Anime Reviews: Fruits Basket
With its masterful balance of humor and drama, Fruits Basket is a warm and captivating series that is nearly impossible to hate.
Title: Fruits Basket
Production: Studio DEEN
Series Length: 26 episodes
Air Dates: 6/5/2001 to 12/27/2001
Age Rating: 7+ (mild language, brief suggestive content)
Summary: Tohru Honda grew up with only her mother until the first year of high school, when her mother was taken from her in a traffic accident. Now orphaned, Tohru must find a place to stay. Not wanting to be a burden on anyone, she briefly lives in a tent by a wooded river until she is discovered by popular classmate Yuki Sohma. Yuki, who lives with his older cousin, Shigure, offers Tohru a place in their home with the only condition being that she do the housework for them. One day, Tohru inadvertently learns the secret of the Sohma family: When hugged or embraced by someone of the opposite sex, they transform into an animal coinciding with the Chinese Zodiac. Surprised at first by this discovery, Tohru then promises her tenants that their secret will remain safe with her. And so, life goes on merrily for a while, but there are those within the Sohma family who would rather that no outsiders know of the Sohma family curse at all.
The Good: Bright and colorful art; always keeps the proper tone; a literal mountain of likable characters
The Bad: Later episodes get bogged down with "Sohma-of-the-week" arcs; the ending may not please everyone
The Ugly: Studio DEEN's bad habit of animating eyes over hair
Just gonna say it right now: Fruits Basket may very well be one of the best shoujo anime ever made. As a self-proclaimed tough guy who likes big action and dark drama, I did not feel one iota of shame during this series' entire run for even a second, because I was so deeply engrossed in the setting and the story and the characters that it just never occurred to me that this isn't usually the kind of thing guys watch. And shame on any of you guys out there who skipped out on this gem because of its cute art style and focus on emotions and relationships. Shame on all of you.
As I touched on earlier, the artwork in Fruits Basket is very cute and very bright, creating a warm and inviting mood from the very first minute; it's almost the anime equivalent of being tucked into a soft bed with a warm blanket and a mug of hot tea, and I don't even like tea! The character designs are relatively simple, yet distinctive enough for us to easily identify who's onscreen, and also detailed enough to add some grit to the drama that does spring forth from time to time. One thing that threw me off at first was the extremely cartoony designs of the Sohmas' animal forms, but they, too, are perfectly designed for the tone of the series, and while these forms are usually a source of comedy, one animal form, in particular, is no laughing matter. The art style very easily allows Fruits Basket to be flexible in its tone, which I guess is something many other series don't know how to handle.
In the world of anime, there exist very few shows that know how to deftly balance comedy and drama. Even well-regarded series like Fullmetal Alchemist drop the ball when it comes to this point, throwing in blink-and-you'll-miss-it jokes and inappropriate comedic overreactions during crucially dramatic scenes that give the viewer a bad case of emotional whiplash. This is entirely not the case with Fruits Basket, which has the uncanny ability to go from silly one second, to deeply introspective the next, and it's done in a way that never feels unnatural. Setting the proper mood is something nobody ever thinks to discuss, but it's vitally important to the success of any series; it's just one of those things you don't notice unless it's done very poorly or, in the case of Fruits Basket, exceptionally well.
The vehicles for this masterful handling of tone and mood, also simply known as "the characters," are probably the crowning achievement of Fruits Basket because of not only how diverse they are personality-wise, but also how much development they're given. Even characters who only appear a handful of times are given enough background and detail to allow the viewer to relate to their struggles and laugh at their misery, sometimes in the same scene! And trust me, there are a lot of characters. The fact that each and every one of them gets ample time in the spotlight, and while maintaining the delicate balancing act I mentioned above, is reason enough to declare this series to be among the best. It would be impossible to believe at this point that something could possibly go wrong.
Unfortunately, something did go wrong. Nothing major, but it's there nonetheless. The first flaw involves all that masterful character development I mentioned earlier. As it turns out, we get much of that development via extremely intrusive fit-it-all-into-one-episode character arcs, and there are several of these in the second half of the series. And once that character got his or her 23 minutes of the limelight, we rarely ever see them again. Now, if you've read the original manga Fruits Basket is based on, you know there's no reason to fear, because you'll see them again later, but in a 26-episode anime with no sequels or reboots, you know you'll probably never see Hiiro or Ritsu or Ayame ever again. Which is a damn shame.
The other problem many will have with Fruits Basket involves the ending. The original manga began in 1999 and ended in 2006. The anime ran in 2001 and had a conclusive ending. This should immediately send up some red flags for those of you at home. I guess they somehow knew they would never see a sequel series greenlit, because they bring a critical plot point into the mix way earlier than it should have been in order to bring the themes of acceptance and being true to oneself full-circle in a meaningful way. It's kinda jarring, but it works. But then the writers had to improvise their way through the entire last episode, and while I personally believe it to be a poignant, beautiful ending, there are those who will find the changes made from the manga to be entirely too much. It all depends on your point of view, I guess.
But with that said, go watch Fruits Basket right now. I have only touched upon its many good points, but this series is just so rich and so full of things to love that it's absolutely depressing when you finally finish. Its wealth of great characters and its inviting atmosphere will grow on you so fast that you'll find yourself rooted to your seat and unable to move. If you must get up, I recommend the garden shears.
Final Score: 9.5 out of 10. Though it has a tedious episode or two, Fruits Basket does not suffer from any shortage of wonderful characters or memorable moments for its viewers to enjoy.