Anime Review: Fruits Basket

Anime Review: Fruits Basket

Honda Tohru, an orphaned girl, stumbled upon the Sohma house on accident. She was quickly drawn in by their hospitality, but by accident again, discovered their family’s curse. Select members of the Sohma family are cursed with the ability to turn into an animal of the Chinese zodiac upon contact with a member of the opposite sex. Tohru, a naturally curious girl with an uncanny ability to understand others’ emotions, decides to live with the Sohma family and learn more about them.

Plot

Perhaps the fact that I like Fruits Basket at all is a testament to its quality. It’s no secret that whenever I watch shoujo style anime, I usually end up wanting to break something with my head out of anger. And Fruits Basket isn’t just a regular series with shoujo-ish elements, like Midori Days or Love Hina. This is the real deal, embracing the shoujo style full-on. But you know what? I doesn’t make me want to give myself brain damage, not in the least.

Part of this is due to a more original plot, which concentrates more on the various personalities of the Sohma household than developing romances and the like. That’s not to say relationships aren’t important – they are, but Fruits Basket leans more toward familial relationships than romantic ones. Since the cast of characters, and therefore the web of relations, is quite large and generally interesting, the episodes can hold your attention.

I should add a qualifier to that claim, though. If you’re looking for a strong male perspective, you won’t find one. When the male characters aren’t busy being bishounens, they’re mostly just there to make fun of themselves. Personally, I think this is suitable given the tone of the show.

For the most part, Fruits Basket minimizes its fantasy elements in favor of a more down-to-earth mood. Some of the episodes can be downright dark, especially the ones involving absentee mothers. One important plot thread is the way in which Tohru deals with the loss of her own family. Such episodes are particularly touching, because they implicitly suggest that family should not be taken for granted. There are also several allusions to the futility of violence in resolving conflict, as can be seen in Kyo and Yuki’s rivalry. These are simple, basic lessons that I don’t feel are emphasized enough in popular media. The fundamental optimism of Fruits Basket is enough to assuage those worries.

There are a few gripes I have about the series, with the biggest one being the extent to which it strains its own credulity. Establishing the curse on the Sohma family is fine, but having Tohru be the only outsider who ever notices is asking a bit too much. Suspension of disbelief only goes so far, and given the more realistic tone of most of the episode, it doesn’t really mesh that well. Also, the connection between the mysterious Akito and the Sohma family should have been better established.

Fruits Basket makes use of several common plot threads, but the series is still rather episodic. The loose narrative isn’t too devastating to the pacing, but I do wish the time spent on each Sohma family members was divided up more evenly. Aside from these problems, I’m glad to report that Fruits Basket escapes many of the trappings of the shoujo style. The characters can be honest with their feelings, many of the female characters are strong and interesting, and the story has enough originality to differentiate itself. Well I’ll be damned… it’s a good shoujo title.

Characters

Fruits Basket has a whole array of well written characters. They each have their own peculiarities which make them memorable, even if they don’t get enough screen time. Tohru, the main character of the story, is cast as being very level-headed, kind, and determined. Her innate curiosity and conciliatory attitude act as a conduit into the characters in the Sohma household. Her relationships with them, in turn, help her to develop into a more complete person. You don’t often see that level of interpersonal complexity, but Fruits Basket pulls it off and makes it look easy.

The primary male characters are Yuki, Kyo, and Shigure, who act as sources of comedic tension. Yuki is the most involved in Tohru’s life, and it’s clear that she is helping him overcome his aloofness. Kyo is also an important figure, but I found his hot-headed rival character to be a little too banal. Shigure, though, was an unexpected pleasure to watch. His carefree disposition mostly relegates him to the role of comic relief, but the execution of that personality makes him a scene stealer.

There are a host of supporting characters, and it’s usually through them that Tohru gains her chief insights. Momiji in particular helps bring to light the various maternal issues of the Sohma family. The theme is extended with Kisa, to whom Tohru serves as a surrogate mother. I could write several more volumes about the web connecting Tohru and the Sohmas, but suffice it to say, the level of character interaction is deep and quite rich.

I didn’t really expect this amount of nuance from Fruits Basket, but it was a pleasant surprise. With the introduction of each new Sohma, another layer is added to the network of characters. The story makes good use of this, as each Sohma brings in another perspective or outlook. Rather than making the show only watchable, the cast is there to explore the themes of the plot alongside the audience.

Technical

The tone of Fruits Basket in general is very subdued, but can get raucous at times. The palette too has been toned down, featuring lots of light blues and greens, and you can get a visual sense of where each episode wants to go. The voice actors work well, although the voices can sound a bit too generic. If there was one thing that did keep my attention, it’s the opening – it manages to capture the essence of the series and set it to some beautiful music as well.