by Jacob Chapman,
How would you rate episode 11 of
Fruits Basket (TV 2/2019) ?
With rare exception, most stories in Fruits Basket's run follow a specific pattern. Some change in the season brings up a holiday or event that leads us to either meet a new character or learn something new about an old one, Tohru helps that character with a complex emotional problem just by being her angelic self, this causes a tiny but important change in her overall relationship with the Somas, the audience reaches their own emotional catharsis from watching all these characters gradually change, then rinse and repeat next week. Episode 11 shakes up this formula slightly by delivering its big moment of catharsis right away, freeing the audience to enjoy a more lightweight vacation in the episode's second half. This charming combination of humor, healing, and heavenly scenery turns what could have been a more slow-paced and forgettable diversion into the most impressive episode of this remake so far, making the ominous darkness that surrounded Valentine's Day feel like just a distant memory.
I've mentioned before that Momiji is one of those characters who only gets better every time he takes the spotlight, and his interpretation of "The Most Foolish Traveler in the World" parable is a great example of his surprising complexity. While Shigure and Yuki react with their usual amused resignation to finding out that Tohru completely blew her paycheck on chocolates for everyone, Kyo finally loses his temper over her latest overextension of kindness. Sure, it's funny now because the Somas are able to compensate for her foolhardy generosity, but what will happen to Tohru in the cruel world outside their cottage? If she doesn't start toughening up now, society will eat her alive.
Momiji responds by changing the subject to a different fairytale from the more urban one the Somas already live in, opening up a whole new world of enchanting artistry for this new adaptation to indulge. "The Most Foolish Traveler in the World" wasn't rendered in any outstanding or unique style in the original manga, so it was a surprise to see so many bold colors and patterns explode out of this welcome detour into storybook-land. However, the tale underneath this style shift is once again more gruesome than it appears. Humans and monsters alike deceive the Traveler until she's left crying herself to death with happiness over one hollow gesture of kindness that the last soul to take advantage of her left behind on a whim. It's a classically grim fable with an unmistakable message, that our cruel world punishes trust and rewards deception.
So it's surprising when Momiji not only finds a silver lining to such a sad story, but reminds everyone that there is no definitive right way to interpret even the most dogmatic of parables. The author of The Most Foolish Traveler probably intended for people to see her as a tragic example of who not to become. Many stories encourage kids to learn self-sufficiency and judge victims for being mistreated; becoming an adult requires learning the rules of how to navigate a dangerous world safely, so they'll only have themselves to blame for not finding a way to fit in. But Momiji asserts that the Traveler shouldn't be mocked for choosing to love and trust others, even if those people didn't deserve her gifts, and even if the author decided that this meant the Traveler should die for being "foolish". It's not the Traveler's fault that the world is messed up, and maybe it would be less messed up if more people acted the way she did instead of taking away the assumed lesson. Even if the consequences of her kindness never play out in her favor, the Traveler—Tohru—is not wrong to wish others happiness with the utmost trust and love in her heart.
One of the reasons I love Momiji's character so much is that he tends to become the most direct mouthpiece for Fruits Basket's themes, without giving up an ounce of his rambunctious personality. You may spend your entire life being told to hide a "weakness" that will actually become a beautiful strength to the people in your life, like Tohru's indomitable desire to shower the damaged Somas with so much kindness that she drains her bank account. The Foolish Traveler allows Yuki and Kyo to not only accept that Tohru's "weakness" should be supported and embraced, but also to begin understanding that their own stories have not necessarily been written for them. The stories that we form in our own minds about ourselves are often constructed from broken and mismatched pieces of stories that others have told us about who we are. Writing your own story—as Yuki and Kyo want to do by changing their fairytale fates—means learning to look at those old accepted narratives through our own honest lenses, so we can discover what we really believe and who we really want to believe in.
With the Foolish Traveler on his mind, Kyo swallows his pride and decides to go to the onsen for Tohru's sake, leading to a ship-tastic moment of blushing and butterflies between the two that Momiji is all too happy to interrupt. After that unexpected emotional climax, the rest of the episode is all gravy as the quartet enjoys the calming hot spring atmosphere alongside the audience. All the new backgrounds for this little vacation were absolutely gorgeous, lending an extra dash of magic to the romantic ribbon-kissing scene between Yuki and Tohru. And just when you thought that love triangle couldn't be stretched any tighter, Momiji seems to be throwing his own hat into the ring with the reveal that he's only one year younger than Tohru, making his childish interest in bathtime and snuggles much less innocent in retrospect. All the little details in execution from the adorable kitty-cat sound effects during Kyo's wild game of ping pong to the harried mania of the onsen proprietress erupting when you least expect it were terrific. The second half of episode 11 squeezed every drop of delight from a lackadaisical White Day detour that could have been forgettable with a less meticulous production.
Speaking of the proprietress, she's actually the first Soma parent we've ever met, offering us a glimpse into the nature of their family outside of the Zodiac banquet itself. Raising the Monkey seems to have taken quite the toll on this woman's nerves, but it's encouraging to hear that she still loves her child, enough to be concerned about Tohru's influence but also grateful when she recognizes that this newcomer is just as kindhearted as she looks. It makes you wonder what could be so peculiar about the Monkey to make this woman such an emotional wreck. It's reasonable to assume at this point that Yuki has a far more troubled relationship with his own mother, when he reveals that he's never felt comfortable laughing in front of his parents. It was nice to see the characters get a holiday to relax after the intensity of the previous one, but there are always moments to remind us that Yuki and his cousins have many stories haunting their past to rewrite in their travels with Tohru to come.
Stray Snippets Lost in Adaptation This Week: The Most Foolish Traveler was originally ambiguous in gender, but she appears to be explicitly female in this adaptation, just to make the parallels as direct as possible. The demons who took her body parts were originally basic humanoids with horns and fur, so I really like the change to their depiction as different animal species in this version, especially considering the lions' den that Tohru finds herself in living with the Somas. However, I do miss that one panel of Shigure patting Momiji on the head after sharing his interpretation of the fable, since it's one of his rare little moments of sincere paternal affection. On a final note, the sickly proprietress of the inn does clarify in the manga that she stays home most of the time and delegates her work to other maids, but she came that day purely to see the Zodiac members and Tohru.
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