by Jacob Chapman,
How would you rate episode 8 of
Fruits Basket (TV 2/2019) ?
While I hope it won't happen often, I suppose this was bound to happen eventually. Episode 8 of the Fruits Basket reboot marks the first time that I thought this material was executed better in the old 2001 anime, which basically translated the manga's 11th chapter into animation in exacting panel-for-panel detail. (Anime pacing used to be so much slower than it is today, especially on the meager resources granted to shojo series.) Even though the draftsmanship and animation quality are technically better in this updated take on Tohru's first New Year with her two favorite members of the Zodiac, there's simply not enough content in this chapter to stretch to a full twenty minutes without needless padding, and the remake's usually effective tone of naturalism with a pinch of fairytale gloss only came across as dry and bland in this week's uninspired storyboarding choices. The conclusions Yuki and Kyo reach about who they want to spend the next year of their lives with are heartfelt and intriguing, especially given the implicit family drama back at the Soma estate, but this lukewarm and open-ended step forward for Fruits Basket's story was the least rewarding episode of the series for me thus far.
Come to think of it, the New Year's chapter is among the few stories in Fruits Basket that truly suited the previous director Akitarō Daichi's wacky-yet-heartwarming sitcom style. If the majority of this manga was a long rambling folk ballad that gradually splintered off into nuanced verses about the many characters in its large cast, the Soma Boys' New Year with Tohru is like a bright little pop song that comes along to interrupt Furuba's first act with simple thematic repetition and the comforts of a traditional cheesy love triangle. It's obvious from the start that Yuki and Kyo will eventually choose to spend the holidays with Tohru instead of their overbearing relatives brooding in their dark castle, so seeing Yuki and Kyo mirror each other's behavior completely for twenty minutes is a "will they, won't they" that wears out its welcome. It's a perfect example of the vast difference between how Fruits Basket started, embracing the more melodramatic and romantic trappings of its genre even as it played at subverting them, and the complicated character drama it evolved into with time, which resulted in this remake's more quiet and bucolic tone from the start. Some of Fruits Basket's more dated choices have been softened in this adaptation—most notably Kagura's debut—but this was a missed opportunity to embrace its source chapter's hokey schmaltz, even if it meant basically replicating what the first anime adaptation had already executed so well. It takes equally passionate energy to carry that unbearably romantic image of Yuki and Kyo bursting into their house to wipe Tohru's tears away, and I think the 2001 anime's slow-motion wallow in the boys' love for Tohru came out stronger for its bolder choices.
Anyway, all the drama leading up to the boys' decision to ditch the biggest Zodiac event of the year is ultimately unimportant compared to the magnitude of the decision itself. Shigure arrives at the estate alone to greet a new character named Hatsuharu, whose delightfully unusual hair makes him the easiest Zodiac animal to guess. (We don't learn much about him this week, but the contrast between his gaudy delinquent aesthetic and soft-spoken emotional intelligence makes a strong first impression.) At first, Haru assumes Yuki and Kyo are skipping the banquet out of fear, but he's intrigued when Shigure assures him that the boys are running toward something healthy rather than running away from Akito and Kagura. Tohru has become such a powerful force in the Somas' lives because they aren't yet strong enough to start taking care of themselves for their own reasons, but they can be motivated to make healthier life choices for the sake of a girl they love who happens to be equally terrible at recognizing her own needs.
Yuki and Kyo initially start running back to the cottage because they don't want Tohru to cry out the new year alone, but they stay because they've begun to realize that this has become their real home, centuries-old family traditions be damned. The fear they share over the consequences of choosing another place to call home still lingers with them—both boys keep thinking about going to the estate later just to smooth things over—but those fears largely evaporate in the sweet sunrise they get to share with the person they love most. Personally, I believe that you'll know you've found the right people to spend your life with when loving them and loving yourself somehow overlap, and this episode is a great example of that beautiful possibility, as we see Yuki and Kyo make a scary choice for someone else that also benefits their own spirits.
But the best part of this episode isn't the Somas' dramatic display of devotion to Tohru, it's how her best friend Hana made it all happen. This stylish goth is so powerful that she even unnerves the eternally poker-faced Shigure, which puts her in a class by herself! It's a great example of how integral Tohru's female friendships are to making its premise stronger. Now that we know Tohru is being manipulated by the Soma family for some dark purpose, it's more important than ever to be reminded of how fearsomely she is loved by people outside her wealthy fairytale harem. Hana recognizes that the Somas are providing Tohru with something that she and Uo can't, but that doesn't mean she has to sit back and leave her naive BFF in the hands of these dense weirdos, who clearly don't fully appreciate the angel that graces their house. My respect for Hana only grows with every revisit to Fruits Basket. In Natsuki Takaya's own words, Hana is the strongest character in her story, the Demon Lord compared to the other characters in this JRPG, and I believe it.
Speaking of final bosses, it wouldn't be Fruits Basket without a taste of bitter to counter-balance a full episode of sappy sweetness. We get another brief glimpse into Shigure's head when it's revealed that Yuki and Kyo attending the banquet was another round in his ongoing bet with Akito over their fates—and Akito lost. Shigure's inner monologue makes it clear that he genuinely enjoys seeing Akito suffer, further muddying our understanding of their relationship. They're casually intimate with one another, like a king and his most trusted advisor, but the heavy antagonism between them is equally potent. In a story (and episode) that largely revolves around the wild emotions of adolescence, Akito and Shigure share something that's been deeply complicated by the darkness of adulthood, but it's still impossible to say what that means for Tohru and the Zodiac that surrounds her. I hope the New Year brings us some answers!
Stray Snippets Added in Adaptation: Since it was adapting such a slight manga chapter to begin with, this episode only added scenes without removing anything of note. I liked the new shot of Akito trampling the sand in the zen garden, reinforcing his role as a chaotic force bent on disturbing the peace around him for the sake of his own desires. But the best new scene was the addition of Uo calling to check on Tohru; it's frankly weird that Tohru's super-attentive mom-friend didn't call her in the manga version, but maybe page-count limitations had something to do with that. It was also neat to get an early glimpse into Uo and Hana's very different home lives. Hana's incredibly normal-looking family belies her gothic weirdness, and we see Uo's mothering instincts burst forth when looking after her single father, who seems to have a dicey history with alcohol, but at least he respects his totally badass kid's wishes to start looking after his health.
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