by Jacob Chapman,
How would you rate episode 31 of
Fruits Basket (TV 2/2019) ?
How would you rate episode 32 of
Fruits Basket (TV 2/2019) ?
With a bang and a whoosh, Momiji whisks the Soma family away for a beach vacation in this drama-packed pair of episodes. The sun! The sand! The sea! The sadness. Hey, it's still Fruits Basket, after all.
Since I'm cramming two episodes into one review this week, I won't dwell too long on the lighter side of this family reunion, but the beach house does lend this story a refreshing change of scenery, full of wide-open spaces that allow the large cast to spread out and interact in unique ways. From inner-tubing to beetle-catching to watermelon-splitting, it's fun to watch Furuba's zoo of lovable weirdos make their own fun in the sun. There's also way more skin on display as everyone strips down to their swimsuits, and I'm not sure how I feel about getting a closeup of Tohru's bottom. I could do with fewer jokes about Shigure's wandering eyes in my favorite wholesome healing dramedy.
Besides, Shigure's been playing the field enough without bringing our heroine into his dirty mind. It was easy to assume that Rin might have dumped Haru to protect him from some dangerous mission ahead of her, but the stomach-turning reveal of what she wanted to get from Shigure in the first season finale comes as an early shock before the summer trip has even started. Rin's attempt to seduce the Zodiac's most unreliable member is deeply uncomfortable to watch, since she's so bad at faking her attraction to Shigure, and she still seems to be in shaky health following her accident. But she needs information about the curse, and her past efforts clearly haven't gotten her anywhere, so she believes there's no other choice but to pay Akito's closest adviser with her body.
We don't see what happens between them after Shigure considers her offer, but we do know this meeting convinced him to stir the pot with Akito once again. As they share another weird conversation halfway between bitterness and intimacy, Shigure convinces Akito to surprise everyone at the beach house and "teach them a lesson" for having fun without him. It's been hard to trust Shigure ever since we learned of his selfish intentions back in episode 10, but the way he cares for Tohru and gently prods the boys into further growth has led us to believe that he's ultimately on our side. So what possible good could come from injecting Akito's malice into this relaxing vacation, endangering the Zodiac children and Tohru when they most need a break? Even the theory that Shigure wants to give Hatori (or Kureno?) a break from Akito's advances doesn't make sense, because Akito just ends up bringing his favorite toys to the beach along with him. And Shigure can't be investigating something at the estate in the master's absence, because he comes along on the trip too. Then again, Rin doesn't. And there's someone hiding in the estate with a very similar name, "Ren", that no one is allowed to talk about, who's apparently the main reason that Akito won't let Kureno or Hatori stay behind without him. The mysteries keep piling up with no end in sight, and we haven't even gotten back to the main cast yet!
I'll just start with the smallest characters and work my way up. There's trouble in paradise for Kisa and Hiro when the Sheep lets his jealousy get the best of him, prying open a wound for Tohru that will linger for the rest of these episodes. After she drops her notebook again and Hiro looks inside, he remarks that it's weird for Tohru to be such a momma's girl but never even mention her dad, who also passed away not so long ago. In the past, we've seen Tohru dismiss this question with an easy answer—she was too little to remember much about him when he died. But she struggles to tell that lie this time when specific memories do resurface in her mind, memories of a quiet house and a Kyoko with long hair in mourning clothes who turned her back on a tiny Tohru. We've seen this image of our heroine standing alone in the doorway of her old house before, back in episode 27 when Kyo dug too deep into Tohru's anxieties. And once again, this heartbreaking image chains directly into another memory, when Tohru stood alone in her apartment after her mother's death.
Questions bubble up rapidly as Tohru whispers reassurances to her mother's photo alone on her balcony at night. If she doesn't remember her father at all, why does Tohru talk just like him, being hyper-polite to everyone regardless of context? Why does she tie a memory of her father's funeral so directly to her mother's eventual death, and why does she have to keep Kyoko's photo so close to convince herself that they're still "always together"? Even if she hides it well enough that only Kisa (and Kyo) can tell that something's wrong, it's unmistakable that something about Tohru's relationship with her father remains too tender for her to touch. Like Yuki, Tohru has put her earliest memories in a box with the lid shut tight, which means her dad—and some part of her mom—has to stay in that box too.
I'll come back to that mystery when Yuki enters the picture, but for now, Kisa and Hiro's fight is resolved peacefully, as they both apologize for hurting the other, and a welcome distraction soon arrives to ease their minds. The woman we saw walking with Hatori at the main estate was actually Hiro's mother Satsuki, and she's going to have a baby! Tohru is elated, Hiro is embarrassed, and all the other Soma cousins explore their own feelings about welcoming a new member to the family who's guaranteed to be free of the Zodiac curse. As Yuki puts it, "Now the Somas can have children just because they want them." Parents like Momiji's don't have to suffer with a child they can't accept, and parents like Yuki's won't be able to use their cursed children as pawns for their own financial gain. Then again, it wouldn't have mattered to Hiro's mother, since she's implied to be among the most loving and accepting members of the Soma family. She has that Tohru or Kana-like energy, absent-minded but open-hearted, which might be why Hiro is so normal for his age compared to many of his more damaged cousins. If he wasn't so jealous over Kisa, maybe Hiro would have applied his adorably overprotective instincts to Tohru as well.
Then again, that's Kyo's job. As Momiji points out, the Cat and Sheep are more alike than they'd want to admit—and Momiji also notes that Kyo has gotten much softer since Tohru accepted his true self. As Yuki and Haru look on, Kyo orbits around Tohru in his feline way, never demanding her attention like Momiji, but never straying far from her side either. Even after Kisa's worries about Tohru dissipate, Kyo can sense that she's still in pain, so he prods her to open back up about her mother once they're alone together, instead of letting Hiro's insults make her self-conscious all vacation long. This scene really brings out the beauty in their dynamic, because in order for the ever- selfless Tohru to be comfortable opening up again, Kyo has to be brave and clear the air about his own mother, so Tohru can accept that she's not hurting anyone with her mommy complex. It's not easy for him to talk about such a dark past, but it is healing for him to share the truth with someone he trusts, and Tohru quickly melts back into her old self when she gets to share funny stories about Kyoko destroying the house. (Once again, Tohru doesn't seem bothered by a memory of her mother breaking her dad's photo, despite being incredibly protective of her mother's own picture.) As Kyo and Tohru laugh together, it's hard to deny that their ship has surely sailed, leaving Yuki adrift on the waves.
And who should he crash against but Akito, sitting coldly on the concrete tetrapods that cover an uninhabitable side of the coast. It's interesting to see Yuki and Kureno juxtaposed with one another in this creepy scene; it's like Yuki is staring down the future he could have had, a ghost lingering just behind his persistent tormentor. I don't want to analyze Akito's behavior in this episode too deeply, since so much of his motivation remains mysterious, but besides stating the obvious that he's a horrible monster to everybody, it's become clear that Akito does discriminate between Zodiac members in some head-scratching ways. Even his efforts to convene an impromptu banquet for everyone don't follow the rules that people like the Old Maid seem to care about. Yuki's allowed to skip the gathering because Akito wants him to come crawling back by choice, so he's happy just to get him alone on the beach and "remind" him that he will never find happiness outside of his proper place in the dark compound. Kyo's told not to come because he's the Cat, but then again, it's never made clear that Akito himself made that decision; Shigure's actually the one who tells Kyo to stay behind, and he has his own agenda that Akito doesn't seem interested in challenging directly. And then there's Kureno, who's not allowed to interact with anyone else at all, not even Akito's other favorite pet, Hatori. As he tells his derelict selection of animals that he loves them, it's anyone's guess as to why Akito has chosen to divide the Zodiac up with such arbitrary prejudice. As Shigure puts it, "We can't get any more twisted than we already are." Even if the way the Zodiac is "supposed to" operate is still dark and insular and terrible, I don't think it's currently functioning as intended under Akito, and maybe the family head, like the Old Maid, has been blaming Yuki's desertion for this sorry state of affairs.
Thankfully, Yuki doesn't seem to care about Akito's thoughts anymore. After pushing himself to visit the Soma estate without incident, seeing his sworn enemy get closer to Tohru in such a positive way for both of them, and accepting that there were glimpses of light and happiness even in his darkest days as a child, Yuki is finally ready to open the tightly closed lid on his feelings. (This took a lot longer in the manga, where many chapters from season one were placed between the Kyo's-true-form stuff where the lid was introduced and this climactic summer vacation, but in the end, I think the emotional impact is the same.) He had been warming up to the idea just one day before, when he lay on the couch stroking Tohru's hair in a scene that probably should have been more romantic than it felt, but it's not Tohru who ultimately pries the lid off Yuki's childhood traumas; it's Akito.
Yuki realizes to his own surprise that he's no longer the same person who shut down when he saw Akito at school in episode 12, because the hateful words that used to leave him paralyzed with fear just seem like hollow lies to him now. He spent the last couple years running away from "the truth" about being the Rat, an abandoned child only born to entertain his master away from a judgmental world. But in just a few months of fighting to become his own person, trying new things that scare him and meeting new people who challenge him, making the effort to reconnect with his brother and being encouraged with love from people like Tohru and Haru, Yuki's come to accept that he doesn't have to be afraid of his "weak" childhood self rising up and taking over. Just like Momiji said back in episode 14, those memories don't hurt the way they once did, because all the brighter memories Yuki's made since then have given him clarity about who that little boy was all along. His weakness has finally made him strong.
Even if he and Tohru had forgotten about it in the sad years that followed, there was at least one bright day hiding inside that dark box, when he escaped the Soma estate, rescued a stranger, and began to dream that he might have a place in the world outside his cage. If he wants to take that warm memory out of the box, he has to accept everything else inside it and move forward. Now that Akito's words don't leave Yuki incapacitated anymore, and he's decided to embrace that life-changing moment when he got to be the heroic boy in the hat, he knows what he must do to accept his past and create his future. It's time to say goodbye to more than just Akito.
That's why Haru calls opening the lid "an ordeal" for Yuki. Even if he can accept all the memories inside without being swallowed up in panic, many of those feelings are going to be sad, and they may force him to make difficult decisions. We still don't have a clear picture of what everything in that box has told Yuki about what he must do, but episode 32's heart-stopping ending gives us a couple of clues. When Tohru asks why taking the lid off his feelings has made Yuki so sad, he tells her that she's just like the open sky above them, streaked with the shooting stars that reflect his own tears as they stream down her face pressed to his. It's something unreachable, a horizon that inspires us and grants us perspective when we feel the walls closing in, but that sky is not something we can ever keep for ourselves. Thinking all the way back to where his story began, Yuki brought Tohru into his home not just to help her, but to prove to himself that he could interact with normal people and become normal himself. Right after that, the family secret got out thanks to Kyo, so Yuki was forced to drop the prince act and accept his true self instead, discovering that the world still had a place for him, warts and all. Ever since she saved him then, Tohru's been a security blanket for Yuki, but as he sees her forging a deeper relationship with Kyo, Yuki realizes that he'll have to keep moving forward without her constant attention. If he doesn't want to be like the possessive Somas who raised him, he's going to have to let go of the person he loves more than himself and forge his own path into the future.
This is a brutal step in self-actualization that most people don't reach until much later in life (which is true of most of the healing the Somas undergo in this series), and Yuki will be happier in his friendship with Tohru if he doesn't have to rely on her so much to function, but this also raises some dark questions about Tohru's own "tightly closed lid". As Yuki finds strength in the acceptance that his childhood wasn't all darkness, Tohru is unsettled by the haunting echoes of a childhood that wasn't all light. She's nowhere near ready to remember the imperfect side of her late mother, but she won't be able to resolve her fear of abandonment without fully accepting her past. Yet time marches on, and the Somas are slowly growing beyond her to pursue their own lives, while Akito rushes to steal them all back from Tohru before they can escape his grasp.
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