is portrayed as a woman with emotional needs, as someone with whom we as readers should identify.

My concern is this: in the span of a single graphic novel, Akito’s femaleness has softened hir character. Ze hasn’t been completely watered down, but I fear for the worst. I would hate to see such a cold-blooded villain weaken simply because ze is female. For example, in the past, Akito held "court" and forced the Zodiac to attend simply because ze could. Ze enjoyed wielding power for power's sake, and ze could not pass up the opportunity to remind the Zodiac that ze was dying because of them. Now that Akito's sex has been revealed, Mrs. Takaya has changed the nature of Akito's actions. Instead, they have been linked with Akito's desire for companionship, fear of abandonment, and need to be seen. A man can experience all of these things; however, because of the way they have been presented in the manga, I feel that a clear line has been drawn between them and femaleness by linking them through Akito.

I find myself hoping that the mangaka has an amazing plot twist on its way to make up for this cheap trick. I expected better of Mrs. Takaya. With her wide cast of female characters in Fruits Basket, I'm surprised to see Akito succumb to needy and oversensitive stereotypes

To her credit, the construction of such a violent female misogynist presents a wide array of opportunities for drama within the story. Akito unabashedly hates women, and the ensuing tragedies may yet redeem the series. I still anticipate a vicious showdown between Akito and Tohru, the series’ protagonist. I just hope it won’t be a cat fight.

I know that Fruits Basket has completed its run in Japan. It had a long haul, bringing in twenty-three volumes before it was completed. It’s still going to be a while before the last five volumes are published in America—and I’m willing to wait until that far-off day to figure out what’s going to happen. Until then, here’s to hoping that Akito still has that fiery passion in hir.

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