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Sit boy, sit! Good dog...and cat...and rat...and...
on March 7, 2005
What's the most over-used word in the English language?
Tell you in a moment.
For now, meet the Sohmas. They're not your standard family. Because of a zodiac curse, various members turn into one of the Chinese zodiac creatures when embraced by the opposite sex. So they've shielded themselves (to one degree or another) from the rest of the world. In the first episode we are introduced to a household with three of the male Sohma's; Shigure (an older cousin/writer), Yuki and Kyo (both high school students). Others eventually join in. Yuki, being the rat, and Kyo, being the cat, do NOT get along. At all. Ever.
Enter Tohru Honda, a high school girl (and classmate of the aloof, distant Yuki) who recently lost her only family member, her mother whom she loves and misses. This doesn't seem to have cost her a generally sunny disposition, though. One day enroute to school she happens across the Sohma house. After they discover that she's temporarily living in a tent, they convince Tohru to accept their chivalrous offer to live with them. She insists that, in exchange, she repay them by performing housekeeping and cooking chores. Of course she soon discovers the Sohma secret, but is allowed to stay without her memory `wiped', the usual practice for these situations.
Tohru is a textbook anime high school girl; adorable, long-legged, short-skirted, and demure. With all the cooking and cleaning to be done for the guys of the house this would seem to be the perfect training ground for a submissive housewife. But ordinary Tohru has extraordinary powers that can potentially change the Sohma's bleak, closed existence; a bottomless well of kindness, unending compassion, extreme empathy, unwavering loyalty, and the ability to gently say exactly the right thing at exactly the right time. Really, it's almost as if Star Trek's Deanna Troi were reborn. Tohru becomes the Sohma's de-facto councilor. Which brings us to the most overused word in the English language:
OK, maybe it's just me, but it seems like that single word is used to cover so many diverse situations it can become meaningless. Greek, on the other hand, has a number of words that can be used in place of our one like `eros' (romance, sensuality), filios (family, brotherhood), and agape (spiritual, godly). As Tohru learns more about the Sohmas, she approaches them with loads of agape, and eventually filios is thrown in.
This is a refreshing change from the standard anime fare when a lead character is surrounded by numerous members of the opposite sex, leading to `fan service' hijinx and a romantic storyline or ending (eros). But that's not in evidence throughout this series. Tohru's love for Yuki, Kyo and the rest of the clan is a growing, genuine, unconditional affection and appreciation for the people they are (agape), not the boyfriend that one of them might be. And Tohru is a wonderful character, the kind of friend everyone wants, especially in high school.
As promising as that sounds, the story tends to be predictable. The first dozen episodes lean toward a gentle sitcom style with the aura of a nice, quiet bedtime story. At appropriately inopportune moments, the Sohma's are accidentally `poofed' into their animal forms. Amusing, yes, but after awhile it's not exactly `filling'.
Changes occur at episode 13. We find that the Sohma clan is not only cursed, it also has its dysfunctional side. While this adds a good touch of unease to the story, it sometimes lends itself to characters and sub plots that are more irritating than interesting. The editor and animators also add a few new techniques to the show's mix; perhaps they were getting a bit bored with the slow going themselves. But still, the rather saccharine base continues. Most episodes from13 to 23 are amusing, a couple feel like filler that could have been easily skipped.
A note to those who crave a more intense storyline; you'll probably be tempted to give up after the first six or so episodes. But if you persevere until episode 24, congratulations! You are about to be rewarded.
Throughout the series, Tohru's soothing of the Sohma's fate and ruffled feathers is fairly effortless on her part. Just Tohru being herself is all they need to start breaking out of their self-imposed exile, to start feeling `human' again. She becomes completely entwined with the people she has grown to love and the family she is now a part of (filios). But the tone shifts during episode 24 as storm clouds gather, literally and figuratively. Tohru must face a horrific secret that the Sohma's have kept from her. Overcoming this will require not merely doing what comes naturally, but an exhaustive effort that will break her if she fails. Or she can run away, forever losing her new family, as well as that part of herself that is the core of her being. The drama is exceptionally well played, with Evangelion overtones of what it means and costs to be human, living with and accepting other humans. For the first time, the outcome is in doubt. It is a worthy ending to an `ok' anime.
The music is average; violin, piano, flute and music box stuff that tends toward the fitting and uninspired. Besides the ending theme, nothing here stands on it's own, but it is better than the mere `background noise' that some shows throw on the soundtrack. The English vocal dub is excellent (kudos to the Tohru, Kyo and Shigure actors), but the original Japanese voices provide a better feel for the characters, especially Yuki.
Fruits Basket is a fine introduction to anime in general, or the modern `shojo' style in particular. Getting the whole story on four disks makes for a great value. The message is a good one; be yourself. Be kind, compassionate, and loyal to those who surround you, especially when extraordinary effort is required. You never can tell how much you're needed by those with seemingly impenetrable or uninviting exteriors.