Writing a review for an anime like Fruits Basket (2019) is incredibly difficult. The nature of the story they are telling leaves me with a lot to unpack both emotionally and as a narrative. And this is only the first season. I’ll do my best to convey the spirit of the anime, as I feel it’s the only way I can properly write a review for this one. Spoilers ahead.
Let’s just get this out of the way: there are a lot of broken people in this anime. It seems that almost every character that is introduced has some dark corner of their past they wish to keep a secret. Typically, it’s a connection to trauma or loss (though not always). With a cast that seemingly grows larger every week, this can be emotionally draining. Fruits Basket regularly commits one to two episodes simply to show you another backstory to help you understand character personality and motivation.
It would be understandable if my description leads you to believe that this becomes tiresome. If not handled tactfully, it can come off as pandering rather than something to help you connect emotionally with the cast. Fortunately, Fruits Basket does it well. The characters and their stories don’t feel manufactured; there is genuine heart to be found in each of them. And while the story hasn’t yet been fully told, you can see that the distress of members of the Sohma family in particular are all connected; knowing that their pain is connected and has a purpose helps establish it as meaningful.
Unraveling the mystery of the Sohma family is one of the central focuses for Fruits Basket. It is established early that this rather large family has a select few very special members; these family members are living representations of the Zodiac, with a different animal for each member. While they are typically human, there are several things that can trigger a transformation into their animal form. Apart from having a special connection to other members of their species (and their relationships with one another), it hasn’t yet been revealed what other significance their Zodiac status holds, if any.
Moving the plot along seems to be a secondary concern for this anime, though it never stagnates. Like I said before, they haven’t really spelled out an end game for the direction of the story. Backstory and relationship development are what they’re interested in showing. This includes not only the main cast, but also the impressively large supporting cast. It’s rare to see a character only once, even if they seem to be only distantly connected to the events we usually follow. You can count on them to show up again later.
While this formula usually delivers some of the greatest storytelling of the year, it does have it’s issues. Because the cast is so large, it’s not always easy to care about learning their histories and motivations. I wouldn’t go so far as to say there are moments of boredom, but there are certainly characters you will care about less than others. At worst, it creates a minor lull in pacing and quickly picks back up during the next episode.
This formula also has the power to deliver some really impactful moments, especially when it involves the main cast. It would be boring if everyone had one simple problem that was solved and discarded; real people don’t operate that way. Layer after layer of complexity are revealed for these characters. Just when you think you have them figured out, it all changes. And as those layers are shown, moments of growth are also introduced, creating some of the most dynamic characters you can find in anime.
So why should you care about this anime? After all, I’ve given you very little plot or direction of the story. What is it really about other than their relationships to one another? Honestly, it’s best to watch and see for yourself. No amount of story regurgitation will sell this one beyond what I’ve already told you. Let the anime speak for itself.
I have never seen the original Fruits Basket anime, but this 2019 facelift is nothing short of a triumph for the creators. There was a lot of hype around it before it released, but I was still surprised by what I saw. There are a few anime every year that you know will be remembered as truly special, and Fruits Basket (2019) will be on that list. I am impatiently awaiting the conclusion. Even if this style of anime isn’t usually to your liking, you should give it the opportunity to surprise you.
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