The Fruits Basket remake is a dream come true for many loyal fans since the original adaptation only adapted a small portion of the series while cutting many of the themes that made the story so special. One such theme is the exploration of the zodiac curse that haunts the Sohma clan. At first glance, the zodiac curse comes off as more comedic than haunting. Sohma members possessed by a zodiac animal cannot hug or be hugged by someone of the opposite sex lest they turn into a cute version of their animal, in which, after a random amount of time, they will turn back into human. However, the true essence of the zodiac curse is a perfect and painfully realistic metaphor to toxic relationships and is one of the biggest reasons why Fruits Basket hits viewers harder as adults rather than as children.
When people often speak of toxic relationships, people tend to assume romantic relationships. However, toxic relationships are just as common among familial and platonic relationships. Regardless of the nature of the relationship, they all share one common theme — they seem almost impossible to leave despite how miserable everyone feels. I know from personal experiences that there is a dark magic feel to the essences of toxic relationships.
The zodiac curse reflects that with the existence of Akito, or “God,” and it’s visualized by threads that cage and tie the zodiac Sohma members to her. The curse makes it impossible for the Sohmas to ever speak out, turn against, or leave Akito, even when they disagree, and it continuously traps them to the whims of “God.” However, the threads that tie the Sohmas to Akito do not look strong. This is a perfect portrayal, as participants in toxic relationships almost always have complete freedom to walk away if they so choose — a freedom that makes the trapping of a toxic relationship seem as flimsy as the threads that hold the Sohma zodiac members to Akito. Yet, despite that fact, the threads are somehow powerful enough to force the members endure endless pain and unhappiness in the same way that the nature of toxic relationships will have people forgiving and enduring their own unhappiness for the sake of continuing the relationship.
The beginnings of how the zodiac curse forms, meanwhile, represent how toxic relationships are formed. Toxic relationships do not start off dripping with toxicity. Many develop from genuine feelings of love, happiness, and companionship in the same way God hosted a banquet for animals to have fun and enjoy.
However, it turns toxic when either one or both sides cannot accept the reality of a failing relationship and still attempt to maintain it without acknowledging the changed nature. Fruits Basket illustrates that through the beginning of the curse. God was unable to accept that the thirteen animals he befriended would die, effectively changing the relationship. Desperate to preserve the current nature of the relationship, they had the animals take an enchanted drink that promises — or, more accurately, forces — their essences to always remain together. Just like in real life, certain animals reacted differently to this spell. The cat was not told of the promise, symbolizing people who are manipulated and guilt-tripped into staying in a toxic relationship. Others drank it willingly, symbolizing how every party involved can be responsible for continuing a toxic relationship.
Thankfully, like many toxic relationships in real life, the Sohma family eventually ends the Zodiac curse. Though Tohru triggered the beginning of the end, time had already worn down the potency of the curse. Firstly, Kureno’s curse broke without any warning or trigger. However, Shigure also displays the waning power of the forced bond with his interactions he has with Akito.
Unlike all the other zodiac members, Akito holds little power over Shigure. Throughout the course of the series, the viewers witness him argue with her, ignore her, and test her. Her usual physical and verbal abuse has little effect, and it’s actually his words that hold power over her — almost as if the zodiac curse doesn’t affect him at all. Later, the story reveals that Shigure is the only one of the Zodiac Sohma members who cares about her beyond the forced bond.
His genuine feelings towards Akito lent him the power to fight back and hints to what breaks the curse — genuine bonds and relationships. As someone who was in a toxic relationship for over 10 years, I personally only found the strength to break away after forging powerful friendships with four girls in college. Forming new relationships from organic shared joy and companionship reminds you of the feeling of a healthy relationship and spurs you to seek beyond what you had trapped yourself in for years.
Tohru provided the final strike against the curse with not only the love she and Kyo, the cursed cat, shares but also with her patience and sympathy to Akito. Even though Akito holds the most power and often abuses the zodiac members when they don’t obey her with no repercussions, she is just as miserable, hiding herself in the idea of security and consistency. Once she, “God,” tasted and remembered the feeling of a healthy and truthful relationship through Tohru’s offer of an organic friendship, she, too, no longer wanted to keep the curse. With her own rejection of the effects of the curse, Akito effectively ended the toxic relationships.
Lastly, despite how unhappy and forced the Sohmas felt about the bond, each and every one of them cried tears of sorrow when it finally broke. Leaving toxic relationships sound liberating and joy-filled, but, in reality, it is emotionally painful. Toxic relationships are sustained through the fear of new, unknown relationships. The promise of an existing relationship often feels too comfortable to leave, and, more often than not, leaving that existing relationship leaves behind fear and loneliness more than feelings of freedom. Feeling something in a bond, even negative, still sounds more enticing than potentially never finding a bond again — a fear Momiji experienced when his curse broke.
In the end, Yuki describes the nature of the curse and toxic relationships best. He was constantly unhappy in the curse and always wished that it would break, but the minute it did, he suddenly wanted “God” to stay and immediately missed them. Toxic relationships are a constant push and pull of seeking freedom and yearning for old bonds. There is no guaranteed happiness when ending them. However, if you surround yourself with people who will share love and joy equally, you will find the hole left behind by the broken curse filled just as the Sohma zodiac members did.