What They Say:
Life for 16-year-old Tohru is turned upside down when she suddenly loses her mother. Without a home and unwilling to burden her friends, she’s stuck living in a tent. But what she doesn’t realize is she’s on Souma family property and her life is about to get even more complicated when she gets caught up in their big family secret!
The audio presentation for this release brings us the original Japanese language track in 5.1 form and the original English language track as well. Both of them are done up in the Dolby TrueHD lossless form which helps to give it a bit more life and fullness but it’s also just a production of its time. The series is one that doesn’t have a lot in the way of actual big moments to it or anything but it has fun with the sound effects throughout it with the transformations and the comedic bits with the way the action and antics unfolds. There are cute bits throughout and the mix works some decent placement as warranted but it’s otherwise a fairly straightforward stereo mix. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout and we didn’t have any problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.
Originally airing in 2001, the transfer for this TV series is presented in its original full frame aspect ratio and is an SD upconversion to 1080p. The twenty-six episode series is spread across four discs. Animated by studio Deen, the series has a pretty good look to it in general and the encoding brings it to life well. This isn’t a series that will blow anyone away visually but the work done here gives it a bit more life overall with cleaner and more solid colors to it than past DVD editions. That helps more than one might suspect as the softness of its design feels more natural. This isn’t a detail heavy show but what we do have is well handled and it looks pretty good on larger screens, especially in comparison to past standard definition editions. It’s pretty much problem free with nothing in the way of significant noise or breakup.
This sweet sixteen edition is definitely welcome in giving the show something that it’s long earned with a great looking modern package. The heavy chipboard board looks great where it’s all done up in white with the front giving us a really nice simply image of Tohru holding flowers while the back side of it provides out two male leads sitting next to each other. It’s minimal but it’s effective in setting the right tone to it all. Inside the box we get a foldout digipak instead of Blu-ray cases and this allows for a nice four-panel layout of artwork that works the same kind of white background design. The various groupings and configurations of characters is cute and silly for the most part and it’s enjoyable opening up to each of them. The disc side is a spring green underneath with no additional artwork so it’s a touch bland but not a problem. While there are no show related inserts included with this we do get a great bonus here with a series of twelve art cards. These are beautiful pieces of artwork that are very much worth of framing or a collage frame together.
The menu design for this release keeps things simple but nicely done with a good range of clips from the show to set the mood for it. These take up the majority of the screen space here with the logo kept a decent smaller size along the center top. The navigation bar along the bottom is a soft white that makes it easy to read the navigation itself both as the main menu and as the pop-up menu during playback. It’s not the flashiest of menus but it hits the important parts, has some good looking visuals associated with it, and is quick and easy to move through without a problem.
The extras for this release look like they’re bringing over everything from the DVD side and it’s welcome to have them here. That means familiar pieces like the clean opening and closing sequences and the adorable dub outtakes from the original recording sessions. The English cast also has some interview material and the audition pieces for the the theme song performances. One of my smaller but favorite inclusions is the eyecatch gallery and there’s a lot of fun to be had in the extensive behind the scenes pieces from the Japanese side. Add in a video commentary for the 24th episode and there’s a lot of material for a fan to sink their teeth into here.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Based on the manga by Natsuki Takaya of the same name, Fruits Basket is a twenty-six episode manga series that aired in 2001 under the direction of one of my favorites with Akitaro Daichi. Studio Deen put the series together in what was roughly the halfway mark of the manga’s run, which went on until 2006 for a total of twenty-three volumes. That version recently got a really great domestic manga upgrade in omnibus form for fans so having this “sweet sixteen” version come out is very well timed. The show is one that definitely has some special meaning for me as it was one of the earliest shows I watched with my kids (though they couldn’t understand it as we watched it in Japanese, forcing them to want to learn to read quickly) but it worked because the visuals are great, the silliness of the transformed modes hits well, and it has a fairy tale kind of charm about it.
The story of Fruits Basket is a very simple one for the most part and as serious as it does get along the way it never loses that core basic. The tale revolves around high school girl Tohru Honda, a bright and energetic person. We’re introduced to her leaving a tent out in the woods where she apparently lives, as she talks to a picture of her mother about her day to come. During her walk through the woods to the school, she comes across a house she hadn’t seen before, and ends up talking to an older man there about the Chinese zodiac and her own youthful feelings about it. When she realizes she has to get going, the situation changes drastically as another younger man appears, and it turns out to be fellow schoolmate Yuki Sohma.
Sohma is the ‘prince of the school’, where he’s the most sought after boy by the girls, has that soft almost effeminate feel and is generally admired by everyone. He’s also of course not taken by anyone and has managed to keep his life simple with zero relationships, to the point where he won’t even hug someone. Tohru’s surprised to see him, but he invites her to walk to school with him, as he and his cousin realize something must be up for her to be out in these woods that are apparently all Sohma-owned.
Tohru’s life begins to change quite a bit from the simple aspect of her walking in a friendly manner with Sohma to school. Several of the girls start to chastise her while her friends stand by. But her life continues on, and as we see how it is after school, the realities truly settle in. Her mother had died some months ago and she had been living with a grandfather until she had to leave due to circumstances. So she lied and said she was living with friends but instead set up a tent in the woods and has been living there while working as a cleaning lady for buildings in the evenings. She’s eventually discovered by Yuki and his elder cousin Shigure.
Going against instincts, the two bring her into their household and give her an open room to call her own until she can get things back to normal. Normal is a word she’ll never know again, as she learns the Sohma’s secret and its relationship to the Chinese Zodiac. Through an accident, she ends up hugging/falling onto one of the guys, which causes a ‘boom/poof’ sound and transforms said male into one of the creatures of the Zodiac. They eventually turn back with varying amounts of time, but of course end up being naked since they fell out of their clothes. Tohru gets sworn to silence about it, and lives on in the house with the two as well as a new resident named Kyo, an orange haired young man whose set outside of the Zodiac because he changes into a cat.
As time goes on we do get familiar things, such as a school festival event where Yuki and Tohru’s class are going to do an Onigiri stand of sorts, where they have three very tasty types and a fourth “free” one that could be something good or something strange. There’s nothing like play roulette with your fellow classmates taste buds. A lot of the focus here is on Kyo though as Tohru and Yuki start to realize just how much he’s changing as he continues to live with them and Shigure. They’re even startled to learn he’s got a talent for making Onigiri. It’s a slow and subtle episode for the most part, but the way it works the characters over and explores them is just very well done.
One of the things Daichi talks about in his extras interview is his favorite episodes, which is episode 8 as it deals with some of the darker side of the Sohma family, is an exceptional episode that had me choked up as it played. The cast grows here with two new folks in the form of young Momiji, a boy who looks a whole lot like a girl, and the Sohma family doctor named Hatori. Both of them are Zodiac members, but it doesn’t come into play too much here other than to point the story in one direction.
Hatori’s the one to mainly care for the family, in particular Akito whose subject to frequent illness as well as wild mood swings. Hatori’s also the family member with a truly special ability, the ability to erase memories from people. Hatori’s invited Tohru to come visit as he intends to try and get her to leave the Sohma lands as it will only cause her grief, but the others are more afraid that he’ll simply wipe her memories away instead. So Tohru makes sure Momiji is with her as much as possible to try and give her some support. But her meeting with Hatori isn’t quite what she expected.
Hatori’s talk of the Sohma family provides some interesting facts, such as the large extent of the clan and how much land they really have. It’s also made known that not all members of the family know of the transformation abilities, as the family is much larger than expected. With Tohru now in his office, he begins to explain some of his past and why she should leave. His past and past love is a very tragic piece, and one that likely has large ramifications on the future episodes of this series. The way the story plays out brings out such emotions in the characters that it surprised me. For the duration of nearly the entire episode, I simply sat enthralled by it.
The New Years Holiday plays out in a later episode, where Akito demands family loyalty and has everyone show up for the festival, but only family. Tohru seems unaffected by it and wishes them a good time when it comes time for that, but she’s actually hiding more of herself from them than they realize, as this is yet another first for her, a first time without her mother to spend a precious holiday with. The strength of the family unit that’s growing in Shigure’s household becomes the highlight here with Kyo and Yuki.
There’s so much going on in these episodes, from the Valentine’s day event where everyone is giving chocolate to the one where most of Tohru’s friends come over for spring cleaning and everyone’s working hard while Shigure is avoiding his agent who’s demanding more pages for his books. The episodes play lightly for the most part but there’s that somber tinged edge to all of it, keeping in tune with the time of year and the moods of the characters.
While the cast grows rather big here, the main focus on the primary characters continues to be strong. The secondary characters are used very well in providing support and encouragement for them as well as being blunt in providing an outside view to them of what they see, as opposed to just keeping it to themselves. This show, even while just listening to it while writing here, continues to be a treasure. The dialogue is so evocative of emotions that sometimes it’s easy to forget what it is your watching and to just get wrapped up in all of it.
Fruits Basket manages to avoid a lot of the familiar pitfalls that you find after the halfway mark in the “teen” episodes by still heavily concentrating on the core cast of characters and using the new cast to build upon the larger image and story of the Sohma family itself, which is something that’s very pervasive in the core story of the love triangle between Tohru, Yuki and Kyo. They very carefully weave all the elements here together to provide a very enjoyable overall tale, even when certain elements would normally frustrate my sensibilities.
This area brings us things like the new school year getting underway and the new dilemma the main trio faces in now having Momiji and Haru in the school. What makes things even more difficult is that Momiji, who we’ve definitely classified as a boy in past episodes, continues to wear girls clothes, including a girls school uniform. And, of course, all the girls in the school love him for it. Between that and the current class president trying to win Yuki over, things mostly focus on the getting back together at school concept.
One of the best new character introductions comes not long after this when a snake suddenly finds itself up Tohru’s skirt and blouse, though she quickly realizes that it’s one of the Sohma clan and puts on her usual happy to help face. Once the snake turns back to human, we get a mid twenties silver haired gentleman by the name of Ayame Sohma. His claim to fame in the zodiac family? He’s actually Yuki’s much older brother, and the two are obviously not on the best of terms, which is almost expected with that kind of huge age gap. But Ayame has a goal in mind with his return to Yuki’s life, and that’s to become more involved with him.
What’s really amusing is that Ayame, Shigeru and Hatori are all a real little clique of their own, with Ayame and Shigeru being complete goofs with each other, but Ayame will become dead serious and answer anything that Hatori asks of him. The dynamic of the group is one of those you rarely see in anime, since the close-friends from high school theme never gets explored ‘ten years later’. This brings a new twist to the character being added and helps bring out new aspects of those two characters and their own issues. So Ayame becomes more than a one-trick pony.
One of the best characters of the show, and almost topping the main trio for me, is Hana. Her look, her speech style, the entire vibes gig of hers? It’s all just so masterfully played out. The way she simply tilts her head slightly and then her eyes swivel to look at you just sends the right creep factor. Hana gets some seriously good screen time in this volume and her relationship with Tohru as well as her own needs with Tohru get very nicely explored. With one aspect of this volume being that it’s been a year since Tohru’s mother died, Hana manages to put in some truly excellent subtle moments of dialogue that really enhances the character. Never mind that we get to meet her equally interesting younger brother.
One of the better episodes toward the end run of the series deals with when Ayame is brought back into the picture and we have him and Yuki really connecting a bit more this time around. With Ayame bragging about how well his store is doing, Yuki tries to call him on it and says that he’ll come for a visit, expecting Ayame to refuse and turn him away. So he’s a bit surprised when he accepts and the date is made for the next Sunday. Bringing Tohru with him, he’s quickly greeted by a crafty-fabric store and the surprising image of Ayame running out at him in a wedding dress.
As it turns out, the store is for custom clothing designs with the bulk of them specializing in the current trend of maids and other similar outfits. Yuki gets a bit bothered by all of this and wonders who would like such a thing, but Tohru is just in love and is in awe of all the outfits. In dealing with Ayame’s assistant, she tries out one of his specially made outfits, a truly frilly piece that makes Tohru look extremely girly, but sets poor Yuki into a daze. This episode works out really well in establishing some new inroads between the relationship of Yuki and Ayame, something that plays out nicely.
Another episode that works well in fleshing out the secondary cast is the one focusing on the Prince Yuki club as lead by Minagawa. We get to sit in on more of their meetings and all their fun if insane rules. There’s a lot of members that get a few seconds of screen time for this episode, but the bulk of it really deals with Minagawa and her first meeting of Yuki and subsequent reasons for starting the entire concept. Minagawa comes across great here with her mix of overly polite language as well as the way she mixes her innermost thoughts with actually speaking them out loud, causing her to get into some amusing situations. Her self-delusion also reaches some interesting levels.
The final three episodes here is where the really great stuff is, though it may feel a touch dragged out. The real piece that plays out here is that Akito is finally making his move on Tohru and dealing with the joy and happiness that she’s brought to that particular Sohma house. His plan isn’t exactly all that subtle once it gets unleashed, but as we get to know Akito more and more, he’s not quite as maniacally evil as some of his earlier appearances would indicate.
The series ends on a solid note, with the cast having reached a nice point and a resolution of sorts come to regarding it. There’s no resolution in terms of the cast and where they’re going, but all of the primary characters have definitely changed greatly from when we first got to know them. When a series starts off with two men living alone in a house and ends with all kinds of visitors on a regular basis and a young woman living with them and taking care of them, none of them are going to be the same. The character growth for those who have interacted with Tohru is the real story here, and it’s played out beautifully.
Fruits Basket is a show that like a lot of this particular genre often manages to stand the test of time. A lot of that comes down to the more dreamlike aspects of the animation style at times, a softer approach and different color palette that doesn’t feel dated the further away it gets. With the series hitting its sweet sixteen here it still holds up very well, especially under this upscale, as it’s a cleaner and more solid presentation and it gives it to us with a more compact presentation making for easier marathoning. The charm of this show is still fully there with the characters and their situations and part of me still hopes for some kind of crazy revival to get the rest of it animated and bring it all to a proper and full conclusion. Until then, however, this is the definitive edition with some great art cards to keep out all the time and enjoy.
Japanese Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Language, English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Language, English Subtitles, Episode 24 Video Commentary, Trailers, Textless Opening & Closing Songs, Fruits Basket Room No. 1, Fruits Basket Room No. 2, Fruits Basket Room No. 3, Behind the Scenes Featurette, Akitaroh Daichi Interview, Eyecatch Gallery No. 1, Eyecatch Gallery No. 2, English Cast Interview, Illustration Gallery, Outtakes, Outtakes, English Closing Theme and Auditions
Released By: Funimation
Release Date: August 1st, 2017
Running Time: 600 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Sony KDL70R550A 70″ LED 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.