Monday, November 25, 2019

Missed it Monday - the Fruits Basket reboot fails (Anime Review)

A high school girl and two boys smile as they come down stairs out of a home
It pains me to use this art, Tohru looks like an 80's
space alien here.
Fruits Basket (reboot anime) season 1- uhhhhhhh 5.5/10?????? I guess?

This was a nearly impossible review for me to write. First, I LOVE the Fruits Basket manga. Natsuki Takaya is my all-time favorite mangaka. Her series Twinkle Stars is my all-time favorite, but if that didn't exist, then Fruits Basket would be my all time favorite. They're like 1A and 1B truthfully. In fact, I feel as though everything that Takaya sensei worked out in characters, plot, themes, and her art development in Fruits Basket were perfectly synthesized and consolidated with Twinkle Stars. I don't see how that series could have been born without Fruits Basket, but I digress.

Quick obligatory synopsis of the season: Tohru Honda's mom has died and she's living in a tent in the woods while going to school and working. She stumbles on the house of two boys from her school, Yuki and Kyo Sohma. She ends up living there with their cousin Shigure. Turns out, many of the people in the Sohma family turn into animals from the Chinese Zodiac when hugged by a person of the opposite gender. What is Tohru's role to play in this complex family?

The original Fruits Basket anime was only the second anime I had ever watched, and probably pre-dated any manga reading too. I was home from grad-school and it was on Hulu when Hulu used to be free. (Don't make me tell you what the first anime I watched was. I tried to rewatch it recently - like 10ish years later - and it really didn't hold up). I also own the Fruits Basket anime box set (and of course the whole manga series). I love the original anime, despite it's changes to the plot, it's low level animation, etc... some parts I probably love out of nostalgia and some parts I love because it got things right that the reboot just doesn't.

So this isn't a fair, nor is it an objective review of the Fruits Basket reboot anime. (BTW, any reviewer, or really anyone, who tells you anything is objective has never learned about bias - even in scientific instruments and data). But the long and short of it, is that the reboot really didn't work. I don't think it worked on its own as a show, and I don't think it worked as an animated adaptation of the manga. There. I said it. You happy now. You freakin broke my heart making me not like something Fruits Basket related.

Let's start with the animation. It was cold, with many shots camera angle being pulled further back than I would have liked, no intimacy to the way things were framed. The colors. It actually reminded me of the awful, tertiary colors plus brown and gray color pallet of the Citrus anime. The colors were not emotionally inviting, in fact the whole thing just looked ugly. There is also a lot of ugly, flat, simple CGI in the backgrounds and it's distracting. I'd rather simple handdrawn animation than complex moving ugly CGI that doesn't fit in. The CGI made it look cheap and like a purely commercial endeavor rather than a work of love and respect for the original story.

And then there were the character designs. Overall, many of the characters looked fine. Hatsuharu, Kagura, even Momiji (don't "f" with my Momiji). But Tohru. Oh, my poor dear Tohru. What did they do to you? The promo shot shows a really long-faced Tohru with strange alien (those tear drop faced aliens from the 80s) features. She's not much better in the first episode. But strangely, as the series goes on, she begins to look more and more like she "should." Take a look:
Five pictures of the same character, Tohru Honda, as her art style changes over the first season
Top left - promo image 1,Top Center - promo image 2. Bottom Left - early episode. Bottom center - middle episode, Bottom Right - ah, there she is. That's a decent Torhu
Look at the hair, especially the bangs and the width of the crown of her head in the first two images (top row). Then look at the final picture (bottom right). They barely look like the same person. The eyes are also too small on the promo art, the face too long. Thankfully they get it right mid-way through the season.

Now, Natsuki Takaya has always been very hard on herself and has never liked her artwork. The beginning chapters of the Fruits Basket manga are also more indicative of her early style whereas by the end of the manga she has reached her mature art style - her skill grows as the series goes on. She publicly asked that this reboot not look like her art. I think that's a shame because her mature style is my favorite manga art. She is the rare mangaka whose writing and art are both my favorites. Thankfully, by the mid-point of the first season of the reboot, I can stomach the design for Torhu.

The same general principles apply to Yuki and Kyo. In the promo shots and the early episodes they are just too adult looking, after all, they're only like 14 or 15 when the series starts, but gradually they sink into more comfortable territory as the show progresses.

And the voice acting...Tohru's voive is nearly insufferable. It could just be me, but there is a flatness to the delivery - it's always the same timbre and it's an annoying one. The problem is that if she isn't immediately and inherently likable, if we aren't drawn to her, then the premise of the series doesn't make sense (that she's a very "average" person who is actually incredibly and deeply emotionally strong, resilient, and almost Buddha-like - that simply being around her elevates people through her limitless kindness and compassion). Her voice casting undermines her core qualities as a person.

I'm  not a fan of Hatori's voice either, for the record. Too old and rough sounding. And Ayame's isn't nearly as sexy a voice as it should be. Thankfully, although I love the original voice actress for Momiji (who also did Honey in Ouran High School Host Club), the voice actress here isn't bad.

Putting aside the art quality of the series, what about the story? I would have expected this to be a strength of the show since it was meant to be a fully faithful adaptation of the whole of the manga (it's going to be several seasons, I'm only reviewing season 1 here). However, something was off with the emotional arc of this season.

This season covers the same territory as the original anime and the first major arc of the manga. But I felt that there was no forward momentum in the reboot. I never got the sense that we as the audience, or any characters (maybe save Shigure and Hatori) have any idea what their purpose is, what they are heading towards. And in some ways, that's right, Tohru and Kyo and Yuki are somewhat caught in something bigger than them before they realize it. But there was no real foreshadowing (other than a few Shigure and Hatori scenes). Even those scenes were just explicit foreshadowing, but there was nothing from an emotional, momentum standpoint. Nothing organic to create a mood throughout. There was no movement in the series. It felt random and draggy and we never knew why we should care that there were these characters who changed into animals.

Even thought I obviously know the whole plot well so I knew the "why" of the season, I found myself endlessly bored with the show. I regularly rewatch anime and reread manga, so I'm all about that, and so that wasn't the reason I was bored. There are some shows/manga that I revisit yearly. I don't get tired of my favorites and I get something new out of them each time. This reboot did not do that for me, it was so by-the-books, almost perfunctory and loveless in its treatment of the characters and story.

One huge problem, especially for this arc, is that Kyo gets lost throughout the middle part of the season only to suddenly be back into the focus for the final three episodes. Instead of everything in the season leading up to the big reveal and big climax, it comes out of nowhere. It also isn't rendered as meaningfully emotionally as the manga or the original anime. We don't quite get where everyone's emotions come from through the writing or the visuals. It's like they are going through the motions, Hatori and Tohru especially. As in: now this is where Tohru says this, and this is where she runs after... rather than it all coming organically from what has been building. It's almost as if the whole show was parceled out piece by piece to different people who knew nothing of the whole they were building.

Haven't mentioned Akito yet. They are a character who was slightly changed in the original anime which is why they couldn't just do a second season off of that but felt it had to be rebooted. However, Akito isn't around much. We do get the perfunctory glimpses into their rage and pathology, but it all seems so tacked on. Akito isn't a shadow looming over everything like they should be. I know where it's going, being familiar with the whole story, but again, the foreshadowing and emotional momentum is missing in this season.

What's to like? Well, I guess more Fruits Basket is better than less...? Maybe. They did get Arisa Uotani's backstory right. She might be my favorite character from Fruits Basket. She's always resonated with me on many levels. They do her story justice here, and by virtue of that, they do Tohru's mom justice. I was really really really glad for that. Kyo was also exceptionally cute in episode 23. It felt like the real Kyo.

So basically, I didn't think that the season worked on it's own: the art choices were ugly, the voice casting was a mixed bag, and there was no emotional momentum to the season - for someone who does not know the rest of the series, it would have felt extremely random. And then, compared to the manga and the original (albeit imperfect) anime, this was a very hollow reboot with no soul. At best, a 5.5/10. I'll watch season 2, because who knows, they might get it right, and that part of the story has never been animated before, so that's something.


Please legitimately purchase or borrow manga and anime. Never read scanlations or watch fansubs. Those rob the creators of the income they need to survive and reduce the chance of manga and anime being legitimately released in English.

All comments are moderated by a real person who only checks them once a day. Therefore, comments may take a while before they show up. Thanks for understanding. It's how we keep this a community of lovingkindness.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Remember: please talk about the work, and offer counter points to others' analyses but DO NOT ATTACK THE PERSON whose analysis you are countering. (no ad hominem comments) Thanks! <3