Season aired: Spring 2019
Number of episodes: 25
Genres: Romance, Drama, Supernatural
Thoughts: Fruits Basket is a classic of the anime and manga world. Published back in 1998, Fruits Basket became one of the manga series to actually penetrate the Western market. Even at the local libraries where smaller pockets of Asian communities existed, anyone could find a volume of the story. Then in 2001, Fruits Basket aired its first anime adaptation, hallmarking itself as one of the classics of anime history in the shoujo genre.
Yet, similar to many anime adaptations of that time, Fruits Basket was an ongoing series, and the anime wanted to stop at an ending. Like Fullmetal Alchemist and Black Butler, the anime chose to change certain elements of the manga series in order to create a feasible ending, but fans of the manga series remained disappointed that the entirety would never be adapted.
Then in 2019, an announcement was made: Fruits Basket would be remade under the mangaka’s supervision, and this time, adapted to its entirety. Fans quickly called it the Brotherhood treatment and believed that Fruits Basket was going to be a similar success to the rebooted Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood from ten years ago. When I watched Fruits Basket, I was only a fifth grader. With the opportunity to watch it as someone older and with more understanding of the world and other people, I think this remake could not have arrived at a better time.
Fruits Basket follows the journey of Tohru Honda, an orphan girl who lives by herself in the woods so as not to inconvenience her other family members. She unknowingly camped out in Sohma territory, an extremely influential and wealthy family that largely remains hidden from the world. Stumbling upon their home in the woods, Tohru soon became privy to a family curse that had haunted the Sohmas for generations. Certain members of the family are cursed by a zodiac spirit and would turn into an animal when hugged by someone of the opposite gender!
It sounds like a silly premise, and it certainly misleads people into thinking it is nothing more than a comedy anime. Alas, how Takaya-sensei tricks you. Watching this as an adult, I can finally appreciate the entirety of what the series truly represented: an incredibly deep and sentimental dive into trauma, tragedy, and the long process of healing for a better future.
To start off, I never fully understood how important physical hugs really were as a fifth grader. However, since reflecting back, hugs represent one of the easiest and most intimate ways to form human bonds. You hug the friends that you’re close to express joy or understanding. You hug your parents when you’re happy or sad or sometimes just for their physical touch. You hug your romantic partners for practically anything. Just the very action of hugging is capable of eliciting warm closeness that conversation and close physical proximity is unable to bring. The Sohmas cursed with the zodiac spirits are essentially cut off from one of the most important expressions of warmth and love since the day they are born. They embody the very idea of loneliness.
To bring that sort of depth and realization to the audience from an otherwise laughable synopsis proves the series’ abilities to absorb their viewers in with its heartfelt stories of sorrow and joy. We do not meet all the zodiac characters, but we meet more than half. Every single one gets an entire episode dedicated to the lives they lived underneath this curse. Some are born neglected. Some are born abused. Some are discarded and laughed at, and some, thankfully, have parents who shower love but who still struggle with raising their children under this curse.
This brings me to one of the most positive notes of the series. Fruits Basket makes it clear that no one is perfect. Everyone struggles with their flaws, including parents who want the best for their children. Even the most “perfect” character, Yuki Sohma, struggles heavily with his own inner demons. No matter how far away someone seems, no matter how flawless someone appears, always remember that they undoubtedly have their own doubts and problems not any less important than anyone else’s problems.
However, while Fruits Basket absolutely flourishes in telling tortured or funny tales of its characters around Tohru, the introduction and character development for the main protagonist progresses quite slowly. For now, she seems like a cardboard copy of a nice girl with nothing more going for her than the tragic passing of her mother. People who have friends like Tohru would probably recognize her cheery attitude to come from an intense need to serve others, which isn’t healthy in the long run. Meanwhile, others who might not have encountered anyone with her personality would likely see her as a perfect, angelic figure who does her best to care for the flawed.
This flaw in the series could have been avoided with better pacing of Tohru’s character development and revelation. Unfortunately, because the series didn’t want to push any of the other characters’ personalities and hardships aside, Tohru has to take a backseat as the audience’s self-insert to discover the secrets and personalities in the mysterious family. It’s a double edged sword, but one I personally think could’ve been sacrificed with some reshuffling of character entrances to bring more perspective to Tohru.
I also think Tohru remains the weakest link in the entire seiyuu cast. While I found every seiyuu perfectly cast as their respective characters, I do think Manaka Iwami doesn’t color in Tohru as much as she could’ve. Most of the time, she just sounds super sweet, soothing, and innocent. She lacks the human and subtle intonations that Laura Bailey brings into the dub and is an example where I prefer the English voice actor over the Japanese. This could be because Laura Bailey is a veteran of voice acting Tohru and a veteran in the voice acting world in general, while Manaka had only received her first lead role in 2017. However, even with experience accounted for, I can’t help but hear less dimensionality whenever Manaka spoke as Tohru.
Nobunaga Shimazaki and Yuuichi Nakamura, however, bring incredible acting chops as Yuki Sohma and Shigure Sohma respectively. While Yuuma Uchida as Kyo gives an award winning performance at the climax of this first arc, many of the episodes in this season focuses more on the other two main Sohmas. Yuki, in particular, goes through many episodes of self-revelation and healing, while Shigure continuously gets painted in a darker light. This allows the two seiyuus an opportunity to go beyond their acting abilities, and both snatched it up without hesitation.. Shimazaki did such a good job portraying Yuki’s pain and loneliness that I often forgot another person was behind the character. Nakamura, on the other hand, ran with Shigure’s conflicting personality, making his tone light and teasing with a slightly stern reprimand as dark music and lighting continued to surround the guardian of the two younger Sohmas in a big discoursing atmosphere.
This change in lightning and visuals doesn’t just pertain to portraying Shigure’s darker side. In fact, the entire production of the series really upped its game, providing different ambiences that were not present from the old series due to changes in technology and trends. Beautifully illustrated and well-lit sceneries accompanied the lulling soundtracks; it is the particular attention to detail to the lighting at all times that really elevated this adaptation above what the manga can provide. It’s only a small difference, but it was enough to make me immersed and in the scenes rather than watching from a computer screen.
With such well rounded elements, Fruits Basket still hasn’t forgotten its true core – its characters and their emotional journeys. These extra production values never overshadow the story but enhances it into something powerful and influential. It is, in my opinion, strong enough to even change people’s lives. For every funny, comedic moment, do not be fooled. A sobbing mess is just waiting for you around the corner. After all, this series is at its heart about empathy, and empathy is what you will feel for all its characters.
Voice acting: 8
FINAL SCORE: 84