Like meeting with an old friend…
Am I dreaming or do we have a new Fruits Basket anime in 2019? I mean, I saw the premiere, twice even for the sub and dub, but goodness, it’s so surreal to see this series animated again. Well, if this really is a dream then I don’t want to wake up. I’ve wanted something like this for a very, very long time.
I love Fruits Basket, specifically the manga by Natsuki Takaya. I distinctly remember seeing the first few volumes at my high school library; a weird discovery as that place had a really sparse selection of manga. Once I started reading, I got addicted and made many visits to the public library in my area to finish the story. Not only is Fruits Basket one of my favorite manga, it’s just one of my all-time favorite stories in general. Naturally, I was happy to learn that there’s an anime adaptation from 2001 and subsequently, I was disappointed to learn that it didn’t adapt the entire story, let alone get renewed for a second season. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a very admirable adaptation but it’s also a frustratingly incomplete one. So when I heard that there’d be a new anime aiming to cover the entire manga, I was ecstatic. By all means, Fruits Basket is a story that absolutely deserves to be animated in its entirety.
That said, I did feel a little uncertain about Fruits Basket (2019). This isn’t just a reboot, it’s a reboot with an entirely new cast and crew. That decision comes at Takaya’s request since she famously disliked the 2001 version due to many creative differences she had with director Akitaro Daichi. That decision is entirely Takaya’s to make but not having the same people on board did make the reboot a wild card in this Spring season’s lineup. Director Yoshihide Ibata is, far as I can tell, a newcomer in the profession and series composer Taku Kishimoto is a veteran but he has had his ups and downs. For crying out loud, this guy wrote for Hanebado! not too long ago. Don’t get me started on Hanebado! again.
Then again, you’d probably have to try to make Fruits Basket awful and while things could change down the road, I’m really digging the 2019 version so far.
Things start off the same way they do in the manga and the 2001 anime. Tohru Honda (Manaka Iwami/Laura Bailey) is a young girl living alone in the woods due to a myriad of circumstances. One day, she bumps into a classmate, Yuki Soma (Nobunaga Shimzakai/Eric Vale) and his older cousin, Shigure (Yuichi Nakamura/John Burgmeier) and learns that she’s been trespassing on their property this whole time. Rather than kick her out though, the Somas offer her room and board if she works as their housekeeper. Shortly after, another member of the Soma family, Kyo (Yuma Uchida) appears to fight Kyo. Things take a strange turn when, in a couple of accidents, Tohru discovers that the Somas can turn into the animals of the Chinese zodiac after hugging them. Shigure is the Dog, Yuki is the Rat, and Kyo is the Cat (the one animal who lost to the Rat in becoming a zodiac).
As silly as this plot may sound, it surprisingly doesn’t feel that way at all times. There’s actually a sad tone to Tohru’s situation as you learn that her mother, Kyoko (Miyuki Sawashiro/Lydia Mackay), had passed away in a car crash, leaving Tohru orphaned and caught in a family feud over who should take her in. The Somas turning into animals is out of the blue but it is properly foreshadowed with mentions of the Chinese zodiacs as well as Shigure and Yuki’s apparent ability to communicate with members of their respective zodiacs. I’d elaborate further but sadly, to do so would be to start spoiling the story for newcomers. All I can comfortably say is trust me, there’s is a lot more than meets the eye with Fruits Basket.
What one should definitely take away from this premiere is how big Tohru’s heart is. This girl lives in the woods because she doesn’t want to be a burden on her relatives and best friends, Arisa (Atsumi Tanezkai/Elizabeth Maxwell) and Saki (Satomi Satou/Jad Saxton). For that same reason, she tries to decline the Somas’ offer of room and board. She works as a janitor not only to save up for a real home but also so that her grandfather doesn’t have to pay for her tuition. Bear in the mind, she’s doing all this while she’s still trying to recover from the loss of her mother. Even the flashback scene where her mother tells her the story of the Chinese zodiacs exemplifies Tohru’s big heart. Her main takeaway isn’t how the zodiacs are formed but how the cat was excluded from it, eliciting her sympathy to the point that she wishes her zodiac was the cat. These are all just examples from the first episode and plenty more of this will appear in later episodes. To me, this is what first got me hooked into Fruits Basket; not the mystery surrounding the Somas but rather, Tohru’s personality and what kind of role it could play in the narrative.
Out of curiosity, I did go back and check out the 2001 anime’s first episode for comparison’s sake. I don’t plan on calling out every difference I spotted and a few things did stand out to me. Unsurprisingly, the 2019 version is way prettier, utilizing less quick, budgetary-motivated cuts and zooms like the 2001 anime utilized and just having designs that’s more up to current standards. 18 years have passed; that was bound to happen. I did notice that the 2019 version follows the manga a little more closely, retaining and faithfully recreating stuff that the 2001 version abridged, rearranged, or cut out entirely. If you need an example or two, the Home Ec scene and Tohru’s narration over her current situation while working are good places to start. At the same time though, the 2019 version recreates some of the little touches the 2001 version did such as giving Yuki a silhouetted appearance when he tiptoes away from an admirer an the way Shigure enters the frame after Tohru hugs Kyo by accident. All this stuff doesn’t necessarily make the 2019 version better but it is interesting to see it incorporate some things from its predecessor considering what happened behind the scenes.
As for the voice acting, I thought it’d take some getting used to but honestly, I’m really liking how everyone sounds in the new anime. The most noticeable recast is Yuki since he’s now voiced by a man. Not that Aya Hisakawa was miscast but it was really odd having a woman voice this character. I frankly preferred the deeper register found in the dub so having someone like Nobunaga Shimazaki play the character for the sub is fine by me. As for Tohru, I do think Manaka Iwami has some big shoes to fill. Yui Horie was absolutely perfect as the character; finding out that even she won’t return for the new anime was kind of heartbreaking. Still, I think Iwami is filling those shoes just fine. It’s obvious someone else is playing the character but it’s still the kind of voice one would expect Tohru to speak with.
Fruits Basket 2019 has a lot to prove. It’s my most anticipated anime of this Spring season but with anticipation comes expectations and combined with my own fondness of the story, those expectations are quite high. I do want to see the entire manga adapted into an anime but I also think it only deserves the best possible adaptation it can receive. Right now, it’s off to a solid start with this premiere so one hopes that this will set the trend for episodes and seasons to come.
English Dub Comments
Kind of like with Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, Fruits Basket has a new Japanese cast but for the dub, Funimation got as many of the original voice actors back as they could. The most surprising return is Laura Bailey as Tohru. I thought for sure she’d be recast since she’s been busy acting in various video games. Thank the stars that she’s able to come back; Tohru is one of my favorite performances Bailey has ever done.
In general, it’s great to hear some familiar voices again. I’d even go as far and say that the returning cast sound better now. Almost two decades have passed since they last recorded as these characters and the acting experience they’ve gained in that time shows. As for the new voices, it’s so far just been Elizabeth Maxwell and Jad Saxton as Arisa and Saki though those two fit their roles quite well. I am also liking Lydia Mackay as Kyoko though I think some scenes that happen later in the manga will be the real test of her performance (the same can also be said for Miyuki Sawashiro).
Fruits Basket is comprised of a really big cast of characters so you’ll probably see me occasionally comment more on the voice acting in later posts.
ED: “Lucky Ending” by Vickeblanka
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