Always The Rice Ball, Never The Strawberry: Fruits Basket

Trying to belong, feeling outcast.

At least we are all together.

Fruits Basket (named after a Japanese children’s game) was an interesting series. I had heard a great deal about it in the shojo world, and even though the manga is finished, I believe that it remains one of TokyoPop‘s best sellers. Hence I was looking forward to finally checking out this much-beloved anime. However, it wasn’t quite what I expected.

The basic story goes something like this: Tohru Honda is a thoughtful and hardworking student who just happens to be living in a tent shortly after her mother’s death. However, after a random encounter, she soon finds herself living with a branch of the Sohma family that includes the “prince” of her high school, Yuki Sohma, as well as Yuki’s cousins Kyo and Shigure (the latter being the oldest who owns the house). Yet the Sohma family carries a secret curse: certain members, either when hugged by a member of the opposite sex or when under a great deal of stress, turn into an animal from the Chinese zodiac! The series goes on to introduce the rest of the Sohma family and reveal their individual pasts as well as Tohru’s, and the bulk of the action revolves around daily life among the four main characters in Shigure’s house.

Everyone loves a reverse harem, especially when cute animals are involved!

The concept was certainly one of the most original that I’ve come across in the world of manga and anime. However, I really wanted to love this series, and I just couldn’t. There are a few reasons that spring to mind as to why I just couldn’t embrace it fully despite all the glowing reviews. Firstly, I began watching this anime the same day that I finished Ouran High School Host Club, a series that I was over the moon for. There are some similarities since both fall into the realm of shojo and reverse harem. However, I found Ouran to be far funnier and more lively than Fruits Basket. Had I watched Fruits Basket first it might have been a different story. Secondly, even though the anime came out in 2001 (which I don’t consider to be that long ago) it felt very dated in some ways, such as the music and Kyo’s wardrobe (half-shirts and JNCO pants, woo-hoo!). Finally, there were several dialogue-heavy episodes that I simply thought were boring. I would start tuning out, thinking about my grocery list or getting a haircut, when I would snap back and realize that a character was having some sort of epiphany or emotional breakthrough. If you have to force yourself to pay attention, then that show isn’t going to be your favourite.

Also, there were three details throughout the series that disturbed me, but I kind of chalked them up to cultural differences. Tohru works as a maid and cook in the Sohma household, which is understandable as she does so to equal out the room and board that she receives. However, my western feminism has trouble digesting the picture of the happy little wifey who just loooves to serve her men, whereas none of them help out around the house at all (unless it’s a “manly” chore such as using tools to repair a door). Then there was the issue of the abuse that happens in various parts of the troubled house of Sohma, especially involving one central character who seems to dish it out to everyone. It is never explained in the anime why no one stands up to this character, so naturally I kept wondering why no one ever fights back. (I discovered why in the manga, but I feel that is an important detail that should have been included in the anime, because not fighting back just doesn’t make sense to me.) And last but not least there is the issue of so many different Sohmas hooking up. Even if they were really, reeeeeeally distant cousins, my brain keeps screaming, “Dude, same last name, SAME LAST NAME!!! DON’T MAKE OUT WITH YOUR RELATIVES!!!

This could be a picture of me and my sisters, except that my older sister always wears pajama pants.

That said, there were some individual characters I truly loved that became some of my favourites out of any anime. I found Tohru’s sweetness too much in the beginning and threw her into my “Ugly Betty syndrome” category. (“Ugly Betty syndrome” is the term I use, based on the titular character from Ugly Betty, when a character stubbornly does “the right thing” despite it being unrealistic to do so in real life.) However, after a few episodes her politeness grew on me, and I began to see her as genuine, despite the fact that I, personally, could not identify with her. Yet I really loved her closest girlfriends, and could very much identify with them. In fact, Tohru and her best friends Arisa and Hanajima remind me very much of myself and my sisters (with my older sister being the protective Arisa, my younger sister being the thoughtful Tohru, and myself being the strange and gothic Hanajima). I also got a kick out of Shigure Sohma because he is a writer who likes to torture his editor and lounge about the house in kimonos, which is something I aspire to myself.

Overall, I’m kind of torn on this series. The final episodes of the anime failed to answer some of my questions about the Sohma family, so I spent an hour online reading about the continuation of the story found in Natsuki Takaya’s manga. What I discovered was that the depths of the disturbing abuse found in the house of Sohma were only hinted at in the anime. The manga is far more complex and dark than I imagined it would be. There were also some characters not featured in the anime that sounded interesting. My guess is that the manga is much better than the anime. However, because I began with the anime, I wasn’t interested enough to pick up the manga, so I went ahead and read about the whole story online. (Warning: here be spoilers!) Despite the fact that I wasn’t completely enamored with the anime, I can see its appeal, and I might even be tempted to add it to my anime library if I ever found it massively on sale. And that’s my take on Fruits Basket: not for everyone, but then, maybe you’re not everyone.

Rating: ★★★ I really wanted to love this anime, but its potential never quite came to fruition for me.

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