Theatrical Premiere Impressions: Fruits Basket (2019)

Our main quartet in Fruits Basket (2019) (Source)

When I first heard of the Fruits Basket (2019) premiere in the U.S., I was moderately excited and, frankly, a bit scared. Reboots, despite any changes in its cast or production team, often get much more scrutiny than anything else on the anime market. Die-hard fans are looking for the original intentions to be portrayed correctly, but no one wants to see a carbon-copy of the original series. Many anime have fallen into this pit hole, where they just copy scene-by-scene, panel-by-panel in order to remain faithful to the original source. I was skeptical that Fruits Basket (2019) would do just that, and Natsuki Takaya’s efforts to revive the anime would go to waste. I went into the movie theater with a slightly heavy heart.

After the screening ended, my Fruits Basket expert of a friend remarked that there was virtually no difference between the original and the reboot. The plot in the first two episodes proceeded as expected and the episodes exuded more nostalgia than uniqueness. Seeing her favorite characters interact in the same manner just like they did twenty years ago would make her tear up and smile. And that was it – my fears were confirmed. There were no changes in the character designs, no deviations from the plot, and there was nothing different about the series. It was just a reboot. It couldn’t hold a candle to the original manga or the first anime adaptation and would remain largely overshadowed.   

But at the same time, I felt differently. I didn’t think Fruits Basket (2019) was quite “the same” or any lesser of a counterpart to the manga and first anime adaptation. There was something undeniably fresh about it that I couldn’t explain into words.

I spent a good week mulling over my thoughts, discussed with other moviegoers how they felt about the reboot, and analyzed old clips of the original Fruits Basket. Finally, I struck gold. The reboot feeling “fresh” is not because I am a casual fan of the series and would take things lightly compared to a die-hard fan or because I tend to be optimistic about rebooted series. Under the weight of its popularity and the general scrutiny toward rebooted series, Fruits Basket (2019) understood that in order to make an impact, it had to reinvent itself to suit a modern audience while keeping qualities of what made the series popular in the first place.

A still-scenery, but beautiful in its own right (Source)

The first aspect is the series’ new animation direction and pacing. Compared to Fruits Basket (2001), where scenes were rather stagnated with bland backgrounds and a saturated color palette, Fruits Basket (2019) does a fantastic job at weaving together the narrative with variable camera angles, energetic character movements, and a vibrant color scheme. These artistic changes increase the pacing of the scene, to the point that you don’t feel bored re-watching the exchanges between your favorite characters. Rather, it feels like time zoomed by in a blink of an eye. I was charmed by the simplest of sit-down-talks that addresses both parties’ responses with different camera angles, the amount of subtle yet busy activity in the backgrounds that keep the audience alert to changes, and the ordinary comedy skits punctuated with bright colors that lighten the mood. Before I knew it, I was laughing, crying, and cheering at the characters instead of sleeping in my theater seat out of sheer boredom.

Aside from the animation directing and pacing, you can bet that this reboot of Fruits Basket boasts an excellent soundtrack. All of this is thanks to Masaru Yokoyama, the mastermind behind the beautiful and unique scores for Your Lie in April, Plastic Memories, and Fate/Apocrypha. I was blown away by the number of instruments used for Fruits Basket (2019)’s main theme, from the violin to the synthetic xylophone bits that sends this whimsical yet courageous message of meeting new people. But the entire score begins to dwindle down, replaced by slower movements and other instruments that set a slightly more eerie tone, which is more appropriate to interpret the dynamics of the Soma House. This is most noticeable in Episode 2 when Yuki is walking Tohru home and cautions her for getting too close to the family. The music piece used in this scene causes a dramatic drop in mood, which allows Tohru to realize the gravity of her situation and to figure out how she can help the family in her own special way.

The moment that Tohru knew she was getting more involved with the Somas (PV Source)

Lastly, I’d like to praise the brand new Japanese cast of this series. In the interview message prior to the start of the screening, the Japanese seiyuus for Tohru, Kyo, and Yuki all confessed that they had never read the manga before but had known of its popularity. Despite that they were not die-hard fans, they understood how precious this series was and put their 200% effort into portraying their characters. In particular, Manaka Iwami did a perfect job as Tohru. While a bit breathy on occasion, she absolutely nailed the character’s sincerity, kindness, and resolute nature to do everything in her power to help the Somas. There’s a sense of genuineness from the acting that is not forced at all. It’s probably good to note that Iwami-san voiced Maquia from Maquia: When the Promised Flowers Bloom, who has a very similar personality to Tohru. Call it a coincidence or not, it’s the best choice in casting so far for the reboot.

In short, Fruits Basket (2019) is worth your money to experience. Regardless if you are a die-hard fan looking for a properly adapted ending or a newcomer to the Fruits Basket franchise, the reboot is designed to suit all kinds of audiences with its modern take on the series. There’s a bit of a fresh spring breeze that really picks up your mood when watching the show, and you can’t avert your gaze from the beautiful art direction, the music, and voice acting. It’s by far my most anticipated Spring Anime of 2019, and I am sincerely hoping that the amount of time and effort put into this reboot will not disappoint.

I would also like to give a big shout out to Funimation who made this two-episode premiere possible across the U.S. I don’t think I would’ve appreciated the reboot as much as I did if there wasn’t a theater screening nearby. In addition, this screening has inspired me to watch the reboot’s dubbed version as well. I was never a fan of dubs back in the day, thus never cared to watch Fruits Basket (2001) dubbed. But seeing the entire English cast reprise their roles with a renewed love for this series really touched my heart. Thank you again, Funimation, for continuing to provide quality anime and dubs to American audiences.

 

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