After finishing an episode of the anime we were currently watching together, my wife turned to me and said, “You know, my favorite anime so far was the first one we watched.”
“Was it Fruits Basket?” I asked her.
“Yeah,” she replied. “That one was my favorite.”
Seeing as Fruits Basket is the show that acted as the genesis of our ‘Watched With My Wife’ series of articles, I felt it would be fitting to write an article about the show.
Fruits Basket is a shojo anime that follows the story of Tohru, an orphaned high school girl who ends up taking up residence with the Sohma family. She then learns of the Sohma family curse which afflicts her classmate (and housemate) Yuki and his cousin Kyou: When Yuki and Kyou are hugged by a member of the opposite sex they turn into an animal from the Chinese zodiac. Thus begins Tohru’s adventures with the Sohma family as she meets additional cursed family members and is drawn ever deeper into their affairs.
This is not a formal review, but rather a more intimate look at what the two of us found enjoyable or otherwise, collaboratively written from both our viewpoints. Neither of us had watched this anime prior to us watching it together.
For Us: Our First Shared Anime Experience
It’s hard for the two of us to pin down exactly what appealed to us so much about watching Fruits Basket together. The particulars of the show were less important than that of the shared experience. I was glad to have my wife watching an anime with me. She would have questions about the conventions within the genre (snot bubbles, anger lines, etc.) and we would pause the show to discuss them. For me, it was like experiencing anime fresh for the first time. I had to dissect exactly what we were seeing and think back to a time when I wasn’t so familiar with the genre. For her, it was truly her first anime experience… which has since blossomed into watching a whole host of shows.
Instead of breaking down why this particular show worked so well for us, I think we’ll offer advice on what had made Fruits Basket work so well for the two of us with some generalized tips:
- Lower the barrier to entry: Try not to pick a high-concept or exceptionally weird anime. Fruits Basket has a simple concept, “A girl lives with a family of people who turn into animals when hugged by the opposite sex.” I can explain the show in a sentence, and there aren’t any huge leaps of faith in the setup. Additionally, Fruits Basket has a dub. I would recommend picking a show with a dub if your significant other doesn’t like reading subtitles.
- Know their tastes, and try to match them: My wife likes romance shows and cute animals. Fruits Basket has both. It’s probably best to pre-screen a few episodes of the show if you are unfamiliar with it in order to make sure the show is what it claims to be (as I had for Fruits Basket). I’ve run into a number of instances where the show I watch differs radically from what I thought it’d be based off the description… which has risen up to bite me a couple times as I’ve stopped pre-screening shows to watch with my wife.
- Be ready to explain: Anime has a lot of tropes and visual conventions that will be foreign to someone unversed in the genre. If your significant other has questions, take the time to stop and discuss them. Additionally, you could benefit from explaining what the two of you are going to watch before starting. You can discuss why you like anime, why you think they will enjoy this particular show, and possibly address some of the stranger things they’ll see before beginning.
- Don’t force it! I can’t stress this enough: Watching anime together should be fun and enjoyable for both of you. Don’t push anime on your significant other if they are unwilling to try it out or are not in the mood for it at the moment. I asked whether or not my wife would like to watch Fruits Basket before we tried the show. My wife and I would watch an episode or two of Fruits Basket and then return to American television. We still switch between anime and American programming when watching television together to ensure we are both getting what we want out of our shared leisure time.
For Him: Reliable Character Archetypes
Tohru, the female lead, is hard working and innocent (naively so). Yuki, her first love interest, is level-headed and rational. Kyou, her second love interest, is hot-headed and emotional. Yuki and Kyou are constantly at each other’s throats. You now know the entire inter-relationship structure of Fruits Basket. Don’t expect the core characters to change: Fruits Basket uses the additional side characters to layer on depth and character development.
In this way, Fruits Basket is a shojo ‘slice-of-life’ comedy… and it feels very akin to the 90’s era American sitcom. You can come into each episode without necessarily needing to know what happened in the previous episode, and you’ll leave each episode with the series returned to the status quo. I liked that the show knew what it was and delivered on that account. Each episode is neat and tidy and great for light viewing. While sometimes you want a show to surprise or dazzle you, it was nice to have a reliable show that delivers exactly what you’d expect every time you put it on.
For Her: A Happy World
This was the first anime that I watched with my husband, so I was definitely hesitant. When he asked me to watch Fruits Basket, I had visions of Pokemon and Sailor Moon come into my head. I never understood the draw of Pokemon and thought Sailor Moon’s female characters were frightening with their giant eyes. I also remember some girls back in junior high who would dress like the scantily clad Sailor Moon girls and thought to myself, “My mom would never let me leave the house like that.”
My husband assured me that Fruits Basket would open my eyes to anime, and that there were key elements that he knew I would love (because he spent hours researching to find the perfect anime to suit me… which is completely adorable). I was skeptical at first... but as we dove into the first episode, I found myself being immersed in the happy world of Tohru.
I love a strong female character, and Tohru is as tough as it gets. She loses her mother early in her life. Instead of asking for help, she decides to live in a tent in the woods while going to school. Listen... I won’t even camp in my backyard for a night. For roughing it outside on her own, Tohru became my hero very quickly. Not only is she a wilderness goddess (figuratively, of course… She is human), but she also has the most positive outlook on life. Tohru sees the sunny side of everything, and I actually found myself in my everyday life thinking, “If this happened to Tohru, how would she react?” or “I’m sure Tohru wouldn’t cuss out the copier for ‘eating’ an important document.” I think everyone should embrace their inner Tohru and look at the world through rose colored glasses.
In addition to being in complete admiration of this young girl, I fell in love with her male counterparts and their abilities to transform into animals. Yuki and Kyou are love interests for our leading lady, and they each have their own distinctive quirks that make them endearing. They are just young guys trying to navigate their world while balancing their growing affection towards Tohru and keeping their family secret… well… secret. Their intentions are always good, and I think it is difficult to find characters in today’s television shows who are always trying to do the right thing. I grew to adore their blundered attempts to impress Tohru and celebrated when it looked like their relationships with her were improving. To top it off, they all turn into different animals... and of course are cute as can be.
Fruits Basket was so much fun to watch with my husband. Sure, it took me a while to catch on to what the lines on the faces of the characters meant when they got angry or sad... and all of the other visual subtleties that enrich anime. But, that’s why watching with my husband is so great. He finds interesting animes and is always willing to answer my laundry list of questions, so that I get the ‘full experience’.
For Us: No Resolution
While the laconic pacing of this ‘slice of life’ anime feels relaxing in its almost sitcom-like delivery of predictability and familiarity episode to episode… there is a sudden ramp up in stakes and tension in the final three episodes. The series had established a number of overarching plot threads that looked like they would come together in a meaningful way. However, the end result feels rushed and there is no time left in the series to expand upon the implications of the resolution. Given the amount of time the rest of the series spends portraying the day to day life of Tohru and the Sohma family, the writers could have easily cut some of that material to give the climax some breathing room. As it stands, both of us were disappointed in the absolute lack of a resolution to the anime series as it stands (I’ve been told that the manga continues from where the anime stops and brings the series to a true resolution).
For Him: The Dub
Since this was the first anime I watched with my wife, I purposely picked a show that had a dub. While I am accustomed to reading subtitles, in no way does my wife enjoy reading them. To this day it’s still a bit of a sticking point… so consider picking a show with a dub if introducing anime to your significant other. If they like that show, you can work towards shows that only have subtitles later on.
That being said, I really didn’t like the performance by the voice actress on the dub for the main female character, Tohru. It didn’t sound natural in any respect, and seemed as if the voice actress was trying to make her voice sound more ‘cartoony’ to match the tone of the anime. Perhaps the tone and delivery would sound less forced to my ears in Japanese (a language I don’t speak), but in English it sounded weird and took me out of the moment on a number of occasions. Thankfully, the rest of the cast doesn’t have the same cartoonish effect.
For Her: Nothing!
Maybe because this was my ‘first anime’, I just couldn’t find anything that I didn’t enjoy. You never forget your first. (((wink)))
Because this is not an official Ani-TAY review, we have eschewed the normal review card.
Fruits Basket really worked for my wife and me. It was the first anime that we had watched together, and it went well enough that we are still watching anime together. If you are looking for a classic shojo to watch with your significant other, we highly recommend Fruits Basket. It is an exceptionally safe pick as there is no fan service, decent comedy, and reliably compact story arcs. If you aren’t bothered by the lack of a central plot driving the narrative forwards, you’ll certainly enjoy this show.
Fruits Basket can be watched on Hulu streaming service. Fruits Basket is based on a manga series written and illustrated by Natsuki Takaya and serialized in the magazine Hana to Yume, published by Hakusensha. The series was adapted to anime by Studio Deen and is licensed for regional release in North America by Funimation Entertainment.