Fruits Basket: Volume One

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Background:

Fruits Basket’s origins are, like many anime, of a popular manga series–in this specific instance, penned by author Natsuki Takaya, and acclaimed enough to win the Kodansha Manga Award for shoujo.

The series’ premise revolves around the story of twelve Chinese Zodiac; specifically, portraying them through the Sohma family, in which twelve members of which are cursed to transform into one of the animals whenever hugged by the opposite sex. Along with the inherent difficulties and isolation that this entails, a point is made early on about the exclusion of the cat from the others, tying into the title and setting the overarching purpose of the series.

The lens we see the story through is that of a high school girl named Tohru Honda, who is characterized by her sickly sweetness and ability to see the (sometimes unorthodox) kindness in others, no matter what happens. She provides both a necessary outsider’s perspective and an effective catalyst for change into the dynamics of the Sohma family.

Review:

The first impression Fruits Basket gives, right from the opening, is that of a quiet gentleness, and that tone is consistent throughout the entirety of the volume. The show is not afraid to make its themes abundantly clear–seeing the good in others, acceptance, and compassion–in other words, standard shoujo fare–but it approaches it with a sweet sincerity that makes it stand out from many other titles.

The first episode is a well-told introduction that moves swiftly, but not at the expense of properly establishing character and emotion, to explain Tohru’s situation, what support she has and what hardships she’s dealing with, and how she ends up staying with the Sohmas–opening the way for the rest of the series to deal with the ins and outs of the family curse and how she fits into the situation.

An impressive thing about Fruits Basket, at least for the duration of these first six episodes, is that while the show has no real overarching plot–it amounts to a slice of life tale about Tohru’s growing bonds with the Sohma family–is that there’s a tangible sense of progression and something important accomplished and understood as each installment comes to a close. The connection between Tohru and her newfound family is grounded skillfully enough within four episodes that the fifth–addressing that Tohru’s still has relatives expecting her to move back in with them and her conflict between they and the Sohmas–effectively resonates with the audience. The surroundings and the players may not change, but it’s a joy to gain new insight into them with every episode.

The volume comes to a close with the last visible hurdle for Tohru’s stay with her new friends resolves itself, securing her new living conditions, but the warmth and humor remains consistent throughout, from everything to over-the-top physical comedy to much smaller, sweeter touches. A minor subplot about Yuki comes full circle a few episodes later, unexpectedly–despite the episodes being generally self-contained, it’s touches like that that give the show as a whole a reassuring feeling of deliberation and continuity.

The cast of characters aren’t inherently anything we haven’t seen before, but they’re extremely likable and the energetic chemistry between them is practically tangible. For not getting a particularly large volume of screentime, even people such as Tohru’s friends, Uo and Hana, leave a very strong impression of themselves as individuals and of the depths of their affection for Tohru. The four central characters are all appealing in different ways and click together wonderfully.

The English dub is of extremely high quality; almost all of the actors do a convincing role in their assigned characters, and the script itself flows naturally. Both language versions are highly enjoyable. In addition, the opening and closing songs have also been redone in English. A bit superfluous, but a fun addition nonetheless that reflects the obvious care that went into this adaptation.

Content:

For a show with such a mild, gentle tone, Fruits Basket knows what it is and what it’s trying to accomplish and does it with gusto. Six episodes’ worth of charming characters, convincing emotion, and tangible development concerning them make this more than a worthy investment.

Technical:

Sound and visual quality was very high; no complaints. The extras for this DVD are fairly substantial, including brief biographies for the main cast and their English voice actors, the textless opening, a few previews, and most notably, a twenty-five minute behind-the-scenes feature created before the series originally aired on Japanese TV, giving an interesting look into the popularity of the original manga, the workings of Studio DEEN, as well as brief interviews with the director, original author, voice cast, and several other staff members.

Overall Score: 9.5

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