It’s that time again, time to take another dive into some nostalgic shoujo romance, more Fruits Basket. Volume four brings us about a third of a way through this series with twelve volumes total to look forward to. The story is still slowly unfolding here, with more introductions and a closer look at the intimate lives of both the zodiac members and Tohru’s friends. This sort of mystique and dread that Akito inspires permeates everything in this volume and I’m sure we’ll be seeing that ramping up in later volumes as well. With the introduction of Hiro, the sheep of the zodiac, and Ricchan, the monkey of the zodiac, we’re getting closer to bringing together the whole cast and with it their histories and interlocking relationships. I’m enjoying myself immensely as I read through this story. It’s packed with discussions on mental health, psychological trauma, life philosophies, and societal issues. I think I’ve forgotten over time just how deep this series goes, and I’m really looking forward to getting pulled down further into the story.
Volume four (chapters 37-48) starts us off with another introduction to the zodiac cast, Hiro the sheep, who happens to be close friends with Kisa. We’re drawn into his story of jealousy as he sees Kisa hanging out more and more with Tohru after her struggle with bullying. Then a shopping trip turns into a look at Uo-sans past as a former gang member turned Tohru’s closest friend. But Fruits Basket doesn’t save the characterization for just the main characters, even the fairly annoying Yuki Fan Club president, Motoko, gets her own chapter to shine in as we learn just what makes her tick and her feelings about handing off the fan club to the next generation. The rest of the volume is filled with our introduction to Ricchan, the monkey, but we also get quite a bit of characterization and backstory on Haru, Yuki, Kyo, and Tohru as they all struggle with thinking about their future after school.
Our first introduction of the volume is Hiro, the sheep of the zodiac. He’s introduced to us as this self-centered young boy who thinks he’s better than everyone else. When he goes to meet Tohru for the first time, he steals her wallet forcing her to chase after him and be late to work. His actions made me wish Tohru had more of a backbone to stand up for herself, but then I don’t think she would have been as effective at getting under Hiro’s skin. Hiro came to meet her because of how much she helped Kisa recover from the psychological effects of her bullying. Seeing Tohru as she is, the bumbling and naive young girl, he can’t seem to reconcile the person he heard about from Kisa with the person in front of him. The fact that Tohru was able to help Kisa where he could not ignites his jealousy, a jealousy tinged with guilt and fear.
Hiro, while a little brat of a character, is interesting in his own right. He annoys the crap out of me with his actions and comments, but that’s just the nature of his personality. I think over the course of this volume we get to see more of why he is the way he is and that definitely helps dull my own annoyance with him. We learn the truth of his anger at Tohru over time. Learning how he confessed to Akito that he was in love with Kisa and how Akito then beat Kisa so badly it took her two weeks to completely heal. Hiro blames himself for the injuries she sustained from Akito and he blames himself for not being able to help Kisa through the bullying that was going on at the same time. He’s in love with her, wants to be someone she can rely on, and yet feels as if he has caused her pain through his actions and inactions. All of that anger comes out on Tohru as he sees just how much she was able to help Kisa where he couldn’t and just how much she respects Tohru because of it.
But I think the aspect of this story that is most striking here is that Hiro and Kisa are only in 6th grade. They’re so young and yet have to face all of these troubles and are thus forced to grow up too fast. To Hiro he sees his failures as evidence that he isn’t mature enough, that he’s still too childish to be able to protect Kisa. And I think this is where Tohru’s own personality and unlimited understanding are a huge help to him. Her positive presence and unwillingness to judge allows Hiro a space in which to be a child, to escape the weight of the Sohma house and be accepted as the child that he is. What Hiro sees as weakness, Tohru sees as a strength: the courage to admit that you’re still a child and can’t do everything yourself. It’s through this attitude that she slowly breaks down his walls.
The next big story we get is Uo’s backstory in how she met Tohru and her mother. While Uo does play a semi-important role in the series, she is still a side-character, and I love seeing side-characters get fleshed out with their own stories and histories. It makes a series feel more real when all of the characters are given a certain amount of depth and growth. Takaya does a great job in this respect as we see with Uotani here and another smaller character later on. There’s a lot going on with her story. The contrast between her home life and Tohru’s, and then the contrast between her idea of Kyoko and the reality is the basis for her backstory. We find out that her home life isn’t so great with her father being an alcoholic and her mother walking out on them when she was little. She turned to gang life in an effort I think to find some sort of comradery and rebel against a system that left her feeling unloved. And to her, Kyoko was the embodiment of the strong female icon, able to take and conquer things with her own power.
Seeing Kyoko for who she is now, a mother and a homemaker instead of a badass biker gang leader, flips Uo’s expectations on their head. She becomes both disappointed and jealous. Disappointed that this icon of female power has become a homemaker and jealous because she’s never known the love and comfort that comes from having a mother or a comfortable place to call home. It slowly becomes a narrative of found family and Tohru does what she does best and breaks down her walls through kindness and they both wind up accepting Uo as part of their family. Kyoko’s support, or rather the support of a caring parent that she has been missing all her life, helps Uo leave her gang and focus on other things she now deems more important, like school and friendship. It’s a pretty touching story to be honest.
I think the one storyline I was surprised most about in this volume was the small chapter where we get to see Yuki Fan Club President Motoko’s backstory and insights into her emotional struggles. She’s always depicted as this ridiculous character that we are made to make fun of throughout the series, but chapter 42 presents us with a look under that facade of hers at what’s really going on especially in the context of her approaching graduation. Her extreme love for Yuki has transformed into obsession and jealousy. While she holds the position of President of his fan club, she doesn’t actually want anyone else to get close to him, including its members. After an outburst in front of Yuki, we see her take an introspective dive into self-loathing. Hating herself for being so obsessive, so jealous, and so unable to move past these feelings. But we see in the process that she does truly care for Yuki and admits that it is all through his friendship with Tohru and she can finally see him smile for real.
The next big introduction we get is the monkey of the zodiac, Ritsu, or Ricchan. Ricchan is an interesting character to say the least much like his mother, the onsen keeper we met in a previous volume. He’s constantly anxious, always reacting above and beyond what is necessary for the situation, and constantly apologizing for each and every one of his actions. I think his story turns out to be really touching through. We find out that because of the pressures of being part of the Sohma family and his own anxiety, he takes comfort in dressing in women’s clothes. The reason for that is sort of unclear. Whether it’s because being seen as a woman somehow lessens the amount of perceived responsibility or it’s just an act of trying to become someone else. But Ritsu comes to meet Tohru out of a sense of curiosity and stays out of a sense of necessity, necessity to find out the meaning or confirmation of his existence. He agonizes over his purpose in life and it’s Tohru who puts him at ease, basically saying that we may not have a purpose but that it’s a mark of courage that he is searching for it through his own power.
In terms of life philosophies, Fruits Basket is chock full of them. Both Tohru and other characters like Shigure, Kyo, and Yuki all formulate and express their views on life and the best way to live throughout the series, and I think that is one of the series’ greatest strengths. It’s ability to impart knowledge to its readers through a narrative makes the series itself valuable. I love reading through and seeing what new wisdom Tohru will impart from her mother or what other life lessons will be given this volume. One in particular stood out to me this volume. Chapter 46 begins the groups ruminations over their future and career prospects, and it’s through Shigure this time that we get some life lessons. He uses an analogy of laundry to say that we all should take our time, go step by step, and focus on the things we can do now. Worrying about everything far in advance will only make it all look that more daunting. Little steps in the right direction can help us all complete our goals. This is such a great and almost surprising piece of advice from someone who is often times portrayed as either a goof ball or mysteriously sinister.
I’m super enjoying my read-through of this series and I hope these posts haven’t been too daunting to read considering they just keep getting longer. There’s just so much backed into these volumes that I really wanted to touch on (and I still didn’t get to all of it). Let me know in the comments below if you’re enjoying these posts as well and what you’re excited the most for in the series premiering this Friday!
~~Thanks for Reading!~~
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