by Jacob Chapman,
How would you rate episode 7 of
Fruits Basket (TV 2/2019) ?
Well, I've been dancing around saying it outright for the past two months (and irritating this remake's many new viewers I'm sure), but at long last, episode 7 lays Akito Soma's first round of cards on the table. Despite the kindness glowing softly in the hearts of its various members, Tohru Honda's new chosen family is bad news at its core, and if she wants to continue living with Yuki, Kyo, and Shigure, it will be as a pawn in some kind of cruel game that the Somas have been playing for centuries—a game where outsiders never seem to win.
I love how much Tohru's first visit to the Soma estate seems to blindside people, regardless of whatever they were expecting beforehand. Whether you suspected Hatori was secretly looking out for Tohru or not, the gravity of what we learn about the entire family sinks in deep for such a seemingly uneventful meeting. As Hatori puts it, all their conversation really did was make Tohru cry. And as Tohru puts it, "I feel like I've learned so much more about the Somas, and at the same time I didn't learn anything at all." Despite his facade of a position as the big scary dragon enforcer of the Zodiac, Hatori is ultimately a powerless servant of a cruel master, trying to keep Tohru safe through the only language he's learned inside the Soma cage: intimidation. But while his methods may be uncouth, Hatori was only able to reach out and warn our Tohru about the dangers ahead because his own Tohru taught him what it means to be accepted and loved, at the dire cost of them ever being together again.
Kana's parallels to Tohru are alarmingly unsubtle. They share the same work ethic, optimism, humble demeanor, and high emotional intelligence. They had the same response to discovering the Zodiac secret, accepting that weirdness with grace and even a little joy. And it's likely that a romance with Yuki or Kyo may blossom for Tohru in the future, just like it did between Kana and Hatori. So it's disturbing to see how quickly the Soma curse can absolutely crush all that potential in an instant, erasing it so completely that not even Kana's memories of this "betrayal" to the Zodiac remain. Mysterious no longer, Akito makes his big debut as a loathsome villain who's framed more like a wraith than a person: emaciated, sickly, violent, childish, and yet all-powerful. Under their bond of blood, the Zodiac members can't act against Akito's wishes, no matter how irrational, and they aren't even able to blame him for his own insane actions. They will have no power to directly protect Tohru from anything he might be planning, and the fact that Shigure knows all this casts his motives even further into doubt. If he really cares about Tohru, what could he have at stake in this wager to be worth the risk?
More importantly, this episode devotes most of its runtime to answering the question of why Hatori would go out of his way to warn Tohru now when he showed little concern for the feelings of others outside the Zodiac in the past. It would be unfair to call Hatori "evil" pre-Kana, but he was at least deeply apathetic, admitting to feeling nothing when he erased the memories of people most precious to little Soma children like Yuki and Momiji. (We don't know exactly who Hatori removed from Momiji's life just yet, but this puts a little extra sting in the Rabbit's question to Tohru about being happy that she met him, along with more weight behind his character for being able to forgive Hatori for that at such a young age.) The only piece of context missing from this otherwise super-faithful adaptation of manga chapters 10 and 12 is that Akito was the one to nickname Hatori "cold as snow", after seeing how diligently he carried out his duties. So from that point forward, Hatori took it as gospel that his emotional deadness was just part of his lonely dragon identity. While Tohru finds the peaceful dead silence of the Soma estate unnerving, Hatori grew up in that cold environment with equally cold responsibilities, until he had completely internalized its empty austerity as his own true nature.
Then suddenly, through the simple but effective metaphor of snow turning to spring, Fruits Basket hammers home just how life-changing it is to experience unconditional love from someone for the first time, like all the joy you thought you knew before that point was just the muted silence of a long winter. When warmth and life flow into you for the first time as tears flow out, you begin to discover so many new emotions that were so long denied by people who only treated you like an extension of their own power. It sounds melodramatic, but for those unfortunate enough to be raised in unloving families, the contrast can be that great, and the changes to your heart and mind can come that quickly. It's part of human nature not only to connect and empathize with others, but to be understood and accepted for who we truly are, even if we have no precedent for being allowed such things. There's an old canard that you will know someone's true character by how they act when they first encounter adversity, but the reverse is also true; people cannot become their true selves until they first experience real happiness, and more people than you might think don't get that opportunity until they've already become adults. For two short months, Hatori saw a glimpse of a life worth living with someone who only saw the best in him.
But if changing the Soma family was that simple, it wouldn't be called a curse. After Akito makes it clear that there is no room for Kana at their banquet—not for someone who's so unexceptional that she can't break the curse—Hatori has no choice but to support his master, which breaks Kana's tender spirit. (This forebodes greater complications for Yuki and Kyo, who are trying to find a way to leave and join the Zodiac respectively, even bigger changes to the status quo.) Now Hatori must live on without the woman he loves, and the positive impact Kana has made on Hatori's heart has burdened him with intense guilt. As he mourns the consequences of all the pain he's caused others in Akito's name, Hatori resolves to spend the rest of his life praying for Kana to find happiness, reserving no forgiveness for himself. Underneath his gruff exterior, Hatori is a man of deep conviction who's committed himself to paying penance by quietly trying to protect anyone the Soma family might harm, even if he's still so emotionally clumsy that his earnest attempt to return those embarrassing photos of Yuki came out as a vague threat to Tohru's ears. His Zodiac form is not only a cute gag that Japanese viewers are more likely to get right away than Westerners (the Japanese word for seahorse is "baby-dragon"), but a reflection of his vulnerable spirit that deserves to be protected just as much as he tries to protect others.
Fortunately, there's a light at the end of the dark path Hatori has been walking ever since he lost Kana. After a serendipitous slip-up with Tohru, he finally gets closure for his long-held prayer, freeing his heart to begin healing after he learns that Kana found happiness with someone else. (This scene was actually a bigger coincidence in the manga, where Hatori was outside the Soma estate and just happened to see Kana talking about her engagement on the street somewhere. At least in this remake, we can assume that she's out and about for the approaching New Year's celebration.) But even after how much he's grown, Hatori is still making the mistake of believing that just a glimpse of happiness was more than he deserves. As Kana leaves his life and Tohru enters it, Hatori is reminded that spring will always come again, no matter how long or cold the winter. It won't happen overnight, but once he's able to forgive himself, maybe Hatori could meet someone that will melt his heart again someday.
Since this is by far the darkest territory Fruits Basket has entered yet, this episode wasn't without its tonal hiccups. The melodrama of Hatori's whole situation and the complete emotional destruction his accident wreaks on Kana may strike some viewers as extreme compared to the light drama of past episodes. (Kana's reaction makes perfect sense to me, but I think that's just because I've seen cultish families destroy people's brains in similar ways firsthand. Just imagine if you had to hear the words "this is your fault" screamed in your head every time you looked at your lover's face, and he could do nothing to either reassure you otherwise or stop seeing his actual abuser on a regular basis. Who among us wouldn't be traumatized?) And I'm not crazy about seeing exactly how Hatori hurt his eye. The incident was left vague in the manga, so it was easy to infer that Akito tried to wound Kana and Hatori got in the way somehow, but seeing him faceplant into the mirror like that was more weird than tragic. (Also how did Shigure pull Kana that close without transforming? The mechanics of all this confuse me.)
However, once I set aside my nitpicks, I was largely enthralled with the balance this episode struck between the ominous mystery of the Soma estate and deep compassion for its characters, especially in its more hypnotically beautiful second half. Despite the Dragon's warnings, Tohru has made her choice to stay with the Somas, and she's even made a personal promise not to regret that choice no matter how difficult things may become. In a more cliche version of this story, we would probably get a scene where Shigure or Momiji remarks on some special quality of Tohru's that makes her different from Kana, something that proves history won't repeat itself. But what I love about Fruits Basket is that there is no substantive difference between Tohru and Kana. History could absolutely repeat itself. And if Kana wasn't "special enough" to break the curse, then in Akito's eyes, neither is Tohru. There's no special quality that makes us strong enough to weather hardship for the ones we love; supporting our chosen family is just a choice we make anew every day, for as long as the world allows us. Shigure knows this too, which is why he's keeping his mouth shut about the details of the curse in his own bid to keep Tohru around. As the New Year approaches, I can't help but think back to a line of narration cut from the manga during Akito and Shigure's conversation in the previous episode: "The new banquet has already begun. Whether good or evil will come of it, even God doesn't know."
Stray Snippets Lost in Adaptation This Week: Since chapters 10 and 12 were originally separated by a timeskip, Shigure was brought up under different circumstances right before Tohru fell down the stairs. Instead of asking if they were best friends, Tohru remarked that Hatori had grown out his initially shorter haircut, which made him look more like Shigure. (Hatori was understandably displeased by this comparison.) Also, Tohru originally asked Shigure about the curse closer to Hatori's house, after she glimpsed Akito staring at her not from his private car, but from his bedroom window. I prefer this change not only because it's odd that Tohru would be standing that close to the Head's domicile in such a giant family compound, but we also get a glimpse of a mysterious young man sitting next to Akito, who looks sort of like a cross between Shigure and Kyo. Hooray for more foreshadowing!
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