Fruits Basket Episode 26: The Evolution of Yuki

Fruits Basket Episode 26: The Evolution of Yuki

The first episode of the second season of Fruits Basket, the series about a teenage girl named Tohru Honda who befriends members of a mysterious family cursed to transform into animals, has been released to the world. I wish I could say I saw the new episode at one of Funimation’s “sneak peek” theatre showings in the United States decked out in Machi cosplay and Yuki merchandise, but they were all cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead we’ll be watching scenes from the original manga animated for the first time every week together.

As a longtime fan of the manga by Natsuki Takaya, the way “Hello Again” perfectly ushers in the second season’s new material (especially regarding Yuki Sohma) has me hyped. In honor of the second season, this will (hopefully) be my first in a series of posts recapping and analyzing each episode. I may as well write something regularly while I’m staying home. This time the spotlight is on dear rat boy, his future, and his new friends. Newcomers and fans of the 2001 anime series will soon find there’s much more to Yuki than the early episodes.

It’s not that I’m simply a fan of Fruits Basket, but that Fruits Basket led to my love of comics in general. At age eleven, a volume checked out from my middle school library was the first graphic novel I ever read. Before then, I had little access to or awareness of comics that weren’t newspaper strips or my own drawings. The paneling and art style were unlike any I had seen before, but Takaya’s asides pointing out parts drawn with her non-dominant hand and columns rambling about video games were familiar. They reminded me of the rambling notes attached to my own art and writing. Here was a professional artist telling her world famous masterpiece, complaining about a character’s luscious black hair being fun to draw but difficult to ink just like my friends and I might.

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The array of couples in Fruits Basket (some of which are still favorites of mine) introduced me to romance fiction, but I was drawn to much more than that. Fruits Basket is a story of abuse and trauma, symbolized as the curse on the Sohma family for select members to be possessed by spirits of the Chinese zodiac and transform into that animal when embraced by “the opposite sex” (the cisheteronormative premise is a topic for another day). I’ve been drawn to fiction about family drama, trauma, mental health, grief, found family, abuse, destiny (and rejection thereof), monsters, and recovery ever since reading it. The manga didn’t necessarily cause me to enjoy these themes, but it certainly familiarized me with them. These concepts come to fruition in the parts of the manga that were not adapted in the 2001 anime version, which makes me all the more excited for the second season.

But enough about me. This is supposed to be about the second season premiere, which is to say this is supposed to be about Yuki, the Sohma possessed by the rat of the Chinese zodiac. As Ayame explains in a chapter of the metatextual Three Musketeers Arc, “it is in the latter half that my dear little brother truly begins to shine.” While the first season follows Tohru crossing the threshold of the Sohma family and looks at Kyo’s place as the scapegoat within it, the second season turns to Yuki’s relationship to Tohru and the boy himself. Tohru (and the audience by extension) have learned about Kyo’s biological parents and adoptive father, but know little about Yuki’s immediate family besides his strained relationship with his doting older brother Ayame, for one thing.

ayame

“Hello Again” combines two chapters of the manga: 42, in which Motoko Minegawa and her Prince Yuki Fan Club investigate potential girls on the student council, and 49, in which Yuki meets two of his fellow officers. Natsuki Takaya meticulously planned the order of her manga, but this anime adaptation has not been afraid to reorder chapters to suit their vision and continues to do so. For people like me who remember the events of the Fruits Basket manga but not the exact order of occurrence, it works just fine. The reasoning behind this rearrangement and combination is intuitive: they’re both about Yuki and the student council. Together, they also create contrasts between how characters approach him and foreshadow the season’s emphasis on Yuki.

There’s a part of me that wants to point out every bit of foreshadowing and detail what they will lead to. Instead of spoiling the series for newcomers, I’ll try my best to incorporate the little things into my analysis without saying where exactly they’re going. I’ll leave the specifics for future episodes when they occur. Still, don’t think too hard about them if you want to avoid spoilers.

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We experience this episode partially from the point of view of Motoko, a relatively background character who has observed Yuki throughout his high school career and fallen in love with him. It’s not the first time an episode of Fruits Basket has looked outside Tohru’s life, but as a season opener it’s one of the most effective. Motoko has noticed a change in Yuki since befriending Tohru, as he smiles with ease and more often. In the manga timeline, Motoko internally takes note of this before he meets the student council, which attributes Tohru alone to his new behavior. By combining chapters 42 and 49, the anime suggests that meeting vice president Kakeru Manabe and treasurer Machi Kuragi has also impacted him, though Motoko is only aware of his friendship with Tohru. Either way, Motoko is correct: Tohru’s support has led to Yuki going outside his comfort zone and applying for student council.

Through joining the student council as president, Yuki has formed his own social circle, just as Kyo has his master Kazuma and Tohru has her friends Saki and Arisa. Machi and Kakeru are only the first in a cast of characters that will expand beyond the Sohmas. Even an off-putting character like Motoko gets another episode about her. The student council members are unrelated to not only the zodiac, but the entire Sohma family. Yuki has no supernatural obligation to these people as he does to family head Akito and the zodiac, but must still find a way to cooperate with them. Unfortunately for Yuki, these people can be just as wacky (and come with their own trauma and mental illness because this is Fruits Basket).

yukinatto

Up till now, Yuki has been calm and collected with his classmates, which Motoko sees as princely (he doesn’t seem to mind) and Kyo sees as “lame” (it cuts deep). The episode draws a contrast between Motoko, who idolizes Yuki and thus acts demure around him, and Kakeru and Machi. Instead of watching him from afar like Motoko, Kakeru wants to get to know Yuki and pushes his buttons to do so. Motoko keeps her shock that a prince like Yuki eats natto (an acquired taste of Japanese cuisine) to herself, while Kakeru tells Yuki to his face that being a Super Sentai red ranger wouldn’t suit him. He teases Yuki for his girly face, but also that he isn’t leadership material. For once, Yuki gets angry over someone who isn’t his brother or Kyo. Kakeru has already started bringing out new sides of Yuki, and he doesn’t come with baggage like the zodiac. Yuki isn’t reckless or stalwart like an outgoing red ranger, but he’ll have to grow into a leader for the sake of the student council.

On her part, Machi distances herself from Yuki, though not out of reverence like Motoko. Instead she’s blunt with him and has little interest in appearing proper. Left to her own devices, she scatters the school counselor’s files across a table and only cleans up her mess when Kakeru orders her to. Even then, her tidying leaves much to be desired and she departs early rather than stick around for Yuki. Unbeknownst to her, they have something in common: observant anime viewers will have noticed Yuki’s similarly messy bedroom (which even appears on the final page of manga chapter 49) that goes against his princely image. Kakeru steals every scene he’s in, especially with Takuya Eguchi’s delightful voice acting, but quiet little Machi is really just as strange as him. The anime takes them to another level by giving Kakeru a new visual gag where he’s dressed as a black ranger outlaw and Machi a clearer shot of her lacklust cleaning job than a single manga panel. Motoko worries about a girl on the student council getting close to Yuki, but Machi seems disinterested in everything, let alone her president.

furubastrange

Sorting out Yuki and Tohru’s relationship in the main love triangle is the more pressing issue for his love life. The beachside scenery of the opening credits reminds us this season begins at summertime, and Shigure points out that summer vacation is the perfect time for intimacy (though physically embracing is out of the question for zodiac members). For now, Yuki owes Tohru for opening him up emotionally and joining the student council. His world has expanded due to one person’s kindness, and he will continue to evolve from that. Yuki hints at feeling more than gratitude toward Tohru when he calls Motoko speaking formally cute, since Tohru always speaks keigo (respectful language) in the Japanese version. In Motoko’s words, “it’s too early to see how this love will pan out.”

As much as this episode revolves around Yuki (and as much as I love to gush about him), it leaves us with glimpses at more characters who will come to the forefront this season. The anime runs through short scenes of Hatsuharu walking in on Rin, Momiji playing violin alone, and Akito and Kureno with their backs together as Tohru monologues about how the student council will be a mix of rough and fun times for Yuki. Everyone, not just Yuki, has highs and lows ahead the more they push against their confines.

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