From the first few moments of Fruits Basket, the differences with the original 2001 anime are immediately obvious. TMS Entertainment, who can count the beautiful Orange among its exhaustive back catalogue, bring a similar aesthetic here with lush animation and even dust motes looking more like glitter. The character models have been cleaned up from the original series, but there’s no mistaking the boys of the Chinese zodiac, nor Tohru Honda who helps them work through their issues, pain and trauma whilst easing her own burden.
For all the differences from the first go-round at adapting Natsuki Takaya’s seminal shojo manga – who serves as executive supervisor – there’s enough flourishes for fans of the Studio Deen series to feel nostalgic. More than a few times I noticed a flutter of familiar notes in the soundtrack, by turns jubilant and moody. Though the 2019 series sports a new voice cast and talent, the biggest change is that it faithfully – even stubbornly – follows the source material. When the story starts, Tohru is living in a tent and nursing her bereavement having only recently lost her mother. Fruits Basket is imbued with a real, almost tangible, sense of loss. Of all the many dead mothers in anime, Tohru’s is perhaps the most fully realised. It’s in the moments that she is allowed to truly feel this loss that she’s at her most potent. Most of the time, however, she’s just a do-gooder dunderhead.
The boys aren’t much better, forever tethered to the zodiac archetypes which they embody, and transform into whenever embraced by someone of the opposite gender in what is straight up rom-com gold. Though the bishies are more drool-worthy here in crisper, cleaner animation, some of the designs could have been updated. Kyo, the cat, is the worst offender, still wearing cargo pants like it’s the early noughties. All I’m saying is that a few liberties could have been taken from the source material – it’s been almost twenty years, after all. And that’s arguably the biggest drawback here, it feels a bit, well, dated.
At times it’s like a fairy tale, others like an extended flashback, but the central drama still resonates now as surely as it did with the first series and the manga before it. This part is a lot of set up and spends a lot of time juggling characters, some of whom are given the requisite tragic backstories, some truly heart-breaking, others eye rolling, while others barely get a look in. Tohru herself is often left in the wife and mother role, and Kyo’s entire personality hinges on fighting and wanting to beat Yuki, the rat. Oh well, at last there’s Hatori and Hatsuharu to make up for it and the second half of the season to play for.
Don’t forget to keep an eye out for our review of part two coming in the next few months.
Distributor: Manga UK
Extras: English dub; episode commentaries, interviews with voice cast