Why I Watched…’Fruits Basket’

As I continue to experiment with features for what is, really, still a relatively new blog, I’m looking for ways to write about stuff that I’ve watched and read during my fandom journey, whether it’s old classics I refer to a lot, or more obscure stuff that no one else seems to have heard of. Whether this will turn into a weekly or a monthly thing remains to be seen, but for now, here’s a brief outlook on my time as a fan of ‘Fruits Basket’.

Summer of 2000, I was home early after finishing my first year of university – I’d come down with a nasty chest infection that almost led to me being hospitalised, and my parents didn’t want me recuperating alone and 400 miles away from home. So I was back at my folks’ place, in the middle of nowhere, with no way of going anywhere and no money to do anything.

I watched a lot of television, and I spent a lot of time on the Internet. They’d upgraded their home PC to a Windows desktop with dial-up Internet access, and it sat in the dining room on a purpose-built desk. Any time I wanted to go online, I had to run an extension cable from the PC to the telephone socket on the other side of the room. No one could use the telephone, and since the rest of my family were far more social than I was and made and received multiple calls during a typical evening, it limited my Internet time. That summer, I effectively became almost nocturnal, working an afternoon job to save up cash then, when I got home, waiting until everyone else had gone to bed so I could have the computer and telephone line to myself until the early hours of the morning.

I’d discovered forums, message boards dedicated to discussing the TV shows I watched when I wasn’t working my summer job. The one I spent most time on was for a Canadian teen comedy show called ‘Big Wolf On Campus’, a fun low-budget show that referenced every supernatural and sci-fi film you could name. The website was run by a guy a little older than me, which made me feel a little reassured about not being the oldest one at the kids’ table, so to speak.

As a fanfiction writer, I quickly became a bit of a BNF in our little fandom, and made a few friends that I started talking with outside of the forum. One of them in particular was a guy close to my age (I was 20, he was 19), and we developed a real connection. It was only my second experience of liking a boy who actually liked me back; I’d stay up for hours chatting with him online through MSN Messenger, and at some point I bought a microphone headset specifically so we could voice-chat. We talked a lot about cultural differences (I’m British, he lived in the US) and I remember we exchanged a couple of gifts through the post.

At some point, he’d joined a non-fandom message board with a bunch of people I didn’t particularly like, and through them he started watching a couple of anime series. I saw the character pictures they posted and it didn’t look like my kind of thing (at that time, my experiences of anime were largely stuff like ‘Ghost In The Shell’ and ‘Akira’ – ‘Sailor Moon’ had been a bit of a guilty pleasure but I didn’t call myself a fan). They talked a lot about a show called ‘Fruits Basket’, which didn’t appeal to me at all – at 20, I had been battling depression for about seven years and was still dumb enough to think that I could only enjoy dark, edgy things.

Then my Internet guy linked me to a ‘Which ‘Fruits Basket’ character are you?’ quiz, which I took just to humour him. I got Tohru. I told him I had no idea if that was a good thing or not.

“It’s great, you remind me a lot of her,” he told me. I didn’t believe him, judging by the character description that came with the quiz. “No, she’s really kind and sweet, like you.” I didn’t think of myself as kind or sweet, but decided to accept the compliment.

Then I saw a copy of the manga’s first volume in my local comic shop. On a whim, I bought it. My first manga. After the novelty of reading right-to-left, I figured the story was vaguely interesting. Usually I would have turned my nose up at anything even remotely ‘girly’. But my Internet guy liked it, so I figured it couldn’t be that bad. At his recommendation, I paid a lot of money for an imported copy of the DVD box-set – I had to hack my parents’ DVD player to make it play the region 1 discs, and I’m forever thankful that they are technophobic enough that they never figured out half the stuff I did with their home entertainment tech.

The subs vs. dubs debate was a huge deal back then, I recall. You had to watch subs or you weren’t a real anime fan. Only problem was, the subtitles on that box-set were illegible. The story was that they’d been translated from Japanese to Chinese, and then to English, without being proofed by a native English speaker. All the character names had been changed, and it was near-impossible to follow the dialogue. I told my Internet guy this, but he assured me that the dub wasn’t terrible.

Generations are missing out on the fun of “there are no cat!”

I binge-watched the whole thing over a weekend. I don’t know what I was expecting, but it wasn’t to have my heart ripped out by a bunch of cartoon animals.

I cried when Momiji shared his backstory. I cried when I learned how Uo had been saved by Kyoko. And when Kyo’s beads came off, I didn’t stop crying until the credits of the final episode.

It was also my first introduction to Funimation dubs, and I would later go on to track down other shows based entirely on the casting of Funimation voice actors, particularly John Burgmeier and Jerry Jewell. Through them, I discovered a host of other amazing shows, and firmly established myself as an Anime Fan.

It didn’t last much longer with the Internet guy. After a few months, he suddenly stopped talking to me. I heard, through the grapevine, that he’d met someone on the other forum who actually lived in his state. (It wasn’t the first time a boy had shown interest before moving on to someone else, and it wasn’t the last.)

But I still own that ‘Fruits Basket’ DVD boxset. I watched it twice more by myself over the next six years, and every time, I would cry at exactly the same episodes. I took a chance on other shoujo series, and found that for some reason I could enjoy romance stories if they came in anime format. I still can’t explain why, even now, but stories that would bore me to tears in western media somehow take on a different tone in anime, for me at least.

A few years later, I met and moved in with my first girlfriend. I took my DVD collection to our shared flat, and they insisted on watching everything. When it came to ‘Fruits Basket’, they wanted the sub. I explained about the sub. They insisted on watching the sub.

We gave up after the first episode (although “There are no cat!” was a running joke we shared for several years). We watched the dub, and I cried all over again at exactly the same places.

That relationship ended after four years (they moved on to someone else). I still have that ‘Fruits Basket’ DVD boxset.

I’ve loaned my FB manga collection out to a couple of friends, who’ve raved over the story, and we’ve talked about how wonderfully deep it is, so at odds with the fluffy cover images on the books. Those friends have since married or moved away and have moved on to ‘grown up’ pastimes and didn’t stay in touch, but I still have the manga collection.

A couple of years ago, I started watching the anime with a friend. She had seen it before, and I don’t know exactly why we decided to watch it together. I still cried at Momiji’s backstory. We both did.

We didn’t get to watch much further than that – she moved away suddenly (although we’re still friends, thankfully). I can’t bring myself to watch the rest of it alone.

I have so many memories associated with ‘Fruits Basket’, and that’s why watching the new adaptation filled me with such trepidation. Not only was I revisiting the story, but I was revisiting the relationships which I associated with it.

I cry a lot more over the reboot. Having more relationship experience under my belt compared to nineteen years ago, the show’s messages about love, connections and found family hold a lot more weight for me now. And I understand why I got Tohru in that character quiz. I still don’t think I’m sweet or kind, but I know I can be self-sacrificing to a fault, and I know how many times I’ve felt disconnected or struggled to feel loved or appreciated. I cry for Yuki when he can’t let others near him for fear of being seen as freakish, and I cry for Kyo when he feels he’s running out of time, and I cry for Tohru who has lost so much and just wants a place to feel welcomed.  

‘Fruits Basket’ is a story I’ve shared with a boyfriend, a girlfriend, with friends in real life and strangers on the Internet. It’s a show I dismissed at first because I thought it wasn’t edgy enough, but which I’ve since learned goes to some incredibly dark places and still manages to find the light at the end of it all. It still makes me cry, and it still gives me an incredible sense of hope that maybe I can find a connection like the characters in the story do through Tohru. There are moments when just a note from the background music can give me goosebumps, or when just describing the scene to someone else has me fighting back tears.

It’s a powerful story, and yes it’s a romance and yes it has magical talking animals and an air-headed girl as the lead character, but I will fight anyone who says it’s not one of the most amazing and powerful stories ever told.

And that’s why I watch ‘Fruits Basket’.


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