by Jacob Chapman,
How would you rate episode 23 of
Fruits Basket (TV 2/2019) ?
Forgive me for falling back on clichés, but this is as "calm before the storm" as it gets—there's literally a storm on the horizon, and Kyo seems to get especially uncomfortable when it rains. Episode 23 is the most lackadaisically paced and casually ruminative the series has ever been, acting more as table-setting for the season's final climax than a story on its own, but for good reason. Despite Fruits Basket ostensibly being a story with three central characters, Yuki and Tohru have gotten far more focus for most of the series' run, with Kyo acting as a rowdy lovable satellite to prompt exciting action or comic relief, with only fleeting moments of development or dark foreboding about his past, not much more than Shigure's gotten. After that, we had a string of new Soma introductions and deeper explorations of Tohru's non-Zodiac friends, so Kyo hasn't had much presence in the story for a while now. This episode's main goal is to refocus our attention on Tohru and Kyo's relationship, reminding us that Kyo hasn't gotten as much time in the spotlight because despite his boisterous personality, he keeps his deeper feelings locked up much tighter than his Zodiac cousins.
But before we can start tackling Kyo's baggage, the episode's first half offers us a heartwarming breather when Tohru comes down with the summer sniffles. She's already fallen deep down a well of despair and self-doubt over failing one of her exams despite studying her hardest, so it's possible that she managed to stress herself into sickness in the process, which only makes her feel even worse. The last time Tohru overworked herself into a fever, she was living in a tent in the woods, and she barely escaped getting buried in a catastrophic landslide. If it weren't for the Soma family, that would have been the end of her story, and now there are even more Somas in her life, eager to help her when she stumbles. The parade of well-wishers from Hatori to Momiji to Kisa rejuvenates Tohru's spirit and reminds her that no one is expecting her to conquer every challenge alone. Even if she still struggles to love and accept herself—just like pretty much everybody in Fruits Basket, and I would venture to say most people in the world—Tohru can recover from these times of trouble by accepting strength and kindness from all the colorful new members of her family, until she's strong enough to overcome the challenges that initially wore her down.
One scene stands out as important in this otherwise relaxed segment, and that's Tohru's conversation with Kyo over the rice porridge he made for her. She's such a mess of self-criticism when he shows up that even the forever-forceful feline puts the brakes on his aggression just long enough to let her vent for a while. Unlike Yuki, Kyo is far from graceful when it comes to handling others' feelings, but there's also a unique strength to his bluntness, because Tohru understands that he can't mince words or say anything he doesn't think he means. (That's not to say he's always honest, since Kyo is unfortunately quite bad at understanding his own emotions, but at least he always tries to be honest.) While Yuki might be able to contain how much he admires Ms. Honda, Kyo gets downright angry when he sees Tohru beating herself up for any reason. He only wants her to be happy just the way she is, and the refreshing simplicity of that conviction shines through his clumsy ways of expressing himself. It's impossible for Tohru to dwell on her own shortcomings when Kyo so candidly dismisses them, in another echo of how Kyoko always reassured Tohru that she was good enough just being herself.
Of course, the dark side to Kyo's adorkable brand of encouragement is that he admires Tohru so much in contrast to how much he loathes himself. As a steady rain begins to fall, the camera frequently returns to the ominous rosary Kyo wears around his wrist at all times, and both Kagura and Kyo's "master" come calling on the same afternoon. We know that Kyo's been hiding some kind of "true form" from Tohru for a while, and this episode all but confirms that this form is sealed by those rosary beads when Kagura flashes back to her reaction upon removing them for the first time. We don't know exactly what happened between them on the day Kagura saw Kyo in his most cursed state, but it might explain why their relationship is so screwed up now. She seems to hold a deep sense of guilt over what happened that day, so ever since then, she's been trying to bury that shame by overcompensating with dramatic displays of affection toward Kyo, and he reacts with distrust and discomfort by trying to put even more distance between them. It's an unspoken rift not unlike the gap between Yuki and Ayame, where a wound inflicted too deeply at a tender age poisoned the love they could have shared, and no number of affectionate overtures can ever make it right without confronting the real damage. This is summed up beautifully by the simple change in hands that Kyo is willing to hold with Kagura. She can beg and plead with him to act like they did when they were kids, but even if she tries to force intimacy between them, Kyo won't let her hold his "cursed" hand anymore, and he's no longer willing to be vulnerable around anyone else, which Kagura surely punishes herself for even more.
So when Tohru says in her typically Tohru way that she wants to learn even more about the Somas with each new day, it's a sign of inescapable change on the horizon for the Zodiac member harboring the ugliest secret. If Kyo can't even be asked to share an umbrella without getting defensive (much less be carried in cat form by Tohru, the most embarrassing thing ever), how can he be expected to approach the subject of what makes the cat different from all the Zodiac animals who are welcome at the eternal banquet? To be fair, it's not like Yuki isn't still hiding secrets of his own—he seems deeply uncomfortable with the fact that he's still receiving money from the family to get by, and now Tohru knows that he's even less independent than he pretended to be—but we know from past episodes that the embarrassment and shame Yuki feels is nothing compared to the paralyzing terror that consumes Kyo when people get too close to his secrets. With his martial arts master—the person who knows him best of all—dropping by for a visit, how will Kyo react to Tohru getting even closer to the truth about his past?
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