By Deanna Nguyen
Watching Fruits Basket is like reading an uplifting letter from a close friend who just so happens to be Tohru Honda.
Brimming with positivity, Tohru is the prime example of someone who sees the glass half full. She’s a character we either aspire to become or wish we had in our lives. Most importantly, she imparts profound life lessons to those around her—including the viewer.
At first, Fruits Basket gives you the warm and fuzzies, but once you dive right into it, you’re prone to the characters’ inner turmoils and emotional traumas. The show balances this with takeaway life lessons that either Tohru or her late mother, Kyoko, instill upon these characters. Whether it’s the past or present, it becomes apparent how much influence both mother and daughter have on their loved ones.
We could argue that almost every episode of Fruits Basket offers a life lesson—from the dramatic scenes to the quiet moments. The show lets us take a deep breath and self-reflect, reminding and encouraging us to keep going despite life’s obstacles. Let’s take a look at some of those lessons.
Be yourself and live at your own pace.
Right from the start, we hear one of Kyoko’s many wise mantras: “Just be you, Tohru, and live at your own pace. You’ll catch up eventually.” Although this is from a flashback, these words travel to the present through Yuki Soma, who echoes, “Just be you, Honda-san.”
Tohru’s bright personality is infectious because that’s her true self. She’s determined to make the most out of her situation despite losing her mother. Trying to live on your own and working a part-time job during high school is fine and all, but as Tohru realizes after losing her tent in a mudslide, it’s okay to rely on other people and still be yourself without feeling like a burden.
Don’t worry about whether your life is moving too fast or too slow compared to others. As long as you stay true to yourself, sooner or later you’ll find happiness and reach your goals.
To understand empathy is to experience both the joy and pain of life.
The Soma family is a complex puzzle, each piece embroiled with intense emotions triggered by their curse. As zodiac spirits, some members have a harder time understanding what it means to be human because they don’t believe that they are one. Take Kyo for example: in the beginning, he doesn’t know how to interact with Tohru, so he acts brashly.
When he confides in Shigure after realizing he’s hurting Tohru, Shigure tells him: “You can break a table with one punch, but you can also pull back that punch just before it lands. Getting along well with other people works the same way. You need to interact with strangers, hurt them, get hurt by them, learn about people, learn about yourself, too, or else you can’t become capable of true empathy.”
Yuki also wishes to learn how to interact with people because he keeps a distance out of fear that his identity as a zodiac spirit will disgust them. Both Kyo and Yuki have been hurt by the same person, so it’s only natural that they’d want to protect themselves from getting hurt again. But being hurt means sharing that pain with others and growing from it—a theme that comes up often throughout the series.
There’s a balance—a cycle—to what we call life. We have our bad days, but there are better days to come. For the characters of Fruits Basket, breaking free from the chains of the past means facing that pain and moving forward.
People’s worth should not be measured by their differences.
It’s easier to see our differences than our similarities with others, and we can be quick to judge when we don’t know the person underneath the surface.
When Yuki downplays his kindness after sharing his admiration for Tohru’s, she recalls her mother’s words: “Believe instead of doubt…. People aren’t born with kindness…. Kindness is our hearts growing inside us just like our bodies grow. That’s why different people’s kindness take different forms.”
Tohru tries to see the best in others. Because of this, she’s able to read those who tend to put up a wall, like Yuki and Kyo. She’s keenly aware of their differences and that their rivalry stems from jealousy.
Tohru’s plum analogy is an indirect poke at the boys. Everyone has plums on their backs of different shapes, colors and sizes; they can’t see what plums they have so they believe they’re just plain white rice.
We get jealous because we can see other people’s plums easily.
Your existence means a lot to someone.
Fruits Basket enjoys toying with the notion of self-worth, especially for characters like Yuki and Kyo, who have been emotionally traumatized about their identities as zodiac spirits.
Tohru, the defender of People Being Happy™, tells Kyo “it’s a blessing to have someone who cares and worries about you.” This is after he expresses annoyance for Kagura, who showers him with love. When someone cares and worries about you, that means your existence is worth cherishing and protecting—even if they can be a little overbearing at times.
Another instance is when Tohru confronts Ritsu who questions his reason for living; she tells him, “to become someone who lives for the sake of others.” No one is born with a reason to live because they have to keep on living in order to find that reason for themselves. If they’re still uncertain about why they should continue living, they need to remember that their life is valued by and tied to someone else.
In a flashback with Kyoko and another one of Tohru’s friends, Saki Hanajima, Kyoko consoles the latter, whose psychic abilities have hurt people in the past. In response, Saki keeps her distance from people, but she still ends up getting bullied. Kyoko tells her, “I bet that no matter how oppressed you are by others, how hopeless you are or how loved you are by your family, you want to be accepted by others.”
In Saki’s case, she has a loving family who accepts her psychic abilities and does everything they can to protect her, but she still seeks acceptance from people outside her family. As humans, we can be greedy, and Saki has grappled with wanting to keep Tohru at her side. She later realizes that her connection with Tohru won’t lose any significance due to distance. When Tohru wholeheartedly accepted Saki as an important person in her life, that was the moment their unbreakable bond was forged—a life tied to another.
Though we didn’t cover them all, countless life lessons in Fruits Basket can help us get through rough patches. The series is like a big hug or a sanctuary—a story and a place where we can escape yet still learn a thing or two and apply it to our reality. Fruits Basket upholds its status as a series that doesn’t shy away from the dark side of humanity and harmonizes it with Tohru Honda—a literal ray of sunshine.
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