In the first volume, Fruits Basket presents itself as this semi-wacky comedy shoujo about a girl who discovers that the family she’s living with can all turn into animals, but as the story progresses we begin to see this for what it truly is: a mask, a facade if you will. Fruits Basket’s true story lies within the family’s it follows. The shame, guilt, and abuse that sometimes hides behind closed doors, or in some cases is right out in the open. But it also speaks to us about the families and relationships between people who care and have cultivated a space of love through struggle and personal growth. I talked about this a bit last volume in how Yuki and Rin’s family dynamics shaped their current personalities and character growth arcs. Yuki especially we see yearning for any kind of parental and motherly love to the point of gravitating towards Tohru, seeing her as someone who can fulfill this emotional hole in himself. In volume eight, we see a bit of a continuation of this, but with more of a focus on the steps he’s taking to grow past it. We also delve deeper into both Kyo and Tohru’s past by taking a look at Tohru’s mother, Kyoko.
Volume eight continues where we left off last time with Yuki recounting and remembering his childhood and relationship with Tohru to Kakeru. We see more of his nonexistent relationship with his mother, the abuse he faced from Akito, and finally the mystery of the baseball cap Tohru keeps with her is solved. In true shoujo fashion, the story moves on to feature the activities of the culture festival, with a play performed by Tohru and gang to the sort-of story of Cinderella. With Kyo as Prince, Tohru as evil step-sister, and Hana as Cinderella, it manages to be both amusing and entirely relevant to the story and characters. For the rest of the volume, we get a look at Kyoko’s past and how Kyo winds up knowing her and then the beginnings of a look into Machi and Yuki’s slowly growing relationship.
I would say the vast majority of this volume is centered around Yuki and Kyoko, with some off-shoots into Kyo and Tohru’s character. But for the most part, the weightiest character growth we’re seeing this time is coming from Yuki. The volume begins with a continuation of the flashback to his past and his conversation with Kakeru about his relationship with Tohru. We see again just how isolated Yuki was when he was younger, forced to always be by Akito’s side, being rejected by both his mother and older brother, and forced to endure both emotional and physical abuse from Akito that completely ruined his self-esteem and sense of self-worth. The idea that he was worthless and that only Akito would accept him became his truth and held him hostage at the Sohma compound. It was only made worse by trauma of seeing the only couple friends he was able to make get their memories erased by Hatori.
And this is why that small moment with Tohru when they were younger where he led her back to her mom meant so much to him. He hit rock bottom while isolated from everyone in the compound and I think it must have become a do or die situation for him where Yuki finally pushed himself into action to escape for even just a little while. And to anyone that’s dealing with suicidal thoughts this part may be a little tough to get through. It’s these thoughts of “if I really am so worthless, then there’s no point in sticking around” that become his breaking point and force him into the outside world for the first time. That moment when he became someone that was needed and could be relied on to save someone and do some good added a huge boost to his self-esteem, and Yuki admits that this was a foundational moment for him. But this small moment couldn’t change the lifetime of abuse and neglect. Yuki still had trouble relating to other people and appreciating himself for who he was. It was only through Tohru’s return and unconditional support, like that of a mother, that he was able to build a stable foundation of increased self-worth and compassion.
And it’s through this emotional growth that he begins to branch out and try to understand and relate to other people. We see it with the student council, especially Machi, and then later with Akito and Kyo. I found Machi to be a really interesting character throughout this series and now, in this volume, we get to see more of what made her who she is. In the Student Council and rest of the school she’s fairly misunderstood and seen as just someone who likes to break things and mess things up, but slowly we begin to see this is more a compulsion stemming from a hatred of perfection. Her life seems to be one of emotional neglect as well, with her parents pushing her to always strive for absolute perfection, wiping out any individuality she had and replacing it with thoughts of only being the perfect daughter and student. It’s only natural someone would snap or develop some kind of compulsion here. But it’s through Yuki’s willingness to accept her and look past her issues that she really begins to develop as her own person and see her own worth. At the beginning of her story she has no idea what her favorite color is, but by the end she begins to think its red. To some that seems like a trivial matter, but to her it’s a sign that she’s becoming her own person outside of her family and school.
We see evidence of his emotional growth and stability the most in his interactions with Akito towards the end of the volume. Yuki makes the decision to go back to the main house for New Years this year after skipping the last year. As always, he’s placed directly next to Akito the whole time. In his conversation with Akito, he confesses that he’s tired of blaming other people and that he’ll never be able to change if he keeps denying that he has bad points he needs to work on too. I think, by far, this is one of the major character growth moments for Yuki. Here he is sitting next to the person who abused him his whole life and he’s thinking of ways to better himself and starting to overcome the trauma of his childhood through that self-betterment. And of course Akito reacts the way he does because his status quo is being challenged, trying to put Yuki back into his place through physical abuse. But I think in a way Akito himself is starting to realize things are changing and there’s nothing he can do. His choices are resist or accept it, and right now he just can’t accept it. In this way it also becomes a major turning point for the series as I think Yuki’s emotional growth here signals the beginning of the end of Akito’s hold over them all.
So what is Kyoko’s connection to all of this? How does she fit into the wider picture of this series and its story besides being Tohru’s mother and giving Tohru some of her deepest foundational philosophies? It turns out that Kyo has also been deeply impacted by Kyoko as well, meeting her when he was just a boy and getting her to tell him her whole life story at a time when he was very troubled in his own life. You could say that Kyoko became a sort of mentor figure or even mother figure to him at a point when he needed it most. And while it is also framed as a way to conveniently tell Kyoko’s backstory, we begin to see just how interwoven Kyo, Kyoko, Tohru, and Yuki’s histories are. Kyoko acts as a mentor to Kyo, offering him advice on how to untangle his relationship with Yuki and his extreme feelings of anger towards him. Through this Kyo becomes attached to Kyoko and Tohru by proxy, but we slowly begin to see that Kyoko’s death has shouldered him with a huge amount of guilt that may be impacting his relationship with Tohru. It is certainly a tangled up story, and one that still made me cry even on my second read-through. I think we see a parallels between Kyoko’s past of being overwhelmed by anger towards her family and Kyo’s anger towards Yuki and the Sohma family. Both were rejected by their birth parents, both were massively traumatised by this, and both sought comfort in and peace in form of a mentor and loving relationship.
The last part I really want to touch on is the play featured in this volume. I’m hoping to do a longer, more involved article about plays in shoujo manga, but I really wanted to talk a bit about here because I think it’s fairly important to the story overall. Shoujo manga loves to use plays as a framing device for larger issues and relationships within a series. They often feature some gender-bending and more than likely center around western fairy tales. Here we see Tohru and the gang pulled into an adaptation of Cinderella where Kyo is the prince, Tohru is an evil step-sister, Hana is Cinderella, Uo is the Prince’s friend, and Yuki is the fairy godmother. The story does feature some gender-bending with Uo playing a male character and Yuki playing I guess an androgynous fairy-godmother. But more importantly, the framing of the story of Cinderella gives a safe setting for the character’s to express hidden emotions they otherwise couldn’t express normally. Tohru is able to say that she would hate it if Kyo were locked up for the rest of his life because it’s in the context of a fairy-tale environment, and Uo is able to shout to the crowd her feelings for Kureno under the guise of giving Kyo the Prince a pep-talk. Framing devices like this are really pretty fascinating for me and they show up so often in shoujo manga under the guise of the Culture Festival plot line.
There’s so much nuanced character interaction in these volumes that I’m sure I could fill a few more pages talking about it all, but as this is already past my usual length, I’ll stop it here. I hope you all enjoyed this extended look at volume eight and let me know in the comments what your favorite play from a shoujo manga is.
~~Thanks for Reading!~~
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