Anime reminds me somewhat of my trips around an American grocery store. Everything is designed to leap out at you with as many colours and flavours as possible, and all sitting packed shoulder-to-shoulder with things very similar, sometimes only distinguished by the different brand, even while housing content that is exactly the same in all but name. I feel like that a lot when I’m trying to fish through for decent anime titles.
That’s where Fruits Basket is somewhat of a dream. Anyone who’s been a fan of anime in the UK for enough years will probably know the series well enough, being as it is a hugely popular franchise and one that’s greatly admired both on screen and in its original manga format. It might even be fair enough to say it’s one of the ‘grandfathers’ of anime releases in the UK, almost certainly so for Funimation as one of their signature franchises from many moons ago. But what makes it so different? Has it stood up well against the newer, cleaner, sharper, higher-budget series that have broken down our doors and ravaged our TVs with amazing visuals in recent years?
Let’s start with the premise. Fruits Basket tells the story of Tohru Honda, an orphaned 15 year-old high school student who is living in a tent, trying to support herself and her studies with late-night after-school jobs. Through a series of unusual events (and the fact that she has unwittingly set up camp in the notoriously aristocratic and secretive Sohma estate), she ends up living with Yuki, Kyo and Shigure Sohma in return for housekeeping duties. Very quickly it becomes apparent that the family is not all it seems, and she accidentally discoveres that the Sohma family is under a devastating curse – that whenever they are embraced by a member of the opposite sex, they turn into one of the animals of the zodiac (and/or a cat).
This summary might lead you to believe that it’s a deeply sinister and hard-edged show, but it’s not. Tohru is unendingly compassionate, innocent and sweet, although arguably naive at the beginning of the story. The huge Sohma family, of whom you meet new members at fairly regular intervals throughout the series, are quirky and unique and there’s a great deal of humour being thrown about the place. Chiefly you see Tohru interact with Yuki, who turns into a rat, and Kyo, who turns into the cat, and their relationship becomes quite integral to the continuing plotline, not to mention Kyo’s place in the Sohma household as a whole. And if there’s anything Fruits Basket can do, it’s relationships. The story is driven by its characters, and the bonds that they share or wish they didn’t. More quickly than even she realises, Tohru finds herself at the centre of something pretty huge that could affect the family’s destiny forever.
The first time I saw Fruits Basket’s character design I have to admit I was a little taken aback, because the eyes seemed so particularly huge, even for anime. This isn’t really an issue now, but at the time it took some getting used to. The visual styles and heavy focus on emotional gradation make this ultimately a very feminine series, but being myself a male, I found it hugely enjoyable and very heart-warming. Even with the chirpy back-and-forth antics between the Sohma clan and Tohru’s charming ditziness, there are moments when the series takes a turn for the dark, and we begin to see how alienating the curse is for those who suffer under it. It’s a remarkably diverse series, and strikes a balance between these tones beautifully well. Knowing the story, my only reservation about it is that it finished not even halfway through the manga’s original story, and the anime was never renewed due to ‘creative differences’ between the author and the director, which is a great shame. Well, almost, because the anime’s good enough to stand by itself and it’s a series that fits perfectly well into both media very well.
The dub is probably the only thing that’s worn through a little- I watched it English and there were a few unsteady performances. That’s chiefly down to age, though. Even though it’s hardly an ancient series, it was produced when the dub companies weren’t quite as confident or diverse as they are now. It was still one of the higher-quality dubs around at the time, mind. The animation hasn’t dated much, if at all.
It’s one of the best examples of a romance genre anime you can get, and I’d recommend it to guys and girls as a result. It’s definitely comparable to programmes like Ouran High School Host Club, and indeed the two make rather nice companion pieces. Even though Fruits Basket doesn’t have as loud a sense of humour as its public school cousin, there’s a great universal appeal about it, much like Tohru herself. You can’t help but be drawn to it. And if you can then you need help, because you lack a certain degree of humanity.
So, among the loudness of the other animes available on the shelves, Fruits Basket is a much quieter, thoughtful choice. It’s the comfort food and warm blanket we seek when we want a quiet afternoon on the sofa. Forget the artificial colours and preservatives, or the slightly dodgy CGI and weird stylistic choices that pervade popular culture. There were stories before there were graphics, and Fruits Basket has this in spades, with a great serving of heart.
The Fruits Basket Complete Collection is available on DVD from Monday February 13th, released by MVM. CLICK HERE to order through Amazon UK.