Manga Review: “Songs to Make You Smile”

Article first published as Manga Review: Songs to Make You Smile by Natsuki Takaya on Blogcritics.

Songs to Make You Smile is a compilation of one-shot manga written and illustrated by Natsuki Takaya, the creator of the popular Fruits Basket shojo manga series. This compilation was published in North America by Tokyopop in 2010. Songs to Make You Smile is rated “T” for teens; after reading this manga, I would agree with this rating.


There are four one-shot stories in this release, as well as a bonus chapter for Tsubasa: Those With Wings (which is another manga series by Natsuki Takaya). All four of the one-shot stories share a theme; they all deal with misunderstanding other people.

The first story is the “title story” for this compilation. A high school boy named Atsushi is misunderstood by his peers, because his face naturally has a mean look to it. A girl named Anzu has been teased since middle school, because the other girls though she looked spacey on purpose in order to attract guys. Atsushi, who is a vocalist and songwriter for a band, knows that Anzu is a fan on their music. He makes it his goal to write a song that will make Anzu smile.

The next story is “Ding Dong.” A teenage girl named Chisato is dealing with her father passing away in a car accident, and is living with the woman who became her stepmother three months before her father’s death. Chisato’s mother died when she was very young, and her father tried raising Chisato by himself. Chisato believes that neither her father nor her stepmother truly loved her.

“Voice of Mine” is the third story in the compilation. A teenager named Shu attends a music school, and is also the son of famous musicians. While Shu is succeeding on his own talents, many of the students believe he rides on his parents’ coattails and has pulled strings in order to get the attention that he does. One day, Shu meets Futaba, a viola student who is being bullied by her upperclassmen. The two of them support each other in their situations.

The final story is “Double Flower,” which focuses on a young man named Suguru who enjoys sewing and has made a career out of it. Suguru has been in love with Makoto, the daughter of the shop that purchases what he makes; however, he has never told her his feelings, because she’s im love with someone else. Suguru’s stepniece Aya comes over because she has run away from home, and it’s through her being around that Suguru starts thinking about his life.

The side story for Tsubasa: Those With Wings essentially takes elements from the Snow White fairytale and turn them on their head. Of the pieces included in this volume, this was my least favorite. While I have read the first volume of Tsubasa: Those With Wings and know that there is humor involved in that series, I thought this particular story just didn’t quite fit in with what I’ve read from this manga series.

When it comes to the other four stories, I thought Takaya did a fantastic job portraying each story in one chapter. I don’t know if she had intentionally included stories with a similar theme in this volume or not, but I really appreciate the fact that this compilation doesn’t simply feel like several unrelated stories thrown together that don’t have a theme to tie them together. The only exception was the Tsubasa: Those With Wings side story; that one does feel like it was simply tacked on to the end of the volume to add some more pages.

If you’re familiar with the Fruits Basket series, then you will definitely recognize Takaya’s art style in this volume. That’s not to say that she simply uses the exact same art style in all of her work, but there are definite characteristics in how she draws her characters that make her style recognizable.

If you’re a fan of Fruits Basket or any other of Natsuki Takaya’s work, I think you will also enjoy reading Songs to Make You Smile.

I wrote this review after reading a copy of Songs to Make You Smile that I checked out through the King County Library System.

Manga Review: “Tsubasa: Those With Wings” Volume One

Tsubasa: Those With Wings Volume 1 is a manga with the story and art by Natsuki Takaya. Tokyopop held the rights to distribute the series in the United States until the company went out of business in May of 2011. As of this writing, no other manga publisher has acquired the rights to this series. The first volume of this series was published in the United States in 2009. This English adaptation, which is presented as an “unflipped” release, was adapted by Stephanie Duchin; the translation was done by Kinami Watabe. Tsubasa: Those With Wings is rated “OT” for older teens ages 16+.


The manga is set on Earth in the 22nd century. There had been many wars, and they left the fields withered. Only the upper class, such as the military and the politicians, got to have the nicer amenities. Many live in poverty, and criminals run rampant in the cities.

The main character of Tsubasa: Those With Wings is Kotobuki, an ex-thief who is trying to give up her criminal past and start an honest life. She is joined by Raimon, a man who is a former military commander; he quit the military in order to spend his life with Kotobuki. Kotobuki uses her criminal skills toward trying to find a “normal” job. However, she and Raimon keep encountering two groups who are trying to find a legendary object called the Tsubasa, which grants its owner any wish he or she wants. One of the groups looking for this object is the military, and they are also trying desperately trying to get Raimon back into the military. The other group consists of several criminals who also wish to acquire the Tsubasa. The series follows Kotobuki and Raimon’s adventures and mishaps that they find themselves getting embroiled in.

If you are already familiar with Natsuki Takaya’s work from Fruits Basket, then you would definitely recognize the art style in this manga relatively quickly. It’s not so much that any of the characters look similar between the two series, but Takaya has a distinctive way of drawing her characters’ faces and their expressions. If you enjoy the art style in Fruits Basket, then you should also enjoy the art style of this series.

When I finished this volume, I thought it was an interesting read, and I’d probably be willing to check out future volumes of the series if I come across them at the library. However, I don’t think that Tsubasa: Those With Wings is quite as strong as Fruits Basket.

I wrote this review after checking out a copy of this manga volume through the King County Library System.

Manga Review: “Fruits Basket UItimate Edition” Volume One

Fruits Basket Ultimate Edition Volume 1 combines the first two volumes of the Fruits Basket manga series into one edition. In addition to putting two volumes into one book, the physical size of the book has also increased. The Fruits Basket manga series was written and illustrated by Natsuki Takaya. Tokyopop had the rights to this manga series, until the company closed its doors in May 2011. The translation of the manga was done by Alethea and Athena Nibley, and the English adaptation was done by Kelly Sue DeConnick and Jake Forbes. This Ultimate Edition volume was published in 2007. Fruits Basket is rated “T,” and specifically lists that it’s aimed at teens thirteen and older. Overall, I think Fruits Basket has more of an appeal for girls than for boys, with the primary audience being pre-teen and teen girls.


I actually got my first exposure to Fruits Basket through watching the anime series. After watching the series, I decided to work my way through the manga series to see how the two were the same, and how they were different. When it comes to the two volumes included in this Ultimate Edition, there’s not a lot of difference between the manga and the anime.

The first volume included in this edition establishes the story of Tohru Honda, a high school student who recently became an orphan after the death of her mother; her father died when she was very young. She goes to live with her grandfather, but a short time later, he says he needs to remodel his house so his daughter and her family can move in; during the remodel, he will be living with his daughter. He asks Tohru to stay with friends; however, she feels her friends have situations which would prevent her from staying, so she moves into a tent. One day when she heads to school, she discovers that her classmate, Yuki Sohma, lives in a house nearby with his cousin, Shigure. It turns out Tohru has set up camp on property belonging to the Sohma family.

One night, after returning home from work, Tohru discovers a landslide has buried her tent. Yuki and Shigure invite Tohru to stay with them to help keep house until the remodels are done on her grandfather’s house; the two males just can’t seem to keep their house clean. Tohru agrees, and as sh’’s settling in, Kyo Sohma suddenly crashes through the roof. During a confrontation, Tohru learns a secret about Yuki, Shigure, and Kyo; they have a curse where they turn into animals in the Chinese zodiac if they are hugged by members of the opposite sex, or they become stressed. Yuki turns into a rat, Shigure turns into a dog, and Kyo turns into a cat. Akito, the head of the Sohma family, allows Tohru to continue living with Shigure and the others, under the condition that she reveal the Sohma’s secret to no one. Tohru agrees, and she, Yuki, Kyo, and Shigure start becoming a kind of “family.” This volume also introduces the first female member of the Sohma clan; she’s Kagura Sohma, and she turns into a boar.

In the second volume, Tohru’s best friends, Hana and Uo, come over to the house for a sleepover to get to know the guys Tohru is living with better. In this volume, we also see a red hat referenced that was never seen in the anime; this hat will become important later in the manga series. A cultural festival also takes place at Tohru, Yuki, amd Kyo’s high school; at the festival, we meet two more members of the Sohma clan: Momiji (who turns into a rabbit) and Hatori (who represents the dragon in the Chinese zodiac, but he turns into a seahorse). This volume also gives us some important backstory for Hatori Sohma.

Natsuki Takaya’s art style is really strong when it comes to showing her characters’ emotions. Overall, the panels tend to be rather easy to follow. While there may be occasional pages when the panels may look “busy” with dialogue, action, and Japanese sound effects characters, it’s not as prominent as what I’ve seen in manga that are being aimed more at the shonen audience. Unfortunately, when Tokyopop blew up the images for the bigger pages in this volume, some of the images have a rather grainy look to them; this is especially evident when Takaya has “flashback” panels in the manga, which are purposefully done in a “fuzzier” style in comparison to the regular panels. When the images were blown up, these panels look rather grainy, and the effect Takaya was going for with these panels is essentially lost. When compared to the two Inuyasha VizBig mangas that I’ve read, this is a weaker compilation in comparison (there’s only two volumes included in Fruits Basket in comparison to the three volumes in the Inuyasha VizBigs, and the image quality in the Fruits Basket Ultimate Edition manga volume is inferior).

Since Tokyopop has closed down, this title is now out of print. I have a strong feeling that this title will be “license rescued” by another manga publisher, considering that Fruits Basket is one of the biggest titles for shojo manga. At such a time the series is “license rescued” and new editions of the manga are released, then I would spend my time getting the new pressings of the manga. The Tokyopop pressings of the original manga are disappearing, and so will be harder to come by; and after what I saw in this Ultimate Edition, I’m really not in a hurry to track down the remaining volumes that were released. As far as I am aware, only six Ultimate Editions were published; this would cover twelve of the original volumes, which is roughly half of the series.

I wrote this review after reading a copy of Fruits Basket Ultimate Edition Volume 1 that I purchased.