by Jacob Chapman,
How would you rate episode 13 of
Fruits Basket (TV 2/2019) ?
Yuki has a brother? And he's another member of the Zodiac?! The Snake's arrival injects some unprecedented absurdity into Fruits Basket, but perhaps it's not as much absurdity as I'd have liked. Ayame is such a forceful personality even by Soma standards that his entrance was guaranteed to be memorable, but this remake's more naturalistic tone somewhat robs him of his power to transform a room with his madcap energy, leaving me a little deflated by the result.
That's not to say it isn't a fun introduction! Even before Ayame breaks down the interpersonal drama that drove a rift between these brothers, it's hilariously obvious why the two of them wouldn't see eye-to-eye, as a timid fragile soul who focuses all his energy on placating others and an extravagant showboat who lives only to entertain himself. The punchy fraternal conflict and string of irreverent anecdotes from Ayame's high school years make for an entertaining half-hour, but in comparison to the 2001 adaptation or the original manga, Ayame's larger-than-life energy does seem toned down to match the more humble goals of the remake's blander storyboarding effort this week. I think 2019 Ayame feels more like a casually dickish provocateur than a wildly delusional ingénue with no off-switch, and while both characterizations are true to his flamboyant nature, the humor doesn't land as well with the more restrained delivery and not even a single new musical motif to drive home the comedic potential of Ayame's uniquely exhausting personality. I'm just saying, Ayame is such an incorrigible ham that he deserves a grander entrance.
Setting those minor complaints aside, we do manage to learn a lot about Ayame in this episode, especially for a character who loves to dance around sincerity. Poor Tohru's therapeutic powers are less equipped to handle Ayame's more adult family problems, so her conversation with him at the restaurant reminds me of her pep talk with Yuki about having to wear a dress in episode 6. It had a positive impact, but sort of sideways to the original point she was trying to make. (Lord knows Ayame doesn't need any more encouragement to think like a child.) I think he took Tohru's advice to heart in terms of not being afraid to revisit and accept the mistakes of his more selfish younger self, which could act as a gateway to broadening his capacity for empathy in general. As the spotlight-stealing star of his own life story, Ayame has little experience with recognizing the feelings of others, which has become a problem as he's gotten older and wiser about the valuable relationships he may have abandoned in his pursuit of self-discovery.
On the positive side, Ayame's indomitable ego is probably what saved him from the traumatic manipulations that many of the other Somas endured. The Snake's slippery spirit simply cannot be controlled by the boring whims of mortal men. He seems to love every part of himself, even embracing his inconveniently cold-blooded Zodiac form as just another marvelous facet of Being Ayame Soma. This wanton freedom and self-love was bound to rub Yuki the wrong way even if his older brother hadn't ignored his suffering to party it up in his teen years, and that combo of unreconciled abandonment with their incompatible personalities makes Ayame's goal of becoming besties with his little brother seem like a total pipe dream.
So it's a good thing that this episode doesn't try to make much progress between them, focusing instead on setting up the circumstances behind their emotional rift and exploring Ayame's character just enough to keep him from coming across as a noxious buffoon. While Ayame may be terrible at taking things seriously or making room for others' feelings, Yuki does recognize that his brother's joie de vivre radiates out to the people around him, and his effortless ability to be himself can inspire others to embrace their own best qualities, which Ayame admires back in a recursive love-fest that ensured his popularity throughout high school. Since people have been hinting that Yuki would make a good candidate for the next student council president, he may have something to learn from his brother that will help him grow stronger—hopefully it's not declaring to the PTA that he's a bottom. (Wow, Fruits Basket already has two bisexual characters! Though unfortunately, Ayame will also not be breaking any stereotypes about aggressively slutty bi guys.)
On that note, regardless of whether his devotion is romantic or platonic, Ayame's relationship with Hatori is surprisingly heartwarming. It's still hard to see what Hatori gets out of a friendship with these two troublemakers, but Ayame respects Hatori's perspective enough to accept that when his friend says he's gone too far, it's time to dial things back. Shigure may be the fun-loving friend Ayame wants to be around when the night is young, but Hatori is the considerate friend he needs to keep himself centered when the morning comes and he's forced to grapple with the consequences of Being Ayame Soma all the time. As the oldest Zodiac members who had the same life-changing dream together at a young age, the three of them probably share a bond that no one else will truly understand, and in those rare moments when Ayame doubted himself or lost his way, it's easy to see how Hatori could have become his tough-love Tohru, with no dramatic flashbacks needed to drive home their effortless chemistry as adults.
Since his endless bloviating eats up a lot of screentime to no end but Ayame (and Shigure)'s own amusement, it's hard to say how well we really understand Yuki's big brother by episode's end, but this was a fine introduction to one of the most attention-getting members of the cast. In a family full of characters still struggling so hard to find themselves, it's a nice reprieve to meet a Zodiac member who's already learned to love himself wholeheartedly, and if he can just stop trying to rush the process out of his own sense of guilt, Ayame's got plenty of time to learn how to share his love with Yuki in a way that he'll be able to appreciate. I have faith that he can slither his way into his little bro's heart somehow.
Stray Snippets Lost in Adaptation This Week: Ayame's story about attempting to designate himself the communal school bottom originally ended with a group of infatuated schoolboys cheering him on, shortly before Ayame was literally dragged out of the room by angry teachers. Ah, youth~
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