Review for Fruits Basket: Complete Collection
It was a couple of series released here by MVM that turned my casual interest in anime into a full blown obsession. One was Love Hina, and the other was this, Fruits Basket. I'll be the first to admit that Love Hina has dated, but even then, I could see that there was enough depth to Fruits Basket to ensure longevity. I reviewed Fruits Basket back in 2004, and looking back on those reviews now, I hardly recognise myself as the person who wrote them.
Fruits Basket has had something of a muddled history when it comes to UK retail. MVM had the series at first, but then the US licensor Funimation transferred the rights to their UK sister company Revelation. Revelation re-released the single volumes, and collected them into a deluxe artbox for a complete series release. In 2012, MVM have now regained the rights for Fruits Basket, and another Funimation title, Kiddy Grade, and are finally releasing them as budget collections in the UK, with Kiddy Grade appearing for the first time here as a collection. Eight years on, I'm eager to see if Fruits Basket is just as special as I once considered it to be, and also to see if MVM's re-release has anything new to offer.
You would think that Tohru Honda has a hard life. She was recently orphaned when her mother was killed in a car accident, and had to move in with her grandfather. It got crowded enough when his family moved back in, but when the house had to be renovated, and there wasn't enough room at his family's place, Tohru offered to find somewhere else to live. That turns out to be a tent in the forest. But Tohru is resolutely upbeat, and rather than burden her best friends Arisa and Hana, she's determined to keep her promise to her mother and finish high school, even if it means working her way through school, while living in a tent.
The trouble is that she's pitched her tent on Sohma land. Yuki Sohma is in her class at school, the elegant, handsome young man who all the girls swoon over, but who keeps a resolute distance from everyone, never letting himself get too close. It turns out that he comes from an extensive and influential family, and they are surprised to learn that they have a squatter on their land. She's a squatter they wind up rescuing when her tent is caught in a landslide. It also seems to be serendipitous, as Yuki's house isn't the most hospitable of residences, and he and his relative Shigure are badly in need of a housekeeper. The offer of a roof over her head seems heaven sent for Tohru, until Kyo Sohma returns from a retreat in the mountains, looking to pick a fight with his eternal rival Yuki, and oblivious to his surroundings. In the ensuing mayhem, disaster strikes, and the Sohma family's darkest secret is revealed.
For the Sohma family is cursed. For generations, they have been afflicted with a condition that causes them to transform into the animals of the Chinese Zodiac when hugged by a member of the opposite sex. Yuki is the rat, Shigure is the dog, and following the legend of the animal that was tricked out of the Zodiac (and the cause of Kyo's antagonism with Yuki), Kyo is the cat. Now Tohru will have to keep their secret if she is to remain among them. But there is far more to the curse than just the cute animals, and as Tohru lives among them, and meets the other members of the Sohma clan, she begins to learn the dark truths and tensions that keep them isolated and separate. But if she has the strength of will, she may just be able to help heal these damaged souls, and in the process find a place that she can call home.
Back in 2004, when anime cost £20 a disc, and the average release had just three or four episodes to it, Fruits Basket was astonishingly good value, released over four volumes, with six or seven episodes per disc, and extra features. These four discs are now collected into a budget collection that you can pick up at a price less than that of what a single volume would have set you back. The 26 episodes are distributed in a 6,6,7,7 format.
The transfer for Fruits Basket is unchanged from the previous release, a 4:3 regular image that dates from that period where Japanese animation was changing over from hand painted cel acetate, to works created completely in the digital realm. Compared to modern anime, Fruits Basket's digimation is beginning to show its age, with simple character designs, a greater prevalence of jaggies and other such digital artefacts, and a somewhat limited scope to its animation. Having said that, it's easy to forget all this and just lose oneself in the story, and accept the animation for what it is. What this transfer does inherit from the previous release is a fine shimmer and moiré on fine detail, but the character designs are effective, and this time around I really appreciated the warm colours and gentle atmosphere to the background artwork.
You have the choice of DD 2.0 English and Japanese with a translated subtitle track to go with the Japanese audio, and an optional HOH English track to go with the English audio, which follows the dub dialogue exactly. Which one is required is selected automatically depending on which audio language you select. It's a civilised way of doing things that covers all the bases, with the exception that there isn't a signs only track for the on screen text with the English dialogue; it's either all of nothing with the HOH subs.
Experiencing the subtitles with the Japanese dialogue again, this time I realised that there was a little confusion when there was more than one conversation being translated at a time, or dialogue was overlapping with the signs translations. This could have been solved by using different fonts and colours for the subtitles according to what they were translating, but using the same yellow font for subtitles and captions tended to make a muddle of things.
I was very happy with the original Japanese audio, I like the character voices in this version, and Ritsuko Okazaki's theme songs just can't be matched by the translated English dub versions. However I did take in an episode of the English dub version, and after 8 years of anime dub homogeneity, I found it to be very refreshing. While the script translation is awkward at times, Fruit Basket's dub is unusual in that its cast maintains a US tone to its delivery. Instead of the female voice actresses pitching their voices up to match the Japanese performances, they maintain a more natural register for them. I have to say that it's a delight not to hear teenage girls in anime voiced with the aid of copious helium inhalation.
The layer change on disc 3 is in the middle of the opening sequence for episode 16, awkward to say the least, and a change from the original release.
When it comes down to it, these discs are nigh on identical to the original releases in terms of content. What is different is the addition of an MVM logo that plays ahead of the Funimation logo when the discs are inserted, and the new credits page that displays when the programme ends, crediting the Madman staff who authored the disc in Australia.
As well as the same subtitles, audio and video transfer, these Fruits Baskets discs also offer the same animated menus and jacket pictures, as well as the same on disc extras.
Here you will find the textless opening and 7 character profiles to read.
The main feature is the 26-minute Behind the Scenes Featurette, which served as a preview show for Fruits Basket prior to the first broadcast in Japan. After a little of the manga's popularity, the focus shifts to the anime studio, with interviews with the show's director Akitaro Daichi, and the staff, a look at the 'new' process of purely digital animation, a behind the scenes look at the ADR process with the Japanese voice cast, and the recording of the show's theme song with Ritsuko Okazaki.
Once again you get the textless opening and 7 character profiles.
There is an interview with Akitaro Daichi that lasts 14 minutes. He talks about his take on Fruits Basket and how he pursued the adaptation from the original manga.
Fruits Basket Room No 1 is a light-hearted 15-minute interview between Yui Horie (voice of Tohru Honda) and Aya Hisakawa (voice of Yuki Sohma).
Eyecatch Gallery No. 1 is a 17-minute piece that looks at the eyecatches that herald the adverts and the kaching wipes that are placed between scenes. Usually they are a blink and miss them affair, but here you can take a leisurely look at ones from Episodes 1 through 12. They are presented as a slideshow with a commentary in Japanese from Yui Horie with English subtitles. It may be worth turning the subtitles off, as they can obscure some of the images.
Surprise, surprise! 7 character profiles and the textless opening sequence.
In Fruits Basket Room No. 2, Yui Horie interviews Tomokazu Seki, who provides the voice of Kyo Sohma in the anime. This lasts 15 minutes and is subtitled.
Eyecatch Gallery no 2 also last 15 minutes and this time looks at the eyecatches and kaching wipes that are placed between scenes from Episodes 13 through 26.
There are 10 character profiles on this disc, and one final time, the textless opening sequence.
Fruits Basket Room No. 3 is a 15-minute interview between Yui Horie and Ryotaro Okiayu, the voice of Shigure.
Finally there is an Illustration Gallery that is presented as a 5-minute slideshow. This shows off some of the promotional artwork for Fruits Basket, posters, magazine covers and DVD artwork. Once again, the captions are translated with optional English subtitles.
In every medium, in every genre, there are some select titles, timeless classics, which should never be allowed to fall out of print, never have their licenses lapse. In anime, Fruits Basket is one such title; it's up there with Neon Genesis Evangelion, Cowboy Bebop, and Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, in terms of its importance to the medium. Unlike those other shows, it's a gentler, more poignant side to anime, catering for an audience more attuned to emotional nuance and character growth, than it is a masterwork of sci-fi narrative. There's a reason why Fruits Basket was so popular a manga series, and those reasons apply just as strongly to its animated adaptation, and MVM have to be commended in ensuring that it remains available to UK audiences a while longer. That it's available in a budget, complete series collection for the first time is merely the icing on the cake.
The Fruits Basket anime is coming up to ten years now, but it really hasn't dated as much as I would have expected. Certainly, I expected the early exploration of pure CG animation to have shown its age, but other than a distinctly SD experience, in terms of resolution and aliasing, the actual technicalities of the animation hold up surprisingly well. Another thing is that Fruits Basket eschewed all the tropes and clichés of the early two thousands that would have instantly dated it, the way that shows like Love Hina and Trigun are so very much of their era. The message that Fruits Basket has to impart, the story that it shares, appeals to audiences regardless of who they are, or when they grow up.
That's what Fruits Basket is all about, the audience that it is targeted at. It's all about that delicate age that all children and young adults go through, where they stop seeing the world as centred on them, and start relating to other people, start seeing the world through their eyes, and start developing a sense of empathy. It happens at different times for different people, and once we begin to get set in our ways, circumstances may arise that require us to take a refresher course. Fruits Basket does this in the most extreme of ways, introducing the Sohma family as the most dysfunctional and damaged of clans, and putting an unlikely catalyst in their midst in the form of Tohru Honda. Tohru herself has had more than her fair share of tragedy, but her positive attitude, and her willingness to give wholeheartedly of herself begins to heal the damaged members of the Sohma family, and they in turn learn from her and pass their lessons along. Of course it's done with a whole lot of comedy and a smidge of drama as well. Fruits Basket is one of those rare shows that provokes laughter one minute, and in the next can elicit heartfelt tears, and make it all seem natural.
The comedy comes from the absurdity of the Sohma family and their curse. The Zodiac curse means that thirteen of their number are afflicted with the result that when hugged by a member of the opposite sex, they turn into an animal of the zodiac. Tohru at first meets the dog, the rat, as well as the cat that was turned away from the legendary banquet, thus being left out of the zodiac. The legend states that the cat was tricked by the rat, which explains why cat Kyo, hates rat Yuki so much, and Tohru comes face to face with her first dysfunction, the first rift to heal. It isn't an easy process, and isn't necessarily complete by the end of the series, but in their mutual affection for Tohru, Yuki and Kyo find that they have something in common, which gives them something to build on. As we meet the other members of the Sohma family, we find that they take on something of the personalities of the animal spirits that possess them, and the way that they interact also adds to much of the humour.
The drama comes from the details of the curse, the fact that fear of human contact, for what may inadvertently happen, has effectively isolated the clan. They've become insular and closed off, and as a rare outsider allowed into the clan, Tohru begins to change that. But there is a backlash when it becomes apparent that those afflicted by the curse owe their continued lives to the head of the clan, one Akito Sohma. He's not one to turn into a cuddly animal, but he does bear the burden of the curse through accident of birth. He's effectively been given an early death sentence because of it, and that is why he is head of the clan, why his word is law. But the bitterness of that unjust fate taints all his interactions with his family, and that is why the members of the Sohma family can be so fearful and alone at times.
The drama is a rarity in the show, as its focus is more on the gentle comedy and character interactions. It's only towards the end of the series that the focus shifts to something more serious as the true depth of the curse is revealed. The end also may not appeal to fans of the manga, as this is where Fruits Basket the anime diverges, but I find it an effective and moving conclusion to the show. The characters are a wonderful and diverse mix, and in the Sohma family you'll find the playful mischief of Shigure, the destructive devotion of Kagura, the childlike optimism of Momiji, the bipolar disorder of Hatsuharu, the annoying exuberance of Ayame, the level-headed caring of Hatori, and the annoying literal wit of Hiro. But Fruits Basket isn't just confined to the Sohma clan, and you'll also meet Tohru's school friends Arisa and Hana. Arisa is a reformed delinquent, while Hana has a gothic style and preternatural telepathy. Both are determinedly protective of their best friend, mostly from the Prince Yuki fan club, the high school association devoted to Yuki Sohma (mainly to stop any other member hooking up with him), who are infuriated when Tohru actually moves in with the Sohma family.
The joy of Fruits Basket comes in watching Tohru Honda discover more and more about this accursed family, meeting more of the members, and slowly, through sheer force of her personality, start to make their lives better. It's especially heart-warming when you see characters who learn from her, apply those lessons to their own interactions, and you can see the ripples of her influence begin to spread. It's only around the final volume that Fruits Basket begins to lose steam, something that I didn't notice when I initially reviewed it. It's around the last two episodes prior to the final dramatic story arc that the formula becomes apparent, and Tohru meets and helps two new members of the Sohma clan in quick succession. There isn't the room for character growth, story development and comedy at this point, and we really don't get to know Ritsu and Hiro with any great depth. Of course with 12 members of the zodiac to encounter, you can see why there is the desire to get a few more in, although we still don't meet the horse and the rooster in the anime version. A couple of formulaic episodes out of a run of 26 aren't disastrous though.
Fruits Basket is quality anime entertainment that has stood the test of time well. It's a godsend that MVM have managed to regain the license and re-release it at this time. If you missed it the first time, you have no excuse now. But it also means that a whole new generation of anime fans can partake of its gentle wisdom, entertaining comedy, and moving character drama for the first time. They're in for a treat.