by Jacob Chapman,
How would you rate episode 4 of
Fruits Basket (TV 2/2019) ?
When I first realized that this episode was going to spend its entire runtime adapting chapter 5 of the manga, I was worried. Kagura's introduction is some of the weakest and most dated material in Fruits Basket, on top of not being enough content to fill twenty minutes. Akitaro Daichi's 2001 adaptation bridged this gap by adding more wacky comedy sequences, but that wouldn't be a fitting tactic for the mellower tone of this remake. So I was already braced for a more shrug-worthy adventure with Princess Pork, but to my surprise, episode four improves on its source material in every way possible, making for a half-hour of comedy and romantic intrigue that I'd happily rewatch just to catch any emotional nuances I might have missed (to say nothing of this remake's shocking manservice upgrade).At this rate, I think it's possible for this anime to surpass the original manga as the best version of Fruits Basket's story, barring any crucial cuts or accelerated pacing in the future. It's certainly off to a stellar start!
Thus far, there's been surprisingly little romance in Fruits Basket for a shojo story, so the Boar of the Zodiac arrives with a love injection straight to the jugular. Unfortunately, Kagura is cursed with unrequited feelings that grew a little too big for her deceptively adorable body. It's a good thing the Soma family is wealthy enough to handle the violent indiscretions of its hormonal children, but if I were in Shigure's shoes, I'd start getting everything in my house insured as soon as possible. While it's always been implied that the family's Zodiac spirits have a distinct impact on their personalities and physical abilities, Kagura's stampede of unwanted affection ramps the show's violent slapstick up to unprecedented levels of absurdity, now supported much better by this adaptation's superior character animation. (She turned Kyo into a human helicopter!)
Unfortunately, without further context for how their respective animal spirits affect everyone in the family (Kagura is far from the most volatile or dangerous animal), the Boar's introduction will mostly remind viewers of hoary old '90s harem violence, back when the Ranma 1/2s and Love Hinas of the world leaned too hard on the "joke" of women beating the crap out of men. Fruits Basket will deal more seriously with the repercussions of physical abuse later in its run, so it puts the story in an awkward situation when several other displays of hyper-violence are played for laughs. Ironically, it helps that this anime takes Kagura's smackdowns even further over the top than they were before, because it helps to draw a distinction between "real" physical abuse in the story and caricatured nonsense that's only meant to convey the trauma-fueled intensity of the Somas' personalities, without causing actual lasting harm to a cartoonishly resilient Kyo.
Still, this is a good time to note that Fruits Basket is still a shojo manga from the '90s, and Natsuki Takaya never does firmly condemn all violent expressions of emotion as unacceptable in real-world relationships (it's the only way some characters will know how to communicate for a while), so if that's a deal-breaker for you due to personal experience with physical abuse, Fruits Basket may not be the chicken soup for your soul. (Also if you have a problem with kissing cousins, Fruits Basket is definitely not going to be the story for you, because the Somas inter-marry a lot. For what it's worth, the family is enormous and these are all very distant relatives, but don't say I didn't warn you!) However, on a more positive note of things the author does walk back, this episode's line about "marriage being every girl's dream" does get revisited and revised completely later in Fruits Basket! (But we probably won't get there until season three or something.)
Anyway, if you can get past or even enjoy the wanton pig-on-cat brutality in this episode, what remains is a lightweight yet intriguingly thoughtful dip into the Soma family's thoughts on Love, the mushy heart-soaring kind that produces pop songs, sitcoms, and babies. Unfortunately, the Soma philosophy on love is much less inspiring than Kagura seems to think. Since Zodiac members have so much trouble surviving in the real world alongside normal people, constantly having to dodge physical contact with others and avoiding most traditional jobs because of their explosive coping mechanisms, Kagura thinks it's only natural that the sorriest member of their clan find happiness in eternal matrimony with her! (Yes, everything about that sentence is incredibly loaded with dark subtext, but I can't even begin to touch on it yet for fear of spoilers. Let's just say that the Somas don't all tend to marry each other just because they have so much in common.) When she finally stops slapping him silly for a second, Kagura's able to make a pretty compelling case for her sincere devotion to making Kyo happy, but the damage has already been done. Kyo is absolutely terrified of her, and a thousand-yard stare is not a strong foundation for a lasting marriage.
Setting aside the obvious reasons why Kyo is not ready to settle down with Miss Piggy, it's worth remembering that Kyo explicitly doesn't believe any girl could possibly fall in love with him. If that's the case, he must have some reason to suspect that Kagura's feelings are not genuine, and her flashback to their childhood gives us some tantalizing clues to that effect. When Tohru asks about their history, Kagura admits with a sad look in her eyes that she first met Kyo when he was drawing a fried egg in the dirt. He was probably about four years old, making Kagura around six at the time, and yet her passion for him was suspiciously just as grandiose as it is today. She immediately announces that she's going to be his best friend for the rest of his life, and baby Kyo seems overjoyed by this unexpected promise. Why would such a happy memory make her so sad, and what changed between them to make Kyo so unfriendly toward her? All I'll say for now is it's worth noting that the Boar is last in the Zodiac lineup, and there's a good reason that everyone in the room got real uncomfortable when Kagura mentioned Kyo's mysterious "true form" to Tohru.
To further drive home how much better this episode turned out compared to its source material, that entire subplot with Kagura making dinner, ruining it, then fixing the problem with Tohru's help and revealing details about her past was anime-original material. (The fried-egg flashback would not appear in the manga until over a dozen volumes later.) Originally, Kagura simply stayed the night without much incident, gave Shigure an opening for his mysterious line about being jealous over someone, then we got Tohru and Kyo's rooftop scene and the fallout of the following morning. Kagura's opinion of Tohru made a complete 180 based purely on that last Boar scene, making her come across as much more shallow and frivolous than she's characterized to be in later chapters, so I'm incredibly grateful for the addition of that dinnertime sequence and resulting peeks into Kagura's deep vulnerability. Kagura making Too Much food and then destroying the overbearing feast with her enthusiasm is a perfect metaphor for her emotional problems, probably my favorite scene in the episode overall, and her sincere friendship with Tohru is integral to the story going forward, so I was also happy to see that get developed more naturally. Just like kindness, even the most unabashed expressions of love from someone can become a burden rather than a blessing when the trauma and damage in their heart is too incompatible with someone else's. Love her or hate her, Kagura remains deeply sympathetic in her passion for making others feel loved, even if she doesn't yet understand why getting married to Kyo specifically feels so important to her.
While we're on the topic of romantic love, I mentioned last episode that Kyo and Tohru's interactions during the kitty-cat rooftop scene and the riceball metaphor scene were more flirtatious in the original manga. That's because this chapter, which initially came beforehand, was the first time that Kyo and Tohru showed mutual infatuation for each other, spending all night on the roof talking about martial arts. Opening up to Tohru about something he loves rather than something he hates—and being accepted and encouraged in that passion—melts Kyo's heart enough to let his first genuine smile come bubbling to the surface, just one chapter/episode after Yuki's own little sprout of vulnerability. Kagura came to Shigure's house to profess her undying love, but it seems like those feelings are slipping through the boys themselves toward a very different target than she planned. Let's hope this love triangle doesn't put Tohru at the business end of Kagura's jealous tusks in the weeks to come!
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