This is the story of Tohru Honda, a caring and compassionate high school girl.
She was recently orphaned when her mother was killed in a car accident, one thing leads to another, and we find her (temporarily) living in a tent in the woods. Then she meets the owners of the wood, Shigure and Yuki of the Sohma family, and that’s when things really start getting strange…
Long, long ago, God said to the animals, “I’m holding a banquet tomorrow, and you’re all invited. Just don’t be late.” Upon hearing this, the mischievous rat visited the neighborhood cat and lied, saying the banquet was set for the day after tomorrow. The next day, the rat rode on the ox’s back and jumped off right before reaching the venue. Then the ox, the tiger, and the others feasted ’til morning. Only the tricked cat missed out. And then the cat, having missed the banquet, got angry at being deceived, and chased the rat all over the place.
This is the legend of the Chinese Zodiac (which, as you may have guessed, is very important in this story). I’d like to note that “God” in this tale is not supposed to be an omnipotent being, but an extremely powerful person more akin to the gods or demigods of ancient Greece. Also, for future reference, the animals of the Zodiac are as follows: Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Ram, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, and Boar.
Tohru’s character is nicely summed up in the scene where her mother told her the Zodiac legend when she was a child, and she actually starts crying for the poor cat, then declares her allegiance to the (non-existent) Year of the Cat. Her main issue is that she has trouble standing up for herself, but at least she has two amazing BFFs to stick up for her: Saki Hanajima (“Hana-chan”) and Arisa Uotani (“Uo-chan”).
And then there’s Yuki.
Tohru: The handsome Yuki Sohma-kun is only a first-year student, but he’s like the prince of our school.
Evidently “prince of the school” mandates a mob of obsessed fangirls. Not that he wants them, but the only way to lose them would be to somehow cease to be popular, which I think is impossible for him. Aside from his unbelievable good looks, he’s also very intelligent and well-mannered. He’s clearly hiding something, but that just adds an irresistible air of mystery to him.
Shigure, Yuki’s older cousin, is a much harder nut to crack. Sometimes he seems careless, but he can be serious when necessary, and when he has a mind to, he can be very persuasive as well.
Yuki: Be sure to take good care of yourself.
Tohru: Sohma-kun, please forget you ever said that. Because my mom had it much worse. When I was three, my dad died from an illness. After that, she worked herself to the bone to support us. Mom protected me. She was always cheerful and strong. I never imagined she could die in an accident. […] I can’t get discouraged! Home is where you make it!
Well just because your mom had a hard life doesn’t mean you have to, Tohru, and it certainly doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take care of yourself! She’s kind of stubborn like that: Once she determines what she believes to be right, she’ll stick with it no matter what. But fate (or the plot) intervenes with a landslide that takes out Tohru’s tent, leaving her in the hands of the Sohmas.
Tohru: I’m sorry. I lost my “home” again.
Shigure: Is it rough?
Tohru: No. I’ve been through a lot worse. […] I couldn’t say “come back soon” to my mother the morning she died in a car accident. I had a test that day, so I stayed up ’til morning studying for it and couldn’t wake up. The only morning I didn’t have a chance to say goodbye…I always said it…but that one morning […] I knew my mom always worked hard for my sake…and yet I couldn’t say “come back soon.” I didn’t even see her back as she left for work. I was an idiot. Even if I got a bad grade or we lost our house, what I should have cherished most was my mother. So I want to at least graduate from high school as Mom had hoped. This is no time for me to give in to a fever…
I can certainly understand the feeling of not wanting to take care of an illness because you’re afraid of falling behind – especially at such a stressful time, when she’s faced with so much uncertainty. Then she dreams of (or perhaps remembers) her mother.
Mom: Just be yourself, Tohru. Slow and steady, and one day you’ll catch up.
Tohru: But if I don’t push myself hard this time, I’m going to end up in the gutter.
She has way too many worries for a teenage girl. Fortunately, the Sohmas decide to alleviate at least one of those worries, offering her a place in their house (in exchange for cooking and cleaning) until she can move back in with her grandfather.
Yuki: Be yourself, Honda-san. Slow and steady, finding your place in this house.
This chapter provides an endearing introduction for Tohru, the heart and soul of the story.
A few other notes:
- There’s one important thing left out of the anime, something involving a baseball cap and a boy that Tohru met when she was little. More on that in later chapters.
- Concerning the Japanese honorifics: “-san” is a formal address, basically equivalent to Mr./Ms.; “-chan” and “-kun” are roughly equal, indicating familiarity and equality, with “-chan” being the cutesier feminine one.
- Japanese high schools are almost like American community colleges, complete with tuition, entrance exams, and even students moving to other cities to attend their chosen schools. They’re three years long, so 10-12 grades instead of 9-12.
Oh yeah, and then an orange-haired boy crashes through the roof!
Until next time…