by Jacob Chapman,
How would you rate episode 25 of
Fruits Basket (TV 2/2019) ?
As the springtime showers finally clear up with the promise of a bright summer on the horizon, Fruits Basket's first season comes to an end. Even knowing what would happen ahead of time, I was surprised that this quiet denouement for Furuba's first act was even stronger than its violent climax, but that's also a fitting twist for a story that's all about healing. Seeing how strong these characters have already become in 25 short episodes is incredibly satisfying, but that also means they're bound to face even greater challenges in season two.
Before anything else, Kyo and Kazuma have to reach some kind of understanding after going through such an abrupt betrayal of trust, and the results of their literal fight for closure are refreshingly heartwarming. The immediate need for greater honesty between them only reinforces their bond, taking them another step closer to being father and son over master and pupil. In classic Fruits Basket fashion, despite both characters loving each other deeply, neither of them really felt that they deserved the other, which kept them from expressing their true feelings honestly. After episode 24's deep-dive into his psyche, we're familiar with why Kyo pushes away people who show him kindness, including Kazuma when he felt that his curse as the Cat would hurt his master's reputation. (In the only stray detail cut from the manga this time, Kyo was in trouble for beating up a kid who was making fun of his hair color, calling back to Hatsuharu's anecdote from episode 18.) Kyo's inner monologue only highlights the real reason he wants to deny that Kazuma could ever be considered his father. But even if Kazuma knows Kyo well enough not to take his prickly words too seriously, he also had his own insecurities that kept him from being vulnerable with the stray he adopted.
Kazuma's perspective on all this is far more surprising than Kyo's, since he's a man in his 40s with a confident presence and the respect of seemingly everyone in his life, but no matter how old or successful you become, feelings of doubt and guilt can still creep in and restrict your capacity to be affectionate with the people you care about. No matter how much Kazuma has come to love Kyo and treat him like his own son, he can't let himself forget that their connection was originally founded on a self-serving whim. He took Kyo in on impulse after their first meeting, when the boy had nowhere to go, because Kazuma believed it would help him atone for rejecting his late grandfather before he was old enough to understand the cruel nature of the situation. We still don't know why the previous Cat was kept alive in a makeshift prison with seemingly no visitors beyond whoever was assigned to feed him, but the old man's resignation to his fate is even more alarming, as if he's had plenty of time to accept that he deserves to be forgotten. It's only natural that Kazuma would feel greater pressure to keep the Cat's memory alive as he ages himself.
Even before he met Kyo, Kazuma knew that he couldn't just watch that happen to someone again, and as a martial arts master, he probably assumed that such great change could only come from discipline and repetition, training himself into the role of a savior and a father over time while he trained Kyo to channel his anger in a more productive direction. (It's a good thing Kyo can cook, because that may be one hurdle Kazuma was never going to clear.) In the end, when it came time to give Kyo the firmest possible push into the outside world, as far away from that haunting Soma prison as possible, Kazuma realized that his most beloved student had been saving him from loneliness and giving him purpose as well, and he might be giving that up forever to complete his original mission of setting the Cat free. True to his righteous nature, Kazuma accepted the consequences of his actions by leaving without trying to rationalize his manipulation, or presuming that he would be forgiven for violating such a delicate boundary. It may have been the "responsible" thing to do, but when it comes to the messy and irrational business of fostering intimacy with other people, it was a mistake for him to almost give up on such a mutually beneficial relationship just because he wasn't a perfect mentor. If Kyo hadn't rushed to meet his master halfway (across the bridge) and finally opened up about his true feelings, I don't think Kazuma would have learned anything all that valuable from his quest for atonement. Both Kazuma and Kyo needed to get away from the punishing, sacrificial thinking that the Soma family has ingrained in them to see that expressing their true desires can make themselves and others stronger. And after connecting their hearts through a few meaningful punches, I think they've both finally realized that they want to fight for the same kind of happiness together, as father and son.
This nine minutes of closure was easily among the most emotionally rewarding material in the entire season (especially if you're a member of the rapidly growing Year of the Cat fanclub), and it's a good thing we got it now, because the thirteen minutes to follow are a continuous taunt of "You have no idea what's coming in season two, and you're not ready for it." In an echo of the vague and foreboding episode 10 (whose mysteries we've still barely begun to unravel), Yuki remains tight-lipped about his reaction to seeing Kyo's true form for the first time, doing his best to act like nothing has changed despite the storm clouds obviously building over his head. But unlike Kyo and Shigure, Yuki is both self-aware and sensitive enough to confront his feelings when prompted by Haru and Tohru—by deciding that he's not ready to confront those feelings yet after all.
As he practices tying his necktie in the mirror, in a bedroom that's ever-so-slightly less messy than it was before, Yuki is well aware that he reached an emotional epiphany last night that will change how he sees Tohru, himself, Kyo, and their curse. However, in order to work through these new feelings, he will have to reopen the box he's been repressing his childhood memories into for the last few years, and for now, he's determined to keep that box shut so he can focus on the daily maintenance of living his life independently. Even if talking through these feelings might change him for the better in the long run, Yuki's been sustaining himself by proving that he's capable of doing little things that seemed impossible to him even a few months ago, so he just wants to keep tending his garden and greeting more people at school to remind himself that he's not in the Soma cage anymore. This may seem like a step backward at first, like Yuki's "keeping busy" to ignore some new emotional problem, but it makes far more sense given the vital information we learned about Yuki back in episode 12. He's probably been living with PTSD, and he's just now started figuring out how to manage it—awakening feelings connected to his trauma will interrupt that process, and the results could be disastrous to his health.
The sad truth is that Yuki's seemingly melodramatic description of what will happen to him if he pries open the lid to the box he's been stashing his feelings inside is completely accurate. He could become immobile for days or even weeks, lose his ability to speak again, or trigger a severe asthma attack as his brain screams dark thoughts on a loop. Post-traumatic stress disorders—especially cPTSD, which refers to a "complex" trauma disorder that develops not from an isolated incident like a car accident or sexual assault, but from a sustained period of abuse or endangerment lasting for years, especially during childhood—will literally rewire your nervous system and recondition your body to shift into a fight-or-flight response when triggered by certain stimuli, like poor Pavlov's dog drooling whenever he hears anything that reminds him of a bell. We don't even know if his new feelings are positive or negative, because Yuki had to compartmentalize all feelings, good and bad, to survive his childhood, and his traumatized body isn't equipped to handle actually feeling them yet, which has led others to see him as "cold" and made it even harder to open up safely. We know that seeing Akito is one major trigger for Yuki, and his childhood memories are clearly another. Discussing the new feelings that Kyo's true form have awakened in Yuki means revisiting those memories, so he'll be putting his body at risk in the process, which means he may have to halt the forward progress he's been making in other areas of his life.
What happened to Yuki as a child was cruel and unfair, but he can no longer pretend that just leaving that horrible situation behind means that the scars from it should have already healed too. He has to live with the deep damage that's been done to his body and mind, and he's doing the right thing by deciding he's not yet strong enough to revisit that trauma, even if it makes him feel weaker compared to people like Kagura who can embrace the ups and downs of their emotions so freely. He simply has to accept that he still feels weak and unworthy without judgment, indulgence, or even introspection. He has to keep re-tying his necktie and pruning his garden every day while he casually observes and stores more feelings away in that box, because proving his haunted brain wrong with the fruitful efforts of each day has been making him stronger, alongside his cousin Kisa, who suffers from a similar disorder. When the time is right, Yuki will open that box—but that time is not right now. It's not just a great hook for season two, it's also honest to the delicate daily balance that follows people living with severe trauma.
I've mentioned my renewed appreciation for Yuki compared to his much easier-to-love rival before in these reviews, but it bears repeating that I couldn't appreciate how thoughtfully Natsuki Takaya approaches the reality of trauma when I first read Fruits Basket as a child. It was much easier to connect to the equally thoughtful yet more conventional outcast narrative that followed Kyo back then, but now, watching Yuki's subtle journey play out feels like a revelation that strikes extremely close to home. Sure, it may not be realistic how quickly Yuki is healing (and without any professional help), but everything else is so uncannily intimate to the reality of living with cPTSD, that watching Yuki grow stronger each week invigorates my spirit and encourages me in my own recovery from childhood abuse. I wish every traumatized teen had a Hatsuharu around who could respect their wish for space while still encouraging them to reach out to the Tohrus in their lives and let them know that they'll be okay.
The episode concludes with a heartfelt mini-banquet between most of our favorite Zodiac members, with the hopes that summer will bring them all even closer together. But before I dig into the double-edged nature of that statement, there are a few tantalizing new character cameos to contend with. First, we get a glimpse of two underclassmen who have a pointed interest in Yuki. Since Tohru was just talking about new student council members looking for him, it's reasonable to assume these are a couple of the fresh faces he'll be expected to lead as president. The boy remarks on Yuki's delicate feminine features, which we know he feels shame over, and if this new guy's mischievous smirk is any indication, I don't think we can expect him to tread lightly around the subject. The dour girl by his side seems more put-off by Yuki, but when the boy chides her for being too critical or disinterested in other people, it seems obvious they share a close relationship of some kind, enough that he can tease her without upsetting her—unless she's already upset all the time, which might be the case given his description of her sour personality.
Those two are bound to be trouble in very different ways, but moving back to the Zodiac side of things, we finally meet the Horse when Hiro goes to visit the hospital room of a gloomy young woman named Rin. (Her Zodiac sign hasn't been explicitly stated, but one glance at her long limbs and flowing mane should make it easy to guess between the two remaining options.) Her deadly serious demeanor doesn't seem to attract many well-wishers, as the flower vase on her nightstand sits empty, and she's even been violently rejecting food from the orderlies. Rin's barely had any lines, but it already makes sense that the cynical and sardonic Hiro might feel more comfortable around her than most other people. Of course, the few words Rin does speak set off a string of alarm bells. "Now Shigure is my only hope" is not a sentence anyone wants to say or hear, and Rin definitely doesn't seem crazy about whatever she has to ask of the unreliable dog. All we know is that it has something to do with altering the Zodiac curse, as we cut to Shigure cradling Akito's head in his lap with an inscrutable expression on his face. Does Shigure's dream of an eternal love have something to do with Rin's desire to change the curse in some way? We won't have enough information to make many guesses until the Horse is discharged for season two next year. So that leaves the Rooster as the only animal we haven't met yet. Is it possible we've seen this elusive final Zodiac member hiding in the shadows of previous episodes? You may find the answer to that question by revisiting footage from within the Soma estate...
For now, season one closes on a charged note of inevitable metamorphosis. Even if they don't fully grasp it yet, the reveal of Kyo's true form has changed our three protagonists on a profound level that will only escalate faster the longer they're around one another. That's what makes the upcoming summer break such a big deal; with school out of session, the Somas will have much more time to spend around all their other family members, and for the first time, that now includes an outsider: Tohru Honda. Deeper motivations will be unearthed, stronger feelings will burst out in unexpected ways, and after the dust settles, they're sure to head into their final year of high school very different from how they left their last one. For all its emotional catharsis both subtle and blunt, and all its winks of foreshadowing for the many changes to come, this season finale was one of my favorite episodes yet. I hope people have enjoyed this beautifully adapted first act of my favorite manga of all time, and I'm happy to say that this heartfelt journey was actually the "worst" part of a much more powerful story. One of my favorite things about Fruits Basket is that it only ever gets better as it builds to one unforgettable crescendo after another, and I look forward to enjoying its second act with you all again next year.
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