Anyone who knows anything about anime, knows about Fruits Basket. Which just means I’m gonna have to struggle a bit to really say anything that hasn’t been said before. The terms wonderful, beautiful, and near perfect get thrown around for a reason, and the show itself is near legendary even outside anime circles. All for good reason, too.
Fruits Basket is damn near the most perfect anime ever made, after all.
Bold words, I know.
First off, I want to say something relevant. I’m a jaded and cynical person. I know it doesn’t really come across in how and what I write, but I am. I struggle with depression, and at one point in my life, dealt with frequent suicidal thoughts and desires. I believe that hard work is what gets you where you want to go, not wishing or dreaming. I don’t believe in heroes, or that anyone offering help does so out of the goodness of their heart. Everything comes with a price, usually one higher than you want to pay.
Basically, if it’s too good to be true, it probably is.
In fiction, I allow myself to believe in the things I don’t in real life. Perhaps that’s why I’m so much more forgiving of it than others. I admit, I tend to overlook flaws more readily, and immerse myself in stories with more willingness. I suspend disbelief with greater ease. In fiction, I find my escape from my day to day self, and the freedom to believe in things I can’t bring myself to in life.
Even in my own writing, you can see some of my cynicism. My heroes are deeply flawed characters, and my villains are typically very sympathetic, motivated by reasonable desires of their own that just put them at odds with the heroes. In some cases, I even raise the question of who is really the hero, and who is really the villain. With my own work, I struggle to shake that borderline pessimistic nature I’ve developed.
In others, it’s easier. I am more willing to believe, because the creator is willing to believe, and let myself get swept into their view and vision. It’s an odd character trait, I admit, and I can’t really say when or why I developed it, but I have, and I approach everything with the same willingness to leave my own views, feelings and thoughts at the door, so the creator can say what they want to me.
The reason I bring this up is because in Fruits Basket, I had my cynical nature truly challenged for the first time in my life.
Fruits Basket is a 2001, 26 episode series from Studio Deen, the same that handled Hell Girl, which I talked about a couple weeks ago. It’s based on the almost ten year long manga by Natsuki Takaya, so it doesn’t even begin to cover the whole of the story she told. Which is completely okay, because the story it does tell is worth seeing.
The series revolves around teenage orphan Tohru Honda, who recently lost her mother. She doesn’t remember her father at all, as he died when she was still too young, so she was raised by her mom alone. After her mother’s death, she is suppose to go live with her grandfather on her dad’s side, but he is having to stay with his other kid while his house is renovated. Even the resourceful teenager, Tohru pitches a tent in the woods, and lives there, telling no one.
At least, until she is headed to school one day, and happens to notice a cottage near the path she takes. There lives Shigure Sohma, and his nephew, Yuki. As it happens, Yuki goes to Tohru’s school, and is considered the “Prince”. The most attractive, desirable boy in the school, as it were. After a brief conversation, she heads off to school, then to her part time job after. It’s only when she’s returning to her tent later that she first begins to notice she is getting sick.
Unknown to her, Shigure and Yuki were coming back from a restaurant, and noticed her walking through the woods. They know the Sohma family owns everything for miles, and curious as to where she’s going, trail her. When they catch up, and realize she’s sick, they take her back to the cottage, which is good, as a landslide late at night buries her tent, and likely would have killed her.
Shigure decides to take pity on her after hearing her ramble out her life story while delirious from fever, and offers to let her stay with he and Yuki. Reluctantly, Tohru accepts, and soon meets Yuki’s cousin, the brash and thug like Kyo. When he and Yuki nearly come to blows, Tohru attempts to intervene, and thus, discovers the Sohma family curse.
Whenever they are embraced by someone of the opposite gender, they transform into one of the animals of the Chinese Zodiac.
What happens from there is one of the most heartfelt, beautiful, optimistic, and touching stories of love, acceptance, and family you will ever see. I cannot stress this enough. Fruits Basket is a must see anime.
Much of the charm of the story rests on Tohru’s shoulders, as she navigates the insular and secretive Sohma family. Despite the fact they routinely erase the memory of anyone who has seen one of them transform, Tohru is allowed to keep her’s, and live with Shigure, Yuki, and Kyo. Not that she is overly welcomed by the family as a whole, so much as tolerated.
Regardless, she approaches every member of the family, and those with the Zodiac curse, with an open heart and friendship. Before long, the Zodiac cursed members begin seeking her out, each of them longing to be accepted by a normal person, and Tohru’s kindness and love wins her many friends and supporters within the family.
Yuki, having long lived a life of cautious interaction with others, giving him an aloof and distant appearance, begins to open up due to his friendship with her, and become more engaging with others, especially Tohru’s two closest friends, Hana and Uotani. Likewise, Kyo, having spent his life as an outcast even from the Sohma family, because he bears the curse of the cat, begins to grow less antagonistic and more open to receiving friendship from others.
Shigure remains a bit of a lazy pervert, however, because you can’t teach old dogs new tricks.
The themes presented in Fruits Basket frequently deal with being an outsider, for whatever reason that may be. It touches on homosexuality, transgender, and many other issues that make people an “other”. In each case, the walls they build around themselves are broken down by love, kindness, friendship, and trust, which the show doesn’t deliver subtly, but with the grace of a rabid badger duel wielding ten pound sledgehammer while trying to ice skate.
Honestly, I can’t say that’s a bad thing, either, as the message resting at the heart of Fruits Basket seems to be one that most people need beaten into them these days.
From the heartbreaking story of Kisa, to the heart destroying story of Momiji, to the heart annihilating story of Akito, Tohru greets them all with a warm smile, understanding, love, acceptance, and generosity. Always, forever, guided by the words of her departed mother, who casts a massive shadow across the entire series, Tohru Honda offers up the best aspects of humanity in a single lovable character.
In return, she is given all she ever needed from life, and everything she ever wanted. She is loved, respected, and treated with respect. Because the only real gift we give to others is our kindness, and the only real reward we receive is theirs in return.
Yes, Fruits Basket challenged my cynical view of the world. It made me want to be a more open person. It dared me to be a kinder person, and that is the real magic it holds.
It makes you want to be more like Tohru Honda.
One last thing before I get into the technical stuff. Fruits Basket will make you cry like a baby about every other episode. Seriously. This show makes you ugly cry on a regular basis. Be prepared for that, and have plenty of tissue handy.
For real, guys. When my girlfriend and I first watched it, when spent a lot of time just holding each other and sobbing. Then watching another episode and doing it again. This show is emotionally draining.
Okay, on to the rest.
In terms of animation, Fruits Basket is freaking gorgeous. The animation is primarily done with bright pastel colors, and beautifully done watercolor style backgrounds. It’s just an amazing treat for the eyes. One of the few shows where I’ll happily say the animation perfectly fits the story.
That said, it also uses the common anime emotional cues, such as the red cross appearing for anger, the giant tear drop for uncertainty, and so on, so frequently it’s a hallmark of the show. It also commonly uses a wildly different style of animation out of the blue, then switches back again, usually to convey the mood of a room. It’s a bit much for people not familiar with anime, but for those who have been around it for a while, it’s just an adorable quirk of the show.
The character designs, now, are some of the most recognizable in anime. From Tohru’s giant, expressive eyes, to Kyo’s shock of orange hair, every character is wonderfully unique and easily recognizable. You would know these characters if you were blind. They are just that well done.
The series was directed by Akitaro Daichi, who doesn’t have a lot of other well known shows to his name. Or, rather, not well known to me. Which is odd, as his direction is positively brilliant. With every frame, he focuses on the emotion of the scene, telling the heart of the story with stunning imagery. He displays an amazingly sharp eye for knowing how to frame a scene, not just in terms of camera work, but in how it should feel. It’s really an amazing bit of direction, leaving me to wonder why he hasn’t been tapped for more big projects.
That said, he did direct a little known show called Animation Runner Kuromi, which I’ll be talking about in a few weeks, so we’ll be revisiting Daichi’s direction style here soon.
The script work was done primarily by Mamiko Ikeda, known for writing such shows as Chrome Shelled Regios, Gravitation, and Princess Tutu. Doing the rest was Aki Itami, best known for the odd Aku no Hana series. Between them, they deliver an amazingly touching story based on Natsuki Takaya’s manga. The dialogue sparkles at every turn, and is overflowing with beautiful phrased moments that convey so much with so few words. As a writer myself, I am constantly in awe of their well crafted dialogue, and hope to one day be able to do half as well.
The music was handled by Seiji Muto, who as near as I can tell, only has a few music credits to his name. Why, I’ve no idea, as his work in Fruits Basket is nothing less than inspiring. Every note helps convey Tohru’s optimism, and the slowly opening hearts of every life she touches. It’s one of the most beautiful, wistful, uplifting soundtracks I’ve ever heard.
Muto also arranged the opening song, which I’ve talked about before, and remains probably my favorite OP ever.
Somebody needs to give this guy more work. For real.
Fruits Basket was given an English dub by none other than Funimation, and is a veritable who’s who of their central talent. Most notable, however, would be Laura Bailey’s performance as Tohru. For those not aware, Laura was also the voice of Lust in FullMetal Alcehmist, Shin Chan, Kids Trunks in Dragonball, and an insanely long list of other works. Fruits Basket, however, remains one of her most stellar roles, and probably my personal favorite of everything she’s ever done. She infuses Tohru with such hope, kindness, gentleness, and beauty at every word and line, listening to the show in English is every bit as rewarding as in the original Japanese.
She also sings the opening song in the English version. That’s something, ya’ll.
By the by, Laura also plays D&D on Critical Role, with her husband, Travis Willingham, the voice of Roy Mustang, Ginko, Mori, and about a billion other things. So, yeah, I’m a fan of them both, and watching two of my favorite voice actors play D&D is like being given a birthday gift every Thursday.
That aside, the reason Fruits Basket remains one of the most enduring classics of anime is that it offers up a completely non-cynical view of the world, where kindness, empathy, and love really do break down every wall, and make life a beautiful thing. Many anime try to convey these ideas, but none have ever accomplished it with the deft skill, beauty, warmth, and tenderness that Fruits Basket managed.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve had the soundtrack playing in the background as I wrote this, and I am overcome with the feels again. I need some tissue, and hugs.