by Jacob Chapman,
How would you rate episode 12 of
Fruits Basket (TV 2/2019) ?
The new school term brings both a zoo of freshmen and a malicious overlord to Tohru's ongoing life with the Soma family. While Akito's formal introduction to our heroine seems momentous at first, this episode is more interested in raising questions about his relationship with Yuki than providing much closure for a concerned audience. At least it's nice to know that Tohru forgets to be a pushover when confronted with two-faced evil. She'll need some true grit to stand up against the smiling threat that faces her and the two boys she wants to protect.
In the midst of this episode's orientation hijinks, my favorite little detail is something I noticed for the first time only when watching this remake. While he's already been improving at controlling his anger over the past several episodes, the story of the Foolish Traveler seems to have given Kyo a new set of tools for handling his conflicting feelings around Tohru. Now instead of getting angry at her for being a gullible space cadet, Kyo warns Tohru to try and be more focused when she's alone, but more importantly reassures her that she can be her ditzy self around him as much as she wants. This remark is just accidentally flirtatious enough to catch both of them off-guard, but it's also a heartwarming reminder that Kyo has started thinking about the ways he can support people for who they are rather than trying to judge or change them. If he can learn to make peace with Tohru's frustrating qualities in this way, then perhaps with time he can extend this same kindness to himself. Of course, once Momiji and Haru show up, all Kyo's training to control his anger goes right out the window.
The rollercoaster of manic gags that ensues mostly serves to introduce two of the most unapologetic oddballs in the Zodiac to the personification of staunch Japanese conformity in student council president Makoto Takei. But beyond shameless jokes about cross-dressing and pubic hair, I also appreciate the message about self-expression that Hatsuharu conveys in his own strange way. If people who dress and act "normal" often commit crimes and hurt others anyway, why shouldn't he and Momiji be able to dress however they want and let their actions speak to their true character? People should be able to express themselves through their appearance in whatever way makes them most comfortable in their own skin, and technically, they are both following the rules by wearing the official school uniform! Once again, Haru's roundabout way of looking at things reveals an underrated wisdom beneath his brusque exterior, even if the release of his hormonal Dark side tends to undercut his noble intentions.
The laughter ends abruptly when Akito steps onto the scene, dressed all in black, exuding an imposing presence that's somehow equal parts weak—like his spindly frame could blow away in the breeze at any moment—and resolute, as he moves with unflinching stone-cold confidence toward his destination at all times. We aren't given long to try and decode his request that Tohru "take care of" the Soma boys before Yuki interrupts their ominous reverie, but given that he asks this with a look of pure cruelty on his face, I'd say he's still hinging his bets on Tohru messing up in some way that will drive Yuki right back into his arms.
While we still don't understand the full extent of the abuse Yuki suffered in his childhood, we know now that it was part of Akito's deliberate effort to make him completely dependent on the family head's approval to even function. From a very young age, Yuki would be locked in a dark room with Akito for long hours where he was "educated" as to his "true nature", and even the vaguest implication that he could be taken back to that place for his insubordination regresses Yuki back to his childhood state of helplessness immediately. It's alarming to see this emaciated wraith of a guy who's slightly shorter than Yuki strike so much fear into his heart, but at the same time, it's immediately relatable for anyone who's had to face their abuser even after many years removed from the damage they suffered. For children especially, traumatic experiences at the hand of an authority figure will deeply impact their ability to form healthy relationships with others, which helps explain Yuki's detrimental efforts to hide all his vulnerabilities from the world so he might be accepted by others without risking pain. It's like an unspoken version of Kyo's explicit commitment to hating Yuki even if it doesn't make sense—they may understand that they're not making the healthiest choices right now, but they're both too raw from trauma to function without those coping mechanisms yet.
Post-traumatic stress—especially stemming from a prolonged trauma like daily child abuse—lives not only in your memories, but in the psychosomatic reactions of your body to stimuli that are similar enough to circumstances surrounding that trauma. These stimuli are commonly referred to as "triggers", and considering the longevity of his abusive relationship with Akito, Yuki is bound to have a mountain of triggers he must push past every single day. Even the most innocuous judgment from someone Yuki barely knows could be a devastating attack that sends him flashing back to buried sense memories, even when the situations are completely unrelated. We saw this when the girl Yuki rejected in episode 3 lashed out in sadness and brought him back to that place of feeling worthless for hours, or when thinking about his decision to take up martial arts in episode 9 (in an effort to escape Akito's control) sent him into a panic attack triggered by the fear of starting that struggle for control over his own life. Compared to these incidents, being faced with the abuser himself telling you that he plans to start the cycle back up again would be absolutely devastating.
Thankfully, Tohru's emotional intelligence extends deep enough to recognize the malevolence under Akito's fake smile, and her own body reacts on instinct to separate them before Akito can pierce too deeply into Yuki's old wounds. It's another important reminder that Tohru's kindness is not a weakness, and even if she barely has the strength needed to shoo Akito away, her real valiant rescue comes after the menace is gone, pulling Yuki away from those painful triggers to remind him that he's not trapped alone in that dark room anymore. As Hatori implies in his surprisingly optimistic take on the situation, the key to recovery is not just time—because traumatic memories are eternal and can be reawakened at any time, something Akito is counting on—but also proactive emotional healing that seeks to feed the parts of someone's heart that were starved from abuse. Just like learning a new language, prolonged immersion in healthy ways of communicating with others and thinking about oneself is necessary for repairing a mind and body warped by trauma. Tohru understands immediately that Yuki needs to be reminded of the life he's already begun to build for himself. He needs to be somewhere bright, warm, and surrounded by supportive friends. This also recalls Shigure's remark in episode 8 that Yuki has started learning how to run toward things that he wants instead of just running away from things he fears. He's not trying to forget his encounter with Akito or the trials he'll face ahead if he wants to continue fighting the Somas, as he thinks back to the basic human needs he was never granted as a child, but he needs to process those things in the light and warmth of the future he's started to build, so he can find the courage to resume that fight through the consequential ravages of post-traumatic stress.
Barring some early shenanigans, this episode plunges into more disturbing voids surrounding the Soma family with little reassurance that things will be made right, but the lighthearted badminton match at least helps the gang to sweat their worries away for the moment. (We barely got a glimpse into Kyo's own relationship with Akito, but the burning hatred in his eyes makes it clear they share an ugly history.) The best we can do for now is hope that this new year will be filled with enough happy memories to build the Somas up before Akito can tear into their lives once more.
Stray Snippets Lost in Adaptation This Week: This episode's faithful adaptation didn't leave any details behind, but this seems like the best place to note that Shigure and Hatori used to smoke constantly, which led a unique atmosphere to their conversations that's missing in this more socially responsible remake. Natsuki Takaya said this had something to do with broadcast standards, and it's understandable that the producers would want to avoid glorifying a major health risk in such a wholesome show, but any time you see these two having a pensive conversation, just assume it was originally clouded by cigarette fumes.
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