I just recently read a post to one of the comms I browse, from someone who was a ways into the Fruits Basket manga and wanted to know whether Yuki ever gets to be less of an asshole (translating fairly freely) and whether the angst ever lets up. This reminded me of all my Issues with FB, and rather than burden the poor woman’s post with extraneous stuff, I went to write up a proper post of my own.
Spoilers ahead, of course.
Having finally slogged through to the end of the manga, I find that, yes, there really is a reason I left off two thirds of the way through, the first time around.
It isn’t the characters, who I quite like, by and large. It isn’t even the plot per se, though I do think that Yuki’s romantic plot was done a severe disservice. If his new romantic interest had received the same development as his new boy buddy I might well feel differently, but she didn’t.
No, the part that really gets my goat is twofold. One is the whirlwind of heteronormativity at the ned, foreclosing any possibility of expressing the homoeroticism that is waved in our faces all the way through, or even just continuing to dangle the possibility. Two is the lack of consequences.
One is made most obvious in the person of Akito, who is insane the whole way through until the very last moment but is miraculously restored to sanity by having one person offer friendship. Okay, that’s actually kind of par for the course, because Tohru is Kwan Yin. Squared. But as soon as she’s sane she is, well, she. All of her insane actions are paired with her male guise, and all of her sane ones are paired with a ‘return’ to femininity. Indeed, when she comes to apologize to the Juunishi, she is in a formal girl’s kimono, and they seem equally and equivalently stunned by both those things, which I find narratively significant. She isn’t the only representative, though. Every single ambiguously sexualized male is firmly paired off at the very end, one after another: Ayame with Mine, Shigure with feminized Akito, Hatori with Mayuko, Hatsuharu with Rin, Yuki with Machi, Ritsu with Mitsuru. Indeed, every single major character is paired off, sometimes resulting in bizarrely random happily-ever-afters such as Hanajima and Kazuma. It’s a downright heteronormative panic.
I find two more pernicious, actually, and two is the deeper reason I just can’t read Fruits Basket with pleasure. These characters do absolutely horrible things to each other, most especially Akito, but also others, notably Shigure and Yuki. And there are no consequences to this. The manga does make it clear that, in most cases, the characters are passing the buck, acting out of pain that they have endured previously. But they don’t act toward the authors of that pain, or even take constructive flight from its source; no, they take it out on the defenseless. Akito tortures Yuki. Yuki beats up and taunts Kyou. Shigure ‘teases’ anyone around him who isn’t fast enough to guard themselves, notably Ritsu, Tohru and his editor, and has absolutely zero care for the genuine distress he causes.
This might be very realistic, but frankly I find such realism exceedingly emotionally and ethically unsatisfying.
The theme is carried right through to the end, where we find that the Cat has been cursed for centuries on end for the dire sin of… being right. Being the only one with its head screwed on straight, the only one who has the wisdom to not want the co-dependent reincarnation cycle that the God offers.
And in the end, no one calls anyone on any of these actions. The God et al flit off into the spiritual beyond and we never even find whether they learned better. Yuki never gets a boot to the head over Kyou (or, more significantly, never has anyone whose opinion he cares for tell him that what he did was wrong). Akito winds up with Shigure, and while I admit they probably deserve each other, they are presented at the very end as a suddenly, miraculously happy couple. No one even apologizes for the wrong they do, aside from Akito’s blanket and somewhat token apology, but Poof! the magic wand of All Better descends anyway.
And I don’t believe it. I can’t. The narrative work hasn’t been done to convince me, to satisfy me. So it leaves a very nasty aftertaste instead.
Wherefore, I suppose my response to the initial post that got me thinking could be summed up as : not so much. Give me Utena and Sailor Moon any day, or even Fushigi Yuugi and CLAMP for pity’s sake. Tohru in particular and FB in general are a classic example of the reactionary as it emerges from Japanese culture and I never get on well with that.