The new “Fruits Basket” television series is dominating the comeback scene in 2020, revisiting the old classic while thrilling both old and new fans, providing a welcome relief from the lack of originality that is all too common in Hollywood. Though I didn’t read the “Fruits Basket” manga when it was originally published, I quickly read through the popular series after I entered middle school in 2007. Since my sister isn’t an avid reader, I shared the original animated series with her. Hearing about the remake debut in 2019 and the company’s vow to finish the series was monumental for us, because “Fruits Basket” is a journey we have shared for 13 years. But the appearance of the remake has both of us asking whether or not it is a perfect remake, and if it is, why?
What is “Fruits Basket”?
“Fruits Basket” was originally a manga series that ran from 1998 to 2006, focused on a young girl named Tohru Honda who was orphaned after her mom died in an accident. Its popularity sparked an original animated series of the same name in 2001. Having an emotional tie to the Chinese zodiac story her mother told her about, Tohru expresses enthusiasm for the cat, who was tricked and excluded from the calendar. Her popular classmate Yuki Sohma expresses disdain toward the inclusion of the cat. Despite this disagreement, the Sohma family invites her to live with them after finding out she had lost her home.
It’s here that she learns that the Sohma family is cursed. The Sohma family will transform into one of the 13 zodiac animals whenever they are hugged by someone of the opposite gender or are under a great deal of stress. While the narrative sets up the idea that the cat’s absence from a banquet thrown by the God of the Chinese zodiac is the reason for its isolation from the other zodiac members, the truth is teased to be more than just a simple story as it weaves into the relationships of Tohru and the Sohma clan.
The original “Fruits Basket” anime is too light compared to its source material
For someone who read the manga, the original adaptation of “Fruits Basket” highlighted a lot of problems in adapting a manga into a television series. Small things such as Tohru’s eye color or Momiji’s absent accent were changed. While those aspects are not necessarily a major problem, they were an eyesore for purists.
The relationship dynamics between Tohru and other characters felt off. The story’s themes center around vulnerability, humanity and forgiveness, but these elements were not fully explored. As a result, the story felt superficial and lopsided. The love triangle between Kyo Sohma, Yuki Sohma and Tohru Honda shows how the dynamics didn’t mesh correctly. It’s very obvious where the writers were focusing their attention and this makes the love triangle unbalanced and therefore, unnecessary.
From a narrative perspective, the characters are stagnant. While their struggles are highlighted in the episode where they meet Tohru, they almost act like throwaway stories, irrelevant to the story as a whole. This element is painfully obvious when Tohru has to find Kyo after he transforms into his true form. A moment that signifies a friendship built from patience and understanding is undermined by how his constant rage toward her feels almost abusive, which had not been the case in the manga.
In the original adaptation, attempts at comedy tended to undermine the severity of trauma. Overall, it simply felt like the narrative was one you could get invested in if you wanted something light. If you want something fun but not emotional, this is a fun place to start before you read the manga or watch the remake.
“Fruits Basket” brings new life to an old, incomplete flame
The 2019 remake of “Fruits Basket” created a new experience that succeeded where its predecessor failed. Voice actors of the original anime series reprised their roles; designers and writers included more elements from the manga to add to the story’s development, focusing on the premise of the story as well as the characters’ relationships.
The writers and producers focused on the overarching story, developing the characters fully and showing their motivations with emotional nuance and depth. Moreover, both the character design and narrative elements are more in line with the original manga than in the first 2001 anime.
When you watch the first season of the remake side by side with the original 2001 version, it’s obvious that the shift in tone highlights the story’s strengths. While the premise remains the same and the characters still have the same mannerisms, the changes in the new series address fans’ concerns in a much-needed way.
Tohru’s character is kind-hearted and loving, having survived the tragedy of losing her parents while still remaining cheerful and open to friendship. She shows how patience and kindness make self-improvement possible, and her depth of character is pivotal in the relationships she forms with the Sohma family. As her relationships deepen, she acts as more of a safe space for others to heal from their trauma.
As Tohru comes to learn more about Momiji Sohma, the rabbit zodiac member, it is clear that the show is ready to address the darker themes found in the manga. Momiji’s character was originally presented as goofy and childish in the 2001 anime. However, the remake shows how this act is a front to hide the trauma he has endured as a result of the zodiac curse.
One thing the original anime glosses over is the emotional pain accompanying the trauma that many of the characters have endured. The remake does an excellent job bridging this gap and further building on the idea throughout the story. In the remake, Momiji has a German accent that disappears in the presence of his mother. This a subtle way of tying Momiji’s actions to his trauma. Momiji informs Tohru of how parents react to the zodiac curse, and how his mother violently rejected him.
Momiji explains that his mother became depressed and couldn’t cope with having a zodiac member for a child. As she expresses regret in having Momiji, Momiji laments letting her forget him because he just wanted her to love him despite the pain he caused her. His association with the accent is his direct tie to her: He uses it to be close to his mother, even though she is unaware of his existence. This makes his character appear more mature and fleshed-out than in the original anime.
Momiji is not the only one with better characterization — all the characters in “Fruits Basket” are shown in a more nuanced way. The love triangle between Kyo, Yuki and Tohru is more balanced, and the story feels darker than it was originally portrayed. Though I had read the manga and knew the ending, the 2001 version had me siding with Yuki as the true love interest. The remake felt more balanced because Kyo softens up around Tohru. This makes him easier to like and accept as the true love interest, unlike the 2001 counterpart. Overall, this is the story you hope for if you read the manga.
The Verdict: Is It perfect?
I watched this remake with two other people — my sister who had seen only the original anime and my friend who knew nothing about the show or the manga. My friend praised the show for feeling so natural, with a well-balanced love triangle. She thought the tone of the show reflected the characters’ grief well.
My sister, who had watched the original “Fruits Basket,” remarked that the characterization matched the themes better, making for a more effective story overall. She asked deeper questions that showed more investment in the story, instead of her usual focus on cuteness. After getting past the initial shock of the thematic and tone change, she believes that these alterations made the story better. As the season continues, she finds herself back in the dark, wondering how the show is going to play out.
Watching my sister and friend on the edge of their chairs in anticipation, not knowing the ending, was fun, especially because I knew how the story would conclude. I know that nothing is ever perfect. While each version holds a special place in my heart for different reasons, I can’t help but see how the remake is doing the manga, and ultimately the fans, justice. Having read the manga, and watched the original series in both English subs and dubs, I find that the new “Fruits Basket” speaks to and holds relevance to both old and new fans of the series, pushing a more mature narrative on how trauma intersects with love.