by Jacob Chapman,
How would you rate episode 22 of
Fruits Basket (TV 2/2019) ?
If there was any doubt in viewers' minds that Hanajima's psychic wave powers were the real deal, episode 22 puts those debates to rest for good with its detailed exploration of the demon queen's tragic backstory. I've seen complaints about this from way back when the manga was first published, that the presence of other supernatural elements unrelated to the Soma curse hurts the reader's immersion, but I've never minded it myself. I figure once you've cracked open that Pandora's box of magical realism, it would be even weirder if the Soma curse was the only supernatural thing that existed in the world. There could be all manner of spells and hexes and superpowers lingering in the secret corners of Fruits Basket's universe, but these two phenomena are the only ones we know about because they're the only ones that affect this particular story. For me, Hana's wave powers aren't a problem on their own, but they do raise a potentially problematic question for the story thematically.
For urban fairytales with lofty emotional ambitions like Fruits Basket—a story that tries to offer real-world solutions for real-world damage with just a dash of magic on the side—do all these fantastical circumstances muddy the story's metaphors? Unlike Arisa Uotani, whose situation was somewhat extraordinary but hardly impossible, no one in our world has actually suffered the same fate as Saki Hanajima, who was tormented over psychic superpowers she struggled to control. For the Soma family curse, this issue was more easily sidestepped because the gimmick of turning into animals is not the source of their hardships; it's just a colorful sidebar to the characters' family traumas, which map so precisely to real-world examples of cults and institutional abuse that Fruits Basket became an instant classic for readers who saw their own lives in its pages. But for Hanajima, her fear of hurting others is directly tied to special powers that no human has ever possessed, so does this make her story less relatable or relevant compared to everyone else's?
I think it easily could have been, but the impact of Hanajima's arc comes not from her powers themselves, but how she feels about them. Episode 22 employs more traditionally religious imagery than we've ever seen in Fruits Basket, as Hana dons black robes and crosses, thinking of her life in terms of penance and punishment after being horrified that she wished for the death of her own bully. To Hana, it doesn't matter if she actually caused him to collapse or not; even feeling such a depth of hatred toward another person for the first time makes her believe she should be punished, almost directly referencing the Christian concept of murder that is committed only in the heart being just as sinful to the spirit. Seeing her process the gravity of how badly hatred can hurt people, while still being too young to understand that the police won't arrest her for having such dark emotions, is absolutely heartbreaking to watch. Hana's loss of innocence leading her down a path of psychological self-harm doesn't read like supernatural melodrama to me, but more like a realistic emotional journey that happens to have a supernatural catalyst, just like the Soma family curse.
Hanajima's powers hit much closer to home if you see them not as mind-reading, but as a kind of super-empathy. For deeply compassionate and empathetic people like Hanajima, hatred is a painful poison that hurts deeply to feel and hurts even more to express—just imagine how much pain it would cause an empath of Tohru's caliber to feel hatred toward another person, and Hanajima isn't far behind her in emotional intelligence. To make matters worse, Hana possesses much greater self-awareness and social acuity than Tohru, so beyond just caring deeply about the feelings of others, she begins to think of herself in more pragmatic terms of what value she has to offer the world around her, and she's so depressed that she can't help but view her hyper-sensitivity to emotions as a curse rather than a gift. If you've ever taken out your anger on someone who didn't deserve it or had an argument with someone who moved or passed away before you could apologize, you understand the specific void of self-hatred that opened up in Hanajima's heart after she accidentally hurt that boy, and you understand the impulse to just hide under a rock where you can't hurt anybody else ever again.
From that perspective, Hanajima's wave powers could stand in for pretty much anything that a person feels makes them different enough from "normal" people to be worthy of punishment and self-isolation. It could be their personality, their interests, their sexuality, or any number of other things that make their peers uncomfortable and brand a scarlet letter in the hearts of these sensitive people who care more deeply about the feelings of others than their own. Self-acceptance is so incredibly difficult that not even Hana's wonderfully supportive family could love her enough to heal her self-inflicted wounds. This is another detail that makes Hana's story stand out in Fruits Basket's sprawling ensemble; while it's easy to blame the Soma family's abusive structure for the Zodiac children's emotional problems, it's also easy to forget that self-hatred can eat people alive even from within the most loving environments, which they may see only as more kindness in their life that they don't deserve. (Tohru is another example of this, as she struggles with self-hatred despite having such a wonderful mother—although it's important to note that we still don't know what her relationship to her father was like.)
It takes Tohru and Uo's unconditional acceptance for Hana to finally stop seeing her life in the dogmatic terms of what she deserves, so she can begin to consider what she desires for the first time. Hana spent so long believing that she didn't deserve friendship if there was any chance of her "weirdness" hurting others, but Tohru and Uo make it clear to her that they have no expectations, and their own weirdness might not be any good for her either! For people who spent most of their lives hating themselves, the beauty of self-acceptance often comes in the freedom of its "pointlessness". Self-hatred is an irrational process built on an endless string of seemingly factual justifications: you don't deserve love because you're fat, you don't deserve love because you're autistic, or you don't deserve love because you have wave powers. No matter how many of these facts are true, they don't mean anything about what you "deserve", because there's no objective authority dictating who deserves what in this world. (Of course, there might be if you're religious, which might explain why Hana's self-hatred is easily characterized through Christian imagery and language.)
No matter how harshly we may judge ourselves in comparison to others, the truth is that the huge world filled with people that leaves us trembling with uncertainty as children can be freeing as we discover the people we're meant to be and the company we're meant to keep. The things that make us feel different or unworthy may keep us from finding ourselves or our tribe as easily as others, but that doesn't mean we deserve those things any less. Once Hana realizes she's found true love and friendship with Uo and Tohru, all they need to do is encourage her to explore what she really wants, and Hana is finally able to forget about what she "deserves" for long enough to admit that she still longs for happiness despite her imperfections. (And hey, she might even be able to enjoy dishing out a harmless pinch of sadism now and again.)
Since Hanajima's backstory was moved up from much later in the manga when Natsuki Takaya was juggling more themes at once per storyline, I think this episode tackles far more ideas than I was able to cover in this review, to say nothing of all the cute details like Megumi's lovable idiosyncrasies or Kyoko's commentary on Hana's frustration with needing validation outside her immediate family in order to grow. But in terms of its relevance to the ensuing three-part finale, I think the biggest takeaway from Hana's story is that she could never have gone from a terrified little girl to the strongest character in Fruits Basket if she hadn't taken the risk of revealing all her ugliest wounds to the people who would become her best friends. No matter what you think you "deserve" because of who you are or the decisions you've made, pushing away the people you love is never the answer, even if opening up to others might always be the scariest thing you ever have to do. We're only given one chance to live life as our true selves, so we owe it to ourselves to take that chance alongside the precious few people who can see the darkest truths about us and still want us in their lives.
Stray Details Lost in Adaptation This Week: In the manga, it was more explicit that Hana's empath powers worked both ways. She didn't just hear the feelings of others, she also projected her own feelings telepathically to her family, which helps explain their flawless emotional support throughout her childhood and Megumi's sagely relationship with his sister. On the negative side, removing that detail did confuse the issue of how Hana's "evil waves" work, since it's harder to make the connection that it's all the same power, with negative emotions projected too loudly taking the form of physical pain to others. On the positive side, leaving that detail out makes her family seem even more admirable in their kindness, and it covers a few potential plotholes about how Hana kept Tohru and Uo from feeling her emotions for so long. (The manga's justification is that she just held her feelings back successfully, but that's odd considering it comes before the scene where she learns to control her powers for the first time.) It's also emphasized slightly more that Hanajima grew to trust Tohru and Uo quickly because she could tell they weren't being friendly to her out of blissful naivete. She knew that they were also crying on the inside over their own problems, so she appreciated their kindness to her even more.
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