Fruits Basket: The Final Review

To my younger self, I hope this was enough to satisfy your desire to see this story over again. I know I’m a little late on committing time to this, but it’s better late than never, right? So, I hope you’re fulfilled now. And rest assured, now, you’re in a better place.

Story:

A story of hellos and goodbyes, a tale of bonds and the suffocation that they can create, and a whimsy of the vulnerability of human beings and the fragility that can come from being alone. As the stories of the zodiac members and their God comes to an end, so too does the story of a lonely high school girl who’s lost so much, but keeps smiling in spite of that. For one last final banquet, what lies next for these weary and journeyed souls?

The Final, acting as the third and closing arc to the story of Fruits Basket is the one where the stories come to an end. Every episode from beginning to end is a rollercoaster climax that had been building up from the moment Tohru stepped foot in the house where the dog, cat, and rat lived. All of the major character threads built up to that point reach their apex, essentially creating wave after wave of emotional turmoil that’s barely held together by the psyche of these individuals as their trauma and pain rushes back to them as a final hurdle to overcome before they can be free. And a lot of this can be attributed to Akito, who gets the lion’s share of the time this time around as her story becomes a focal point in order to explain the vitriolic cycle of mental and physical abuse that she had enacted on all of the zodiac members ‘under’ her as she is their ‘God’.

And here is where I think the beauty of a story like Fruits Basket shines its true colors. The struggle of human nature is a fickle and complicated thing. Hurting people and being hurt whether intentionally or unintentionally are just parts of our existence, and it’s not just the big events that bring us down. But rather, the smaller, more inconspicuous things that slowly chip away at us, eating away our very being until we’re just a hollow shell of our former selves struggling to return to a sense of normalcy as we reach out desperately crying for someone to hear our pleas. And while the things we’ve done can’t be forgiven or forgotten, we can try and atone from our mistakes and improve from them. Every character, every facet of this story screams out loud this paramount list of human qualities in such a way that feels beautiful and impactful. And The Final makes full use of its predecessors’ build up in order to deliver on a heartfelt yet bittersweet set of endings that create a sense of hope rather than a sense of happiness or idealistic happily ever afters.

Now, I will share one gripe with this show, and that’s the pacing. Truth be told, I feel like the showrunners kind of just wanted to finish this in a cour and not like…a cour and a half that it probably needed. Because the show really does just shove in ending after ending to make sure that everyone both got their time in the limelight and so that all of the major (and minor) character arcs got their due processes. Which is something I respect if only because nobody gets left behind, but I think kind of ruins part of the slow, emotional burn that the series has had up until this point because the first two seasons were wonderfully paced, and I’m a bit sad that the most crucial part of the story didn’t fully live up to what I had expected from it.

That and the show just kind of ‘ends’. True, it didn’t need to be a grand ending, and I didn’t expect it to be that way. But I feel like there could’ve been something a little more done in order to give a bit more of a spectacle to it. Especially since this was a solid fifty or so episodes of a nonstop sequence of comedic slice of life and emotional turmoil that kind of just quietly fades. I don’t mind the idea of the ending, but I wish the execution was a little more fulfilling.

All of that being said, I would be lying if I said that this story anything less than a gripping tale of what it means to be ‘human’. There’s a beauty to shows that radiate a sense of hope and light at the end of the tunnel. Most shows I find with this kind of trauma to enlightenment formula typically do it with very little delicacy on the topic and call the issue as a resolved problem instead of something that continues to weigh on an individual long after any resolution to it has come. Truthfully, seeing Fruits Basket refuse to create concrete ‘endings’ and instead provide the opportunity for a new journey or new beginnings is something I wish more shows did. Because life is never set in stone, and sometimes we do need to start over in order to see where we’re headed next.

Characters:

My previous gripes with Honda Tohru have lied in the fact that despite being such a major focal point in the series, she has never had time devoted to herself to explain more about her story and the situations that brought her to this point. The airheaded, doe-eyed protagonist finally gets her arc, and…honestly I think I’m still a little bit underwhelmed. I haven’t read the manga, so I can’t really attest to whether or not there’re any missing details or not, but despite having a significant amount of additional details being revealed about her past, it still feels like Tohru being basically the answer to everyone’s problems is a bit ham-fisted. That being said, I really do like her changes. The story has always portrayed her as this sort of rock that you can just kick down a road, and just seeing more of her personal vulnerabilities and desires is something that honestly felt more rewarding than some of the other major zodiacs that’ve been featured in this show. It’s honestly kind of a unique change that I don’t see a lot of characters in fiction have; turning someone selfless into someone selfish, and I actually really like that aspect of her character. Cause I think it really grounds her as more of a person who typically doesn’t wear her heart on her sleeve yet fully understands and truly sympathizes with the kinds of pain and suffering those in zodiac have endured in their lives, and desires change for herself as a result.

Akito by contrast is an individual who does wear their heart on their sleeve, and does so with some rather perplexing character traits that both make sense, but does make it hard to sympathize with her plight sometimes. I think Natsuki Takaya’s intention with her character was less to be forgiven, but more to show that even abusers can be victims themselves, and that while she isn’t blameless, she deserves some form of happiness as well. I can definitely see how Akito is a troublesome character to feel empathy for, but personally, I think that’s part of why Akito serves as a great antithesis to the always loved Tohru. She shows a drastically different version of loneliness, one where even a drastically different life circumstance surrounded by people can still lead to someone feeling isolated. That being said, her story still feels a bit wonky at times. I suspect this is because they kind of rushed through her story and maybe shaved some parts of it in order to save time. If this is the case, that’s honestly a shame because Akito’s existence in the story is intrinsically interesting due to her role as being the God that holds all of the zodiac members’ chains. And a part of me kind of expected a little more because of that. Just like maybe an episode or two more to stew over some important details, especially in regards to her relationship with Shigure. Cause that was all kinds of messy there and I don’t think I quite understand everything that happened there.

And as previously mentioned, all stories come to an end. From the rivalry between the Cat and Mouse, to a sense of belonging for the Horse, as well as the Rabbit’s freedom, the tales of the zodiac members all reach their conclusion as the next story in their lives comes their way. Personally, I feel like some of the members got kind of shafted with their stories or…overall involvement (Looking at you, Ritsu), but for the most part, I’m satisfied with what was presented here. There’s genuine growth in these stories, notable change that feels tangible and ebbs and flows in the lives of these characters in a way that made me feel fulfilled seeing them come to fruition, and sad because I know there’s not really that much more after this.

Aesthetics:

I think because Akito gets so much time to her story, TMS just decided it would be best to do a lot of darker imagery since her story is kind of the starting point that branches off into the myriad of trauma stories that we end up getting with the thirteen zodiac members. Truthfully, the show doesn’t really change much from its previous seasons, which I think is fine if only for consistency’s sake. But I’d be remised not to mention the sheer amount of beautiful and sparkly cuts that happen in some of the key scenes that happen in this show. It really sells the emotional point that comes out of these turning points, and the typical shoujo freeze frame being a rather poignant staple in these scenes is something of a classic that I personally enjoyed. Which is something I cut the show a break on because this story is more than 20 years old by this point.

Hilariously I still find it funny how the show uses some rather minimalist comedy scenes where all detail is effectively stripped from the scene. A point that becomes even funnier because somehow, someway, the fucking madlads managed to throw in more comedy scenes here than they did in all of Season 2. It’s genuinely a miracle they didn’t break the goddamn tension of the scene, and if only for that, the aesthetics get high marks because that kind of timing can be hard to get right.

Personally, Warp Up’s “Pleasure” is a song that doesn’t really fit that much with the tone of this season. I think if you gave this for like…the beginning of season one or even season two, it would be more fitting. It’s a very boy band-esque song that has some emotional beats, but not the kind that I think really fits with what the tone of The Final is trying to deliver on. In contrast, the Genic’s “Haru Urara” is a song that perfectly encompasses the kind of tearful goodbye that I the show is going for here. It’s softer, more yearning, and is accompanied by a lot of shots (drawn in a very similar style to the original manga) that give a little heads up as to where everyone is going as bond become broken and everyone continues on their separate path. I think I like this one more than the OP because the episode pretty much always perfectly leads up to it, so it becomes a lot more memorable because of this. The rap is a little weird though.

The last point I want to give is towards the OST, and what a fucking masterpiece this OST is. The entire thing is effectively just a bunch of mellow, soft, and emotional tracks, usually only using a small handful of instruments in order to echo the mood that’s been set in the scene and enhance the words that’re being said. And in The Final, it’s a major force as to why I think the storytelling works so well in a visual medium. It gives that extra emotional push the show needed to deliver on its impact which I think partly explains why I couldn’t keep it together while watching this thing.

Final Thoughts:

With my 18 year old promise now fulfilled with my younger self, I find myself at a loss for words at the kind of story that Fruits Basket delivered for me. So many years that I had waited and put off learning the whole story on this classic shoujo tale, a desire that was only held together by a few fragmental scenes from the 2001 adaptation that I held onto in my memory from when I was a kid, vowing to myself at the time that I would one day get the whole story of this now classic series.

I can’t really tell you how truly happy I am having had finished this story, one where here in the final season, I couldn’t hold myself together while watching the thing as many parts of it were like reflections that at times were just too difficult to ignore. Every episode managed to bring something new to the table, something else that I couldn’t just look over and ignore because the build up of these characters’ stories had reached their end, and it was…something special, being able to know how all of this ends. Fruits Basket holds a special place in my heart for a number of reasons, and I don’t think it’s too far from the truth to say that this story is one of my favorites of the medium. Which I guess is reason enough to explain its continued popularity on account of the fact that it got remade in the first place, but I digress.

There’re so many other things I could gush about, so many other little details and things that I could talk about to say how great and special this series is, but I think I’ve rambled about that for enough paragraphs. In the future, I’m sure there’ll be other stories that hit the same kinds of notes that Fruits Basket has; many have after this series’ heyday. But nothing will ever replace this series. And as I sit here typing out the last few words before saying goodbye to this series once more, I know that no matter how many other shows I’ll probably see and talk about in the future, I’ll be always be keeping this one close to my heart.

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