by Jacob Chapman,
How would you rate episode 5 of
Fruits Basket (TV 2/2019) ?
What do Fruits Basket and Clannad have in common (besides making people cry)? Their initially obtuse alternate-language titles share the same meaning! At long last, Tohru delivers Furuba's title drop, and this is the reason why I was so happy that they moved the pickled plum parable up into episode three. Now that we understand Tohru's view of the world as a place where plain little riceballs feel like they don't belong, this episode expands the metaphor to make it clear that she was talking about her own loneliness just as much as Yuki or Kyo's. "Fruits Basket" just means family, and for all the crumbly riceballs of the world waiting for people to discover their inner beauty, family is something they have to find for themselves and fight for a little selfishly. After weeks of encouraging others to be their messy selves, Tohru finally finds the inner strength to reach out for what she's always wanted.
For most of her life, Kyoko Honda was the only family Tohru had ever known. Her new friends Uo and Hana are kind to her, but they also have families of their own to take care of, and losing this vital connection with her mother in such a sudden and tragic way has left our heroine a little shell-shocked. Even though we see Kyoko encouraging her to take things easy, it's obvious that Tohru derived most of her life's purpose from taking care of her mother, who she idolized completely. All those years of putting others first don't make it any easier for Tohru to recognize when she needs to start taking care of herself instead, and unfortunately, the Soma boys are equally bad at self-care for entirely different reasons. Most of the audience is bound to side with Shigure this week, as he raises his eyebrow at everyone's immediate acceptance that Tohru should go live with her "real" family. She doesn't consider asking to stay, and she doesn't even choose to commemorate her last night in the house by going out to dinner. The boys don't consider asking her to stay either, and they barely even wish her farewell because they've immediately slipped so deeply into acceptance and depression. It's all very strange given how quickly these three became close, and once again, this all comes back to the cast's inability to consider their own desires. As Kyo puts it, "it was abnormal for her to even be here at all." Why should Tohru live in a house with three men she barely knows? But if the life that you accepted as "normal" is less than you deserve, maybe pursuing that "abnormal" life is the right choice after all, despite all the social or familial pressures not to rock the boat or cause a scene.
Those pressures crash down on Tohru hard when we see exactly why the Honda family was so reticent to take her in. They're a petty and suspicious bunch of back-biters, terrified of the judgment of their neighbors and casually enamored with symbols of authority and order like the police force. This also raises the first of Fruits Basket's many uniquely Japanese societal conflicts, since it's not uncommon for people to lose their jobs or other opportunities purely because of a relative's criminal record in Japan. Thankfully, when Cousin Creep takes things too far by trying to grill Tohru on her potential indiscretions with the Somas, Grandpa Honda puts his foot down. He tells Tohru that he chose this family, even if they have their problems, but it's not a freeing environment for a young and sensitive person like her to grow up in. Admittedly, Grandpa's still having trouble telling the difference between our heroine and her mother, but this lends Tohru an unintended strength by reminding her that the intimidating power Kyoko exuded lives on in her as well, and it might be okay for her to call upon that fighting spirit for herself. And since she's given so much love to the Soma family, it only takes a small cry for help from Tohru for Yuki and Kyo to swoop in and bring her back where she belongs.
I'll be honest, I was an absolute mess watching this episode. I think the message that it's okay to pursue a life that makes you happy without shame is vital for everyone to hear—but especially for young girls, because I knew a lot of women like Tohru growing up, who would open-heartedly take on everyone else's burdens alone until they could no longer recognize that it was making them miserable. Whereas I was initially worried that Kagura's chapter wouldn't be able to fill a full episode last time, I knew that chapter six of the manga would absolutely need an entire episode to itself, as the first truly great dramatic climax in Tohru's story. She's taken a very tiny step toward fighting for the life and family she wants (she was already starting to berate herself for being selfish right before Yuki stepped in), but every long journey starts just that small, and now Tohru will be taking those steps hand in hand with more people who love her and want to see her grow.
On the note of manga adaptation, however, this episode made some significant changes that I liked and some that I didn't. It would take a long time to break down all of them, so the simple version is that this episode shifts away from telling its story almost purely from Tohru's perspective like the Furuba manga did, and instead broadens its scope to give Yuki, Kyo, Shigure, and even the Hondas more screen time. On the positive side, Fruits Basket will evolve into a broader ensemble drama over time, with many episodes where Tohru doesn't even appear, so it makes sense to start establishing this bigger scope now, and the added material was charming and in-character for everyone involved. On the negative side, there was a powerful sense of melancholy and suspense to both the original manga and the 2001 anime adaptation, where the weight of Tohru's denial about her true feelings built and built until the relief of her breakdown became transcendent. In this version, we get that catharsis mere minutes after she steps into the Honda's residence, which was disappointing. Ultimately, I think the pros and cons to these approaches even out, and the preserved strength of the underlying material is so great that it doesn't matter much.
My favorite detail in this episode that wasn't present in the original manga was how Yuki and Kyo found the Honda house. Yuki leaves first in a panic and wanders around in circles until Kyo gives him the clarity he needs to find the house. Just like the pickled plum in a riceball, the Honda family nameplate was buried underneath an innocuous bland exterior that took some effort to uncover. Then Yuki helps Kyo in turn by reminding him to consider Tohru's feelings before he acts on his own desires, so they can both step in only after she reaches out for them. It's a great sequence that illustrates how Yuki and Kyo's strengths can support one another even when they hate spending time together, on top of delivering a clever little metaphor for how hard it can be to push past the facades of selfless people like Tohru and make sure they're really doing okay.
On a final note, this episode is great not only for its powerfully simple emotional core about chosen families, but for its surreptitious level of crafty foreshadowing. This is the first we've heard about Tohru's father Katsuya or the extent of her mother's delinquency, and it paints an immediately complicated picture of the life they must have led, given that both sides of the family seem to have abandoned them even after Katsuya's death left Kyoko to raise her daughter alone. And now that Kyoko's ghost has been raised once again, her similarities to Kyo have also grown exponentially. First they had similar names, then they had similar hair, and now they have similar histories of impulsive violence and similar words of affectionate advice for Tohru to be a little more selfish. Is it all just coincidence, or could Tohru's late mother and her childhood idol possibly be connected somehow?
Then there's Shigure's role in all this, or more accurately his lack of a direct role. He's the only one in the Soma house who immediately understands that nobody wants Tohru to leave, but he keeps his mouth shut despite his supposedly important arrangement with the head of the family. This means that it's more important to Shigure that Yuki and Kyo actively fight for Tohru to be in their lives than it is that she just live there, or else he probably would have convinced everyone of that himself. Now that Tohru has officially chosen the Somas as her new family, for better and for worse, her life can only grow more colorful as many more members of the Soma family come to see what's so special about this riceball in a fruits basket.
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