Meet the Sohma Family, a large family full of good looking men and women. They’re noble, kind, and seem to be pretty gifted with a few talents, most of them anyways. People can’t help but gravitate towards their charm, especially Yuki Sohma. But there is a dark shadow that looms over the family. Tohru Honda, a regular high schooler who happens to be living in a tent after her mother’s unexpected death, stumbles upon this secret: whenever hugged by the opposite sex, or when their bodies are under a great deal of stress, members of the Sohma family transform into the twelve animals of the zodiac, plus the cat.
I know right? Sounds a little bit of a silly concept, and that’s exactly what I thought when I first came by the series back in 2004, but 12 years later, Fruits Basket remains as my favourite anime show of all time (to all of those who have known me for years: Yes, even more than Pokemon and Sailor Moon). It is a feel-good story that balances between silly comedic moments with serious heart-wrenching dramatic vignettes. This series has made me laugh, cry, and say “what the f*ck” countless times, and sometimes all at the same time.
I’ve decided to split Fruits Basket into two parts, one part focusing on the anime series (done by Funimation) and the other part focusing on the manga (brought to us by TokyoPop). I warn you, I will have SPOILERS throughout both of these articles. The anime follows the manga very closely; some parts are pulled from the manga, but the anime stops about half way through the manga story (mainly because the show eventually caught up to the manga and they didn’t want to go down “the Game of Thrones route” and do their own story and let the books do their own thing – but I would like it to be put on record that I would be all for a Full Metal Alchemist: Brotherhood style remake of the series…Just sayin’).
Now, Tohru Honda just seems like your typical high school girl. She is a little bit naive, generally gets along with everybody, and has a very good heart, thanks to the lessons her mother taught her before her untimely death. She just happens to stumble upon the Sohma family curse and must now guard their secret. Every meeting with a zodiac member becomes an exciting experience, and Tohru has very little trouble befriending them. If anything, the Sohmas begin to seek her out. Every Sohma gravitates towards her cheerful smile. There is something about her that lifts their hearts and gives them hope of living a “normal” life.
The Sohmas hope to live a normal life, but the curse makes it difficult. Making friends apparently becomes difficult when you have a weird habit of turning into a rat when someone of the opposite sex hugs you… There have of course been exceptions to this, but your average person is more likely to freak out when they find out their friend turns into a dog.
Because of this curse, the Sohmas have always felt alienated from everybody else. Yuki, cursed by the rat, ended up pushing a girl to the ground after she tried to profess her love for him and hug him. Some people took that as him thinking he is better than everybody else, to the point that he doesn’t like people to even touch him. That’s not true. If anything, he just wants to be friends with these girls, but would they be friends with a rat? At least that’s what Akito, the head of the family, always reminds him.
Kyo, cursed by the cat, lives in a limbo between normal humans and the Sohma family. Due to a myth, the cat isn’t accepted as part of the zodiac and is always viewed as the most unfortunate of them all. He lives his life trying to show he is good enough to be a true member of the family, but hasn’t been able to beat Yuki in a fist fight to prove it (long story to be covered next week). Kyo, always being viewed as the “damned cat”, finds it difficult to connect with both people outside of his family and those within.
Tohru looks past the curse though. She doesn’t view the curse as something disgusting; she sees it as something unfortunate that they have to live with. She understands why they have kept it a secret and sees the abnormality of the transformation, but it doesn’t bother her. She accepts this strange transformation as a part of them, and makes the effort to see the good in their hearts. She just wants to continue being their friend.
In the fourth episode, Tohru admires how Kagura, cursed by the pig, is able to see the good in everybody and hopes that she can do the same. The irony of this is that that is exactly what Tohru is doing. She hopes that she can push past Kyo’s hot temper to see the qualities that Kagura sees, but Tohru pushes past Kagura’s rage spells to see a her admirable qualities.
These good qualities were hidden to the Sohma family; they are unable to see them for themselves. All they see is their curse. Kisa, cursed by the tiger, became the victim of bullying at her school. The other girls made fun of her hair, the way she looked, the sound of her voice, all to the point where she locked away her words and stopped going to school. Her teacher sent her a letter saying that she hoped that Kisa will learn to like herself and return to school. The problem was she didn’t know how to even begin. How can she begin to like herself if the only thing she can find are qualities she doesn’t like, especially when others focus on those negative qualities too.
Tohru, with her good heart, makes the effort to tell everybody she cares about the good qualities about them. She wants to tell them about “the plum on their back” and show that there is something special about them. It takes her words of love to Yuki and Kyo for them to see they’re admirable qualities. It took Yuki to tell Kisa that even if she can’t find those qualities in herself, he and the rest of her family loves her very much.
We all fall into dark moments in our life, and we can often forget what it was all for and why we even try. Those moments can eat us alive until we are an empty shell. These dark and dire times are difficult to get out of because we are living in it. Tohru Honda reminds us to pay attention to when we see our loved ones fall into these moments. She understands how that great quality is stuck on a person’s back so it is easy to forget about it. She reminds her friends of their good qualities and that she loves them very much. Her smile becomes the light that breaks through that dark shadow over the Sohma family.
Tohru reminds us to be kind to each other and remember that people are not defined by their low moments or by the unfortunate circumstances of their life. It is not Yuki or Kyo’s fault that their family is cursed. It doesn’t change the fact that she wants to be their friend and stay with them. She wants to go on living with them as a family because she feels like she belongs with them. She sees the good qualities in their hearts that have nothing to do with the zodiac curse and makes an effort to show them.
Of course we cannot expect other people to give us happiness. It is unhealthy for us to rely on others for that, but it does not mean we shouldn’t do what we can for the people we love. The gentle reminders of love and care are sometimes all the light they need to break through the gloom of their dark cloudy sky.
Next week, I’m going to be talking about the second half of the Fruits Basket series, covering the events post-anime. This is a story about human connection and what we can give to the ones we love and what we need from them too. As we get further into the story, it develops from learning how to open up to people into a tale of figuring out what we need and coming to terms with whether or not we can obtain it.