Tohru Honda and her friends are in their final year of high school and the need to decide what they’re going to do in the future is beginning to loom large in their lives. After the summer break, Tohru knows exactly what the Zodiac children are facing, having undergone a chilling encounter with Akito, the all-powerful young head of the Soma family. Worst of all is the knowledge of the fate that Kyo, the Cat and scapegoat of the Zodiac animals is to endure: he must be locked away on the estate for the rest of his adult life, like his grandfather. Akito makes it brutally clear to Tohru that they intend to see this cruel life sentence through – and because Akito has inherited the spirit of the original god in the Zodiac legend, everyone in the clan must and will obey their orders. But far from being put off trying to find a way to break the curse, Tohru (very much her mother’s daughter) is even more determined to do so – anything rather than see them all continue to suffer. So, when she realizes that the ‘Kureno’ her best friend Arisa is uncharacteristically pining for might be Kureno Soma, she plucks up her courage and ventures into the Soma main house to seek him out.
The focus then shifts to the enigmatic Isuzu ‘Rin’ Soma (the Horse) and the horrifically abusive upbringing she has suffered, rejected by her parents and brutally maltreated by Akito. The abuse she has suffered has made her as determined as Tohru to search for a way to break the Zodiac curse – but her frail state of health (anorexia is implied) constantly undermines her attempts. She rejects all attempts to help – even from Tohru who is determined to reach out to her; but perhaps their shared aim will draw them together, chalk and cheese, as unlikely allies?
Mayu, Tohru’s homeroom teacher, is conducting interviews with her students and their parents and she’s not best pleased when Shigure turns up for Tohru’s meeting as her grandfather is ill and unable to attend. Matters don’t improve when Yuki’s cold and unapproachable mother arrives – reluctantly – but is utterly nonplussed when her elder son Ayame appears with a theatrical flourish to defend his younger brother. Relationships are changing and all for the better; could it be down to Tohru’s unfalteringly kind and accepting attitude?
The rituals of the final school year continue: the trip to Kyoto (in autumn); the school play (a version of Cinderella unlike anything you’ve ever seen before!) as part of the annual culture festival and Yuki, as president of the student council continues to deal with one of the most ill-assorted groups of fellow committee members anyone could imagine. Oddly enough, though, the challenges of keeping the peace make Yuki question who he really is himself and come to some surprising, painful – and ultimately liberating conclusions. And when he overhears the treasurer Machi state bluntly, “He’s not a prince” rather than being offended, he feels that she understands who he really is, unlike all the other Prince Yuki fan girls.
And, in many ways, this set of episodes is all about Yuki’s story as he eventually finds the courage to talk about the darkest moments in his past – and share them with the most unlikely confidant: the seemingly oblivious vice-president Kakeru. These flashbacks are narrated movingly by both Eric Vale and Nobunaga Shimazaki who bring these painful memories to life for the viewer, as well as illuminatingly depicting the eighteen-year-old Yuki’s coming to terms with his past and accepting who he is now. The conclusion that he comes to may surprise many viewers (I still find it surprising in some ways, years after reading the manga) but mangaka Natsuki Takaya has laid the groundwork for it, so it is what it is.
The portrayal of the adults in Fruits Basket (with notable exceptions, such as homeroom teacher Mayu and Kyo’s adoptive father) is unrelentingly bleak. Most of the parents of the Zodiac children treat them appallingly – and the way the members of the Soma clan unquestioningly obey Akito (more on this in Season Three) would probably see them facing charges of child abuse in the outside world. But this is shojo manga, so different rules apply…
Quibbles? I’m still not happy with Momiji’s voice in either version (the German accent doesn’t work so well) and sometimes the ditsy humour just isn’t…well…funny. There’s a little too much attention given to the annoying behaviour of the obsessed girls who make up the Prince Yuki fan club; that joke gets old very quickly. And the class play It’s Cinderella-ish is not quite as amusing as it could have been, fun as it is to see the main cast in costume, hopelessly out of their depth on stage. But these are little annoyances and the main story is strong enough to dominate the viewer’s attention.
We’re deep into unadapted-to-anime territory now for the manga and the writing team at TMS Entertainment have done a skillful job in delivering the significant plot beats and character developments from Natsume Takaya’s beloved 23-volume shojo manga. The fact that it’s slickly animated is a plus as are the attractive character designs that look closer to the mangaka’s current mature style rather than her original less accomplished drawings. The autumnal scenes in Kyoto are ravishingly depicted with red acer leaves drifting down over the famous tourist attractions that Tohru and her year group are visiting.
A well-constructed anime script also needs a talented vocal cast to bring it to life and here both Japanese and US casts excel, even the newer seiyuu in the Japanese cast having settled into their roles. As before, certain actors stand out: Laura Bailey as Tohru still conveys the wide range of emotions the role demands rather more convincingly than Manaka Iwami – yet both Maaya Sakamoto and Colleen Clinkenbeard as Akito deliver exactly the right blend of menace and vulnerability. There’s a moving performance from Ian Sinclair as Kureno whose clandestine conversation with Tohru (in the final episode of this set) is of great significance. The ADR script for Funimation by Bonny Clinkenbeard and Jeramey Kraatz continues to impress as a great deal of care and thought has gone into it; ADR director Caitlin Glass has explained her love for the series in the extras for the whole series.
These episodes are graced with two excellent songs: the Opening is “HOME” by Asako Toki (I’m pretty sure that the instrumental intro references the OP of the original 2001 series) and, probably the best song of the entire three seasons is the wistful Ending, “Eden” by MONKEY MAJIK which also has the most exquisite artwork, featuring all the main characters (see the limited edition art cards below). Otherwise, the main soundtrack score by Masaru Yokoyama works best when it’s being unobtrusive (this is a compliment) and subtly underlining the atmosphere of a scene.
Extras for this set are Fruits Basket: At Home with the Voice Actors and textless Opening and Ending songs.
If you’re watching these episodes, it means you’re committed to Fruits Basket and you’re in for the long ride all the way to the end of Season Three. You’ve probably got a favourite Soma/Zodiac character or two (maybe tricky Shigure, elusive Kureno, tragic Rin) and you’re invested enough that you’re eager to see what happens to them. And you won’t be disappointed; Fruits Basket continues to deliver engrossing episodes of this family saga with a supernatural twist. The season ends on a couple of highly significant revelations; the final episode of the set is one of the most emotional and striking so far – and leaves the viewer on the edge of their seat, wanting to find out what comes next.
Funimation are releasing the Blu-ray and DVD standard sets in September but those wanting to continue collecting the limited edition with the extras will have to wait until November. The extras are Fruits Basket: At Home with the Voice Actors and Textless Opening and Ending Songs.