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volume 3 issue 12

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Animefringe Coverage:
Fruits Basket: What's a Little Curse Between Friends?
By Holly Kolodziejczak

When in the world of Fruits Basket, one can't help but like Tohru Honda.

Her pure, kind-hearted, good nature is impossible to dislike, and her unwitting wisdom always manages to improve the lives of people around her. Everyone who gets to know her somehow ends up loving her, but in her total lack of egotism, she never quite realizes it. She is what many people aspire to be - a truly kind and generous soul who never expects anything in return for her blindly-performed good deeds and who always repays the kindness of others with everything she has. She is, in fact, utterly selfless.

There are only two kinds of people who know Tohru - those who like her, or those who are jealous of her. Even though she never really asks for much of anything in life, serendipitous circumstances always manage to befall her. Some would call it fate. You could even call it karma. But you can almost see where the jealousy of others comes from - for most of us, it's difficult to be a truly good person all of the time. For Tohru, however, it's not.

Tohru has two close friends - Uo and Hana. Uo is a tough and brash Yankee, and Hana is a creepy goth-ish girl with psychic powers. As you would expect, both of these girls are outcasts from society at large. When they met Tohru, however, she saw through the outward appearances and stereotypes and accepted Uo and Hana for who they were. Ever since, they have been at her side, fiercely protecting the one person who ever truly understood them.

You see, Tohru has this way of stumbling into the lives of people who need her and don't even know it. And somehow, no matter how difficult the problem or how deep the hurt, Tohru's kindness, honesty, and generosity always seem to help things come out all right in the end.

Fruits Basket is, at its core, a series that addresses all of the hardships of coming of age in a completely unorthodox manner. Teen romance? We got it, right here. Angsty relationships? Got that too. Troubles with fitting in and accepting your own differences? Oh yeah, Fruits Basket has that in spades. But this isn't your typical shoujo anime by a long shot. Sure, it happens to be positively *dripping* with bishounen, but it also has sexual tension (ahn!), violence (kick his ass! KICK HIS ASS!), a heroine who's the best friend every girl wishes she had, a crazy hot-springs lady, people who temporarily turn into the animals of the Chinese zodiac when touched by a member of the opposite sex...

Yeah, that's right, animals. And they're naked when they turn back. Yeah, that's right, naked.

The Souma family is far from normal. They're a clan of loners, by no fault of their own, ruled by a young and cruel leader, Akito. The Souma family bears a unique curse... certain members of the family turn into the animals representing their Chinese zodiac sign under certain circumstances - the most common and worrisome of which is being "hugged" by someone of the opposite sex. Of course, "hugged" also means catching someone who falls on you, and the female characters in this series are not notorious for their balance or grace.

So, ergo, when Tohru appears on the doorstep of the house of Shigure, Yuki, and Kyou Souma one morning, all of their lives are bound to change forever.

Shigure, the Dog of the zodiac, is an author who maintains his own household on the outskirts of town, away from the main Souma compound. Yuki, otherwise known as the Rat of the zodiac and the "Prince" of his high school (Which Tohru and friends also happen to attend) lives with Shigure. Kyou, the excluded Cat of the zodiac legend, intermittently makes his home there as well.

Tohru, recently orphaned after losing her mother in a car accident, took to living in a tent in the woods to avoid being a burden on her friends and family. Working part-time and struggling to complete high school as her mother wished, she unknowingly lived her simple life on part of Shigure Souma's land. Of course, being who she is, Tohru ran herself ragged without ever disclosing her plight to anyone except the photograph of her lost mother. Yuki and Shigure eventually discover her while they are on a walk through the grounds. Soon after, a landslide crushes her tent and she falls to an oncoming fever.

Shigure and Yuki take Tohru back to the house and Shigure watches over her while Yuki retrieves her belongings from the ruined tent. The next day, it is decided - Tohru will live at the Souma house until the renovations are completed on her grandfather's house, and will do the housework and cooking in exchange.

Taking in a stranger is no small feat for a group of people as secretive and closed-off as the cursed Soumas, but Tohru is not just any stranger. She impresses them with her strength and courage from the outset, and slowly - through their interactions with her and one another - Yuki, Kyou, and many of the other cursed young Soumas learn that they don't really have to be alone in life.

As much as Fruits Basket sounds like an anime that only the girliest of girls could possibly get in to, nothing could be further from the truth. The characters of this series are so real, and the issues that they come up against transfer into real life, albeit in a slightly exaggerated manner. Most people can find a character or a number of characters in this series that they can relate to in some way or another.

Fans of this series will surely be impressed with FUNimation's handling of it's transition to North America. With the exception of the opening and ending credits, the dub is truly phenomenal. Many purists can't stand listening to the English language track on US releases, but the Fruits Basket is not only tolerable - it's actually pretty good. The voice actors were well chosen and put emotion into the scripting. Other domestic distributors would be well advised to take FUNimation's example with Fruits Basket and follow suit with their own future releases.

Some fans, however, may have mixed feeling about some other aspects of the release. While the original tune and lyrics of the song remain, they have been dubbed in English, and the vocal arrangement leaves something to be desired. Some things that might be addressed in future releases are the lack of any kind of translation notes, the overly plain cover, and the subtitles that you can't turn off on the "textless" opening extra.

The first volume of this series does have a very nice "Introduction to Fruits Basket" segment that apparently aired on Japanese television a few weeks before the premier of the show. The character profiles are also nice, but fans of image galleries will be left wanting with the first domestic DVD of this series.

FUNimation threw in another fan-pleaser when they included episodes 1-6 on the first DVD volume. With this particular series, this number works out phenomenally well. It gives even the skeptical viewer plenty of time to learn some of the nuances of the main characters, get a peek at the true backbone of the plot, and get some hints at some upcoming surprises. The first six episodes has a nice mixture of drama, romance, and comedy, and ends in a suitable stopping point that isn't really a cliffhanger, but still leaves you salivating for more.

In all honesty, Fruits Basket is an anime that doesn't really fit into one category. It's not ass-kicking martial arts or sappy romance; it's not out-and-out slapstick comedy or staple-your-hand-to-your-forehead shoujo; there are no real magical girls or bad guys to fight or giant robots; it's not based around school or sports. Fruits Basket is just a sweet story about real-life difficulties that people face while growing up (just in some extraordinary situations) and how true friendship can change your life forever.

Tohru Honda

Cute, sweet and kind-hearted, Tohru takes everything at face value. Recently orphaned after the death of her mother, she ends up living with the Soumas.
Yuki Souma (rat)

Bishounen to the core, Yuki is the unwilling Prince of his high school. Otherwise cool and collected, Yuki gradually warms up to Tohru as time progresses. Lives in Shigure's house, and is constantly at odds with Kyou.
Kyou Souma (cat)

The animal left out of the Chinese zodiac, according to the legend. Kyou is constantly fighting to get in to the family who doesn't want him when those who are in are trying desperately to get out.
Arisa Uotani "Uo-chan"

An ex-gang member and one of Tohru's best friends. Not above coming to blows to protect Tohru. Was saved from life in the gang by Tohru's mother, who was once known as "The Red Butterfly."
Saki Hanajima "Hana-chan"

Tohru's other best friend. A girl who seems to have strange psychic powers who came to Tohru's school after causing a "disturbance" at her previous school. Very gothic and mysterious, she uses her strangeness to intimidate those who threaten her or her friends.
Shigure Souma (dog)

A comical 20-something author, whose wisdom often hides behind his utterly silly demeanor. Maintains a household away from the central Souma house and has Yuki, Kyou, and Tohru living with him.
Kagura Souma (boar)

Alternately shy and... er, high-spirited, there's never a dull moment when she and Kyou are together. Both are cursed, so they don't transform when they touch one another. Kagura takes this to mean that they were meant to be together, much to Kyou's chagrin.

Images Copyright FUNimation. All rights reserved.

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