Ah, finally. We get to review the fun, light-hearted anime that is Fruits Basket. In this episode, it mostly features the side characters. Unfortunately, despite the episode’s intentions, it’s lacking the thought put into which characters are chosen to forward the plot. Seriously, Kakeru, Kimi, and Naohito?
For the longest time, Yuki has kept his feelings of inferiority toward Kyo hidden with blatant aggression. At first glance, Yuki’s role as the perfect prince of the school might seem pretty good, in actuality it prevents him from opening up about his insecurities to anybody. Yuki simply needs a friend like Kakeru, someone who’s stubborn enough to break through his barriers in order to start being true to himself. That’s a hard sell when Kyo’s been here the whole time (and the narrative intentionally draws parallels between Kyo and the new guy). So Kakeru, with his brash confidence and his easy rapport with basically everyone, gets on Yuki’s nerves. Apparently it’s because Yuki wishes he could be more like him.
Also, Kakeru’s personality sort of parallels Kyo’s, minus the angst and the family drama. He’s basically what would’ve happened to Kyo if he hadn’t been born the cat: a one-note punchline without any of the depth that makes him so charming. Kakeru is joined by equally one-dimensional Kimi, a petty girl who revels in sowing dissent. Honestly, does anyone like it when Kimi forcefully shook Machi’s shoulders in a way that felt more like bullying than teasing? Some of the jokes land well, but other times it just falls off and leaves the viewer uncomfortable.
When Yuki inevitably snaps, things start to get good. Props to Yuki’s voice actor for giving such an incredible performance when he lashed out at Kakeru, he sounded legitimately angry! While Kakeru says everything and anything the moment it pops into his head, it takes a lot of bottling up before Yuki blows his top. It turns out that he’s angrier at himself rather than at Kakeru—he’s just projecting Kakeru’s comparison between Yuki and Kyo with the way he’s always comparing himself to Kyo. It felt like the entire story was leading up to that moment. Afterward, it was difficult to see Kakeru as his own person instead of as a plot device designed to make Yuki finally get mad enough to speak his mind. There’s no mistake that this episode defines a major step in Yuki’s personal development as an individual and not just a Sohma family member, but it would’ve hit harder were it not for the cardboard-cutouts of the characters featured in it.
What Fruits Basket does well as a show is teaching us how to deal with the uncomfortable, and sometimes hurtful, feelings in a delicate and measured execution. At its best, its portrayals of family, friendship, and shared trauma are thought-provoking and emotional. Unfortunately, the lessons fall flat when the characters aren’t even well-rounded enough to actually deliver the message.