by Jacob Chapman,
How would you rate episode 9 of
Fruits Basket (TV 2/2019) ?
Happy Pride Month, Hatsuharu Soma! At long last, Fruits Basket brings more beefcake to the banquet with one of the most unique members of the Zodiac, an Ox of contradictions. It's nice to see such brazen bisexual representation in this series—especially considering that it was written for young girls in 1999—even if Hatsuharu doesn't exactly break the "aggressively slutty" stereotype most fictional bi guys (and gals) fall into. To be fair, he is a 15-year old boy with a chip on his shoulder, and his Dark side makes it obvious that there are far worse potential outlets for his frustrations than some inappropriate flirting.
Before I get into the thematic thrust of Hatsuharu's story, I just want to appreciate how much fun he brings to all of his scenes. Some Fruits Basket characters grow into their full greatness over time (Momiji is my favorite example of this), but Haru is full of entertaining surprises right from his first scene, where he shatters the expectations of some older girls looking to party by getting dressed like a pop star just to ride his dweeby bicycle around the city. Hey, it's not his fault that his little day trip took three times longer than he expected! (In a stray detail cut from the manga, Kyo remarks that Haru smells far less cool than he looks, because he hasn't bathed in three days. Gross.) Unlike many space cadet characters in anime, there is some kind of logic to every strange thing Haru does, and trying to follow his roundabout thought process just makes his excursions more entertaining! After several weeks of intrigue and melodrama, episode 9 is a refreshing powerhouse of laughs with a heart-meltingly sweet conclusion, so long as you don't mind its bovine star's rough edges. (Even Kyo knows you should ask for consent before you hug somebody!)
After a few slapstick gags involving Hana's wave-powers (they were real all along!) and Haru's reliable tripwire trick (don't try it at home!), the reason for Yuki and Kyo's trepidation around their younger cousin becomes clear. Like Kagura, Hatsuharu has developed a split personality of sorts from his mistreatment under the Soma family. But unlike Kagura, Dark Haru can't be dissuaded from rampaging by anything short of an emergency. Whereas Light Haru is remarkably mature for his age when he's not lost in his own cloudy brain, Dark Haru is pure id, rampaging on impulse like a bull incensed by the teasing of a matador. From the day he was born, his role as the Ox of the Zodiac made the instinctively gentle Haru a target of mockery for everyone in the Soma family. The Ox is dumb. The Ox is slow. The Ox is easy to take advantage of. None of these barbs were intended to wound him so deeply; everyone was just falling back on an old truism that defines their ancient family, and they didn't see the harm in jokingly connecting Haru with his legacy. Unfortunately, their commitment to judging Hatsuharu based on old assumptions only led him to put his true self at a greater distance.
Way back in my review of episode 3, I mentioned that children are inevitably molded by how their families want them to see themselves, and abusive families in particular tend to define their progeny by more black-and-white roles in order to use them as vessels to extend their own power or influence within the world—like using your children as a "second life" to achieve a kind of artificial immortality. The Soma family is an extreme version of this, since their wealth and providence is built on the eternal Zodiac banquet, where each cursed member must fulfill their role to maintain the stability they've built over centuries. Hatsuharu is naturally absent-minded and eccentric, so he probably always expressed himself in unusual ways compared to the other children. But instead of taking the time to appreciate Haru's hidden talents and unique ways of self-expression—like his unusually high emotional perceptiveness and excellent storytelling skills—the Soma family judged him as "slow" and "dumb" on face value, until his frustration at not being understood manifested into Dark Haru, who expresses all his strongest feelings in as direct a manner as possible. For better or worse, it's impossible to misinterpret Dark Haru's intentions, as he follows every impulse and filters no thought that crosses his angry, horny mind.
While Fruits Basket always eschews applying specific labels or diagnoses to its cast, (so you'll never hear words like "bisexual", "transgender", "PTSD", or "OCD" used specifically, even if their applicability becomes obvious), many of its characters are coded to reflect these realities of the human experience, so I think it's safe to say that Hatsuharu is intended to be read as neurodivergent in some way. This makes his mistreatment all the more tragic, as the different ways in which his mind works are dismissed as inferior, instead of being treated with care and patience to help him become the strongest version of his lovably unique self. Instead of trying to bury his true feelings and become perfect in the pursuit of acceptance like Yuki, or embracing and owning his role with rebellious bitterness like Kyo, Hatsuharu decided that the best way to process the difference between who he was born to be and who he really was inside was to simply become someone else, channeling his frustration into a persona that couldn't possibly be misunderstood or taken advantage of, even if all Dark Haru did was drive more people away. Subconsciously, Haru reasoned that it was safer for him to be scary than stupid, and so the Soma family turned yet another human in their circle into a simplistic animal, by ignoring all the parts of him they couldn't accept.
But then Yuki came along, as another member of the Zodiac whose cruel role doesn't suit his delicate spirit. Even at such a young age, Yuki recognized the same anger in Haru at being trapped by the Soma family, and his decision to meet that anger with kindness lightened the burden on the Ox's back. When Hatsuharu realized that the only stupid thing about him was accepting that everything the Soma family told him was true, he was able to start exploring his true self on his own terms. He gradually turned the toughness he had cultivated in martial arts into his own unique aesthetic, a delinquent visual kei mashup of coolness and silliness, something quintessentially Hatsuharu. Of course, he still becomes Dark Haru sometimes, with the great pressure of the Soma family still weighing on his teenage shoulders, but with the support of just one person who understands and accepts him, Light Haru's unique way of looking at the world has allowed him to grow up much faster than his peers in some ways—even if he still can't navigate his way out of a wet paper bag.
Much like Kagura's episode, Hatsuharu's introduction is delightful in its balance of cartoony excess and thoughtful empathy. Fruits Basket continues to take its baseline of tried-and-true shojo manga conventions and twist them around just enough to deliver surprisingly complex little stories. Hatsuharu is a great example of a character who walks the line between relatability and absurdity just right to result in something truly memorable. I look forward to seeing how he develops now that he's joined Tohru's quickly growing fan club. Speaking of Tohru, she's mostly a bystander in this episode to make room for all the bigger personalities fighting things out, but her most intriguing contribution to the story is her fixation on Yuki's cold, even before he collapses from another traumatic flashback to Akito's abuse. Why do these seasonal sniffles put Tohru so on edge? It's something to keep in mind as the two of them grow closer—I hope Yuki at least grows strong enough to handle Tohru calling him by his first name without ratting out!
Stray Snippets Lost in Adaptation This Week: In case anyone was wondering why the gang didn't simply turn Yuki into a rat and rush him home undercover, since they ended up walking him home on the Haru Express anyway, the manga clarifies that Yuki's asthma attacks get more painful when he's in rat form, so this would have only exacerbated his condition.
discuss this in the forum (113 posts) |
this article has been modified since it was originally posted; see change history