Tuesday, August 12, 2008

On the Wings of Angels, Part III: Help from Nearby, Part II (Fruits Basket)

(Clockwise from Bottom: Tohru Honda (holding Kyo's and Yuki's animal forms), Kyo Sohma, Shigure Sohma & Yuki Sohma)

"Fruits Basket" is an anime that tells the story of a teenage girl of 16 named Tohru Honda (Laura Bailey), who becomes a tenant and housekeeper at the home of three brothers of the Sohma family: the calm and collected Yuki (Eric Vale), the angry and volatile Kyo (Jerry Jewell) and the mannered but juvenile Shigure (John Burgmeier). She then learns of an ancient curse placed on the family where each member is turned into an animal from the zodiac if they are under heavy physical stress or embraced by a member of the opposite sex. Most of the time when people learn about the curse, their knowledge of such is erased, but Tohru is trusted with the secret. So, Tohru spends her new life learning and understanding the Sohmas.

There's a fascinating dexterity in the relationship between the Sohmas and Tohru. On one hand, you have a group of very different personalities consistently crashing into each other; in most cases, multiple times in the same day. Kyo and Yuki are constantly at each others throats, while Shigure sits calmly in the back commenting on the situation. Sometimes he even fans the flames, just to amuse himself. Except for when the doors of the house need to be rebuilt because of their tendency to be broken during these arguments. (This happens quite a lot, actually). That's not even counting the rest of the Sohmas, who are each intensely emotional in their own way. Considering that Tohru herself is not a very socially adept person, she tries to diffuse various situations but usually fails. So there's a great amount of high comedy as we watch vicariously in the same position as Tohru; wishing we could resolve these clashes, but not knowing how. The very premise of the show itself is very much a type of sitcom premise: a normal person moving into a house of crazies. (That never means it can't be original though). Above all, despite their constant butting heads, they are, in fact, a family.

On the other hand, there is a really sad undertone running through the series. Because of the fact that the Sohmas have this curse, they tend be very closely guarded people, often to each other. Every Sohma family member has a deep pang of disappointment in their history of relating to others, ranging from over-protection, outright rejection, or trauma on the receiving side.

Kyo in particular has the curse of the cat, whereby he is forced to be an animal that is not even part of the zodiac; this includes a demonic cat form (which, by the way, looks like a cousin of Frank the Rabbit from "Donnie Darko.") Therefore he is treated like an outsider in his own home. Along with this, Kyo uses his anger to keep people at a distance because he feels that no one will ever accept him as he is, not even his own family. Like many teenagers, he looks out for number one. To contrast, Yuki is a very shy introvert. He is indeed popular at school, where he is called Prince Yuki. Through it all though, he finds the popularity overwhelming. His classmates are in love with the ideal, not the person. Believe me, I know how that feels. He also has a very edgy relationship with his own brother Ayama (Chris Sabat) and was psychologically stunted by the abuse of Akito (Chad Cline), the head of the main house.

Considering the fact that Yuki and Kyo are the rat and the cat, respectively, they have been in a lifelong battle against one another since childhood. Kyo hopes the day will come when he can beat "that damn rat." Yuki shrugs it off nonchalantly, knowing that he would best him easily if they did compete against one another. Kyo believes that when he beats Yuki, he will have proven himself to his family. Yuki, conversely, is somewhat envious of Kyo. Even though Kyo is hostile, he is actually one of the more naturally extroverted members of the Sohmas. So when Kyo gets in a group, he usually eases in pretty quickly despite some protest. This peculiar envy of Yuki is contrasted by Kyo's own envy of wishing to belong in the more closed off realm of the family.

With all my talk about the Sohmas, I haven't even gotten to Tohru. She reminds me of the idea that sometimes a person with the sweetest smile on his or her face is actually one of the saddest people around. Let's elaborate: her dad died of pneumonia, her mom died in a car accident and she's treated rudely by her extended family. (Only her grandfather gives her any respect). At the start of the series itself, she's living in a tent in the woods because her grandfather's house is getting renovated and she doesn't want to be a burden on her protective and caring best friends, Arisa Uotani (Parisa Fakhri) and Saki Hanajima (Daphne Gere). Shortly after meeting the three Sohma brothers, her tent is buried in a landslide, so she relents and takes the offer to stay at the house.

Despite this heavy tragedy, part of what makes this series great is Tohru's hopeful personality. Her constant optimism in the face of adversity is like a beacon of light in a really dark room. She refuses to give up on accepting the Sohmas for who they are and is emotionally open to each family member's baggage. Most of this mindset comes from her mother, who taught her many lessons about people and life before she died. These lessons often appear spoken through Tohru or in simple flashback stills. Aside from all that, we as an audience would not empathize with Tohru unless she was performed exactly right and she is. Laura Bailey plays Tohru with sensitivity, grace and care. Personally, I find this sort of surprising since the only other role I've seen her play was Lust from "Fullmetal Alchemist." What a switch!

Ultimately, the series is about people relearning to be people, where the characters let their emotional guards down so they can finally complete one another, for their own sake.


The events in the final two episodes of the series involve Tohru finally seeing Kyo's demon cat form, which marks the most difficult test of acceptance in the show. Inspired by the events in those episodes, I've created a short film (expression, soul poem, AMV, whatever you want to name it...) using the song "Angels Too Tied to the Ground" by U2. The piece is entitled "Pain Toward Healing (Acceptance)."

Hope you enjoy it.

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