by Lauren Orsini,
How would you rate episode 38 of
Fruits Basket (TV 2/2019) ?
Enough Sohma family angst. It's time for an episode of High School Hijinks with Yun-Yun—er, Yuki. This is the second episode in a row that chiefly features side characters, and the differences between Mayu and Hatori's whirlwind romance and Yuki's eternal suffering at the hands of the Idiot Student Council couldn't be more dramatic. Last week I was endlessly praising the way Fruits Basket assigns real depth to even its auxiliary characters… but this week, Kakeru, Kimi, and Naohito are pointedly one-note (while Machi has yet to open up, and she hardly even speaks). While this episode is successful in taking Yuki's pent-up internal struggle and pulling it out into the open with the help of some truly annoying characters, I wish it didn't require such an irritating ensemble cast to fulfill its mission.
For a long time, Yuki has masked his feelings of inferiority toward Kyo with aggression. Though Yuki's role as the perfect prince of the school seems enviable, it's really a side effect of his inability to open up to anybody. “Sure Thing” relies on the conceit that Yuki simply requires a friend like Kakeru, one who's pigheaded enough to break through his barriers in order to start being true to himself. That's a hard sell when Kyo's been here the whole time (and the narrative intentionally draws parallels between Kyo and the new guy). Kakeru, with his brash confidence and his easy rapport with basically everyone, gets on Yuki's nerves, we're told, because Yuki wishes he could be more like him. Kakeru's personality echoes Kyo's, minus the angst and the family drama. He's a glimpse of what Kyo might have been if he hadn't been born the cat: a one-note punchline without any of the depth that makes him so charming. Kakeru is joined by equally one-note Kimi, a catty girl who revels in sowing dissent. I cringed when Kimi forcefully shook Machi's shoulders in a way that felt more like bullying than teasing. Don't get me wrong, some of the jokes—like Kimi's antagonism of Yuki's fan club—landed well. I also liked the discussion of super sentai colors as a succinct establishment of personality roles within the student council, but wow, I just do not like the members of the student council.
It wasn't a matter of if Yuki was going to snap, but when. Yuki's voice actor, Nobunaga Shimazaki, gave an incredible performance when he lashed out at Kakeru: it really sounded like he was legitimately angry! While Kakeru says everything and anything the moment it pops into his head, it takes a lot of bottling up before Yuki blows his top. It turns out that he's angrier at himself than at Kakeru—he's projecting Kakeru's comparison between Yuki and Kyo with the way he's always comparing himself to Kyo. It felt like the entire story was leading up to this moment, and for me, it broke the immersion. Afterward, it was difficult to see Kakeru as his own person instead of as a plot device designed to make Yuki finally get mad enough to speak his mind. There's no mistake that this episode defines a major step in Yuki's personal growth as an individual and not just a Sohma family member, but it almost feels like he might as well be surrounded by cardboard cutouts as he faces these demons.
Fruits Basket is a show that deals with big, big feelings in a delicate and measured execution. At its best, its portrayals of family, friendship, and shared trauma are thought-provoking and emotional. But the failings of this episode showed me that it needs to feature well-rounded characters in order to do that.
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