EDITOR’S NOTE: What Are You Watching? is a feature series that dives deep into why we love the anime we love. You told us what you were watching, and now we’ll dig into why.
By Deanna Nguyen
Have you ever loved something so much that when you try to put it into words, nothing comes out? Well, that’s how I feel with Fruits Basket.
Writing this love letter to a beloved series from my childhood is like meeting up with an old friend after so many years apart. A reunion, filled with awkward silences at first until after several exchanges, it’s like we never left each other’s side. That’s when nostalgia hits and the fond memories come pouring in.
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Fruits Basket was one of many shoujo anime that I watched when I was younger, and the 2001 adaptation played a major role in shaping my views on complex characters and relationships. At that time, I was innocent and naive just like Tohru Honda, with a lot of family drama that I got involved in.
I can’t say that I was as cheerful and positive as Tohru (though who could reach her level?), nor did my family drama include zodiac animal spirits. But, hey, the sentiments were all there.
Meet the family
The Somas in Fruits Basket are extremely reactive, and for good reason. The head of the Soma household, Akito, is the literal embodiment of problematic and harmful actions. Back then, I wanted to protect characters like Kyo and Yuki, and now, as I’m watching the 2019 reboot as an adult, that protectiveness has amplified tenfold. Seeing the characters relive their worst nightmares almost 20 years later is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, I get to see everyone through a different lens. Yet everyone—including myself—has to suffer once again.
Insecurity, fear and hopelessness don’t even begin to describe the trauma that all the characters have gone through, but they’re able to grow up and become better people because of it. The messy emotions are what make these characters feel real.
I never believed that anyone could be perfect, so I appreciated Fruits Basket’s flawed characters—Tohru included—all the more for it, and still do.
The most noticeable change in my attitude with Fruits Basket is that I can understand the adult characters a lot better now. That’s not to say I condone Shigure’s behavior in the 2019 reboot, which has given the darker side of his character more attention. As much as we like to claim that we’ve matured as adults, it’s harder to admit that we’re still a child at heart sometimes. We have selfish desires, and while we’re not scheming like Shigure (I hope), we sometimes act in ways that we aren’t proud of.
A lesson in change
That’s why I enjoy Ayame, Yuki’s older brother, so much more as an adult. Unabashedly flamboyant in the way that he acts and dresses, he doesn’t have a clean record despite being the seemingly perfect, beautiful person that everyone is charmed by.
He neglected Yuki in the past when Yuki needed him most, and that past behavior is something Ayame continues to atone for through reconciliation. Ayame also brings up a resounding point when he has a heart-to-heart with Tohru, revealing that maybe his wish to reconcile with Yuki is just an act of selfishness, to remedy the fact that he was a horrible brother to him. It’s moments like these that truly stand out to me.
Ayame isn’t the leading example of a mature adult, but he shows complete disregard for society’s expectations and perceptions of him while silently battling his inner demons. He’s an adult that I’ve met before, someone I can be friends with and definitely lives life to the fullest no matter what obstacles come his way. He’s still learning and growing like everyone else—even if he’s scared to admit that he’s getting left behind on that front. Everyone goes at their own pace, so growth doesn’t come to us at the same time, which is perfectly okay.
The air of positivity
Tohru’s mom, Kyoko, is one of my favorite characters because of her wise mantras. I can feel Kyoko’s impact through Tohru and her friends’ memories of her, even though she’s no longer with them. That’s what makes those flashbacks so bittersweet—we see her warm smile and hear her soothing words, but then reality kicks in and that’s all that’s left of her that we can hang onto. But, for all those snippets that we get of Kyoko, she hits us with life lessons that are still applicable and significant.
I have to admit, I initially watched Fruits Basket for the romance, but was happy to find out there’s so much more to the show than that. The phrase “You have to learn to love yourself before you can love someone else” is deeply embedded in the story and the characters.
In moments when all I can think of are my flaws and differences, Fruits Basket reminds me that all it takes is a change of perspective on life. That’s why Tohru is a ray of hope—she faces difficult situations but carries on with positivity and determination. She also finds a support system and learns to rely on her loved ones more. The show is very much the essence of “Don’t give up.”
The story of Fruits Basket encapsulates human flaws so well. The irony of the Somas being zodiac animal spirits and their humane thoughts and actions says something about the ways in which we treat each other in spite of our differences. And for Akito, it’s the shameful ways in which we treat others because they’re so different or “monsters” like Kyo.
As Tohru, Kyo, Yuki and everyone else learn to grow up again, I’m here to see that growth happen, further along than the 2001 adaptation. I’ve grown up too, but maybe not as quick as I’d like to, similar to Ayame. I still grapple with insecurity like Yuki and need to remember that I shouldn’t be too hard on myself like Tohru. Maybe I’m not all that different from when I first started watching Fruits Basket, or maybe it’s because I can’t see the plum on my back.
Fruits Basket is more than a shoujo anime—it’s where I find bits and pieces of myself through the characters, where I seek comfort in Kyoko and Tohru’s life lessons, and where I’m happy to come home to after dealing with the rough patches in my life.
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