Tohru Honda is still living in novelist Shigure Soma’s household and going to high school with Yuki and Kyo Soma, Shigure’s younger cousins. She’s also learned the secret of the Soma family: thirteen of the children are possessed by the spirits of the animals of the Chinese zodiac and transform into their animal forms when hugged by a member of the opposite sex (or when ill or stressed). She’s also learned Kyo’s secret: he’s possessed by the spirit of the cat – but, as part of the curse, his true form is that of a repulsive monster and he’s living under the threat of being locked away on the family estate for the rest of his life when he reaches adulthood.
The first episodes focus on Yuki who’s about to become school president – and, as he meets his fellow student council officers, he realizes he’s not in for an easy ride! A visit to his big brother Ayame’s haberdashery/costume shop with Tohru brings about some kind of reconciliation between the chalk and cheese brothers: Ayame (the snake) always flamboyant, hiding his true feelings beneath a high camp exterior and Yuki, the cool, calm prince who hates any kind of fuss.
Arisa, Tohru’s onetime Yankee friend, is working hard at her parttime jobs when she meets a young man, Kureno, who seems to be strangely unfamiliar with the ways of the world. A second chance encounter results in him inviting her to have lunch with him. There’s an immediate rapport between the two – but then he distances himself from her with no promise of meeting up again.
When summer break arrives, the Soma family take off for the seaside, taking Tohru along too. But what begins as an idyllic holiday is soon overshadowed by the arrival of Akito, the young head of the Soma clan, staying in a property nearby and demanding that all the Soma children spend time with them there. Tohru is left alone (as at New Year) as Akito continues to inflict the same mental and physical abuse as before, demanding their affection. Infuriated by Tohru’s popularity amongst the zodiac children, Akito eventually goes to demand a meeting with her – and when Momiji (the rabbit) tries to stop Akito entering the house, Akito lashes out at him. Tohru appears and runs between them.
Akito is shocked. No one has dared to oppose them in this way before. But when Akito retaliates with sneering abuse, Tohru stands her ground. Even when Akito hits Tohru, she doesn’t retreat and Akito is led away by Kureno.
Tohru is now even more firm in her resolve to break the curse and set the zodiac children free, especially Kyo. But how? There seems to be no clue – even though she asks all the Soma adults she knows. Tohru might appear to be an airhead and a klutz to those meeting her for the first time but she’s also her gang leader mother’s daughter and we now see Kyoko’s influence showing through in the strength of her daughter’s courage and resolve.
But time is rapidly running out for Kyo. Will Tohru’s strength of will be enough to help her break the magical bonds that have held the Soma family in thrall for generations?
In this second season of Fruits Basket, the many volumes of manga that weren’t animated (or even yet written!) when the first 2001 series was made are now being dramatized, with mangaka Natsuki Takaya on the creative team. After a rather weak start, devoting far too much time to one of Yuki’s fan club members, the conflict at the heart of the story is ramped up several notches as the fun seaside holiday the Soma family and Tohru were looking forward to is blighted by Akito’s dark moods. Everything builds up to a confrontation between Akito and Tohru when Tohru realizes exactly who Akito is in the zodiac legend and why the others are so in thrall to them. The way the zodiac children react protectively toward Tohru – and the magical end to the holiday with fireworks on the beach are a harbinger of what may be better days to come. It’s well worth watching these episodes if only for this tense encounter (which is really convincingly acted by both Japanese and US voice casts and very well written by the US script team) and which brings Tohru’s strength of character into sharp focus. She’s an unlikely heroine but she’s the only one who is brave enough to stand up to Akito. (Although is someone else also helping behind the scenes?)
This is also a story of what happens when parents behave badly toward their children. Tainted by the zodiac curse, the relationships between many of the parents of the cursed children and their offspring could furnish material for a manual on how not to parent. The sympathetic adults in Fruits Basket (Kazuma, Kyo’s adoptive father, Mayuri, Tohru’s teacher) are so much in the minority – or dead, like Tohru’s mother Kyoko – that it’s a wonder the young people are not more damaged by the appalling cruelty that’s been meted out to them in order to preserve the Soma family secret.
However, the silly school stuff has aged badly. The behaviour of several characters (the Prince Yuki fan club especially but also Ayame) fits a shojo manga stereotype which can also be seen in Ouran High School Host Club and other manga of that era in which characters behave over-melodramatically, striking theatrical poses and declaiming their feelings as if they’re on stage (often, this being shojo, being showered with hearts and flowers).
The Manga/Funimation R2 release comes in three versions: a lavish Limited Edition with two more zodiac animals and other goodies (see below) and no-frills Blu-ray and DVD sets.
The new Season benefits from two excellent songs with attractive animations. The OP is Prism” by AmPm ft Miyuna which captures the summer atmosphere very effectively (beware: it’s ideal earworm material)! The ED is “ad meliora” by THE CHARM PARK and while not quite so memorable as the OP, is set to some jewel-like firework-inspired imagery portraying the zodiac animals. One unusual point though: in the original streaming version, this song quotes from the OP to the 2001 animation at the beginning and the end; this seems to have been edited out of these versions. Why, I wonder? Copyright issues? A shame, because it was an apt homage to the original anime.
If you’re a fan of Fruits Basket, you’ll definitely want to watch – indeed, own – this set, as it ventures into never before adapted-to-anime territory. And I recommend it to other shojo fans as a very watchable addition to the shojo repertoire, with attractive character designs, good voice acting (especially from the original US cast) and a compelling central story.