Whenever an older piece of media is remade as a modern work there’s always the question of “Why?” What makes this work worth being reintroduced to a modern audience over the countless others in the sea of entertainment? When it comes to anime remakes, most are from the shounen genre that benefits from the improvement in animation technology since their original run, such as Madhouse’s Hunter x Hunter. This season’s remake of Fruits Basket, on the other hand, is a shoujo, an archetypical shoujo at that. While it is certainly a pretty show, the increase in animation quality doesn’t necessarily pay dividends when compared to its shounen compatriots. So the question remains: Why is Fruits Basket worthy of receiving the remake treatment? The answer, it turns out, lies in the timeless message it tells and the lessons it teaches that are just as important today, if not more so, as they were nearly two decades ago.
Making Important Connections
To bring those who are unfamiliar with Fruits Basket up to speed, the story follows high school first-year, Tohru Honda, after certain circumstances have left her in the care of her classmates’ household, Kyou and Yuki Souma. The catch is that some members of the Souma family are “cursed” by the spirits of Zodiac animals and will transform into their respective creature when hugged by the opposite sex — the rat and forgotten cat in Yuki and Kyou’s cases, respectively.
These supernatural elements aren’t utilized in a comedic sense as much as one would expect given the setup and instead are used more as a pretext to create an unusual family situation for Yuki, Kyou, and all the other Soumas. It’s this family situation that takes the usual worries and insecurities of a high schooler and exacerbates them ten-fold. How Fruits Basket — more specifically Tohru — addresses those insecurities, however, is where the show’s true beauty lies.
Tohru is a bit of an oddity as far as main characters go. Where many dramas and slice-of-life’s will create protagonists that the viewer can relate to on some level, that’s not what Fruits Basket is asking the viewer to do with Tohru. She’s kind and understanding to a fault, a veritable saint that sees all the good in humanity that borderlines naivete, which can be a little difficult to find common ground with.
Instead, it’s everyone around Tohru that is relatable. Whether it’s Kyou’s inferiority complex, Yuki’s innate fear of making real connections with people, or something as complex as Hatori’s complicated grief over his loved one — there’s at least one character in Fruits Basket that anyone can sympathize and connect with to some degree. They are all believably flawed and it’s not unlikely that their worries were your worries at some point in time or even possibly right this very moment.
Then there’s Tohru, who comes along and does more than just accept those flaws. It’s through her eyes that the viewer can see what happens when someone believes in you unconditionally, flaws and insecurities and all. When someone speaks more than just hollow words of encouragement but has wholehearted faith in your potential it has an incredibly potent healing effect. Tohru has that capacity to soothe the anguish of those around her and by extension the viewers who connect with those characters. She serves as a reminder of the compassion we can show for our fellow human beings.
A Call to Action
The thing is, it’s not easy to be like Tohru. It’s not easy to have that kind of unflinching faith even with the closest of friends, to fully believe in your own belief in another person. Indeed in a world that sometimes seems to grow bleaker by the day, many have been conditioned to doubt more readily than believe. That doesn’t mean we can’t try, though.
Tohru may be more of an unattainable ideal, but she still challenges us to strive for that ideal. The next time you find yourself in the position of encouraging someone, take a moment to ask yourself how much you believe in your own words of encouragement. However much that is, take the effort to put even more faith into them. That’s a very unscientific way of putting it, certainly, but the sheer warmth of genuinely good intent can mean the world to the recipient, even if you find yourself unable to find the best words to say. We can see this demonstrated around the world, not just in a shoujo anime.
A recent study by The Guardian shows that gun violence in the Bay Area of California is at a record low, having dropped nearly 40% in the past decade as opposed to the national average of 7%. At the center of this effort is a fellowship program aimed toward individuals at risk of committing violence, particularly those who suffered from it themselves and feel compelled to return it in kind. One graduate of the fellowship commented, “To have somebody who believes in you, and knows you’ve got the potential to go for it, stuff like that makes you want to keep going right.”
That is exactly the kind of faith that Tohru shows in her own friends. To acknowledge the flaws of someone as part of who they are, rather than simply accepting those flaws as an inevitability, and believing in all that they are, good and bad, can be a difficult thing to do. Yet doing so can have an undeniably positive effect on another and being able to have that kind of impact makes it a lesson from Fruits Basket well worth learning.