A Smile Like Sunshine
To Heal Your Heart
It’s utterly impossible for me to review the 2019 version of Fruits Basket as its own entity. The 2001 version of the anime had a profound impact on me and became one of my go-to anime when I was in a really low place. Flawed as the original anime was visually and with the off-putting comedic moments that broke the overall tone, and the unfinished nature of the story which would normally drive me crazy, it still managed to hit just the right spot for me emotionally. However, Fruits Basket still ended up on my list of anime I really wanted to see rebooted and from the beginning of the Spring 2019 anime season I finally got exactly what I (and many others) had been waiting for.
What hasn’t changed is the basic story. Though we get a bit more set up and background on characters who in the original anime didn’t really go anywhere, the basic idea remains. Tohru Honda loses her mother and goes to live with grandfather. Through various circumstances he ends up moving in with other relatives who are having a renovation done and she’s asked to stay with a friend but instead pitches a tent and decides to be independent. The land she chooses turns out to be owned by the Soma family and through another series of circumstances ends up living with Shigure Soma who also houses Yuki Soma, who is in Tohru’s class at school, and soon after Kyo joins them.
That would be all well and good the set up of your standard high school romantic comedy now that you have two high school boys and a girl living under the roof of a fairly irresponsible adult supervisor. Yet, the story isn’t really about that. Soon after moving in, Tohru stumbles onto a secret in the family where certain members are possessed by the animals of the zodiac and will transform if they are hugged by a member of the opposite sex. Needless to say, they all that a bit of a complex about this.
Of course, there’s more to their story and their personalities and personal traumas and the series slowly goes about introducing them to Tohru before she applies some wisdom handed down to her by her deceased mother and hugs and loves the person into finding a reason to smile. I may have made that sound a bit trite and on paper, it really is, and yet there’s something utterly beautiful about how it all plays out which draws me into this story and these characters.
This new version of Fruits Basket is visually very easy to watch with a nice contrast between the darker tones in its more serious moments and the shinning shoujo sparkles moments. The soft colours and textures used in particularly warm fuzzy moments really make the viewer feel the emotions the characters are experiencing. Likewise, when there’s a more comedic moment generally everything is a bit sharper and bolder in colour and texture. This contrast in visuals to support the tonal changes really works as you watch an episode and it never feels too jarring as we move from one tone to the next, with the possible exception of Kagura’s introduction. Then again, I find Kagura’s character a little hard to take in general and while I appreciate her role toward the end of this season, I’d happily remove her from the plot entirely.
However, with the exception of Kagura, I find the characters of Fruits Basket remain its true strength. They are all a little bit broken and a little eccentric, but it makes us realise we’re all a little bit broken too. More than that, we see these characters make choices, decide to move forward, and find the strength to do so, even if only in small ways. There’s no instant fixes and a hug and a smile might get you moving but it doesn’t solve the overall problem. It is a first step and a support but not the answer.
It is also interesting that each of these characters has developed a different complex or issue because of their past. Whether they push others away subconsciously, hide their pain behind a frivolous attitude, or just want to run-away and hide, their actions are understandable given the circumstances. As is their desire to escape their current situation and find a better solution that they can’t yet see.
While some characters get very little screen time and only get a focus for an episode or two, Fruits Basket manages to craft characters that the audience can connect with or at least empathise with allowing each emotional beat to hit its mark. I’m not lying when I say there was more than one occasion when Fruits Basket reduced me to tears and certainly more than one moment when I found myself smiling like an idiot as one character or another was helped through their pain.
Family also is an important theme in Fruits Basket and while we will see in amongst the Soma’s some truly dreadful families inline with so many other bad anime families we also get to see the opposite. We get to see flashbacks of Tohru’s mother Kyoko and the love she had for her daughter. A love that Tohru has passed on to all of those around her. We also have Hanajima’s family, who loved and accepted her even when she couldn’t love herself.
We also see the families the characters create for themselves. Kyo’s martial arts teacher had a profound impact on him and gave him something resembling a family after he was left alone. The household with Shigure, Yuki, Kyo and Tohru becomes more and more like a family as the series progresses. Kyoko also managed to help Arisa when she was trying to leave her gang and ended up having a major impact on her life.
Despite its supernatural trapping with characters who are cursed and turn into animals, this first season of Fruits Basket very much deals with the mundane and human issues these characters have (exacerbated through their supernatural characteristic). They are lonely, abandoned, teased, and struggling to understand themselves and their own nature and how they fit into the world. These are all conflicts the audience can understand.
While the climax of the season does deal with Kyo’s more supernatural nature, ultimately he isn’t ‘cured’ and that problem hasn’t gone away. The resolution is emotional as Tohru comes through and helps him to find himself.
As for flaws, this reboot did not nail the opening themes. The first one was ‘Again’ and was fairly decent at capturing the tone of the show however at the midseason point we changed to ‘Chime’ and I will admit after two or three episodes of it I began skipping the introduction. Which is a shame because the original anime’s OP, while not the style of music I liked, had a profound affect on how the anime as a whole comes across. It set the tone as you went into each episode. However, ‘Again’ was a pretty solid introduction for the first half. If they’d stuck with that for the whole season it probably would have worked out better.
Outside of that though, this reboot gave audiences what they’d always wanted. The same story but better and the hope that they will adapt the whole thing so we’ll finally all find out what is really going on with the curse (okay, I cheated and skim read the manga to get a few more answers a while back because I wanted to know, but I’m still a little short on details). Season two has already been announced for next year and I am very much looking forward to it. I definitely recommend this but if you aren’t into slow paced stories permeated with sweetness, this one may not hit the mark for you.
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Images from: Fruits Basket. Dir. Y Ibata. TMS Entertainment. 2019.