by Lauren Orsini,
How would you rate episode 43 of
Fruits Basket (TV 2/2019) ?
Family ties are supposed to be the most powerful bonds of love a person could know, the keyword here being "supposed." One of Fruits Basket's major themes has been shattering that supposition with unflinching portrayals of childhood trauma perpetrated by the people a child ought to be able to trust the most. There have been many hints that a teen as sullen and misbehaving as Rin would have a harsh backstory, but her story of abandonment and neglect at nearly every turn is as painful as it gets. “Do You Wanna Kiss?” is a deceptively flippant title for an episode about Rin's gut-wrenching personal history. Muted color palettes and a misleadingly gentle soundtrack only intensify the story's emotional blow.
This episode begins winding up for an emotional pummeling early with a cute portrayal of Hiro's happy family. Hiro's sweet, clumsy mother is basically Mom of the Year compared to any other living maternal figure in the Sohma family. But when he sees Rin, Hiro drops his usual gruff facade to show real affection toward his cousin. From there on out, the episode is her story.
Isuzu, known more often as Rin (a secondary character reading of the “suzu” sound in her name), tells the viewer that she initially thought she had it way better than the other Zodiac children. Her retelling of her early years is simplified—a child's perspective still—and represented through metaphors: a play on a crude stage with a button-eyed doll as the sole audience member. In a child's logic, Rin tells us about the facade of these happy years collapsing all at once in a dinnertime outburst. She provides no reason for why her parents (who look nothing like her, it's interesting to note) suddenly become abusive monsters—almost as if the whole story is locked deep in a part of her subconscious where it's too painful to look. In these memories, Rin and the button-eyed doll, flung carelessly on the floor, are interchangeable. These gently colored reflections, in shades of lavender and soft grey, belie their horror. (Later, as they speed by in double time during Akito's speech, they're even more jolting.) Rin is dehumanizing herself just as her parents do. Even Haru's attempt to snap them out of it in the hospital room is ineffective: “When you take it out on us… we get hurt just like you would!”
Haru is Rin's one solace, first shown as a fluffy-haired young boy who defends his older cousin when nobody else will. As they both grow up, their relationship becomes sexual in nature. Perhaps it's the bondage-style clothing they both wear, but this relationship feels far more adult than a tryst between middle schoolers ought to—the trauma that Rin has endured and Haru has defended her against has forced them both to grow up quickly. While Haru's affection is portrayed as a balm on Rin's misery, I can't help but see the secondary message of this episode: that it's taught Rin, however unintentionally, that she holds value through sex. Most girls her age (Tohru, for example) wouldn't try to offer Shigure her body in exchange for information about breaking the Zodiac curse. Shigure immediately recognizes this overture as the desperate attempt of a child, but don't applaud his decency just yet: as he says himself, “I'm the worst kind of man.” He leaves Rin feeling even more forlorn than she started. Adult role models are few and far between for Rin; you get the feeling that Kazuma, Kyo's adoptive dad who supports her in the hospital scene, is drawn pretty thin between all of these struggling Sohma kids.
This isn't the only scene in which Rin's misfortune is tied up in her femininity. Akito immediately locks onto it as well. “I really do despise women,” Akito tells her, right before dashing her on a sharp rock following a two-story drop. His expressions in this scene are the stuff of nightmares and indeed, this recollection is a feverish memory of Rin's as she stumbles weakly around Shigure's house at sunset—each room a late-afternoon pool of yellow or red. It's Tohru, the Sohma family savior, who is finally able to provide her with much-delayed solace, and this time Rin is far too weak to resist.
For me, this has been the most difficult episode of the Fruits Basket remake to watch thus far. Its artistry, in particular the use of single-color palettes for each scene and an erratic, metaphor-filled visual storytelling style, pair with the always-remarkable orchestral soundtrack and voice acting talent to make this episode especially impressive on a technical level. Emotionally, it's on par with the unhesitating eye of Stars Align, another anime about crappy parents. This episode stuck with me. It made me want to hug my parents and my daughter. It made me feel for Rin as if she were a real person.
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