Fruits Basket Summary and Analysis
Author: Wiley Gillam
The 2019 anime adaptation of Takaya Natsuki’s Fruit Basket is one of the most emotionally impactful anime series to date. Although another version of this series aired in 2001, the quality was significantly hindered due to a lack of source material and more primitive animation. However, with a completed manga series as the foundation, Fruits Basket has soared to unprecedented heights. Especially as a shoujo anime, it is quite difficult to attract a large audience simply due to the lower popularity of the genre as compared to its counterpart, shounen. Unlike most shoujo anime, Fruits Basket also appeals to male viewers. This is likely a result of the astrological component of the series which gives it more of a gender-neutral theme.
The commentary on romantic and family relationships creates a great balance for the slice-of-life anime that ensures no episode is dull. The structure and design of the series is incredibly powerful and allows ample time for characters to grow and plotlines to develop. Because romance anime does not have a crutch like battle scenes, it is essential that the dialogue and spread of characters is diverse and enjoyable for the audience. The writers and directors for this anime do an incredible job in evoking viewers emotions during the course of the two seasons that have aired thus far. Never before has an anime series made me consistently laugh and cry, but Fruits Basket did just that. The powerful storytelling devices used throughout the anime like flashbacks, anagnorises (discoveries), and analepses (flashbacks) all contribute to make the anime one of the best modern slice-of-life anime.
Season 1 Synopsis
The series begins with 16-year-old Tohru Honda, who finds herself homeless after the tragic death of her mother. Yuki Sohma, a student from her school, discovers she is homeless and invites her to his home. His older cousin, Shigure, offers her the opportunity to make that her temporary residence until she can find a way to financially support herself. Although terribly against the idea of intruding on their home, Tohru tries to deny the offer, but eventually accepts due to Shigure’s insistence. Another Sohma named Kyo arrives and challenges Yuki to fight, but Tohru intervenes resulting in the Sohma family secret coming to light. There are twelve members within the family who possess a spirit of the Chinese Zodiac cycle. After wrapping her arms around Kyo in an attempt to break up the brawl, she inadvertently causes his transformation into a cat (one of the twelve animals of the zodiac).
Normally, Tohru’s memory would need to be erased, but due to the unique circumstances surrounding her shared living situation with the three Sohmas, they decide in exchange for her oath of secrecy, they will allow her to retain her knowledge of their secret. After some time of living with the Sohmas, Tohru learns more context behind both Kyo and Yuki. She realizes that, like herself, both of the boys have experienced disturbing psychological and physical abuse that has led to their emotional instability. She vows to mend their relationship with one another and relieve all of the stress and tension of their lives as members of the zodiac. However, this proves to be far more difficult than she anticipates. Tohru then learns that she can stay with her grandfather along with other members of her family. She packs her bag and heads to her new home where she is met with considerable criticism and negativity. However, Kyo and Yuki form a temporary truce in order to bring her back to their home as they both realize how important she is to them. Fortunately, Tohru’s grandfather is understanding of her situation (unlike the rest of the family) and lets her move back in with the Sohmas.
As Tohru continues her life under the Sohma family’s roof, she meets other members of the zodiac. Notably, she discovers that Momiji, the rabbit, and Hatsuhara, the ox, are both enrolled at her school. Both of these characters are kind-hearted and caring people. Momiji is a year younger than Tohru, but almost seems like a child. Despite being a male, Momiji dresses like a girl to support his dainty features. Tohru quickly befriends Momiji and learns of her dark past. We learn that Momiji’s mother became vehemently depressed after giving birth to the rabbit spirit and even attempted suicide. As a result, her memories were wiped and she no longer has any recollection of Momiji’s existence. As such, Tohru and Momiji seem to form a mother-child relationship over time. In contrast, Hatsuhara seems to have an extremely confident presence. However, we learn that he has serious anger management issues which stem from his childhood when his parents convinced him that he was an ignoramus.
Consistent amongst all the Sohmas is a depressing childhood. Finally, we learn the major cause for strife for each of the zodiac members is the head of the family, Akito. Akito is a spiteful person who is also very subject to jealousy. We first learn of her frequent mistreatment of Kyo, the cat spirit, who is technically not a part of the zodiac. This makes Akito’s animosity especially strong toward Kyo. On the other hand, Yuki, the rat, receives special treatment from Akito because the two are considered to have the closest bond of all the 12 zodiac members. However, the full extent of their relationship is not disclosed in season 1. Rather, the central factor contributing to Yuki’s sadness seems to stem from his poor relationship with his parents and brother, the snake.
Akito’s jealousy takes shape after learning of the strengthening relationships between the zodiac members and Tohru. She arrives at our main characters’ residency in a fit of rage. Momiji tries to interfere, but is violently struck down. Facing Tohru, Akito slashes her face leaving bloody imprints on her skin. The situation finally deescalates and Akito leaves. Hatori, the family doctor and possessed by the seahorse, rushes to Tohru and Momijis’ aid. Although both characters are alright, the tension is ever-present.
Finally, the season ends with Kyo’s foster father, Kazuma, appearing. He quickly identifies the close relationship between Tohru and Kyo. He believes Tohru is capable of healing Kyo so he can overcome his conditioning by Akito to loathe himself. This ultimately results in his transformation to his true monstrous form which supposedly led to his mother’s suicide. However, Tohru accepts and loves Kyo even in this state. Although incapable of accepting this love at first, he eventually is so moved by Tohru’s display of affection that he transforms back into a human and apologizes to both her and Kazuma for his outburst.
Season 2 Synopsis
Tohru Honda has now been living with the Sohma family for a year. She continues her objective to help the zodiac members overcome their dark pasts while still struggling with personal conflicts about her mother’s passing. Despite Yuki succeeding in every test of strength, he finds himself outclassed by Kyo in every way stating that he is more likable and that he has won Tohru’s heart. Viewers can see that Yuki is being narrow-minded as he is student class president and considered the most desired boy at the school. Similarly, Kyo still struggles to interact socially and convey his emotions. Still, both boys have made considerable progress in attaining true happiness thanks to Tohru’s guidance and love.
One major development this season is meeting Kureno, the singular zodiac member (the rooster) not introduced in the first season. We learn that Akito keeps Kureno to herself and does not allow anyone else to interact with him. This is due to a strong love she has for him which appears to be romantic. In order to keep Akito happy, Kureno recquits this love, but we learn that this may not actually reflect his true feelings. One of Tohru’s closest classmates, Arisa Uotani, meets Kureno while working one day and ends up accompanying him for a dinner date. The two share a kiss, but he quickly disappears and ceases all contact with her. Upset that he has played with her emotions, Arisa is deeply saddened. However, Tohru learns that Kureno is actually the rooster of the zodiac cycle and lives in the Sohma Estate. With the help of Momiji, Tohru sneaks into the estate and finds Kureno. She explains the feelings her friend has for him and ultimately leaves him a note with Arisa’s phone number. Although Kureno denies his love for her, we later see him heavily contemplating whether or not to contact her. This relationship will likely receive more development in season 3.
The other major event that occurs this season is the Shigure household along with Hatsuhara and Momiji go on a beach vacation. In addition, Kisa and Hiro (the tiger and sheep of the zodiac cycle) decide to join them. On this vacation, the group continues to connect and even Hiro, who was previously jealous of her relationship with Kisa, grows fond of Tohru. However, all fun and games cease when Akito decides to visit the group to check in on Yuki and speak with Tohru. Lacking comprehension as to why the zodiac members listen to Akito’s bidding, Tohru finally learns of the family curse. All members of the zodiac cycle have an unspoken bond with Akito that makes their relationship closer than any human bond could ever be. It also gives the head of the family incredible power, to which the members of the zodiac cycle are powerless.
In an attempt to learn more about the curse and a potential way to break the curse, Tohru sets out to speak with Kureno and Ren, the horse. We learn that Ren has recently broken up with Hatsuhara, leaving him dumbfounded and heartbroken. However, Tohru suspects that there is more to the story than meets the eye. Ren displays incredible hatred and frustration with the girl. However, Tohru learns that Ren only broke up with Hatsuharu for his own protection because she knew Akito would disapprove and punish him if she learned of the relationship. As always, Tohru provides emotional support for Ren which results in the two developing a strong connection (once again, reminiscent of a mother-child relationship). However, Ren informs Tohru that the curse cannot be broken and that she should simply stop trying.
Regardless, Tohru continues seeking a solution and unintentionally finds Kureno. She observes all the birds near him fly away. She finds this strange because he is supposedly the rooster of the zodiac cycle. Kureno then reveals his deepest secret. He is no longer possessed by the rooster spirit. When he was around Tohru’s age, his curse broke naturally. He cannot provide
a valid explanation and even says he does not fully understand how it happened himself. Despite being free of the curse, he declares that he will forever remain by Akito’s side out of loyalty. A few moments later, he breaks down confessing his love for Arisa. Although it is unclear what decision he will make at the end of season 2, Tohru leaves with hope that she can break the zodiac curse and save the Sohma family from Akito’s abusive tyranny.
Although its first season was well-received, the second season of Fruits Basket overwhelmingly outclassed it. This anime is one that gets better as the story progresses which is quite difficult to find nowadays as studios are often lazy and piggy-back off the success of their opening season (i.e. My Hero Academia). This is partly why Fruits Basket (2001) did not turn out as enjoyable as the modern adaptation. The anime caught up with the manga and did not have any more content to use as a guiding point. Thus, the show writers were forced to construct their own conclusion which felt rushed and lack-luster. However, with Takaya Natsuki’s manga complete, a perfect foundation is in place allowing the full potential of Fruits Basket to shine in its animated form.
The shoujo anime stands out amid a heavily saturated arena of romance by shifting its main focus from a love story to a supernatural family drama in which our main character, Tohru, works to save each of the 12 members of the zodiac cycle from despair and misery onset by the head of the family, Akito. Unlike most anime series, there are many important characters in Fruits Basket that each receive considerable screentime in order to properly develop the character and fit them into the storyline. Each Sohma family member possessed by a zodiac spirit is crucial for the ultimate goal of the series. Tohru works with each of the characters in an attempt to lift the curse upon them. Despite Tohru having a rough time herself after losing her mother, she prioritizes all others above herself. She helps others carry their burdens while simultaneously holding her own. This makes her a very likable character to both others within the realm of the series as well as to the viewers.
Fruits Basket has an incredible ability to relate to any pain and suffering viewers may be going through. This is partly a function of the many characters within the series that each contain a distinct yet dark past. No matter how awful their lives were, Tohru’s resoluteness never falters. She believes that everyone should love themselves regardless of transgressions or mistakes they made in the past. She frequently gives individuals the benefit of the doubt regardless of how they treat her. One example of this is seen with Ren Sohma, the horse, who attempts to kick her with her hoof upon meeting Tohru. Instead of reacting with anger, Tohru apologizes for upsetting Ren despite Ren’s feelings not being justified whatsoever. Regardless of their age, the zodiac members (with a few exceptions like Hatori and Kureno) act like children when compared to Tohru. Her maturity level sets her apart and allows her to serve as the parent figure for all of them which many of them so desperately need. Sohma family members possessed by a zodiac spirit animal have weak relationships with their children for various reasons. Often, it is due to fear or misunderstanding of this power, but also Akito’s intervention. Akito is the epitome of greed. She wants all of the members of the zodiac cycle to have closer bonds with her than with anyone else. This results in the individuals being unable to have relationships with their parents, siblings, or even significant others. The Sohma family is unable to resist Akito’s wishes due to the curse that holds them all subservient to the head of the family.
However, Tohru moving in with Kyo, Yuki, and Shigure begins to weaken the curse. This results in akito’s inexplicable rage and hatred toward Tohru. And despite Tohru being passive and forgiving to all others, she treats Akito differently. She is resolute in her quest to break the Sohma family curse and will not shy away despite Akito’s violent confrontation. Instead, she becomes even more determined and proactive in her goals. She demonstrates to viewers her value of others (even those she does not or barely knows) is far greater than her self-worth. In learning of the terrible abuse the zodiac members encounter from both their parents and Akito, viewers are deeply saddened. However, Tohru’s selfless efforts to help them makes the anime even more emotional. It is not abnormal during the course of one episode of Fruits Basket to feel both giddy and deeply depressed. That is the power of the storyline greatly complimented by the beautiful soundtrack and voice-acting contained within the series.
The talents of Takaya Natsuki come to fruition in the 2019 anime adaptation of Fruits Basket. The true genius of her writing is reflected by the Fruits Basket (2001) writer’s attempt to conclude the series without her input. This led to the rapid downfall of the series. However, with the anime completely based off of the best-selling shoujo manga, the series is thriving and only increasing in quality each season. Although the storyline appears to be goofy and magical on a surface-level, the underlying themes and purpose of this anime is incredibly serious. Each of the characters struggles with real-life issues such as the death of a loved one, child abuse, etc. This is what causes fans to feel such strong emotions while watching the series. Tohru Honda is perhaps the most wholesome character in all of anime. Every goal she has and every action she makes is an attempt to help others in need.
In addition, TMS Entertainment’s animation of the series is phenomenal. The character design in the animated series is arguably even better than Natsuki’s art in the manga. As previously mentioned, altering the original work of a successful series typically results in disaster. But in this case, there was a beautiful outcome. Furthermore, the vibrant colors chosen for characters and the backgrounds reflecting the situation greatly assist in the overall slice-of-life feel this anime provides. One particularly emotional moment in the series was when Hatori, the seahorse, watches his ex-wife with another man after having her memories erased. The heavy snow and greyness of the sky functioned as a powerful allegory of Hatori’s emotions. Overall, the series excels in its role as a romantic-comedy, slice-of-life anime. There are plenty of hilarious characters that make silly expressions or overreact frequently. In addition, the comedy is not overdone to the point where it becomes annoying. The anime is serious when it needs to and as such, creates a perfect balance of emotions in the audience. The rivalry between Yuki and Kyo for Tohru’s love is also very entertaining. While it is definitely not the primary purpose of the anime, it is a nice addition that makes the story even more stimulating. There truly were no serious issues with this anime in my opinion. As such, this series earns a score of 9.8/10. At this point in time (February, 2021), I would consider it to be the greatest slice-of-life anime created and I am very excited to see what direction Fruits Basket season 3 will take in april of 2021 (the release date set by FUNimation).