Monday, April 22, 2019

Contemplating the new Fruits Basket Anime - Episode 1 (Anime Review)

Fruits Basket
The 2019 version
I'm here to talk about episode 1 of the Fruits Basket reboot anime. Let's get my biases out of the way early. Natsuki Takaya is my favorite mangaka. Her series "Twinkle Stars" is my all time favorite manga. I love everything about her art, her writing, her stories, and her characters. Her seminal series, "Fruits Basket," is no exception to that and is one of the greatest shoujo manga series ever as well as a personal favorite.

Her lead heroine, Tohru, is a marvel of fierce determination and force of will in a deceptively-not-actually-naive young lady. She is the epitome of a shoujo heroine, seemingly innocent but with a strong and dark past, determined not to let that past control her future, and putting her heart and her life on the line for the sake of others. I love the original manga and I love the original anime.

So basically, it is impossible for me to be objective in reviewing the new Fruits Basket anime series. However, in an attempt to be of some use to you all, I want to discuss the first episode of both the new and original series as well as the first chapter of the manga. Rather than a review, it will be a sort of discussion of how they intersect and how my historical bond with the older material impacts my ability to connect with the new series.

I think just like some of you who started with Sailor Moon with the original manga or anime may have found it challenging to embrace Sailor Moon Crystal, I had trouble embracing the first episode of the new Fruits Basket anime. However, my introduction to Sailor Moon was through Crystal, so I didn't have any emotional baggage tied to the original incarnations. Therefore, YMMV on this new anime based on your familiarity with the manga and original anime. That being said, I would encourage old fans and new viewers to watch this new series because any Fruits Basket is good Fruits Basket. On to the "review."

For starters, both the two anime series and the manga are nearly identical in plot for the first episode. We meet Tohru Honda, who lost her father at a young age, and her mother just several months ago. She started living with her grandfather, but when her grandfather's house needed renovations, she moved into a tent in the woods while he went to live with another daughter. Leaving her tent one day on the way to school, Tohru sees a small traditional house with 12 painted zodiac figurines left out to dry. There she meets a classmate, Yuki Sohma, and his cousin Shigure.

On her way back late from work one night, Yuki and Shigure find Tohru living in the tent on their property. They take her to their house where she explains the situation. As that unfolds, a landslide covers her tent. As a result of having nowhere to live, Yuki and Shigure take her into their home. Without giving the spoiler parts away to new viewers, we get several hints that things with Yuki, Shigure, and another young Sohma (Kyo), are not what they seem.

It makes sense to me to discuss the manga and two anime series' first episodes in chronological order of publication, starting with the manga.

Takaya-sensei's art has evolved significantly over her career. Fruits Basket is a transitional series with early chapters representing the highest quality of her older style (See Phantom Dream and Tsubasa: Those With Wings) and later chapters representing the height of her mature later style which continued on to series like Twinkle Stars. Both styles are wonderful and her attention to facial expressions (and super huge eyes!) and detailed use of screen tones, shading, and lighting are exceptional. Even in the first chapter, again her older style, we see a strong stylistic vision which is different than most stock manga either of the time, or currently.

The first chapter is relatively fast paced and has a strong comedic element. For those familiar with the series, this comedic tone early on serves to contrast and exemplify the intense melancholy of the later parts of the series. The tonal shift is appropriate for both subject matter and our characters' emotional development and the rising stakes throughout the series. All three versions do the comedy justice, but I think it works best in print.

Also, this is our first introduction to Tohru, her incredible qualities were described above, but I also believe that while all three versions do her justice, I prefer the manga Tohru just a little bit more, with a strong second going to the original anime. One thing about her that is so profound early on, is her ridiculous earnestness. This serves as the perfect platform to juxtapose against her inner trauma and the complex external world she soon finds herself embroiled in with the Sohmas.

Turning to the original anime's first episode, the pacing is slower and softer than what we find in the new series. For instance, the scene where Tohru digs through the dirt from the landslide is handled just a bit slower and with more dialogue here than in the new anime, an important emotional choice by the director. However, with this slower pacing, we also get crisper comedy with better timing than in the new anime. Further, we get more narration from Tohru here than in the new anime, which serves to foster our connection to her directly.

Yuki is voiced by a female voice actress in the original series, but by a male actor in the new series. I prefer the higher female voice as it works on two levels: 1) he is still young at the beginning of the series and needs room for physical development to mirror his emotional growth and 2) with his princely, slightly androgynous look, the female voice feels more intimate and accurate to his psyche. Again, this could be my bias as this was the first voice I heard for him, but I do think it provides an aesthetic support that a deeper male voice, from the new anime, lacks. Further, he is drawn younger here than in the new anime (but consistent with the manga), which makes sense for the arc of the series, something that lacks with the new character designs.

Tohru's character design here is also more similar to the manga and shows a fragility (even though she actually isn't) that is also important to the emotional and character arc of the series. There is more room for her to grow from this depiction than the slightly more mature version in the new series. Takaya-sensei was very clear though that with the new series, she did not want them emulating her art style. That's too bad, but she has a history of being very hard on herself and her art. I for one, would love to see her style more closely copied in the new series, but that is not to be. Should there ever be a Twinkle Stars anime, I hope to god they make it look like her designs.

There are some subtle textual differences between the two anime series. In one scene, where Shigure and Yuki are talking about Tohru's past, I felt like the subtitles (I only watch subs) of the original show had more nuance than the new anime. On the other side, there are some dated aspects of the original anime, such as the inclusion of the Yuki fan club song/dance that isn't in the manga but is in the original show. It didn't age particularly well, but is far from a deal breaker either, but was thankfully not included in the reboot.

Focusing in more on the new anime, I have to ask myself if a reboot could ever meet my expectations? In general I'm not a fan of reboots, particularly if I've loved the original (see the reverse for Sailor Moon Crystal where I hadn't seen the originals first). The term of art for this is "anchoring." It's when the first thing we see or encounter forms the basis for how we evaluate everything else. If we liked the original one, it will be hard to like a reboot better.

For instance, I prefer the original Total Recall strongly to the reboot, same with Robocop. Don't even get me started on how Michael Bay ruined Transformers (Optimus does not have lips!) Even though I actually like the new Star Trek reboots, nothing will compare to the original series for me. Yet, I LOVE My Little Pony Friendship is Magic which is WAY better than the original series. But this is all normal, and means I can't faithfully, objectively review, the Fruits Basket reboot. So here are my thoughts, for what they're worth:

I really am not sold on Tohru's voice actor. She just isn't the Tohru I have in my head. What was interesting, is that going back and watching the original series episode 1 again, I didn't really like that voice actor either. Somehow, I have an internal Tohru voice that is different than both of them. Who knew? At least the energy in Tohru's character is presented well here, even if she doesn't come off quite as naive as she needs to be early on. Distressingly though, Tohru looks nearly unrecognizable here. Her forehead is all wrong, her eyes are too small, and she looks too old. It's all wrong. :(

Not only does Tohru's design in the reboot bother me, but Yuki is totally missing what makes him special. He's not depicted as youthful, or cute, or princely enough in the reboot. He isn't quite as androgynous as he needs to be, his face is too long and chiseled. He isn't supposed to be a hunk, he's supposed to be a transcendent, incomprehensible, ethereal being. The same goes with the use of a male voice actor with a deeper voice, it doesn't fit the Yuki of the manga at all. Not liking this choice at all in the new series. Compare a few graphics from the three versions below:

random page from Fruits Basket chapter 1
Pages from chapter 1 of the original Fruits Basket Manga - compare Tohru and Yuki to the reboot


Fruits Basket
Promotional still from the original Fruits Basket anime - closer to the original, see the youthfulness in Yuki and Kyo

Fruits Basket
Fruits Basket 2019 reboot, promotional still - look how much older Yuki and Kyo look, no innocence, no androgyny. And holy hell, what happened to Tohru. Thankfully she doesn't look quite this bad in the actual show, but it's still not right. Plus the eyes are all way too small for a Takaya-sensei work.


Kyoko, Tohru's mom, seems well presented. I'm okay with Shigure, whose laugh is nailed, but Kyo also looks too much like an adult, with a voice that is too low for his age. The look is okay, but not quite familiar, but not totally wrong. But coupled with the voice, it isn't my Kyo.

The end credits sequence shows some of the other Sohmas we will meet. From that, Momiji (maybe my favorite Sohma) looks right, Haru looks a little old, but Kyo sleeping in the tree is absolutely really really cute (even if his face isn't right)! Tohru's friends Arisa and Hanajima aren't in the episode quite enough for me to get a good bead on them, but they seem okay. Arisa is one of my favorites of the whole series, so I'm eager to see what they do with her. So there's hope.

Kyo Sohma
Kyo asleep in the tree - end credit sequence - so cute, but his face is too old here, sigh...

The pacing of the reboot version also felt faster, even though both anime series and the first manga chapter cover the exact same amount of material, scene for scene. There are just subtle directorial/editing choices that are different than the feel I want from the series. It might also work its kinks out as the series progresses, after all, this was only episode 1.

But what are my thoughts on episode 1 of the new series as a whole? Well, it's well done, there's no denying that. It's faithful to the manga (story, if not visually), and that's good. For people whose first introduction to Fruits Basket will be this series, they'll love it, so that's great too. For us who have the manga and original series to compare it too, it's different, but not necessarily wrong, and certainly not bad.

I'm definitely going to keep watching it, mostly to see how they complete the whole story as promised. The original manga is 136 chapters, which would be 5-6 seasons at this pace. I doubt they'll do that, so seeing how they might condense it into 2 or maybe 3 seasons will be interesting.

The original anime changed a few key elements to sort of wrap it up in 1 season, but only covered a few volumes of the manga and didn't get to the heart of the story (with a crucial change to a main character in the anime that wouldn't work if the series kept going). It makes sense to reboot the series in order to follow the manga closer which would be needed to extend the series to its true ending. However, I kind of wish they would just retcon parts of the first series and have done this new series as a sequel picking up where the original left off rather than going back to the beginning (maybe I'm just impatient), but I will be eager to see the whole story for once. It will be interesting to see how they do it.

So for a first episode of a reboot of a beloved manga and anime, it is well done, true to the source material (storywise), but for those who are die-hard fans of the originals, there might be some slight disconnect with the art style and the voice actors. Those are relatively small complaints and I urge both old and new viewers alike to watch this series. I'm not going to give it a numerical review, because it's just one episode and I can't be objective anyway. But do watch it!

🚺






3 comments:

  1. I pretty much completely agree. Up to Episode 7 now and I personally feel like it's too rushed, and that there's not enough emotional connection between the characters. It's just not like the original series. I also can't get past how old they look either, when they are supposed to be aged 14/15 at this point in time (I think). I'm glad I found someone else that also feels the same way I do... still overall it's not terrible, but I am a little disappointed.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm waiting until the whole thing is done to then binge watch the rest all at once. Sometimes I feel like I get the connections better when I binge rather than watch one episode a week. I'm hoping that will make a difference with this series, but I think there may just be too many things for an old-fan like me. But maybe it will serve as a bridge to Takaya-sensei's work for newer fans. Maybe they'll give me the Twinkle Stars anime I desperately need!

      Delete
    2. I have actually already tried watching all the episodes (so far) in a row! I've even done it a few times to try and wrap my head around it. Unfortunately, it hasn't really worked for me. The character development just isn't there in my opinion.
      I have just finished watching episode 1 of the original anime and it's so nostalgic... aaand now I just want to watch the entire original version again! I really wish they would take more time to plan out this reboot! I also wonder how they will go about animating the manga chapters.
      I might have to give Twinkle Stars a go!

      Delete