The Sohma family is cursed. When a member of the family is embraced by a person of the opposite gender, they transform into an animal of the Chinese Zodiac! The Sohmas managed to keep the curse private for generations, but when a young girl stumbles upon their hidden secret, life at the Sohma house changes forever! Conflict erupts as Zodiac rivals clash in this most unusual household. Young Tohru Honda must promise the secret will remain her own… or face the consequences! (Funimation)
I face a peculiar dilemma with Fruits Basket. I saw this anime years ago when I was first getting started in the otaku community. I had very little experience with the medium of anime, and a friend of mine recommended this because I had adored Clannad. I watched it, and I loved it at the time. Of course, like most anime, the ending was “to be continued in the manga,” so I immediately picked it up online to find out what happens.
Then I watched it again for this review, and it sadly does not hold up to my nostalgic image of the series.
To start with the complaints, the series looks overwhelmingly simple. I took a look back at some of the other anime that were around back in 2001. Digimon first came out in 2000, and both Hellsing and Angelic Layer came out in 2001 alongside Fruits Basket. Perhaps the studio was having budget issues as well, because there are many instances of scene-rehashing and “mini clip shows” throughout. For the most part, the characters are defined by their hair and one or two emotions associated with them. Kyo has orange hair and likes to shout angrily (cause he’s a tsundere!), Haru has black and white hair which matches his almost schizophrenic personality, and Tohru has brown hair due to her complete normalcy.
There was something interesting about Yuki’s character, however, that I rather enjoyed. Yuki, in both the sub and the dub, is referred to as a “prince.” In anime and manga, the Prince trope is meant to accentuate Yuki’s effeminate appearance and mannerisms (think of it as the opposite of the Uber-manly lumberjack characters). This label fits Yuki brilliantly in the sub, as his voice actor is female and speaks in a calm and eloquent tone. In the dub, however, the “prince” trope does not quite translate as well into Western cultures, so he was given a male voice actor doing his best “dark & brooding” voice. Honestly, I think they both work to a point, but the sub meshes better with the anime overall.
Another thing that was changed during the transfer from Japan to America (and beyond!) is the downplay of the more… intimate characteristics of Shigure, Ayame, Haru, and others. An example is that Ayame and Shigure frequently exchange “bromantic” quips with one another (“You haven’t been unfaithful to me since I’ve been gone, have you?~”). This is, once again, changed in the dub to tamer, less suggestive comments (You haven’t forgotten about me, have you?). Considering that there are a lot more characters with alternate preferences (or at least appear to), I recommend listening to the sub to get a good feel about these characters (plus I found it to be funnier!).
Now, there is something else I should mention about Fruits Basket: why I loved it way back when. For the first half of the series or so, you are constantly being introduced to characters and given more exposition (via Tohru’s constant narration) about the setting and the backstory thereof. Everything is nice, the sun is bright, laughs are had, and all is well.
Then a certain character shows up.
While I have no intentions of spoiling too much of the series, I have to say that what sets Fruits Basket apart from other slice-of-life series is that for every smile, there is a shadow. This series gets DARK really fast after its slow start. You have characters recounting abuse, suffering mental disorders, being bullied, falling into depression, and coming to grips with the hidden regrets and anguishes that they possess within themselves. The final four episodes continue to be one of my favorite arcs in anime because, when I first watched it, it shocked me completely. But it was set up from the very beginning, which I noticed from a stray line in the third or fourth episode! In a series that is continuously advertised as a standard romance-with-supernatural-thingies-thrown-in, having this kind of mature and complex story is unexpected and delightful to see.
Unfortunately, the last half of the final episode is completely filler just to get people to read the manga (surprise, it worked), and while those darker elements thrilled me, I feel like the series could never really balance between the two sides. It was either sickeningly sweet and light or so dark and brutal that it stomps on your feels.
- Deceptive story and characters, making the series appear to be light-hearted fun but harbors many ominous, at times grim, features
- Last arc is one of my personal favorites
- Ayame is fabulous, Haru is bi, and that is cool.
- Arisa and Saki are quite possibly some of the most awesome “best friends of the main character” I’ve ever seen.
- Animation is… meh.
- Soundtrack is… also meh.
- Tohru constantly attempts to narrate with her inner thoughts, which usually only explain what the viewer already is aware of
- Anything involving the Prince Yuki fan club. Just… no.
- When the characters are not having the aforementioned dark moments, they act very stereotypical and do not really change even after those traumatic events have passed.
- “Read the Manga” ending leaves a lot to be desired and comes immediately after a very important plot twist.
- The dub is inferior in almost every way to the sub.
- Tohru is… kinda boring. Other than a few interesting things that are brought up in later episodes, she more or less plays the standard “cinnamon roll too good for this world” with none of the unique icing that gives flavor to the character.
- Speaking of, everyone loves Tohru because… she’s nice? There is this rather odd focus on Tohru despite her being the least interesting member of the cast.
Stream it. As much as I regret having to say this, Fruits Basket does not hold up as well as I thought. Its overall design is lackluster, the pacing is kinda off, and the really good moments of the series when things get, well, interesting do not come into play until you watch a good portion of the series. Even worse, the ending does not resolve anything that occurs in the series with any kind of closure. The only redeeming grace of the series is the characters, who do have this creeping shadow of their past slowly trying to envelop them. Seeing them come to terms with these more mature topics is delightful, and the drama that occurs as a result makes the series somewhat watchable.
I hope you all enjoyed this Reader’s Choice review! Leave your comments below, and prepare yourselves for next month’s review of Dragon Age: Inquisition!