by Lauren Orsini,
How would you rate episode 34 of
Fruits Basket (TV 2/2019) ?
Calling all Kyo and Tohru shippers! Your Fruits Basket episode has arrived. With sweet moments amid some seriously dark times, “My Precious…” is a microcosm of the pair's relationship so far—a triumph of the domestic bliss that Tohru embodies over Kyo's barely-buried lifelong trauma. Speaking of which, there is an extremely rude third wheel casting a shadow over this episode in the form of Sohma family head Akito. Though most of this episode consists of two characters conversing in a dark room, masterful performances from two of today's leading voice actors imbue this episode with intense emotional power. It's a startling portrait of the Sohma family scapegoat under pressure—and what happens when he gets pushed into a corner.
Anime villains who make the protagonists suffer are a dime a dozen. But nothing drives home the specific type of mundane cruelty that Akito conveys like when he leaves the tap running after he washes his hands. It's a reminder that while Akito's tyranny is confined to his family and not to the world at large, anyone would still realize that something is warped and evil about him. Akito is somebody who only cares about manipulating his dysfunctional family to ensure they remain dependant on him. His power is uncontested; he is the Sohma family's “missing stair” that everyone else simply has to walk around. That's why Yuki and Shigeru, who know perfectly well that Akito and Kyo aren't having a tea party in there, don't come to Kyo's rescue. Nobody in the Sohma family is brave enough to just fix the “staircase,” and Akito knows it. That's why he's able to belittle Kyo, to slap him and throw things at him, without worrying that he'll fight back. When the family head tells Kyo he's going to be locked up for the rest of his life, a lifetime subjected to Akito's cruel whims has denigrated Kyo's self-worth so much that he seems to go along with it.
While Tohru clasps her hands and wonders, Disney-princess-like, if Akito and Kyo are having a nice meal together, Akito is exposing Kyo's most private fears. Spanning from subtle backhanded kindness to forceful rage, Maaya Sakamoto nails Akito's stormy moods with a wide-ranging vocal performance. It's hard to believe that this is the same sweet voice behind Aeris Gainsborough in the Final Fantasy VII remake. Her fury is well-matched by the equally accomplished Yūma Uchida's passionate retorts—it truly feels like he's in agony here. What makes Akito's verbal barbs so vicious is that he blends the truth with his own agenda in order to break Kyo down into nothing. It's true that Kyo's mom seems to have killed herself because she couldn't handle raising the family pariah, so it's easy to Akito to insinuate what Kyo already secretly fears—that Kyo is entirely to blame. When Kyo is sufficiently miserable, Akito lends him that conditional kindness that he has gaslighted the Sohmas into believing is all they deserve.
Akito's tactic of crushing Kyo's independence and renewing his dependence on Akito is going well… until he makes the mistake of insulting Tohru, too. Do you know how it's easy to privately badmouth yourself in a way you would never speak to your friends? Apparently that's what flips a switch for Kyo, too—Akito can insult him all he wants; Kyo probably even thinks he deserves it, but he shouldn't dare say an unkind word about Tohru. It's through Tohru that Kyo regains the power to fight back against Akito's all-out emotional abuse. In fact, it's only because Akito forced Kyo into this corner that Kyo finally comes to terms with the fact that he loves Tohru. This is a realization that comes out through a denial, as Kyo's epiphanies often do—just look at him stubbornly pretending not to understand what Shisho was trying to tell him about the crushed flower. When he returns to the house, he grabs Tohru by the hand. Kyo has returned from his trial by fire a stronger man, and this emotional climax conveys that beautifully.
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