by Jacob Chapman,
How would you rate episode 14 of
Fruits Basket (TV 2/2019) ?
Well, I sure hope you had tissues on standby for this one! The first anniversary of Kyoko's death was never going to be a picnic (even if Tohru and friends literally decide to hold a picnic around it), but episode 14 was brutal on so many different levels that it's frankly astonishing how uplifting this chapter feels by its end. As all our favorite characters process their own experiences with grief in very different ways, the devastating darkness of their pasts is somehow balanced by their enduring will to hold out hope, resulting in a transcendent half-hour of emotional intensity that inexplicably ends on a disquieting cliffhanger. Good lord, was there ever a tug-of-war between twenty different feelings this week.
Before we turn our focus to the late Kyoko, Fruits Basket brings our attention to a much worse mother, as the full truth comes out about the horrific cycle that shadows Zodiac births in the Soma family. At first, it's difficult to feel much sympathy for Momiji's parents. I mean, who in the world could reject such a sweet little bunny? But Momiji manages to paint a clearer picture of the traumatizing journey his mother must have taken to what felt like a hopeless place for several years until she finally broke. She had left her home country behind to start a new life with the man she loved, only to give birth prematurely to a child that she couldn't even hold in her arms without being reminded that he was possessed by an inhuman spirit, and destined to serve under a mysterious master that he would always choose above anyone else, even his own mother.
Momiji's curse also forced the family to move into the dark "inside" complex of the estate and live under their clandestine traditions, and we don't know how badly Momiji's mother suffered in both cultural and emotional isolation in that place. For many viewers, even this traumatic experience may not excuse her for making the contemptible choice to abandon her child. All we know for sure is that the decision to release her from life on the "inside" was reached by everyone involved, even if poor Momiji was far too young to be pressured into such a terrible choice. Just like Hatori, Momiji's real curse is being chosen from birth for a life of glorified loneliness, blessed with the bounty of his wealthy family legacy and guaranteed protection from the outside world under Akito's control, but forever separated from anyone outside the Zodiac circle, forced to carry the memories of happier possible futures that he has lost alone.
In this episode where everyone is thinking about how to overcome grief, Momiji is basically a superhero in terms of his incredible emotional strength. Even Hana, who Natsuki Takaya described as the mightiest character in her story, finds it difficult to imagine ever being happy again if she were to lose Tohru. So it almost breaks your suspension of disbelief to see Momiji chatter merrily about how much he loves his mother and sister, who he still watches over from afar as often as he can. We've been prepared for this moment by weeks of Momiji displaying an emotional intelligence and boundless empathy that rivals Tohru's, but he's still just a 15-year old kid. As an ardent Furuba fanatic, I've had many years to think about this portrayal, and ultimately I think it's alright for Momiji to be somewhat unrealistically goodhearted, because it reminds me of the greater reality that people throughout history have survived unimaginably dark experiences to find happiness again. Over time, Fruits Basket will be littered with characters who did not survive the traumas that end up defining their lives, but our uniquely human ability to choose hope, one day at a time, even when none seems to exist, has saved many lives from greater tragedies than Momiji faced, so I'm okay with seeing one of humanity's greatest qualities exaggerated just enough in a story to inspire me in my own darkest moments.
Just like a superhero, Momiji gives the audience something to aspire toward, and the fleeting glimpses of vulnerability in the way he tells his story remind us that he's still human underneath his golden facade. He admits that he's still hurt by the decision his mother made, and some part of him may even resent her for that weakness or long for her to remember him again, which is what's led him to haunt places like his father's building and find small comforts in his lost family's renewed happiness. Accepting his painful memories instead of burying them is not something Momiji does because it's somehow righteous or makes him feel better; it's difficult and painful in a way that not even his withering flippancy over the situation can hide. Instead, Momiji chooses to practice introspection and acceptance every day as a kind of superhero training; like My Hero Academia's Deku slowly clearing garbage off a beach, Momiji maintains this hard road because he wants to believe in a stronger version of himself who will never be defeated by pain. There's no guarantee that his faith and hard work will lead him to a happier future, but choosing hope anew every day can only make him stronger.
Although their losses are very different, this is the same quality that gives Tohru the strength to smile so soon after losing her own mother. Nothing about their lives has been easy, and neither of them were blessed with any special quality that makes grief easier to bear, but the desire to triumph over the pain in their hearts remains strong, as the change in seasons gradually softens the weight they must carry in the years to come. Even so, Tohru's assertion that painful memories can become "precious" with time might seem absurdly optimistic or even wrong-headed at first. After all, traumatic memories like the ones haunting Yuki and Kyo can be so painful that revisiting them in the wrong context can cause deeper psychological harm! But if I can speak to my own personal experience for a moment, I believe this is far more true than it might sound on the surface. Most of my childhood memories were not happy ones, and when I was still living too close to the sources of those memories, the most traumatic ones would overwhelm my heart completely, at times forcing me to run away and resent everything about my past to protect myself. But with time, distance, and a safe space to revisit my childhood, I was eventually able to accept the kernels of goodness and inspiration that I received from my family, which made it easier to accept myself and discover a unique sense of peace that comes from choosing to live on with all the nuances of the damage I endured. Mind you, this process took a very long time (and I'm sure it's far from over), but I was eventually able to recognize precious moments and points of pride that my family passed on to me, even if those qualities came from unsafe people who can no longer be in my life. Now I've made those positive fragments my own, just as Momiji's sincere love for his little sister endures despite the painful history behind her birth.
This thoughtful perspective on grief is illustrated beautifully by the gang's graveside picnic, where Uo, Hana, and Tohru revisit memories of Kyoko's legendary escapades as the Red Butterfly. I hope it's not a spoiler to say that Kyoko's days as a delinquent were not the most beautiful or happy highlights of her life (her own parents have continued to disown her for it even after her death), but despite the pain Kyoko suffered in those rebellious teen years, her experiences made her strong enough to inspire Uo, who also eventually left her gang behind to pursue healthier relationships with her two new best friends. Shifting briefly to Tohru's father, the gap between her affection for one parent over the other is becoming more noticeable to Yuki and Kyo, as she remarks that Katsuya Honda died of fast-onset pneumonia before she was old enough to remember much about him. Of course, this illness was characterized to Tohru as "a cold" because she was so little at the time, which explains her anxiety spikes over Yuki's own bronchial problems. Now that it's obvious that her father's death had some profound emotional impact on Tohru, even if she doesn't consciously remember the details, it's safe to say we'll be learning more about her fleeting relationship with him in the future.
The episode concludes by ramping up the contrast between the light and darkness surrounding this anniversary, as Yuki basks in his growing closeness with Tohru, while Kyo broods over a more ominous connection they share. Yuki's flashback might seem inconsequential at first, but I think it's an important moment of character development for him to realize that he was never alone in his pain. While the forlorn prince was marinating in his own problems one year ago, he couldn't see Tohru suffering alongside him, but now that they've opened up to one another, they've both been able to heal more quickly with each other's support. Conversely, Kyo was hesitant to join the group on this trip to the graveyard, fearing the anger of literal ghosts from his past that seem to be related to Kyoko Honda. As of Kyo's conversation with Hana, Fruits Basket is no longer being subtle about the Cat's connection to Tohru's mother, but that only raises a dozen more questions. Why would he have regrets about her death in a car accident? Why would he feel the need to apologize to Tohru for something he couldn't possibly have caused? And under what possible circumstances could Kyoko and Kyo have met without Tohru knowing about it?
Mysterious connections abound as Furuba's plot thickens at the tail end of this beautifully exhausting episode. For the moment, it sure looks like Yuki was the boy who rescued Tohru as a child and gave her the baseball cap—but we also know that Kyo recognizes the story, so was he present as well? Does that have anything to do with his dark connection to Kyoko Honda? Well, I don't know about you, but I'll need a break to breathe before I'm ready for any more dramatic revelations.
Stray Snippets Lost in Adaptation This Week: Hana originally drifted away from the group at the grave after Uo made a hilarious but perhaps tone-blind remark that she shouldn't try to help arrange the flowers, because they might end up looking cursed. The manga version also clarifies that Yuki didn't initially see the fateful hat when he rescued Tohru's possessions from the landslide, because one of the many rats in his employ packed it away instead. (That's adorable, but in animated form, I imagine that would have interrupted the drama of the moment.) Speaking of drama, while cutting the episode off right at Kyo's whispered apology makes for a killer cliffhanger, the manga continued the scene with Kyo gently stroking Tohru's hair in her sleep for some time afterward, echoing Uo's words as he admits to himself that he feels things toward Tohru that he can't yet describe—just in case you had any more tears left over to squeeze out of your face.
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