I have never been overtly critical in my shallow dives. While I will always call it like I see it with the shows I watch, I have always avoided being overly critical. I do think being critical is important, but too often it can overwhelm a series. Nitpicking plot points, reaching out on strange concepts, it is something I have no interest in. Shallow Dives will be critical of anime when it has to be, like in the cases of Mirai Nikki or Rascal does not Dream of a Dreaming Girl, but I won’t go out and dump on a series for reasons that it doesn’t deserve, like with Sword Art Online.
I say all this, because the series we are discussing today has challenged that mindset in some regards, a true balancing act. After cut let’s talk about the first half of the second season of Fruits Basket.
I said recently in my discussion on School Days that I was very glad I had watched the series in my 30s. Being so far removed from my teenage years allowed me to get a wider perspective and appreciate the series in a way that I don’t think I could have in my earlier years. They case was the same with Yosuga no Sora, however when comes to Fruits Basket, things are a bit different, and I find myself being pulled in two different directions.
Fruits Basket is of course, a monumental series both in its reception and its place among the history of the medium. I would go so far to place in the same shelf as Full Metal Alchemist, Dragon Ball Z, and others like it. It’s a genre defining piece, loved by millions and served as a gateway to this artform for many. Having the series given the same treatment that Full Metal Alchemist got a few years ago: a top to bottom, almost page for page adaptation has only been a good thing. It is a great series, thoughtful series, with wonderful characters, a touching story, and breathtaking visuals. That all being said though, after a season and a half, the cracks that I have been seeing are becoming too large to ignore.
The first is that Fruits Basket, like other series, suffers from what I call the ‘Bleach Problem’ in that the secondary cast, in this case Tohru’s friends and the greater Sohma family vastly, VASTLY overshadow the primary main characters. As much as Tohru, Kyo and Yuki are likable and carry the story, their staying power doesn’t even hold a candle to how the good the secondary cast is. Twelve episodes into its second season, Fruits Basket remains its strongest when the story focuses on them. Whether it is the budding romance between Arisa and Kureno, the struggles between Haru and Rin, Hatori making peace, the schemes of Shigure, or any other characters, this is where Fruits Basket shines. Every moment these characters are on screen I just want to know more about them. I want to hear their stories, watch their struggles, savior their triumphs and grief their defeats. It is very rare, for me at least, to feel that way about a secondary cast of characters, while meanwhile I don’t care much for the main cast. While Kyo has fared far better in this season, showing more maturity and calm, and Tohru is showing a bit more depth overall, they still don’t hold a candle to everyone else, and the more the series goes on, the more it shows.
The second reason however is a bit different, a problem that will probably fix itself overtime, but one I can’t turn my eyes away from: Yuki’s story.
Now I do understand. Yuki’s overall story of coming out of his shell, discovering his strengths and becoming a better person serves as the main B-story of Fruits Basket, and serves very much as the emotional backbone of the entire series, even more than Tohru. I also understand, and appreciate that Yuki’s trauma, guilt, fear and insecurities are not something that can be solved in a single episode. Unlike other genres in anime, there is no single conversation or punch to the face that will suddenly fix everything. Yuki will never be a character who just wakes up and goes ‘OK, I handled my shit, what’s next?” He’s a work in progress, taking things one step, one small victory at a time, and that feels real. That is what a teenager goes through, and in that regards I highly respect Fruits Basket for allowing the story to breathe.
However, Fruits Basket is also suppose to be a piece of entertainment, and tell a story, not just about Yuki, but of the entire cast, and this is where things just start to get rough. Yuki’s story has come to almost completely dominate the entire plot, to the extent that is starting to damage the entire series. It’s not that it is bad, it isn’t, but having it constantly be front and center has become almost suffocating. Almost every other week it has drowned out all the other characters, all the other plot lines, and even the Tohru and Kyo are feeling pushed to the sidelines. Furthermore, having the series devolve into ‘Yuki’s weekly existential crisis’ has become to me, well over a decade removed from my teenage years, almost comical.
I know it is not suppose to be the case, and I am not trying to invalidate or dismiss Yuki’s character arc, which I am sure many viewers can empathize with. But I don’t watch Fruits Basket for Yuki alone. I watch it for the other characters, and after almost near constant trips back to the Yuki story, I feel that time and effort is not being spent properly. Where are the stories focused on all those people I mentioned before? Especially Rin Sohma, who has been billed as this big game changing character, but who has only skulked around in the corners muttering to herself. What about Tohru, central lead who is in desperate need of some more character work. Or Kyo, who seemed to take a major step, only to be shunted back into the sidelines, because Yuki felt sad for the tenth fucking time?
Now the story isn’t done, and having read the final chapter and a summary the series, I know everything is going to pay off in the end. I am invested in the series, and I like it, even love it deeply. But I can’t let that fondness blind me from what I see are two massive, though not crippling issues. Perhaps I will be eating crow in another ten or so weeks, perhaps things will change. I’m always open to that possibility, but now. Fruits Basket, a season and a half in, feels like a story that is torn in two. I think both myself, and others can only wait to see if those two halves can be merged back together.
But hey, the music is fucking balling.