The Spring 2019 Anime Preview Guide
How would you rate episode 1 of
Fruits Basket (TV 2/2019) ?
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How was the first episode?
The original Fruits Basket manga and its initial anime adaptation both passed me by back in the day, but my wife and several friends of mine are longtime fans of the franchise, which means I've been hearing anecdotal retellings of the adventures of Tohru and her Zodiac Boys for years. This new remake of the story has been hyped for a good while, so I was a little worried that I might be disappointed by the final product. If this exceedingly charming first episode is anything to go by, I've got nothing to fret over.
As far as I'm concerned, a story like this is only as good as its cast of characters, and that's where Fruits Basket hits an immediate home run. Tohru's fierce optimism in the face of her own homelessness and orphanhood feels archetypal by this point, but the story stops just short of laying it on too thick. Sure, she's a world-class housekeeper who lives in a tent with a photo of her dead mom, but Tohru still manages to feel down-to-earth and relatable, which is key to selling the whole premise of the show. When she's doing her best to just survive a day of work and school, your heart breaks a little for her, and you immediately understand why Yuki and Shigure would be so eager to take her into their home after a mudslide demolishes her camping spot. Admittedly, they're in desperate need of someone to stave off the demonic tides of their own filth and maybe cook something edible now and again, but the arrangement never feels as cheap as it might have in a lesser execution of the premise.
We only meet three of the 13 representatives of the Zodiac that we know Tohru will come to bond with over the course of the series, but they're just as fun and cute as I've been told all these years. Yuki is quiet and reserved but capable of cunning and flashes of sharp wit, which is befitting the Rat of the Zodiac. Shigure is the Dog, and the best example of his characterization can be found in how Fruits Basket contrasts the one moment where he brazenly laughs in the face of Tohru's misfortune with how he later comforts and cares for her in his home. Kyo is the combative Cat, the outcast of lore who was denied a place in the Zodiac at all. Even a series newbie like me can tell that he's obviously going to be one of the key romantic options, as well as an incredibly Good Boy. For one thing, cats are objectively among the best animals, and of all the cute animal forms I've seen so far, Kyo's is the one that brought me the closest to making audible “dawwww” sounds.
Fruits Basket's lush modern production values pair perfectly with its timeless approach to magical shoujo romance shenanigans. Given my marital obligations, I doubt there ever existed a version of reality where I didn't follow this series in some capacity, but even if I had somehow never heard the words “Fruits” and “Basket” used in conjunction with each other before, I would still be a fool to ignore something so immediately and undeniably fun.
I've always been aware of Fruits Basket's renown, but I never got around to watching or reading it back in its early '00s heyday. That made me even more excited to see this revival, and the early previews seemed to suggest this would at least be a visually appealing production. Having watched this episode, I'm happy to report those early previews hold true, and that the show's actual story holds up just as well. So far so good for the Fruits Basket remake!
This episode's central strength comes down to the appeal of its heroine, Tohru. Though this will undoubtedly go in a romantic direction eventually, for the time being, romance is the last thing on Tohru's mind. Having lost both her parents, and with her grandfather's house undergoing renovations, Tohru is currently living out of a tent situated somewhere on the Soma family's estate. Tohru doesn't let that get her down, though—and as this episode proceeds, it develops a detailed portrait of Tohru as an incredibly strong and self-sufficient girl whose greatest weakness seems to be how much she doubts herself, and how accommodating of others she feels she must be. Tohru is a lively and wholly sympathetic heroine, and the show successfully mines both comedy and tragedy out of her life story.
On the narrative end, my biggest complaints would be some lukewarm jokes, as well as the slightly lethargic pacing. As for the show's visual execution, this episode was flush with attractive backgrounds and full of evocative symmetrical compositions that beautifully contrasted the characters against their settings. The character designs are attractive and expressive while still holding true to their retro roots, and though the animation wasn't spectacular, it was more than strong enough to not be a distraction. Perhaps the show's strongest visual asset was its prominent use of lighting, which gave the whole episode a dreamlike atmosphere.
Fruits Basket's central conceit isn't actually introduced until the final moments of this episode, but the development of Tohru and her first interactions with the Somas already felt satisfying in its own right. So far, it's looking like Fruits Basket will be a fine dramatic pillar of the spring season!
It's BACK. The original series was a defining shojo work for a whole generation of anime viewers and TMS Entertainment is really letting us relive the magic all over again. After a decade, the heart of the show hasn't really changed but that's no detriment to Fruits Basket - Tohru's steadfast optimism despite her sometimes dire circumstances was always the central appeal of the story.
The premiere episode hammers that central point home. Tohru has been passed around like an old blanket no one wants, and it'd be easy to judge her strength of spirit as merely a coping mechanism for being perceived as an inconvenience for others around her after the death of her mother. She always puts her best foot forward even if she's socially ostracized at school (you don't end up in a social trio with a goth psychic and a delinquent otherwise, even if they're the better people in your class), living in a tent, and working for a cleaning service. She's extraordinary, maybe impossibly so, but Tohru makes for an immediately endearing protagonist.
It'll be interesting to see how newcomers relate to the individual members of the Soma clan. I was always team Kyo and picking a “side” was a major part of fandom at the time, a sort of Rei vs. Asuka testing ground for shojo fans. Watching the show again as an adult gives me new opportunities to reevaluate the characters. Yuki's disdain toward Kyo this time around seems more understandable when you have a better idea of his perception of the Soma family. I might not dislike him as much! Kyo might even be too abrasive for the person I've become since then - words I'd never thought I'd say.
There are some elements that will feel very '90s, the whole “female protagonist lives with hot guys because she's natural at housework” thing being the most obvious. This hasn't exactly filtered out of shojo works, but I've never met a girl or woman whose hobby is “cleaning.” This is an extremely minor quibble about shojo as a whole, not Fruits Basket in particular. It's got too much heart to fault it just on its tired "live-in maid" sitcom circumstances.
If you're a fan of debating “best boy/girl” with your friends and are ready to just get emotionally wrecked this season, don't skip Fruits Basket.
I am apparently among a minority of fans who adores the first anime version of Fruits Basket, to the point of preferring it to the source manga for equivalent content. Hence I was probably also among a small minority who approached this new version, with creator-enforced new staff and voice actors, with some trepidation. For me to be satisfied, it's going to not only have to tell the full story but also outdo the original on equivalent scenes. Based on the first episode, results are mixed.
Without question, this is the superior version visually. The animation is a little better, the colors are sharper, and the mostly-subtle shifts in character designs make everyone look a little older. (The new designs also adhere more fully to common shojo character design standards, which I actually found to be a slight negative.) The content covered is almost exactly the same as for the first episode of the 2001 version, with the only significant difference being the addition of one brief flashback involving child-Tohru getting a hat from a faceless boy, which I assume will have significance in the longer story. Some repeated scenes are framed differently but otherwise play out exactly the same, and the characters likewise behave the same. Whatever is supposed to be different about Shigure's character either isn't present in this episode or else is handled with a subtlety below easy notice.
For me, the biggest difference in a negative sense is the emotional resonance – or, rather, the decrease in it. The 2001 version of the first episode achieved this wonderfully well, to the point that it got me to buy into the whole series. This version makes a good stab at it, and isn't bad as a general evaluation, but equivalent scenes come across a little stiff and dry compared to the earlier version. Some of this is the fault of a less keen sense of comic timing, and the total revamp of the musical score also does the episode no favors. It also could be that Manaka Iwami, the relative newcomer voicing Tohru, hasn't settled into the role as quickly as Laura Bailey did for the English version of the 2001 series. Whatever the full reason, this is something that I am going to be watching very closely going forward, as certain points in the 2001 version were powerfully emotional for me, and any remake which can't equal that is going to be an inferior version to me regardless of how much better it looks or how much more story it tells.
I'm still giving this first episode fairly high marks because, taken independently of its baggage, it is still a success. It pitches a compelling premise featuring an instantly-likable heroine, a reasonable explanation why the heroine is soon to be cohabitating with an assortment of pretty boys, delicious-sounding mysteries, and solid character hooks. The story also still holds up very well, so there isn't a hint of the source material's age to be found. So far my complaints are little more than nitpicks.
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