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The Sohmas are a family cursed, the circumstances of which have led to their isolation from the rest of normal society. For theirs is no ordinary family curse...
Thirteen members of the family are possessed by the spirits of the Chinese zodiac and when embraced by a person of the opposite gender are transformed into their own personal zodiac animal. The Sohmas have managed to keep the curse private for generations, but when a young girl named Tohru Honda stumbles upon their secret, life at the Sohma household changes forever and conflicts erupt as zodiac rivals clash in this most unusual of situations.
Young Tohru’s presence proves to be a positive influence upon the family members and she takes it upon herself to find a way to break the curse. But first and foremost she must promise to keep the family’s secret safe or face the consequences.
Adapted from the manga by Natsuki Takaya, Fruits Basket has been a fan favourite since its release in 2001 and is now reissued in this complete edition by MVM after re-acquiring the rights from Revelation Films. Typically for anime, we are introduced to heroine Tohru as she finds herself in a less than ideal circumstance - following the sudden death of her mother, and not wanting to be a bother to her foster relatives while they redecorate (!), she's living by herself in a tent in the woods. Less than ideal or safe accommodation for a high school girl, you might say, so it's fortunate that within the first episode or so she's become acquainted with the eccentric Sohma family, learned their unfortunate secret, felt some stirrings of emotion towards her princely schoolmate Yuki Sohma, and been installed as the family's housekeeper. So begin twenty-six episodes of hi-jinks and romance, with some unexpectedly dark undertones.
To her credit, author Takaya and the anime scriptwriters don't force the Sohmas to conform too slavishly to their zodiacal animal roles, concentrating instead on the relationships between the characters and the burdens of enduring an unearned supernatural curse that predestines all one's interactions with family and outsiders. While the wacky animal transformations and character comedy are typical anime fare, the shift into drama and even horror territory is accomplished with growing effectiveness over the series' run, notably in the episode where cute bunny-boy Momiji dispassionately relates the story of his rejection by his horrified mother. The good-hearted Tohru's relationships with the various Sohmas as she learns of their inescapable circumstances are more subtly portrayed than might be expected, as she affects those she interacts with through her presence and understanding rather than outright action. It's a well-written series, despite the commonplace difficulty in anime of adapting material from a then-unfinished manga without going against the author's intentions.
Perhaps with this in mind, the anime creators use much the second half of the series on stand-alone episodes that showcase the goofier and less plot-relevant members of the cast, playing some tricks with direction and narrative to boot: The episodes showcasing the efforts of Yuki's lovestruck fan club to see off their rival Tohru are by turns a brilliant farce and surprisingly affecting. As the series concludes, though, it's the zodiac outsider Kyo Sohma (who with his bright orange hair, scrappy attitude and berserker tendencies is clearly a predecessor of Bleach's Ichigo Kurosaki) and his inheritance of the cat's curse that take centre stage. With the nearest thing the series has to an antagonist also making his presence felt, the finale is inconclusive but wraps up the drama adequately and, as surely intended, points the audience towards the manga for more.
It's easy to see why Fruits Basket is enduringly popular: with its fine cast, often brilliantly executed comedy and convincing drama, it's a fine series in its own right and stands as a forerunner to later shoujo comedies like the peerless Ouran High School Host Club, with which it shares many elements. As a complete collection of a series that deserves renewed attention, MVM's release is well worth it. Recommended.