by Jacob Chapman,
How would you rate episode 21 of
Fruits Basket (TV 2/2019) ?
After so many weeks of going out of its way to see the hidden good and potential for change in everyone, Fruits Basket finally reaches the limits of its empathy with Motoko Minagawa and her underlings. The Prince Yuki fan club refuses to learn from their mistakes so hard that their own feature episode is actually about their sworn enemy instead, Saki Hanajima, who manages to grow from the valuable lesson that these three stooges miss completely.
To be fair, Motoko and her posse aren't painted as malicious on the same level as Akito Soma or Tohru's extended family members; they're irredeemable yet harmless laughingstocks rather than actual threats, and it's still entirely possible for them to get more development in the future—but this episode promises no such future, because Fruits Basket seems to understand that a redemption arc for this trio just isn't something the audience is dying to see. In a story about outcasts and weirdos forming found families by learning to grow alongside one another, the Prince Yuki fan club's greatest limitation is their own banal normalcy. Even the charming girl-next-door Tohru feels like a believable outsider thanks to her difficult personal history, but despite the trio's wildly differing personalities, it's easy to sum up all three as easily freaked-out squares who don't have to learn from their mistakes to blend into society and blunder their way through life with the begrudging support of other exhaustingly insecure normies. (Mio has always been my personal favorite. She's like the Karen Smith of the group, the girl most likely to leave all this drama behind once she finds less toxic friends.) After high school, either their teenage hormones will finally ebb, or they'll turn their bullying energy toward harassing other tired moms on the PTA until another Hana or Megumi finally calls them out so they can blame everyone but themselves all over again.
The Prince Yuki fan club's presence in Tohru's life is best played for laughs rather than drama, so Motoko's warped perspective on our heroine provides engaging if unexceptional comedy this week, as she and her minions blunder their way through a revenge plan that was doomed to failure from the start. Because we already know the softer side of Hanajima, the relative normalcy of her house doesn't offer the audience any surprises—with the exception of her bizarre little brother, Megumi. It's anyone's guess how this very cool middle-schooler (perhaps what Hiro would be like with a stronger support network) became so wise beyond his years, but his presence helps shake up a dynamic that could otherwise have become stale as Hana remained unflappable in the face of Motoko's monotonous empty threats. Of course, considering that Megumi's so close with his sister, it's reasonable to assume his insights into the nature of jealousy come from personal experience, as he's watched Tohru and Uo steal away Hana's time just like the Somas have gradually taken Tohru further away from her middle-school friends.
Between its many lighthearted scenes of effortlessly terrorizing would-be bullies, this episode's theme packs a surprising punch for how it stands out against Fruits Basket's usual messages. In a story that usually focuses on the importance of finding diverse ways to share your feelings with others, Hana realizes the necessity of holding back when the love you feel turns into entitlement, sometimes without you ever noticing the change. Megumi points out that "love" is such a powerful word that people will often use it to excuse horribly selfish actions, simply because they feel love toward the person they're mistreating, disrespecting, or attempting to control for their own satisfaction. Love can be an emotion, but cultivating a loving relationship, rather than admiring someone from a distance, has to be a two-way effort that both sides practice together. Feeling love toward someone makes this hard work easier, but it is work because love means choosing to put another person's feelings before your own as much as possible. At the point you claim that speaking over that person or crossing their boundaries is actually "love", simply because you feel love toward them while using parts of their life to enrich your own, you can't be surprised when their feelings toward you turn to hatred, just like Yuki has come to hate Akito despite the admiration he must have once felt toward his master. In his own way, Megumi is actually being quite kind to Motoko and friends, warning them of the nightmare that could ensue if their secret fantasies about Prince Yuki ever did come true.
Motoko's problem isn't that she doesn't "really" love Yuki—her infatuation and admiration for her Prince are not only genuine, but quite possibly stronger than Tohru's own feelings—but she's been using that passion to try and control him by saying Yuki belongs equally to everyone (and therefore no one), without regard for his own desires. This is especially tragic considering what we know about Yuki's growing need for support and intimacy with people outside the Soma family. Who knows how much more difficult the Prince Yuki fan club's machinations have made things for a boy who already struggles with opening up to others? As the narrator points out, the secret ethos of the Prince Yuki fan club is basically "Since I'm not good enough to have him, I'll only be happy if nobody can." Motoko assumes that Tohru thinks she's better than everyone because she's breaking their rules, but Tohru hasn't been thinking about herself at all. She may not feel love toward Yuki as powerfully as Motoko does, but she's much better at the work of loving him in the ways he needs, which is what's allowed Prince Yuki to become even more beautiful to all the girls basking in the glow of his newfound happiness.
I don't think Hana was ever in danger of locking Tohru up in her lair out of jealousy, but her frustration with so many Somas stealing her best friend's time away is certainly valid, so her loneliness could have deceived her into making more selfish demands on Tohru's life over time. Seeing how ugly Motoko, Minami, and Mio's entitled flavor of "love" has made them gives Hana a wake-up call, just in time to be reminded that Tohru will always come running when she needs her most. This was a slight but vital step forward for Fruits Basket's story, reminding us yet again why Uo and Hana are such an important part of Tohru's life—perhaps even the most important, as they firmly put the "support" in supporting cast. No matter what Akito and Shigure are scheming in the shadows, and no matter how Yuki and Kyo stumble in their efforts to support the first girl they've ever come to love, we can rest assured that Tohru's guardian demons will be there to protect the bond they've forged together not just in their hearts, but in their actions.
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