Medium Matters: Fruits Basket

Okay, not really medium, since there are two Fruits Basket anime, and anime is just one medium.

But there ARE two Fruits Basket anime and you don’t have to look at either of them for very long to see that the two anime have chosen to tell the same story in two different ways.

Okay, the basic story is the intertwined tales of Tohru Honda and the Sohma family. There’s a world of hurt at the bottom of both those: Tohru has recently lost her mother and has no family she can be with, so she’s terribly lonely and missing her mom, and, of course, the Sohmas have the curse of the Zodiac on them – the touch of a member of the opposite sex make them turn into their Zodiac animal.

By the end of the show both those story lines have to resolve, and they do in a particularly satisfying way: Tohru becomes a de facto member of the family and so she get what she needs in terms of a place to be, and she in turn relieves the pain at the center of the Sohma family, their tortured cousin Akito.

That’s pretty neat, by the way. It make Tohru, as passive and apologetic as she is, into the protagonist. I mean, she’s surrounded by dogs and lions and even a dragon, but Tohru is the one who saves the day.

All this appears in both versions. If any of it was missing, the story wouldn’t be Fruits Basket.

In the original for the most part the pain was subtextual. The original is largely slice-of-life, fun with Tohru, her friends, and the Sohmas.

Every once in a way they let you see the pain bubbling up from the underpainting, hinted at in, for instance, the way Tohru treasures and talks to the picture of her mother or Kyo always wears that bracelet of his or Akito’s constant foul mood when they are on screen. But it’s rarely part of the text, except in certain heart breaking little scenes, as when Momiji sees his mother, knowing that she does not remember him.

Momiji is an annoying little brat but a great character, lemme tell ya that!

For the remake – which I assume is truer to the manga; otherwise there was no reason for it to exist – the producers decided to make the pain part of the story, text instead of subtext. They kept the business with Momiji and Tohru’s mom and all that, but they picked out a simple way to get pain into the foreground:

Everyone’s in love with someone.

Everybody loves somebody sometime: From left, Momiji, Tohru, Yuki, Kyo, Kagura, Haru

BOOM. Now you can have PAIN. All you have to do is make all that love unrequited.

So you get all sorts of halting or failed romances:
Tohru is crushing on Kyo but afraid to tell him
Rin and Hiro have something going on that Akito loses her s*** over, pushing Rin out a window
Akito loves Kurano (in this version Akito is female but raised as a boy)
Mitsuru, Shigure’s editor, falls for Ritsu
Momiji has a schoolboy crush on Tohru
When Hatori asks for permission to marry, Akito nearly blinds him
There’s the whole Prince Yuki fan club, which he fends off in both versions PLUS
Machi, the student council treasurer, who slowly develops an affection (reciprocated) for Yuki
Arisa loves Kurano, and he loves her but can’t have her because, you know, curse

That’s a lot of romance, a lot of it doomed or apparently doomed, because, you know, curse. And what putting in all those apparently doomed and/or unrequited loves does is change the genre from slice-of-life to soap opera.

Seriously, who can keep track of all those romances? I sure couldn’t, and I bet I missed a few, too. Oh, wait, I did forgot one: Shigure has the secret hots for Akito her own self. See? I knew I missed at least one.

The decision to change genres (or be true to the original genre: I don’t have time to read the Fruits Basket manga or the money to buy it, so I don’t know) makes sense when you recognize that the remake is about two-and-a-half times as long as the original. You need some kind of tension, some kind of emotional impact, to keep a series that long going.

So the original is like Trigun, happy and goofy until things come to a head, and then heart breaking.

The remake is like Nana, a tempest of emotions swirling around constantly.

If you ask me which is better, man, that’s up to you. It seems to me that, narratively speaking, both production teams did good jobs, right? I know the original is well-liked. I’ve had students come up to me, a Male Of A Certain Age, to ask me if I’ve seen it (I have. Three times). And a lot of people seem to like the remake, including me (seen it twice).

If you ask me which I like better, I like the original, because I like the goofy stuff and don’t pay close enough attention to track who’s boinking whom. But that’s a strictly personal preference.

The two Fruits Baskets are the same story told by two different storytellers with different perspectives. They are both valid, and they are both really good.

I always look at comments and feedback, and I’m sure I’m not the first to see what I’ve seen, so have at it. Just keep it clean and keep it on target…no personal attacks, okay? Thanks.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s