Shelf Life Fruits Basket
by Paul Jensen, Gabriella Ekens,
We've got a pretty wide variety of new releases this week, which means we also have a whole lot of options to explore. Let's jump right into it! Welcome to Shelf Life.
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On Shelves This Week
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Extra: While we don't have any review coverage of this pair of OVA episodes, you can read my thoughts on the related movie here.
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Extra: While we don't have any formal reviews for this 2008 series, our user ratings are quite positive with an average of 8.3 out of 10.
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Extra: While we don't have any reviews for this sequel OVA, you'll find a Buried Treasure article on the original movie here. User ratings for this one average out at 6.7 out of 10.
Synopsis: A-Ko almost gets hit by a motorcycle after getting into an argument with C-Ko, but she ends up falling in love with the handsome biker.
Extra: Same story as the previous entry, with user ratings sitting at 6.4 out of 10 for this one.
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Extra: No reviews for this fourth installment either, but it matches its predecessor's average user rating of 6.4 out of 10.
Synopsis: A young boy named Ace becomes a Dragon Caller, a person who tames monsters in order to fight the forces of evil.
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Extra: We don't have any formal reviews for this series, but our user ratings average out at around 5.6 out of 10.
Shelf Life Reviews
Gabriella takes a look at the recent Blu-Ray release of fan-favorite series Fruits Basket in this week's review.
High schooler Tohru Honda lives in a tent in the woods after being orphaned when her single mother died in a tragic accident – not that that gets her spirits down. She turns down her grandfather's offer to live in his house off his pension, fearing that any imposition on her part would just be a burden. However, her plans for complete self-reliance are forced to change when she stumbles upon a strange house in the middle of the forest. It turns out that her classmate, the school "prince” Yuki Sohma, lives there alongside his distant cousin, Shigure. These two are also accompanied by a redheaded boy – Kyo – who seems to be yet another distant relative of Yuki's but keeps trying to attack him. This would likely have been a passing encounter had Tohru's attempt to break up their fight not revealed the Sohma family's greatest secret – they transform into animals of the Chinese Zodiac when they're sick or stressed out or (more embarrassingly) embraced by the opposite sex! Yuki is the rat, Shigure is the dog, and Kyo the poor deplored cat, who is excluded from the regular procession of 12 animals. Bearing this knowledge, Tohru is brought into the fold of this strange household, where her relentlessly kind and empathetic demeanor soothes the souls of these wayward spirits. As time goes on, however, Tohru is drawn closer to the heart of the Sohma family “curse,” which involves much more than just involuntary shapeshifting.
So there are two ways to approach the Fruits Basket anime: as someone who's read the manga and as someone who hasn't. Unlike many situations where this is the case, the manga version was widespread enough that I'd assume the average fan has also read it, and there may even be more manga readers than anime viewers of the material (although of course there are many exceptions). I bring this up because familiarity with the rest of this story will count a lot toward your perception of the anime. If you haven't read the manga, most of this anime will be entertaining, memorable, and even moving all on its own. The comedy in particular is excellently adapted – there's a reason why its humor reached the same memetic levels as other even more widely-shared mid-2000s anime like Fullmetal Alchemist and Azumanga Daioh. Unfortunately, due to various circumstances, the underlying dramatic storyline of this adaptation just isn't as good as the source material. For one thing, the anime was made before the original manga was even 1/3 done, so a lot of important “twists” that greatly change the context of earlier events were never factored in.
This gets us to what Fruits Basket is really about. While this story is appropriate for – and beloved by – an audience of shojo romance fans and even beyond into a more general sphere, its thematic subject matter is surprisingly brutal. This is a story about familial abuse and how it affects people, written from a perspective of deep familiarity with the subject matter and great insight into how many different toxic dynamics work. It's ultimately an optimistic story about damaged people learning to heal, and its focus on the intense emotional effects of abuse while sparing the more garish details keeps the story appropriate for younger audiences, which is important considering its young teen target demographic and how it might speak to them. Regardless, that theme is the story's main focus, underneath the lighthearted comedy and fluffy romance on its surface.
In the manga, the story's first 25% or so (which is adapted in this anime) is all happy adventures of emotional healing for various Sohma family members, interspersed with foreshadowing of some deep simmering darkness at the heart of the family. Tohru is definitely helping these people as they provide for her in turn, but there's a growing sense of foreboding over how deep she would have to go in order to make any lasting impact on the family's real problems. Her own safety may even be on the line. While the anime version retains glimmers of this conflict, several connective moments are cut or diluted, making its brief moments of darkness stand out as weird discordant brutality in an otherwise happy show. So while the plot of the story is mostly intact, the series' thematic through-lines are shattered, resulting in a mostly light dramedy with weird digressions into shocking abuse.
That brings us to the show's anime-original non-ending, which doesn't make a whole lot of sense character-wise and feels obviously taped onto a conflict that was nowhere close to resolved. Just be prepared for a show that basically doesn't end, if you're thinking of experiencing Fruits Basket for the first time. (They aren't even able to introduce all of the animals in the Zodiac.) There's still plenty to like about this anime, though. The comedic episodes are hilarious – close to the rapid-fire shoujo antics you'd find in something like Ouran High School Host Club, and the dramatic material is still very moving even in a watered-down state. It's worth watching through once, but the biggest issue is that it's just so easy to read the manga now. Yen Press's newly published collector's edition is only 12 volumes compared to the original 23, and most of the old Tokyopop volumes cost like a dollar used, to say nothing of just borrowing them from your public library.
As for the technical details, this Blu-Ray release looks about as good as a 2002 digipaint show could by now – by which I mean, not very good. While the direction and comedic timing are both strong, the whole show is largely still frames or flailing chibis, with little animation to speak of. I'm strangely fond of that flat quality anime had in the early 00s, so I enjoyed looking at it, but I'd still never recommend this show for its visual splendor. The dub remains solid for the time period, with performances that succeed in both the show's comedic and dramatic capacities. As for the (extensive) extras, all of them are carried over from Funimation's past DVD releases.
If you have affection for this anime adaptation in particular, you should definitely pick this release up. I certainly enjoyed big chunks of it, and it was particularly fun to see all the best gags acted out in real-time. However, if you're primarily attached to the Fruits Basket story in its entirety, or even if you're checking this series out for the first time, stick with the manga for a much more complete experience.
That wraps things up for this week. Thanks for reading!
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