Fruits Basket began its life, as many anime do, as a manga series. It tells the story of a young girl named Tohru Honda who befriends two young members of the Sohma family. Some members of this family also transform into animals from the Chinese Zodiac when they’re hugged by members of the opposite sex. The series was first adapted into an anime in 2001, but 18 years later it got a reboot.
In 2019, Fruits Basket was rebooted into an anime that, in the US at least, brought back the majority of the original voice cast to bring the new content to life. A lot changes in 18 years, and it can be hard to recapture the magic when trying to remake or reimagine older works. Here we explore how two adaptations of the same story can end up being very, very different.
5. Fruits Basket Length
Let’s get the obvious stuff out of the way, yes?
The first iteration of the anime was much shorter than its revamped counterpart. While Fruits Basket (2001) only has a single season, Fruits Basket (2019) has three. This makes sense though, as the earlier series is adapted from early volumes of a manga that was still in progress when the show was produced. The new show has the entirety of the manga’s story to draw from, taking the show from 26 episodes to 63. This allows for an expansion and deeper exploration of the show’s plot, themes, and characters. Those extra 38 episodes are what give rise to the other differences in this list so even though it’s a simple difference, it’s a major one.
4. Tone and Themes
This show is so cute. It’s sweet and funny and absolutely adorable, and nothing about that changes between versions. The 2019 version, however, gets much darker than the 2001 series ever did. The original certainly has its share of sad, somber moments. After all, the show does start with a high school girl living alone in a tent in the woods because her mother has died. Yet the first version doesn’t wallow in any of that sadness, likely due to only having one season. With room to breathe and stretch, the 2019 show doubles down on the original’s most heartbreaking moments and then adds several more for good measure.
In the first series, for example, Kyo’s sensei and foster father Kazuma tells Tohru that his grandfather was the bearer of the curse of the Cat before Kyo. He was also locked away in an isolated pagoda on the Sohma estate until the day he died. It’s sad to be sure, especially since Kazuma regrets how cruel he was on the one occasion he met his grandfather. But in the second series, it’s revealed that Kyo has until he graduates high school before Akito locks him away in that same pagoda for the rest of his life.
A Darker Tone in 2019 Fruits Basket
Suddenly, things are much more dire. Kazuma’s grandfather is an old man who has long been dead by the time we’re told about him. Kyo is a kid, one we’ve spent the entirety of the series getting to know and love. The idea that he’s shunned from the rest of the family for something beyond his control is horrible. The knowledge that he is desperately hoarding moments and memories with Tohru before he’s locked away in total isolation for the rest of his life is even more horrifying.
Even though the 2019 series is still colorful and silly in its second and third seasons, there’s an undercurrent of anxiety. In each of the later episodes, viewers are waiting to see if this is the one where Kyo finally beats Yuki and wins his freedom. Is this when Isuzu finally finds the key to breaking the curse and saving her beloved Hatsuharu and the rest of the Sohmas? We feel the mounting anxiety, despair, and fear as each episode passes and there doesn’t seem to be an answer in sight. Probably just like Kyo as each day passes and he comes closer and closer to losing his freedom.
3. Characters and Character Development
It sounds obvious to say that a show with more episodes would consequently have more character development. But that isn’t necessarily a given. There are plenty of instances of shows, movie series, and even video game franchises that have an overabundance of entries yet not as much substance to match. This isn’t the case at all with the newest version of Fruits Basket; the show’s darker, sadder tone is made evident through how it develops its characters.
Some incredibly important new members of the Sohma family are introduced to viewers of the show. At the same time, many characters from the original are given much more depth and backstory (like Kyo). Fruits Basket (2019) gives Tohru, Yuki, and Kyo so much more history, nuance, and growth — which makes sense as they are the show’s protagonists — but characters like Ayame, Hatsuharu, and Momiji are turned into real people. They’re no longer just the fictional-tropes-as-characters they were throughout the 2001 iteration.
We learn that Tohru’s cheer and optimism, even her speech pattern, are imitations of her father. She mimics her father because she fears that she’ll lose her mother Kyoko to heartbreak after his death. Additionally, we find out that Yuki’s parents aren’t just disinterested in him. Instead, they sold him to Akito to obtain their own wealth and status among the Sohma family. His Zodiac animal, the Rat, is the closest to God and thus the most important), so they abandon him to Akito’s obsession and abuse.
See? Character development, but make it heartbreaking.
The discussion about characters and character development has already been had, yes. But still — we need to talk about Akito.
And not just because the second series reveals that she is a woman and not a man as viewers and even most members of the Sohma family originally thought. That Akito is female is a huge change between the shows, yes, but it’s not why she has her own section. What makes the new series’ Akito different from the first one is why no one knows she’s a woman and how that affects every member of the Sohma family.
In Fruits Basket (2001), Akito is the head of the family. Despite being rather sickly and frail, and largely off-screen, Akito is a powerful figure in the show. The main and secondary characters have all suffered at Akito’s hands. But that’s all Akito is: the clear and indisputable antagonist. The 2019 series, however, has the time to flesh out Akito’s backstory, and boy, is it a doozy.
Akito’s Tragic Past
Akito’s father Akira was head of the Sohma family before her. Like his daughter, he was very frail. One of the maids responsible for his care was a woman named Ren who, he thought, understood how lonely he was. He fell in love with her and married her extremely quickly, despite the disapproval of his attendants. It’s hard to tell whether Ren’s love for Akira was completely genuine. Sometimes it seems as though she only wanted to be close to him because he was the head of the family. But one thing that’s certain is her love became obsessive.
When she gave birth to Akito and realized she was a girl, Ren insisted that Akito be raised as a boy. This way, Ren would remain the only woman in Akira’s life. She saw her own daughter as competition for Akira’s attention and affection. It made her jealous, spiteful, and cruel. Akira, in an attempt to make up for Ren’s contempt and abuse, doted on Akito. He told her that she was special, being the newest incarnation of the God of the Zodiac curse and thus the most important member of the family, and that she was born to be loved. He told her that the other members of the Zodiac had been waiting for her arrival and that they would stay by her side forever. Akito clearly clung to those words, especially after Akira died, and it becomes obvious fairly quickly that Akira’s constant praise did her a disservice that had resounding consequences.
Akito Grows Into a Monster
Akito takes Akira’s words to heart, but too much so. She uses them as an absolute truth to combats her mother’s constant harassment that Akito’s bonds with the Zodiac members are unnatural and aren’t really love. Over time, she turns these bonds into something toxic that stifles the rest of the Sohmas. She begins to believe that the members of the Zodiac belong to her and that she’s entitled to their love, their loyalty, and their obedience. She even says in an argument with Shigure that she can do whatever she wants with the Zodiac members because they’re hers. After all, like Akira always told her, she’s special and they have to love her. It’s why she was born.
Suddenly, Akito isn’t simply an evil egomaniac like in the first series. Instead, she is as much a victim as any of the other characters, but in a twist of irony, she becomes exactly like her mother. She continues the cycle of abuse by weaponizing her trauma, terrorizing the rest of the Sohmas out of fear that her mother may be right and none of them actually love her. She throws tantrums and lashes out when Zodiac members fall in love or find someone who might endanger her importance. By berating them and beating them down, she ensures that none of them feels worthy of anything better. Then, because it’s all she knows thanks to Akira, she insists that she loves them despite how she treats them. Akito’s story is tragic, and we only really see the full scope of it and how it shapes the entire plot of the show in the second series.
Anyone who watched the first series was probably pulling their hair out during the second one trying to figure out what the hell is going on with Shigure?!
Shigure is a writer of novels of both the reputable and the spicy varieties, and he’s the bearer of the curse of the Dog. It’s his house that Tohru stumbles upon on her way to school in the first episode of both series. This is also where she, Yuki, and Kyo all live. In Fruits Basket (2001), Shigure is silly and playful, capable of being serious on occasion but mostly a bit irreverent and irresponsible. He has genuine affection for his younger cousins — the ones who live with him and the ones who don’t — but he’s never averse to teasing them when he’s not pranking his poor editor Mitsuru.
Maya Angelou once said “When someone shows you who they are, believe them.” Shigure says early on in the second series that he’s “the worst kind of man.” What person fighting insecurity and self doubt hasn’t thought that about themselves, though? In a show full of characters with deep trauma and nonexistent self esteem, it initially seems like Shigure is just another innocent but traumatized man giving in to his own intrusive thoughts.
That’s not the case at all. Shigure admits he’s awful because he is truly awful. We should’ve believed him.
Shigure: The Worst Kind of Man
In the second series, Shigure is revealed to be petty, spiteful, and conniving, all in the name of getting what he wants most in the world: Akito. He’s in love with her, not because his curse as a member of the Zodiac demands that he love his God, but because he genuinely loves her. He’s much like a child who doesn’t want to share their favorite toy. He wants Akito all to himself and can’t stand the thought of her being anything other than his. His only goal is to be with her, which he knows isn’t possible due to the Zodiac curse.
See, Shigure believes that the Zodiac curse will break on its own, but nature doesn’t move fast enough for him. He wants it broken as soon as possible, and he’s willing to do anything and everything to make that happen. It becomes clear that Shigure has been playing a very manipulative, very problematic game of chess with his family members from the very start. He asks Akito to let Tohru stay at his house because he knows that she’ll be a catalyst for all sorts of teenage shenanigans between Yuki and Kyo.
When Momiji invites Tohru and the cursed Sohmas to a family vacation house for a special getaway, Shigure visits Akito and suggests that she show up as well. He knows that her arrival will cause a great deal of anxiety and emotional upheaval among his younger cousins. Despite being in love with her, Shigure is also cruel to Akito. Her mother Ren tells him that Akito has been sleeping with Kureno, another member of the Zodiac, so he sleeps with Ren to get back at her. This particular coldness towards Akito is as much a part of his plan to break the curse as it is him indulging in his own petty jealousy. He pushes each member of the Zodiac to their breaking point so that he might trigger the breaking of the curse. Just because he’s in love with Akito doesn’t mean he won’t hurt her if the end result is that he gets to have her.
Without Remorse or Regret
It’s made all the worse by the fact that Shigure is completely aware that he’s terrible. Hatori confronts him with that observation, that he knows he’s horrible but has made no effort to change. Shigure doesn’t even object or apologize. He’s more concerned with freeing Akito from their forced bonds than helping himself or any of the other Sohmas. All that matters is he’ll finally be able to have her once the curse is broken and she’s no longer burdened with the role of God.
Putting all his wrongdoings down on paper makes it clear that Shigure is not as good-natured as the first series made him out to be. But in the magical way this show has of making the worst people seem redeemable, Shigure and Akito manage to become characters that you sympathize with and even root for by the series finale. Shigure was in love and heartbroken, after all, and was acting out of pain and selfishness. Akito was a victim of childhood abuse who didn’t know any better than to inflict that same trauma on the family she claimed to love. None of this excuses either of them, certainly, but in the world of cute shoujo anime – or at least this shoujo anime – knowing how they’ve both suffered is enough to make viewers happy that they are finally able to be together in a healthy way in the end.
Perhaps that’s why this anime sneaks up on people the way it does – the bright colors, cute animation, and silly comedy leave you vulnerable to the gut punch that is the real story of all these characters. The best media does that though, providing us with a whole bevy of topics to consider and emotions to feel. Now with a prequel movie on the way telling the story of Tohru’s mom and dad, fans of Fruits Basket, no matter which version, have a new story to look forward to.
Or maybe not. The feels were way, way too real the first two times around. Do you prefer the Fruits Basket of 2001 or 2019? Let us know in the comments and don’t forget to Let Your Geek Sideshow!