By virtually all accounts, the new Fruits Basket is thus far a worthy adaptation of the original manga, and apparently a step above the first anime from 2001 to boot. Despite all of the ways in which the new series may elevate itself above the original, however, there is at least one aspect that it doesn’t top, and maybe never will, even in the long run.
It comes down, more or less, to this: One does not simply replace Ritsuko Okazaki.
As the singer on basically every vocal theme for the original anime, her music left an indelible mark on the show, and on the entire franchise by extension. So much so, that even someone like me, who hadn’t read the series nor seen the 2001 series and knew only the Fruits Basket name, still knew its opening song. Well, to be more specific, I actually first heard the DJ SHARPNEL mix of it—the connection with Fruits Basket was made later—but that is itself a marvel. To have a song come along that is so quietly serene, so beautiful, that it could encourage even a typically brash J-core duo to mellow out!
Thus, for example, while the opening title sequence for the original show may indeed be better than the new anime’s OP in ways that go beyond the music, e.g. the shots it uses and the overall dreamy art direction, I am pretty sure that it’s still “For Fruits Basket” that does most of the heavy lifting. Just take a look at this fan edit (h/t my fiancée) rearranging the shots from the new opening to the tune of the first opening; the song change alone makes a big difference.
It’s not even that the new theme song is not good, or in some way ill-fitting for the show! The 2019 anime’s opening and ending themes do, in fact, cultivate a solid understated mood that fits the proceedings. In this regard, it’s to both songs’ benefit that they are both practically J-drama songs.
“Solid,” however, just isn’t enough to top perfection. Ritsuko Okazaki’s soft, almost whispered voice and the subdued lush instrumentation on “For Fruits Basket”—and the ending theme “Chiisana Inori”, and the special one-time ending theme “Serenade”—sound directly lifted from a most inviting and wistful halcyon dream. A straightforward J-drama theme can’t compete with that so easily.
Thus, even while watching and and greatly enjoying the new Fruits Basket anime, chances are I will be thinking of some of the franchise’s most iconic songs from time to time.