Creator: Studio Deen
Director: Akitaro Daichi
Genre: Romance, Fantasy
Length: 26 Episodes
Purchase: Here from Amazon.com
+ Good character development
Tohru is too sweet and bubbly
Three kinds of people are likely to enjoy this series: the young teenage girls who have already devoured the manga series; young teenage boys who want to show off their sensitive side and prove to their girlfriends that there is more to anime than giant robots and sexy babes; any teenager who ever fantasized about turning into some kind of animal. However, it is not without its flaws such as an annoying heroine, longwinded monologues, and treacly flashbacks. However it makes up for those flaws with a character driven script, humor, and a certain breeziness.
3.5 out of 5
Fruits Basket Anime Review
Written by: Frank B. Chavez III on 2/3/2009
In China, each year is named for one of twelve animals: rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, ram, monkey, rooster, dog, and pig. According to Chinese astrology, the characteristics, both good and bad, associated with these animals can govern the lives of people born in those years. For example someone born in the year of the rat is considered hardworking, industrious, and charming but also vindictive and manipulative. Someone born in the year of the dragon might be seen as magnanimous, stately, and vigorous but also imperious and demanding. What would you do if you were cursed to transform into an animal from the Chinese Zodiac every time you were stressed out or embraced by a person of the opposite sex? That is the premise behind Fruits Basket, a 2001 series from Studio DEEN. Based on the manga series by Natsuki Takaya, Fruits Basket tells the story of Tohru Honda, an orphaned high schooler who ends up living with the mysterious Sohma family, a clan whose members are thus cursed. As the series progresses; our young heroine vows that she will find a way to break the family's ill fortune.
Manga and anime series are not known for their normal, well adjusted characters. However, even by anime standards, Tohru Honda is loaded down with problems. Both of her parents have passed away, the grandfather she was living with has moved away while his house is being renovated, and she has taken on extra hours at her after school job to pay for her tuition. As the story opens, our young heroine has been is living at the edge of the Sohma family's property in a pup tent. No explanation is given for how she showers, uses the bathroom, and keeps her clothes clean. Normal teenagers who found themselves in Tohru's situation would become angry, depressed, or at least surly. And a more realistic anime might depict their heroine that way. However as charming as it is; Fruits Basket never quite reaches anything approaching realism. Tohru becomes increasingly bubbly, optimistic, and happy as the series progresses. Nothing living could be as happy as Tohru and not be diagnosed with an acute form of some mental illness. Her overly bubbly personality is one of the minor flaws that prevent the audience from every truly being sucked into the story.
Walking to school one morning Tohru accidentally arrives at their front door of the Sohma home and she stops to look at a set of figures painted to look like the signs of the Chinese Zodiac. She is greeted by Shigure Sohma and moments later, his teenage cousin, Yuki. Yuki is one of Tohru's classmates and the class dreamboat. He is so well liked that he even has a fan club made up of girls who see pursuing a relationship with him as their right and they get violently jealous of any other girls who so much as look at him. When Tohru makes the mistake of walking to school with Yuki, his fan club take her aside and threaten to lay the smack down on her. Tohru is saved from this fate by her best friends Arisa Uotani, a butch street tough and Saki Hanajima, a supposed psychic who threatens to shock her enemies with electrical fields. They both warn Tohru that there is something just a little off about Yuki, maybe even his entire family.
Show More When the Sohmas discover Tohru living on their property they invite her in, she has been pushing herself too hard and developed a fever. While she is visiting with them, there is a landside and her tent is destroyed. During the night Yuki recovers Tohru's property from the tent and the next day he and Shigure hire her on as a live-in housekeeper. It is not long before she discovers their bizarre secret: the Sohmas turn into the animals from the Chinese Zodiac. Shigure is the dog, Yuki is the rat, and their cousin Kyo is the cat (in Chinese mythology, the cat was excluded from the Zodiac through the actions of the rat).
How would you deal with this situation? Real human beings would probably try to keep their curse a secret and live as normally as possible, the immortal family from the classic children's novel Tuck Everlasting withdraw from society, the Sohmas deal with it by being weird and mysterious. However, it's the loud kind of mysterious that actually ends up drawing attention and creates rumors. The characters personalities are governed by the Chinese Zodiac signs they each represent and their lives carry the ancient myths of the Zodiac into the contemporary world. Yuki, for instance, is the kind of dreamy-eyed androgynous figure that many teenage girls climb all over each other for. When he rather roughly rebuffs the advances of one of the girls in his fan club with seemingly magical abilities, this only creates more rumors and makes him seem even more glamorous and unattainable. Shigure is an author who writes literary novels under his real name and the kind of erotic trash that teenage girls and housewives read by the armload under various pen names. He is also lazy, dirty-minded, and prone to teasing people. He also seems to have some other purpose for Tohru than housekeeping. As the cat, Kyo is an outcast and knows it. He is competitive towards Yuki, short tempered, charismatic but awkward.
Show More As the story develops other members of the extended Sohma clan are introduced until all twelve of the Zodiac signs are represented. Like Shigure, Yuki, and Kyo, they too possess characteristics and personality traits associated with the animals they are cursed to turn into. For example, Kogura Sohma, the boar, is physically quite strong but often impulsive; Hatori Sohma, the family physician and the dragon, is often high minded and serious; while Hatsuharu Sohma, the ox, is normally calm and placid but can be goaded into being edgy and mean. Much like his mythological counterpart, Hatsuharu once held Yuki responsible for his reputation for stupidity. The head of the family is Akito Sohma, an androgynous figure shrouded in mystery. Unlike the other members of the clan, Akito is not cursed to transform into an animal from the Zodiac but instead represents the Jade Emperor, the Taoist ruler of Heaven and the god who called the Zodiac into being -- he had never visited Earth and was curious about what the creatures of Earth looked like so he threw a banquet and invited them all to come. The cat asked his friend the rat to wake him when it was time for the banquet but the rat, fearing that he would seem ugly in comparison to the cat, never woke the cat and so the cat was left out of the Zodiac when the jade Emperor decided to divide the years amongst the animals. The other members of the Sohma family relate to Akito as if Akito truly was the Jade Emperor -- bending to Akito's will and following his instructions.
In spite of some flaws with the believability of the characters, Fruits Basket does a nice job balancing the comedy and melodrama associated with shojo style anime. The characters are fairly well developed. The script focuses more on character development and interaction than on the machinations of the plot (somehow Tohru will break the Sohma family curse). Where the series fails, its biggest problem is Tohru's incessant narration. While the use of narration may work in a manga, in anime it tends to be a distraction putting a barrier between audience and story. Nearly every scene in nearly every episode features Tohru explaining how she feels or what's happening in her life to the image of her late mother that she carries around in her head. The audience for shojo anime may be young but they are not stupid -- they can tell how a character feels from the dialog and animation, the long winded narration is an unnecessary keeps the series from achieving true greatness -- great anime series make us forget we are watching a cartoon, Fruits Basket constantly reminds us that we are watching one every time Tohru begins a sentence with a phrase like, "My mother once told me that we all start off selfish…" That's usually the cue for the colors to soften to pastels, the lighting to become ethereal, and the heartwarming music to swell on the soundtrack as the audience is treated to yet another "sweet" and "tender" moment between mother and daughter. The creators of this series apparently live a universe where the cardinal rule of fiction and drama "show don't tell" no longer applies. It would be better to show us that Tohru's mother taught her to be kind by having Tohru behave kindly rather than tell us this through treacly monologues.
For those anime fans looking for a breezy romantic comedy, Fruits Basket is a good choice. It does a reasonable job balancing the corny humor and melodrama associated with shojo anime with a decent script that focuses on character rather than plot.
Where it fails is in giving us a heroine who is so sweet and optimistic she should come with a warning from the FDA that may cause tooth decay and diabetes, the overuse of narration, and flashbacks between Tohru and her mother that tend to tell us that Tohru is kind and good rather than showing us that she is.
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