I finally finished watching Fruits Basket, and I have to admit a certain disappointment. It’s not because I was expecting too much (though everyone I’ve spoken to about the show has been almost universally positive), nor that the ending let down the series (as it did for many).
I simply didn’t like the show at all, from only a few episodes in to the very end. I hoped that it would improve, but sadly, the climax of the series was probably its weakest element.
Furuba belongs to a very specific type of anime that is very obviously written by a woman, along with Gakuen Alice, Hikaru no Go and anything by CLAMP. I don’t just mean shoujo (the loose genre aimed at girls) - which Hikaru no Go is not - and nor do I dislike anime with an obvious female mangaka, but there are certain characteristics which recur – in particular, lots of bishounen and biseinen (pretty male characters), usually rather androgynous and invariably hinted to be less than entirely straight; a preponderance of angst - lots and lots of angst, obsession and dark childhoods, through which the principle female character can often help the poor boy(s); and finally, cutesy mascots/sidekicks. This is all fine: in fact, most of it makes for some great drama. But in furuba, it’s so tedious and monotonous that I often finished an episode thinking the story could’ve been told in a third of the time.
The story is simple: sweet and pure Honda Tohru, who has been living in a tent so as not to inconvenience anyone, befriends and moves in with the Souma family. It soon transpires that the Soumas are cursed, transforming into animals from the Chinese zodiac whenever hugged by members of the opposite sex. This leads to some amusing farcical situations, especially as they return to human form sans clothing a la Woof, but it soon transpires that every single one of this accursed family has some weird personality quirk. As, indeed, do all the peripheral characters.
This means most of the characters are little more than one-trick ponies, never actually developing any depth. The comedy also falls short: jokes are repeated ad nauseum, and there’s only so much appeal to watching weird people being weird. This would be alright if the drama was compelling, but honestly, the endlessly formulaic appearances of tortured characters, who Honda persuades to cheer up by being terribly terribly earnest begins to grate.
Add to this unresolved and uninteresting love triangles, one bizarre mutant and an incomprehensible obedience to a clearly deranged head of the family, and you get an insipid, repetitive anime. Yes, there were some very cute moments, especially with the younger members of the cast and the animals, but I got the impression it was all supposed to be achingly pretty. It wasn’t.
(Originally written 05.05.05. I've been told many times the manga goes on to be far better, and genuinely intend to find out if that's the case. But six years have now passed...and I've never yet felt the inclination.)