Episode 173 – Fruits Basket Part One

Transcribed by Melissa Brinks.

Missy
I got Vick’s in my eye.

Merri
Welcome to Fake Geek Girls.

Missy
Welcome to Fake Geek Girls.

[THEME MUSIC]

It’s not in my eye, it’s just the fumes are in my eye.

Merri
I can smell it.

Missy
Hello and welcome to Fake Geek Girls, a podcast looking at nerdy pop culture from both a fan and critical perspective, encouraging the things we love to do better. I’m Missy, I’m a writer and in high school, I watched Fruits Basket and I loved Kyo. And I’m 33 years old and I watched Fruits Basket and I love Kyo.

Merri
I’m Merri, I’m a marketer and, like, literally the same. I love Kyo so much. I can’t handle it. It’s like my love – I love other people, but my love for Kyo knows no bounds.

Missy
True, true. Today we’re talking about the first half of the Fruits Basket manga by Natsuki Takaya and the original anime series, which debuted in 1998 and 2001, respectively. The story follows Tohru Honda. I’ll get into – I can’t pronounce – I can pronounce things but I will forget. Tohru is a young girl living in a tent on the property of the Sohma family after the death of her mother.

Merri
It happens.

Missy
Tohru is this upbeat and almost frighteningly compassionate girl who ends up moving in with the Sohma family. Specifically she moves in with Shigure, Yuki and Kyo –

Merri
Sugar Ray.

Missy
– after they find out that she is great at housework, and she finds out that they all have a secret – when hugged by by a person of a different gender, cursed members of the Sohma family turned into the animals of the Chinese zodiac, plus the cat.

Merri
You may be thinking, why the fuck are we watching or reading this? It’s good.

Missy
We’ve done weirder stuff.

Merri
Yeah.

Missy
In this first chunk of the manga and anime a lot happens. But the gist is that Tohru bonds with the various members of the Sohma family, helping them heal from the rifts between themselves and others thanks to the curse, and from the intergenerational trauma of the curse itself. The Sohma family, especially Kyo and Yuki, who form a sort of love triangle with Tohru, in turn, push her to stop putting everybody else before herself. A couple of notes before we begin – Merri and I are both American, regrettably –

Merri
Unfortunately.

Missy
– And we are coming at this from an American perspective, especially as neither of us are particularly well-versed in anime or manga. Like, I would not say that that is either of our areas of expertise.

Merri
We’ve watched them, we’ve read them, that means nothing.

Missy
I have watched – like, I think if you stopped a random person on the street, we’ve watched more manga than that, or we’ve watched more anime than that person.

Merri
Yeah.

Missy
If you ask like, a random nerd, they’ve probably watched more than us. So when we talk about cultural context, or we make claims about like, quote, unquote, culture, we are speaking primarily about American culture because that’s what we know. While we can, you know, we can totally read articles about misogyny or queer culture in Japan, and I in fact,did read a couple of articles for this episode, we can read articles, but that’s not the same as living it. Also, for the sake of simplicity, we’ll probably be using the American method of referring people, i.e. Tohru instead of Honda, and our pronunciations will probably be off. Although honestly thank God for the second Fruits Basket anime because I do not want to hear Shigure pronounced like Sugar Ray ever again.

Merri
I was really confused when she kept calling Yuki Sohma. I was like, “What?”

Missy
Oh, yeah.

Merri
Why him Sohma, but Kyo, “Kyo?”

Missy
Because I think she met Yuki first. So Yuki is Sohma and Kyo is Kyo. Also, please note that because we are only discussing the first part of the story, I have made deliberate choices about how I’m referring to certain characters to avoid spoiling Merri or anybody else. Please don’t correct me. I did things with a deliberate purpose.

Merri
We’re always deliberate here.

Missy
That’s not true, but –

Merri
Always deliberate.

Missy
In this case, I was deliberate about the words that I chose. So, speaking of terminology, I think before we get into the story – which we’ll get into that as well – I want to talk about some terminology with regard to anime and manga, especially since they’re not our strong suit. And I think the genre and demographic of Fruits Basket can tell us a lot about what the goals of the story are. So first, before we get into anything else, I want to talk about Fruits Basket as a part of its genre of shoujo manga. Shoujo manga is aimed primarily at a young female audience. Unlike YA fiction in the US there is an intentional, as opposed to assumed, gendered component to shoujo. So, in America, when we talk about YA fiction we’re talking about children – we’re talking about fiction for a young adult audience irrespective of gender, even though there is a gender assumption that YA fiction is about girls, which has more to do with the expectations for who is a reader in American culture as opposed to other places in the world. However, when we’re talking about manga, shoujo manga is specifically targeted at young girls, and shonen manga is targeted at young boys. And they have different plot elements, too. They have different different plots, different themes, totally different elements that make them not necessarily distinct genres, but distinct markets. They’re targeted at different demographics in different ways. There are also specific manga for young adults as in, people who are 18 to 25, which is something that we don’t have as much of here in America. Those are called josei for young women, and seinan for young men. So there is a distinction between young adult, like, the way that people think a young adult is in the US, but are often mistaken in terms of demographics. So, like, when we say young adult, we’re talking about a demographic of readers from like 13 to 18, or even 13 to like, 21. But when you hear young adult you think more like 20 to 25.

Merri
It’s all very confusing.

Missy
It’s very confusing, because these are like marketing demographics. They’re not meant to be genre.

Merri
When I think of young adult, I think of younger than that.

Missy
Right, but you also are immersed in –

Merri
This is true.

Missy
– young adult reading, if I just said, “Oh, he’s a young adult.” What age would you think he was?

Merri
I’d say early 20s.

Missy
Exactly.

Merri
Yeah. Because I don’t associate adults with teens. So that does make sense.

Missy
Yeah. So shoujo can come in any genre, although romance is very popular. And after 1975 self-fulfilment, so like growth and becoming the person that you want to become, became one of the predominant themes of shoujo manga. So, this is a quote from “2D Boys, 3D Desires: A Critical Fan’s Primer to Romance, Sexuality and Gender in Shoujo Manga, Anime and Otome Video Games,” which is by Catherine M. Randazzo, who writes, “These demarcations aside, the manga I will be discussing in this independent study fit somewhat clearly into the shoujo label and for good reason. Otome games are commonly based on the more straightforward shoujo series – that is to say, the series that are more that more strictly adhere to the genres tropes. Along with having a very distinct style and visual language, another point of note about shoujo manga is that, as Paul Gravett mentions in his book ‘Manga: 60 Years of Japanese Comics,’ the genre also delves into surprisingly deep themes in comparison to their male oriented counterparts, ‘Tales of school'” – school. Why do I have such trouble with this word? “‘Tales of school girls unlucky in love can veer into heartfelt and ultimately life-affirming exposes of bullying depression, lesbian attraction, self-harming, parental abuse and divorce, pupil-teacher scandals -‘” I can’t talk. “‘- suicide attempts, even conspiracies to blow up the school.'”

Merri
This is crazy. That’s a lot.

Missy
Yeah. So, much like YA fiction as we know it in the US. shoujo manga may be seen as frivolous or shallow. But it also tends to weave elements of serious storylines and real life experiences into its more fantastical or romantic plots

Merri
It loves to just be like, “Oh, you think you’re having a good time right? You think having a good time? Just kidding. Let’s fucking destroy you.”

Missy
You can see this demonstrated in Fruits Basket, where the concept – humans turn into animals – is quite silly on the surface. But throughout this manga, are stories about intergenerational trauma, abuse, grief, and so on. Like, it’s in fact quite serious. Even as it is also very funny. This essay also points out that there are gendered expectations for shoujo versus shonen manga as well. Shoujo tend to have deeper themes, whereas that’s not an expectation of shonen.

Merri
Sounds like shonen is the frivolous, shallow –

Missy
I think – this is when we get into like, one of the sticky parts of me not being Japanese is I can’t talk about – I simply don’t know what the concept of these stories is in Japan. I know that the concept of an otaku, like an obsessive fan, if I remember correctly, is like – it would be shameful in Japan to be called an otaku. Whereas it’s like almost a badge of pride here in the US. And so I don’t know if like – in the US, it’s perfectly normal for children to read YA fiction, right? I don’t know that it is as like, okay, in Japan. So it might just be that all of this fiction is seen as frivolous and not just shoujo specifically. But again, I’m speaking as a total outsider to both – to not only anime and manga, but also just entirely a cultural outsider because they don’t I don’t know, anywhere near enough about Japanese culture to make that kind of claim. But I think it is also worth noting that a lot of times anything for young girls is seen as frivolous.

Merri
That’s why I say that, because it just always feels like if it’s for girls then it must not be as legitimate. Like this is notthe same but like emo bands, whereas they’re just as legitimate as bands that men like, or they are liked just as much as men they just don’t – no one says it – are seen as like boy bands essentially. I hate this idea that because a lot of women like something makes it whatever. It pisses me off.

Missy
Yeah, and I don’t know like, again –

Merri
That’s an American thing.

Missy
Yeah, from a cultural standpoint, I simply don’t have enough information to say what the perception of shonen manga or shonen anime is in Japan. But I wouldn’t be surprised if there is a gendered component to it. But I am not widely read enough. Nor am I Japanese to say like, “Shonen is definitely more immature than shoujo.” I can’t say that. That doesn’t mean that shoujo is inherently better, right? Only that there is an expectation that shoujo will handle more complex issues than shonen. So, I think a way to think about this is that rather than shoujo just like being better because it shoujo, it’s more so that if you’re sitting down to read a shoujo manga, there’s an expectation that it will have some of these deeper themes. Whereas if you’re sitting down to read shonen, you may not have that expectation.

Merri
Well, that’s good, because things get so fucking depressing. You’re like, at least I know, then.

Missy
You can always escape into shonen. And I think there’s a lot of claims that you can make from this, right? The myth that girls mature faster than boys, therefore they can handle more mature themes, for example. But again, I want to be wary of making these claims about a culture that isn’t mine. Especially because I did not research that angle.

Merri
We sure do like to, lately, do things that are not necessarily our culture.

Missy
Yeah.

Merri
We did the UK.

Missy
Derry Girls.

Merri
Derry Girls.

Missy
Shout out to all those listeners to the Derry Girls episode from Ireland. I hope we didn’t embarrass ourselves too bad.

Merri
No one said anything.

Missy
No one said anything. So I’m just gonna operate under the assumption we did a great job

Merri
Or they’re just like, well, they’re American so they can’t help it.

Missy
They give us a pass. We’re American. Our school system sucks.

Merri
Also a new Derry Girls season coming up. Be prepared, everybody.

Missy
So ready. I think it’s enough to know that that there is this expectation that shoujo manga will dive into these themes. Especially because something like Fruits Basket looks and sounds really silly on the surface. Like the the premise sounds silly. And if you look at the art, you’re like, oh, that’s some silliness.

Merri
That’s some typical young anime.

Missy
Yeah. And that, you know, that may change the way that the audience around the world would interact with something like this. Like if there is, in Japan, the expectation that shoujo will have deeper themes, it may not be such a surprise to a Japanese reader that it goes into these darker places, whereas an American viewer such as myself is kind of blindsided by the back half of the anime suddenly being so fucking sad. I’m talking about the first anime here.

Merri
Just so sad.

Missy
So this is a quote from Girls Return Home: Portrayal of Femininity in Popular Japanese Girls’ Manga and Anime Texts during the 1990s in Hana Yori Dango and Fruits Basket by Kukhee Choo, who writes, “Being a shoujo in Japan not only requires behaving according to one’s physical age, but it also necessitates behavioral traits that are related to kawaii (cuteness). John Treat explains, ‘The word most often associated with this shoujo culture is kawaii or cute.’ Though the term cute may be associated with a more positive outgoing attitude in the West, the Japanese idea of cuteness includes a degree of weakness that makes the shoujo dependent on others. According to Sharon Kinsella, the terms cute (kawaii) and pitiful (kawaiso) may produce similar reactions in Japan: ‘Although cute was principally about childishness, a sense of weakness and disability – which is part of childishness – was a very important constituent of the cute aesthetic. In fact, cute and pitiful were often the same thing.'” Again, here’s an example of a major cultural difference. Cuteness in the US may have an association with naivete. That’s one of those words that I learned by reading and now I’m not sure how it’s pronounced.

Merri
I just tell you every time you say blank, blank, blank in the USA, I hear whatever you’re saying like Anarchy in the UK. But it’s whatever you’re saying in the USA.

Missy
No, it shouldn’t be to Bruce Springsteen, to – [singing] “Cuteness in the USA.”

Merri
I like [sneering] “Cuteness in the USA,” as if at some punk ideal.

Missy
So cuteness in the US may have this association with naivety. We’re gonna go with that. Or youth, but it doesn’t necessarily have the connotation of weakness that Choo suggests it does in Japan. And that’s very interesting when looking at Fruits Basket, which is very much a shoujo manga. It’s very, very cute and concerns a lot of characters who are in fact very naive. And for a certain definition, weak, right? I don’t want to use weak here as a purely negative word, especially because of how I want to apply it. When I’m saying a character is weak, think of it more as a state of development rather than a judgment about, like, trauma responses making you not a strong person. That’s not what I’m trying to say. What I’m trying to say is weak as a stage of development, rather than as a strong/weak binary.

Merri
It’s just we don’t have a word for it.

Missy
I mean, there’s probably a highly specific word that I could choose to use, and everybody would be like, “What the fuck does that mean?” But I don’t know what that word is. And I didn’t look.

Merri
Missy’s also like, “What the fuck does that mean?”

Missy
Exactly. So when looking at Fruits Basket, especially where we are in the story about halfway through in the manga, and through just the first season of the anime, we’re seeing a lot of characters who could be classified as weak, not in terms of physical strength – although that could also be true of some of the characters – but in terms of emotional development.

Merri
At feels like a lot of all of the behaviors is extremely toxic. And I don’t mean that like, “This is toxic.” I mean, like, “Let’s work this out.”

Missy
Yeah.

Merri
There’s been a lot of toxic shit happening here.

Missy
Yeah, one of the clearest examples of this, I think, is Kyo. He’s physically strong, right? He can beat up anybody except Yuki. But he responds to every single stimulus, negative or positive, with fury. Like he flies into a rage about anything. It doesn’t matter. If Tohru gives him a fucking compliment, he’s mad about it. His weakness, then, isn’t physical, right? It’s not that he’s passive. It’s his entire lack of self control. And the way that that self control hurts other people and isolates him, that can be read as weakness, not the fact that he’s physically weak or that he’s naive.

Merri
So, do you think that when he finds his self control, he will finally be able to beat Yuki? Or do you think it’s a thing but like mystical of he can never beat the rat?

Missy
Um, I think it might be a mixture of both and I – so I’ve had some things spoiled about the ending for me, but not everything. I don’t know what the actual outcome of this Yuki/Kyo fight is going to be. But this is my theory. As a method of demonstrating growth on both of their parts, I think eventually they’re going to refuse to fight.

Merri
That’s probably like the mature thing to do.

Missy
Yeah.

Merri
But I really want to see Kyo win.

Missy
I honestly think if Kyo wins, it will be because Yuki has chosen to let him win. Not in the way of like letting him think he’s won. But like, Yuki is not going to feel the need to fight him anymore. For this position.

Merri
Yeah.

Missy
That’s my thinking. But that anger that Kyo feels and that violence, especially in the anime, which is like – it features a lot more physical violence than the manga does. That anger is often framed as immaturity, right? Like it’s never showing Kyo is justified in the way that he behaves. It’s shown as immaturity. It might be funny in a way that I think aligns with the idea of cuteness, it’ss just like – oh, it’s so cute how he can’t control his emotions because he is just a weak little baby.

Merri
That’s just Kyo being Kyo.

Missy
Yeah. But it’s not framed as a positive, like –

Merri
He’s just being Miley.

Missy
He’s just being Miley. His anger is not framed as a positive in any way.

Merri
The only time it is is when he was able to get over it and tell Tohru something like, “Don’t always be so selfless. Please be selfish.” Which, yeah, please. Please Tohru.

Missy
Yeah. On the other hand, you have a character like Tohru who is cute and sweet and charming, but also literally physically weak and extremely passive, right? But at the same time, her compassion and her empathy are incredibly strong, probably the strongest in the entire show.

Merri
The only time I had a hard time with her empathy, where I was like this is too much for me, is when she – obviously the original one that we’re talking about – when she went to Akito, and was like, “I’m so sorry.” And I was like, “He doesn’t deserve it.”

Missy
Yeah.

Merri
Like, “You went too far, Tohru!”

Missy
“You’ve gone too far.” And like not to mention that she has survived these huge losses, so much so that those losses then feed back into her being passive. Overcoming that weakness is something that Kyo begins to teach her, encouraging her to be selfish and to look out for herself as well as other people. He’s not saying only look out for yourself, he’s saying look out for other people, but also look out for yourself, you’re important too. So whether intentionally or not, I think Takaya, the mangaka, is doing something really interesting here within the shoujo genre. It’s like Fruits Basket is an examination of the like, quote unquote, weakness side of cuteness, often showing that weakness is a step on a journey elsewhere, rather than a permanent state of being.

Merri
So did you also have the experience of watching Tohru now and being able to point out like, what you’re doing is toxic?

Missy
Yeah. And I think that as a kid, maybe I wouldn’t have internalized that as much. Especially because I think if I relate to any character in Fruits Basket, it’s Tohru.

Merri
Sometimes I’m just like, “Wow, that’s Missy.” That’s you, dude.

Missy
The two characters I think that are most the ones I would relate to most are probably, Tohru, and the – Ritsu’s mother who owns the hotsprings.

Merri
Yeah, I agree. But I would also say your inner self is Kyo.

Missy
Yeah, I could see that.

Merri
Yeah, your inner self is Kyo. I feel like when I was growing up watching it and seeing Tohru, I definitely grew up with a mother who told me, “Being nice will get you further in life,” and “Your manners are important,” and to be selfless, and I grew up feeling that way and striving to be that. So I see Tohru, and I was like, “Yeah, that’s what I should strive towards.” Now I’m an adult, and I’m like, “Niceness gets you nowhere. It is the kind thing to do and you do it because it’s the right thing.” But like having to unlearn all that stuff is really, really difficult. I can’t even imagine that the work Tohru’s going to have to put in.

Missy
We’ll talk more about toxic positivity later. But I think that even before toxic positivity was something that we talked about in the mainstream, I think that this anime is is talking about toxic positivity without talking about toxic positivity. But yeah, I think watching this as a teenager, I was not cognizant of Tohru’s behaviors being toxic. And how self destructive to an extent that they are. And now watching it as an adult, I wish that I had had more of the story to kind of –

Merri
Yeah.

Missy
– Because it ends at an unfortunate point where you don’t see the back half of that growth. And I wish that I had seen that earlier.

Merri
So they just kind of go on being slightly better versions than they were.

Missy
Yeah.

Merri
Which doesn’t work.

Missy
So this is a quote from Japanese Anime Heroines as Role Models for U.S. Youth: Wishful Identification, Parasocial Interaction, and Intercultural Entertainment Effects by Srividya Ramasubramanian and Sarah Kornfield. Apologies for my pronunciation of that name. I did my best. “Remarkably warm characters who maintain an indomitable optimism, selflessness, friendliness and a clear vision of morality, shoujo heroines are engaged in pro-social behaviors. Pro-social behaviors are ‘desirable and beneficial to other individuals and or to society at large.’ As such, pro-social characters are essentially positive role models. Shoujo heroines not only maintain pro-social behaviors, but they also teach the other characters to behave pro-socially. For example, in Fruits Basket, the heroine, Tohru Honda, first befriends an angry, bitter boy named Kyo and then teaches him how to look for the good and others start friendly conversations and develop healthy relationships. Moreover, the heroines have pro-social mottos or slogans that they repeatedly state throughout the series. Using Fruits Basket as an example again, Tohru’s mottos are ‘Be safe!’ and ‘Tohro Honda never gives up!'”

Merri
She doesn’t.

Missy
She doesn’t. This raises an interesting question for me, are the characters of Fruits Basket, especially Tohru, role models?

Merri
No, absolutely not.

Missy
Yeah, I agree.

Merri
Aspects of them are are, but no.

Missy
The thing is, like, I want to be a compassionate person like Tohru. Like, I genuinely want to be a compassionate person like Tohru. But the thing is, Tohru doesn’t realize how unhappy she is until she meets the Sohmas. And she has support of her own.

Merri
Maybe her friends.

Missy
Yes.

Merri
And maybe Momiji.

Missy
Yes.

Merri
Because Momiji is very like – I want to be happy. And I want to make the best of my situation. But also like, you need to take care of yourself. Unless it’s my mother.

Missy
Yeah, I think that -I don’t think any of these characters are role models in the sense of “I want to be just like them,” but I want to aspire to the strength that they commit themselves to.

Merri
Yeah, I mean, I think what Tohru is going through – like, she’s going through a lot, but the strength that she has to have to just even live her own life right is admirable. She’s just not using it correctly.

Missy
Like I don’t admire Kyo’s behavior.

Merri
No.

Missy
I admire every time – like there was one episode, I think this is from the newer anime, so –

Merri
Sorry.

Missy
Sorry, but there’s a scene that I think we watched last night where his Rage Meter – like he has like a visual Rage Meter – and it fills up to the top. And you can see him just about to explode. And then he chooses not to and the Rage Meter goes back down.

Merri
Yeah.

Missy
That is the admirable trait. The desire to indulge in that behavior, and then to choose not to do it.

Merri
That’s what he’s working to.

Missy
Yeah, that is the role model part. It’s not acting like Kyo. Just like with Tohru, it’s the part – being selfish is not, or being selfless is not the role model part. The role model part is that when she realizes “I have to take care of myself to take care of others.”

Merri
She’s gonna get there, they’re all gonna get there. But right now, no.

Missy
Right. For most of the characters, I don’t think that they are role models, right. But I think that has more to do with Tohru’s flaws being more palatable and accepted. Especially when we think about her flaws as gendered. Tohru is unendingly kind, no matter how much it may harm her. She’s always patient, she’s always giving. But I think the story actually does a really good job of showing us that that can be harmful too.

Merri
It does do a really good job. Which I think is why I think that the new one is maybe more effective, because I think a lot of people have the tools to now actually understand that as opposed to when we were younger, at least at our age, didn’t necessarily have the tools to break that down. Nor do I think that the original was doing it better.

Missy
Right. And like, I think there’s a certain extent that you could argue this, like, I think that there are cultural differences coming into play, given what I know of Japan’s work culture, and like the fact that they are more collectivist country than the US. But I can I can’t speak in depth on that. But I think it’s worth noting that there are also cultural influences that may differ, like may shift our interpretation somewhat. So it’s easier to look at Tohru upfront, and say, “That’s a role model,” right? Like if you’re a parent showing Fruits Basket to your child or watching Fruits Basket with your child and you see Tohrus behavior, you’re like, “Oh, she works so hard to take care of people. That’s a role model.” But what makes her interesting to me is how the people around her correct her and show her that she is loved and that she also deserves care, especially her friends. Which to me is the actual role model part, not the fact that she’s kind. It’s in fact very easy for Tohru to be kind.

Merri
It is almost a coping mechanism.

Missy
Exactly. To me, the greater example of Tohru as a role model is not that she’s upbeat and empathetic and kind. It’s when she recognizes that those things are hurting her and she lets other people help her value herself as much as she values others.

Merri
That’s what makes like the scene when she decides it’s okay for her to say she wants to go back home instead of living with horrible people. Like that was such a strong scene because of that.

Missy
She would rather suffer than consider herself a burden. And when she finally says, “I want to go home,” that is a moment of tremendous strength for Tohru, even though it’s something that would be quite easy for somebody else. It would be nothing to Kyo. Kyo would be like, “Fuck you. I’m out.” And Yuki would just leave. Tohru doesn’t have that. Like she doesn’t have that confidence to just walk out on something like that. She would stay because she doesn’t want to be a burden to the Sohmas.

Merri
It’s almost surprising that she wasn’t like, “I’m gonna go home to my tent.” Because she would be so afraid to ask –

Missy
If her tent hadn’t been destroyed, I think that’s probably what she would have done.

Merri
Like even – and again, this is in the new one – when she’s afraid to ask if she can stay over New Year’s. Girl, you live there. You live there.

Missy
That behavior – her ability in that moment to say, “No, I want to go home,” that, to me, is admirable. And that is very hard to do when your coping mechanism is to be as useful and helpful and unburdensome as you can. This is a quote from 2-D Boys, 3-D Desires: A Critical Fan’s Primer to Romance, Sexuality & Gender in Shoujo Manga, Anime & Otome Video Games by Katherine M. Randazzo. I now realize I already said that full title so going forward, I’m going to refer to it by the short title. “Following basic shoujo tropes, Yuki falls into the category of the typical bishounen and described – sorry, discussed – in the first section of this IS, androgynous with wide doe eyes and an acute sense of fashion. Yuki is a mysterious enigmatic figure the girls all want him, yet he pushes them away, which makes them want him more. He may seem like an ‘icy prince,’ but in fact, he is surprisingly kind, offering to take in Tohru upon finding her living illegally in a tent on land owned by his family. Moving in with him and his mature and suave cousin Shigure Sohma, Toro also meets Kyo Sohma, a tsundere (more information in glossary)” – or more information to follow in our description – “who is the black sheep of the Sohma family, or, more appropriately, the outcast cat of the family, as Tohru soon finds out.”

Merri
I’ve realized that, for those of you who have read A Court of Thorns and Roses, Yuki is Azrael.

Missy
So just to introduce some more new terms that we can use as we continue, bishounen refers to an androgynous, fashionable young man. This particularly applies to Yuki, whose gender presentation and whose gender hangups we will discuss more later. The term tsundere refers to a hot-headed character who displays warmth over time, which applies to Kyo.

Merri
The best. My favorite, favorite trope.

Missy
Tsudere – like the term itself – isn’t necessarily gendered, but it is disproportionately a trait associated with female characters.

Merri
So Kyo is Nesta.

Missy
So the two main love interest in this story .Yuki and Kyo. have characteristics that are associated with women or female characters. Yuki – bishounen, you could, I guess, loosely associate it with a term like pretty boy in English. And tsundere – yeah, he’s tsundere. I always get tsundere and yandere mixed up. And then tsundere being disproportionately applied to female characters, that means that both of these love interests for Tohru are in some way associated with traits associated with women. We’ll talk more about the series’s treatment of gender a bit later and definitely into the next episode., but I did want to note these definitions here in case we want to use these words later so that you’re not like, “Hey, what the fuck’s a tsundere?” or “What the fuck’s a bishounen?”

Merri
I’ve heard bishounen before.

Missy
This is another quote from 2D Boys, 3D Desires by Katherine M. Randazzo. “Another reason that Fruits Basket defies shoujo convention is in its portrayal of incest, which is not illegal in Japan, though not exactly encouraged. Moral ramifications of this aside, those with the Zodiac curse can touch each other without transforming, leading to instances of incest between some members, all of whom are Sohma cousins. Along with these reasons, Fruits Basket is also an outlier within the world of shoujo due to another aspect of love oftentimes overlooked within the genre – its spotlight on platonic love between those of different sex and gender. But the romance or lack thereof between the boys and Tohru is not the focus of the plot in the slightest; as the plot goes on, it is revealed that there’s far more to the Sohma curse and to each character’s life, than meets the eye.” So, notably, the age of consent in Japan is 13. So some taboos in our culture are different in Japan. And again, this is not to say that incest or sex with people under 18 are celebrated in Japan. That is not the point that I’m making here. I just want to be abundantly clear. I am not saying that these things are looked upon fondly in Japan, I am only saying that they are not illegal. But this is a very clear cultural difference. And it paints for example, the way that Shigure lusts after high school girls in a different light, right? It is different for Shigure to lust after high school girls to an American audience who’s like, “Shigure is a criminal,” versus, potentially, to a Japanese audience, who is like “He’s a pervert.”

Merri
Yeah, they like to use the word pervert. And I just think it’s slightly different.

Missy
Yeah, the connotation is different there. You can be a pervert and not do anything illegal. You can be a criminal and also a pervert. Shigure occupies one space in Japan and a different space in America.

Merri
He would be a perverted pedophile.

Missy
Yeah, exactly. But it doesn’t carry this – it’s perverted, but it’s not criminal. He’s still a pervert, but the way that the lust reads is different depending on your cultural context. So the relationships between characters in the Sohma family read as taboo to us in the US, right? We understand that many of the Sohma family are in relationships with one another, even though they are blood relatives. That’s illegal in the US. You can’t do that. It’s not illegal in Japan. So while it might be taboo, it’s not criminal. It’s just kind of like, [disgusted] “Ooh.”

Merri
[disgusted] “Okay.”

Missy
[disgusted] “Okay.” Again, it reads differently depending on cultural context. And I wanted to acknowledge that here because when we when we look at something from outside of the culture it was created in, we’re going to bring our own baggage to it. And therefore the way that we read a character like Shigure is quite – now I did it. It sounded like Sugar Ray.

Merri
I think it’s easy to fall into that, being an English speaker.

Missy
Yeah, I think in Japanese the emphasis is on Shi, so it’s like SHI-gu-re rather than Shi-GU-re.

Merri
You gotta get that “gu-re.”

Missy
Yeah. But there’smore to the portrayals of relationships and Fruits Basket that may read is unusual, even, you know, in a Japanese context – that platonic love is just as valuable as romantic love. That’s not something you expect to see ever, let alone in shoujo, which is known for being, you know, primarily a romantic genre. And this is something we will talk more about in our second episode as we get to the second half of the series, but having deep and loving but platonic relationships between people of different genders is fairly unusual for shoujo, and for much of American media. It’s just not something you see that often. You might see a story about deep and abiding friendship between women, because women are allowed to have those kinds of relationships. It is very rare to see it between people of different genders. I mean, one of the greatest romantic comedies of all time is built on this premise. When Harry Met Sally.

Merri
One American media that does it really well is Kissing Booth. She does not get with her best friend.

Missy
And when it’s between two men, it’s usually a comedy. Like the film I Love You, Man is a lot better than anybody gives it credit for.

Merri
But it still has to play off of like, it’s almost a joke.

Missy
Exactly. There’s there’s a self consciousness about the fact that this man doesn’t have any close male friends.

Merri
Bromance.

Missy
Yeah, it’s a bromance.

Merri
It’s just bullshit.

Missy
Yeah, there’s some self consciousness in there there on the part of the movie. And that’s like – I mean, again, I’m talking about American media here. But you don’t really see platonic love between people of different genders. It’s just not something that you expect. When it comes to watching something and expecting romance, if two characters of different genders interact, people are shipping them, right? Whereas you have characters like Korra and Asami, who fall in love over the course of a series, and people say it comes out of nowhere because they don’t have that expectation of characters of the same gender.

Merri
And they’re not thinking when those two characters are consistently writing each other and only each other. They’re just thinking, “Oh, good friends.”

Missy
Exactly.

Merri
Which is just bonkers to me. I was watching, and I’m just like, “Oh, this is how they fall in love.”

Missy
Right. That’s not necessarily the case in Fruits Basket, where characters can have very intense relationships, regardless of romantic or sexual attraction. And recognizing that platonic relationships are healthy and transformative is actually baked into the story.

Merri
I think that’s what makes Fruits Basket so satisfying. Like, of course, I want there to be romance. I want them all to kiss but the love they currently share is still really satisfying. And the whole time I’m not like, “Oh my God, when are they gonna kiss?” It’s more like, “Everybody needs to kiss because y’all love each other. And you just truly love each other.” And I don’t miss that romance. It just makes the – like when Kyo makes her leek soup, it just makes that so much more impactful. Because it is obviously romance –

Missy
I could watch Kyo make leek soup and be more fulfilled than if they kissed each other on the mouth.

Merri
I know, right? Those things, where it’s like, obviously, he likes her. But that’s also him just being a good person. And it’s just – it’s just so good. And I think it’s one of the things that the show does really well. It gives me that satisfaction without the romance. And that’s hard. Especially for an American viewer,

Missy
When you think about – I can say just in my own life that of course my marriage has been a transformative experience for me, a deeply loving and transformative experience for me, a person who said love wasn’t real. But also, – this is not exception, this is also – my relationships with my friends are beautiful, transformative experiences. And I think that’s something that Fruits Basket gets that not every piece of media does this well. A lot of times it’s like, “My friends are great, but – “

Merri
“No homo.”

Missy
Right, “No homo.” ” – my marriage is great, but -” And it’s like, “No, no, how about ‘and?’ Have you considered ‘and?'” Because all of these different relationships can be radical and transformative and beautiful. And that’s I think what Fruits Basket excels at.

Merri
Yeah, I agree.

Missy
Um, so now I want to switch gears a bit to talk about binary gender and gender play within this series.

Merri
Here we go. It’s there.

Missy
It’s there. Fruits Basket has a really interesting relationship with gender. That’s it. That’s the episode. On the one hand, it relies very heavily on gender binaries, and if not biological essentialism – meaning the belief that personality traits and interests stem from a biological source – so if not biological essentialism, then at least just sort of assumption that men are ‘like this.’ And women are ‘like that,’

Merri
Men are always the perverts, never the woman. Even though they’re lusting after Yuki.

Missy
Right. But then again, as we mentioned above, there’s also some breaking down of that binary, not only in Kyo being a tsundere and Yuki being bishounen, but also in characters like Ritsu. Now, we’re going to talk more about Ritsu in our next episode, because of things that haven’t happened yet, so just put a pin in Ritsu. He’ll be back in the next episode. There’s also Momiji –

Merri
I love Momiji.

Missy
– wearing the girls uniform, being mistaken for a girl. And again, Yuki. So this is another quote from Girls Return Home, which is by Kukhee Choo, who writes, “Interestingly enough, it is not the female characters who exhibit and define what ladylike femininity should be. Rather, more often than not, it is the male characters who embody feminine physical traits such as pretty faces, slender bodies, and the aforementioned graceful mannerisms that place the female subject as inferior to the male. In shoujo texts, being effeminate does not detract from the male character’s appeal. Instead, it only enhances his charm and social status. As a matter of fact, the female subject is put in a lesser position because she is not able to perform femininity better than the male characters. As Judith Butler notes about gender construction, ‘Identity is performatively constituted by the very expressions that are said to be its results.’ What Butler claims is that the performance aspect of one’s gender is itself the process of constructing one’s own gender identity.'” We talk about Judith Butler a lot, but this is kind of –

Merri
As we should.

Missy
As we should. The core here is that gender is not an innate thing that comes out of your body.

Merri
You’re not necessarily born with it.

Missy
Right, gender is constructed, it’s performed. The way that I am a woman is different from the way that somebody else is a woman. And that source of womanhood, that feeling of womanhood, is something that we create – I mean, we could bring in Deleuze here, because why the fuck not? I am not a woman. I am womaning.

Merri
Yeah.

Missy
Right.

Merri
Oh, Deleuze.

Missy
Oh Deleuze. When he’s right, he’s right.

Merri
It’s true. It’s why he comes up so much because we’re right.

Missy
Yeah, now that I’ve grasped it, I’m never gonna shut the fuck up about Deleuze.

Merri
Well, it’s really satisfying.

Missy
Yeah, and – well, I think it’s a genuinely – like when you –

Merri
I agree with it.

Missy
When you can wrap your mind around what the fuck he’s saying, it’s like, “Okay, yeah. You know, you’re not wrong.”

Merri
It kind of feels like a much more optimistic version of “We’re all really just dying.”

Missy
[laughing] Yeah, we’re all – we exist in a state of becoming.

Merri
Yeah, dying.

Missy
Yeah, again, we have the popularity of bishounen characters and shoujo manga as evidence of this quote, right? Yuki is not especially masculine – until he’s fighting Kyo – but people like that about him. He’s handsome to the characters of the story, despite appearing more feminine than a character like Kyo. And notably, people seem especially attracted to Yuki, when he wears a dress for the cultural festival.

Merri
I just did not get this.

Missy
Why they find him so appealing?

Merri
Yes.

Missy
Um, listen. I mean, I saw that photo of Oscar Isaac in a skirt. And I said, yes. Yes, sir.

Merri
I mean, maybe it’s just like – obviously, like, I’m not attracted to Yuki –

Missy
No.

Merri
So maybe it’s just not my thing.

Missy
I think well, okay, think of it this way. It’s not the dress that makes Yuki more attractive. It’s the fact that he’s wearing a dress.

Merri
Yeah, no, it didn’t – I don’t.

Missy
If I see a man wearing a skirt, or I see a man wearing a dress, I have a different concept of that man than I do in a suit.

Merri
Okay, okay.

Missy
That tells me something about the man.

Merri
Okay. And they want him to be his sweet prince.

Missy
Yeah. Yuki wearing a – like I’m sure there’s some people who saw – you know, we’re talking about fictional characters in a fictional story – but I’m sure there are some people who see Yuki in a dress and go, “That’s hot.” Like the fact that Yuki is hot he’s wearing a pretty dress, that itself is hot.

Merri
Best of both worlds.

Missy
But also, Yuki is wearing a dress. That tells me something about the kind of person Yuki is and that something is attractive to me.

Merri
Yeah, except if you look in his eyes, and then you’re like, “Absolutely not.”

Missy
He’s not having a good time in that dress.

Merri
He’s not having a good time.

Missy
So something about Yuki’s feminine traits, and the way that they they are like amplified by the dress makes him more appealing to these characters. We can’t say for certain exactly what that is for the characters in the story, right, but Yuki does have a different appeal from Kyo, who is more stereotypically masculine. And what does this tell us but that people like different kinds of men, right? Not everybody’s – Merri and I are not attracted to the same kinds of men. We might – there’s overlap, of course, sure. But we are not universally attracted to the same kinds of men.

Merri
Like really opposites, to be honest. I mean, I’m thinking of not necessarily like look –

Missy
Like fictional men.

Merri
Yeah, I’m thinking more of like, you like a man covered in blood, and I like a man covered in blood that’s not his.

Missy
Right. Yeah, we have we have like overlapping taste, but they’re not the same.

Merri
We both like a man covered in blood, but maybe not the same reason.

Missy
The source of the blood is different.

Merri
Yeah, we’re normal.

Missy
But Yuki also struggles with how people read him, especially when he wears a dress, right? He has a whole conversation with Tohru about how it’s not a compliment to call a man cute, which is interesting in light of what we said earlier about cuteness having a connotation of weakness in Japanese culture. Yuki in particular, but also Kyo, seems put off by alternate forms of gender expression. I have a theory as to why that is, but it involves something that doesn’t happen until the back half of the of the series. So just put a pin in it for now. But just for now, it is interesting that the younger Sohma’s seem weirded out by, say, Ritsu, or Ayame selling dresses to men, whereas Ayame is clearly chill with it, right? And well, there’s a lot going on with Ritsu that we’ll save for the next episode. He also seems at least comfortable in his clothes, even if he is ashamed of why he wears them. And please note that my choice of he/him pronouns for Ritsu is, again, deliberate. I mean, he uses he/him pronouns in in the original anime, but as we know, the original anime has some issues. So I did choose the pronouns deliberately, and we’ll talk more about this in the next episode. This is a quote from A Man Who Can Experience His Feelings: Fruits Basket, Toxic Masculinity, and Mental Health by Katie Randazzo, who writes, “Tohru is the positive female figure in Yuki’s life, offering alternative forms of masculinity and how she helps you get over some of his own ingrained biases. When their classmates force him into a dress for the school’s Cultural Festival, accentuating his androgyny, Tohru notices how beautiful he looks. Yuki feels emasculated by being forced to cross-dress . He tries to change his clothing, but Tohru convinces him that being cute is not a bad thing for boys. As her mother used to say, ‘It means I love you.'” And I think that that moment is like the beginning of a transformation for Yuki, where he comes to realize that the things that he doesn’t like about himself that are associated with femininity are not things that he has to hate. Because I don’t think Yuki comes off as – I think Kyo’s self-consciousness, he wears it on his sleeve, right?

Merri
Sure does.

Missy
He can’t hide a single emotion. He’s incapable of it. He’s constantly – like, he’s constantly blushing. He’s constantly lashing out. The same is not true for Yuki, who is very difficult to read, he keeps his emotions in check. And I think that this moment when Tohru tells him, “You know, calling you cute, doesn’t – it’s not meant to be demeaning. It’s another way of saying I love you.” That’s a potentially transformative remark ffor Yuki, who has come to associate that idea of cuteness or androgyny with something negative, especially because of his older brother who was so wild and out there and androgynous. And so this moment when she effectively says, “No, the things that you hate so much, I love them about you,” is a moment for him to start to learn to love those things about himself as well. And that’s kind of beginning to bridge this these negative feelings he has about his looks, I think, but also his his personality and the things that he associates with femininity, because there are not a lot of women in Yuki’s life.

Merri
I mean, yeah. Why is it in the zodiac there’s so few women?

Missy
I don’t know about that. It is interesting. It is interesting.

Merri
It sure is.

Missy
I will say we can talk about that next time. That moment, I think, is really important in Yuki’s development, even though it passes rather quickly. So just to switch gears a bit. I’ve titled this section “Portrayals of femininity, or how did they make Tohru not annoying?”

Merri
I love this.

Missy
When you just describe Tohru on the surface –

Merri
She sounds unbearable.

Missy
She sounds like she should piss me off. I should be mad that this character is so relentlessly upbeat. She loves housework. Everybody expects her to do housework and she loves to do – like I should hate it. I should be furious, right?

Merri
It should make me feel like I did when – I don’t know if you worked there when this happened – when an old coworker just was like. “Don’t you just love to do your husband’s laundry?”

Missy
No.

Merri
And I was like, “I fucking hate it actually.”

Missy
I don’t love to do anybody’s laundry.

Merri
The idea was that she loved to take care of him and there’s fundamental differences between that and Tohru.

Missy
In fact, I fucking love Tohru and I would die for her. I love her so much.

Merri
Agreed.

Missy
We talked a bit about Tohru appearing perfect on the surface. She’s kind, she’s empathetic, she’s hardworking, etc. But her flaws are also quite present.

Merri
I think the fact that her kindness and her empathy and her selflessness is part of her flaws really helps her not feel annoying, because it’s not like – the way it’s written is not like she’s all those things and I as a viewer am seeing that. She’s all these things and this show is showing me the viewer that that is a flaw.

Missy
Right. I’m not sure that just her flaws being present would be enough to explain how she ends up not being super annoying. She is still – she’s relentlessly upbeat. She fixes everybody’s problems, and her sort of can-do attitude could so easily be grating, but somehow they’re not. I fucking love Tohru. Much like her friends, if anybody said a mean thing about Tohru, I would fight them in the street. And this is why despite the fact that he is a child, I cannot stop hating Hiro. I’m so sorry. I hate Hiro more than every character on the show.

Merri
I think that’s fair. And I dislike Hiro but I feel like if Hiro had his own show, and he was 25 years old, I’d be down for it.

Missy
Yeah. He’s just – he’s so mean. I can’t. He’s a literal child and I need to let it go. But I just hate him. I’m sorry.

Merri
He’s so insecure that it almost feels okay. But it’s Tohru, so like, I can’t –

Missy
I can’t abide him being so mean to Tohru. And I think that her friends – Tohru’s friends – are a big part of what makes her not annoying, because we see how much people love Tohru and we want to love her too.

Merri
Just want to be accepted.

Missy
Yeah, like we see how much her friends love her and we’re like, “Yeah, she deserves it.” She’s also constructed in a way that is really easy for me, specifically, to identify with. I also love cats. And I used to get upset about cartoons like Tom and Jerry or Sylvester and Tweety because I liked cats and the cats were always kind of the villain in those stories and so I didn’t like them.

Merri
The reason Missy and I relate to Tohru: different. I mean, I like cats too, but I was never – not many people are like Missy and Tohru.

Missy
I have cat brain worms. Literally.

Merri
The cat litter got to you.

Missy
Yeah, literally cat brain worms. Much like making your protagonist a reader will make readers like them more – like if you write a book and your character loves to read in it, readers are gonna like your character more than if she hates books.

Merri
Why all readers love Emily Henry. She writes about authors.

Missy
So much like that, Tohru liking cats so much that she’s a bit weird about it makes me like her more. Because I too love cats so much that I’m a bit weird about it.

Merri
Like it’s almost cringy, but it works.

Missy
Yeah.

Merri
How can she be cringe and be like, “Oh yeah.” it’s not cringe when Tohru does it!

Missy
This is the representation I crave. Girls who like cats a little too much. When I was a kid – this is just a fun story about me – I told everybody I was gonna grow up and marry my cat. And the reason was because I didn’t know that there was a difference between platonic and romantic love.

Merri
Which works for this.

Missy
Yeah, so, like –

Merri
You were going to platonically marry your cat.

Missy
Yeah, I thought that I love my cat more than anybody else in the world. So the person I loved the most was my cat, therefore who did I want to grow up to marry? My cat! It just made sense. I was a very small child. But I remember this distinctly, because I think everybody thought I was weird for saying it.

Merri
Well, you are weird.

Missy
I also said I was gonna grow up to be a panther.

Merri
So a cat and a panther. It would have worked.

Missy
Yeah, it was fine. It would have been fine. Um, a lot of what I like about Tohru as a character comes not just from the fact that she is quite literally a nice girl, right? Because she’s literally a nice girl. But also because of how being a nice girl is treated within the narrative and what that is doing on a thematic level.

Merri
I think my most Tohru moment when I was younger would be telling my parents I would lay down my life for a mountain lion.

Missy
Yeah. Top 10 Tohru moments.

Merri
It’s not because I love mountain lions. It’s because – I remember – it is because I felt it’s unfair for people – this is an elementary school – this is me, this is elementary school Merri – unfair for people to come move in to someone else’s home and then kill them because you now want that home.

Missy
You’re right though.

Merri
I am!

Missy
This is a consistent argument on my Nextdoor, because people keep moving in from cities and then being like, “How do I keep the raccoons out?”

Merri
You don’t! It’s their home!

Missy
Babe, you put a lid on your garbage can.

Merri
Yeah, you tape it down.

Missy
You moved here. What are you doing? You’re gonna have raccoons!

Merri
That’s my Tohru moment, and that is my ultimate parents finding out who I am as a person.

Missy
But before we get too deep into the positives, I think it is worth acknowledging some of the criticisms of Tohru’s character, with the big one being that she is essentially playing mother to Shigure –

[BOTH MISPRONOUNCING SHIGURE SEVERAL TIMES]

That’s what it is. Its emphasis on the ‘shi’. – Shigure, Kyo, and Yuki.

Merri
She is Wendy to these lost boys.

Missy
Truly. She cooks, she cleans, she solves their emotional and family problems. While they are clearly grateful, they don’t pay her, which makes her sort of a live-in servant.

Merri
Yeah. She is Wendy and Hiro is Tinkerbell. And – oh my god! And Akito is Hook!

Missy
Oh my god. While they’re clearly grateful, they don’t pay her, again, which makes her sort of a live-in servant. It makes gestures like Kyo making her leek soup when she’s ill extra impactful, but it also feels like there is an expectation that she will behave this way. Even if she likes it, we have to remember that she is written to like it, right? She’s not a real person, she doesn’t have actual likes and dislikes. And that is not the same as a real person enjoying domestic tasks. Like the coworker who said that she likes caring for her husband, and therefore she likes to do the laundry. Does she really like to do the laundry? Or does she like caring for her husband, because those are two different things.

Merri
I feel like maybe I didn’t explain that as well, now that I’m thinking about it. She likes to do that because – and this is no diss to anybody’s religion, I want to make this clear. This is only a diss to this person and the way in which she performed her religion. It was very much like, “My religion tells me I need to be like,” – literal words – “subservient to my husband, therefore I should be, and I’m serving God by doing his laundry. And that makes me happy.” And like cool for you. But there’s some like fundamental issues that I personally have. You know, if that’s you, if that’s what you want to do, whatever. But I do think that there’s – this argument reminds me of an argument that I don’t think is had so much anymore, but like, maybe a third-wave feminist type of argument of that women who choose to stay at home aren’t actually choosing to stay at home. They’re doing what women are expected to, when really, some women choose to be home to take care of their home and their children and there’s nothing wrong with that. That’s still a job. And to me, Tohru very much feels like somebody who’s chosen to do this because it legitimately makes her happy.

Missy
It is definitely the way that she shows love to other people.

Merri
It is her love language. Which makes Kyo making leek soup even more intense.

Missy
He’s speaking her love language in that moment. The thing is that Tohru is constructed in this way. And there is a gender element to what’s going on. And as much as like – again, I’m a person who does a lot of housework and who likes to cook and that’s part of my way of demonstrating love.

Merri
I fucking hate it.

Missy
Yeah. Now, I have a lot of gendered housework hangups as a person, just coming from the way that I was raised. So me coming late into life and learning to enjoy cooking, not as a gendered expectation, but as a way of demonstrating love was like genuinely important to me.

Merri
Yeah. And see – you had such an opposite reaction to that because I was told as I grew up, “If you don’t learn how to cook, you’re never get a man.” Literally. My dad is a good dad. He’s not a bad dad. I don’t want this to make it sound like he was abusive, or emotionally abusive. But he would he would say to me, “If you don’t learn to cook, no one will date you and you’ll end up like your aunt.”

Missy
Oh my god.

Merri
Which only made me be like, “Well, I guess I fucking hate cooking, don’t I?”

Missy
Yeah.

Merri
Whereas Missy was like, “I need to get over. This is the healthy thing to do.” I’m like, “Fuck that. I’ll find someone to cook for me.”

Missy
Yeah. Well, I mean, if you can find somebody to cook for you, that’s ideal.

Merri
Yeah, I think my argument was – and it was a legitimate arguement and I still stand behind it – if someone doesn’t want to be with me because I can’t cook then I don’t wanna be with that person.

Missy
Yeah, no, that’s legit.

Merri
Yeah, that’s legit. Like, let’s not – what are you doing, Dad?

Missy
Yeah. But the thing I want to like make clear is that – again Tohru as a character resonates a lot with me, the way that she behaves. But I also want to make clear that she’s a construct, and therefore she doesn’t have a complex relationship with housework and gendered expectations the same way that I do. And so when I, on the surface, see a woman who is just dedicated to housework and who shows love through housework, and everybody expects her to do housework because she’s a woman, I’m a little critical of that.

Merri
Yeah.

Missy
So this is another quote from Girls Return Home, the essay by Kukhee Choo, who writes, “Both Hana Yori Dango and Fruits Basket feature a female protagonist who enters into the male protagonist’s household as a housekeeper or maid. Though exhibiting domestic devotion to prove themselves worthy of acknowledgement by the male protagonist’s families, the females endure domestic drudgery and even violence inflicted upon them.” So put a pin in this idea, because some of what I want to address here is better served in the second episode, but it’s true. Tohru is allowed to live with these boys initially because she is playing the role of housekeeper. It’s through that initial role that they get to know and understand her and it’s the role that she continues to play. She nurtures people through cleaning and food and caring for children even though she herself is a child.

Merri
Did she start out not as a good cook? Am I remembering that correctly.

Missy
No, I think she was a good cook from the beginning.

Merri
Okay.

Missy
Especially compared to whatever they were eating before. And she does experience violence! Maybe not as much as some of the other characters, but she’s attacked and she experiences not just violence, but gendered violence from Akito specifically. So this is another quote here from Girls Return Home by Kukhee Choo. So this is a quote from that essay. “Akito is jealous and obsessed with Tohru because he feels that his relatives pay more attention to her than to him. He lurks behind Tohru’s every move for an opportunity to find fault with her. In the final anime episode, Tohru visits the main Sohma household where Akito resides. Although she tries to emphasize with Akito’s painful destiny, he ends up brutally attacking her. Akito grabs Tohru by her hair and pushes her body down as if to make her kneel. The other two Sohma members, Yuki and Hatori ,tried to stop Akito by holding him back, but Akito does not let go of his grip on Tohru’s hair. However, she does not resist and appears to be submitting through bowing. This evokes a sexualized imagery that is commonly associated with adult manga. As Alison explains, the relationship between female submission and sexual violence is a common theme in manga texts geared toward mature women. ‘Women, of course, is primarily what and who men attack and the construction of femaleness is based on this position. Unlike men, they do not often cannot run away and despite being attacked, they typically do nothing to defend themselves, let alone try to fight back.'”

Merri
How smart was it for them not to have Kyo go into that meeting? Kyo would have died?

Missy
Yeah, it would have been a bloodbath. I don’t know that this encounter between Akito and Tohru is meant to be sexual, as in I don’t think that anybody, Akito included, is getting any kind of sexual gratification out of it.

Merri
Agreed.

Missy
But it is absolutely gendered. And I think I think the author here is talking about this kind of positioning of woman on the floor, man grabbing her hair, sexualized in the larger context of manga, not necessarily in this, but it is evoking the image, a sexualized image, even if the interaction itself is not sexual. And because sex is often gendered with men in thedominant position and women in the submissive position, even though this encounter is not sexual, it is using sexualized visual language to communicate something.

Merri
I have a question.

Missy
Uh huh.

Merri
And this is kind of going into the next anime. First – there’s two parts to this question. First, do you feel that Akito is much more feminized in the new anime?

Missy
I am not going to answer that question.

Merri
Okay. Well, then, I don’t know if you can answer the next one. Because I was gonna say, do you think that this dynamic will change because of that?

Missy
I am not going to answer that question.

Merri
Ah, fuck.

Missy
Sorry.

Merri
I think so. Yes.

Missy
I know too much.

Merri
OK.

Missy
That’s what I’m gonna say.

Merri
Damn.

Missy
Yeah. Ah, so Akito in this scene, who is the masculine figure, represents – oh, sorry, he resents the intrusion of this woman onto what has, until this point, been a largely masculine space. And because of that, he grabs her by her long hair and forces her to submit to him. It’s also notable that the language that Akito uses when talking about Tohru – he calls her ugly and unappealing. And it’s kind of like, “That’s where you go?”

Merri
In the manga he calls her a monster, right?

Missy
I think so. Yeah. Tohru in this scene takes the submissive/feminine position. But in contradiction to the association of cuteness with weakness that we’ve been talking about., she does not actually submit. She is in the submissive position, but she is not submitting. She loves Akito as fiercely as she loves everybody else.

Merri
This is where her weakness is strength.

Missy
Exactly.

Merri
As much as I’m like, “Girl, there’s no way you can feel this.” But Tohru – this is where her weakness is shown in the show as strength.

Missy
Right. She is exhibiting something often referred to as radical kindness or radical empathy or compassion. She was responding to hostility with kindness and that act can be transformative. Has Akito ever experienced affection or love from somebody not obligated to love him?

Merri
I mean, at this point, I’m thinking no.

Missy
Yeah. And so there is potential for this interaction where Tohru refuses to hate him and in fact, chooses to love him – there’s potential for that to be a transformative moment.

Merri
I think so. I think especially when you take that moment, I feel like that’s happening. And then in the manga when Kyo is talking to Akito about how Tohru essentially accepts him, and Akito starts trying to change the subject and not listen to him, because this idea of acceptance and love that she can give to essentially this monster – like that’s scary for him.

Missy
Well, Akito only knows how to get affection through fear. Everybody is afraid of Akito.

Merri
Yes.

Missy
He does not know how to love, and that’s something that Tohru can do so easily with no thought that when she’s literally being physically threatened, she’s still like, “I love you.” He doesn’t know how to respond to that.

Merri
Yeah.

Missy
He’s never seen anything like that. And so that is a moment of radical potential for Akito to change in the future. Now, one thing I want to talk about very briefly is the fact that there are problems with the idea of radical kindness, right? For one, in this instance, and in many others, it’s gendered. It also puts the responsibility on the person being harmed. Like, yeah, it would be great if we could all love our oppressors into not being oppressors anymore. But the fact of the matter is, me screaming, “I love you,” at a misogynist is not going to change their mind.

Merri
And like many times will do more damage to yourself.

Missy
Exactly. And of course, there are some conflicts that simply can’t be solved with kindness, right? I mean, not to talk about, like stuff going on in real life, but that poem from the 90210 girl to Vladimir Putin, like, “If I was your mother,” girlfriend…

Merri
It’s Ultimate – the worst.

Missy
That’s not gonna fix it. Right?

Merri
You are just – I don’t even know what you’re doing. I want to say you’re trying to call attention to yourself, but I don’t really think that’s what it is. I think it’s just absolute whiteness.

Missy
Yeah. It’s something. But – and this is an important one. This is an important ‘but,’ one that we also discussed in our episode on Steven Universe. We have to understand that this show isn’t proposing radical kindness as a solution for all the world’s problems, right? It’s showing that it is an option. It is not saying it’s the right move all the time. It’s saying, “Here’s an alternative.” Because again, Akito has never experienced this before. All of Yuki and Kyo’s fighting, all of Akito’s abuses, all of the camaraderie between the Sohma family doesn’t fix their many issues, right? Nothing is fixing that. But when Tohru attempts to understand Akito, she has a breakthrough that nobody else has really had. It’s not the only solution and it wouldn’t have happened had she not already had breakthroughs with other members of the soma family. But it is a start right? It’s something.

Merri
I know you’ve had a lot already spoiled for you, so maybe this is going to be the same situation which we just had. But do you think that possibly this radical kindness, radical acceptance, is what’s going to lead to breaking the curse, and like Kyo gaining his self control, and Akito just fucking off?

Missy
I cannot answer that question.

Merri
I didn’t think you could, but I thought I’d ask it anyway,

Missy
I know answers to some of that. I don’t know answers to all of it. And so I don’t want to accidentally spoil anything by answering any part of it.

Merri
I’m gonna finish the anime like, in a week because I need to know the answers. I can’t do that with the manga.

Missy
People who are familiar with the whole story are probably like – they know what I know. And they’re like, “Okay.”

Merri
I’m gonna have to – there’s no way I can read the manga that fast. I’m gonna have to watch the show. The manga will take me literally every moment which we have. I can do the anime.

Missy
Much like Steven Universe, again, this is a show for children and for young adults. Huh?

Merri
Cedar universe.

Missy
Cedar universe. The problems and solutions are complex, but typically less complex than we expect of adult fiction. So it is actually okay, in my opinion, for Tohru’s radical compassion to solve or begin to solve this problem. It is presenting an alternative option, not saying that this is the way forward in all circumstances, right. It’s not saying that radical compassion from, you know, a 16 year old girl is going to solve world wars.

Merri
But I do like this idea of radical compassion being a mature way to deal with something.

Missy
Yes, I agree.

Merri
I think that that is radical on its own. And I think that it’s a fine line. But I think that the idea of cute and weak very much can be tied to this radical compassion and kindness and acceptance and that’s bullshit.

Missy
Yeah. So here’s another quote from Girls Return Home by Kukhee Choo, who writes “When Tohru realizes that most of the cursed Sohma family members have been rejected by their own parents, she’s able to empathize with their pain. Having lost both her parents through illness and a car accident, Tohru understands the importance of parental love. She gives the Sohma family members a feeling of yasuragi or comfort which enables them to open up and emotionally rely on her, even Akito, who has been rejected by his own mother. As Lebra claims, “A woman through motherhood becomes the most indispensable person in the household.” Tohru’s role as a mother wins her unconditional support and devotion from the Sohma family members which resembles that of mother/child relationships.” So obviously, the story was written with Tohru, a young girl, in the role of the protagonist. We do not have evidence for what it would look like if instead it focused on a young boy instead of a young girl. But notably, none of the young boys in this story take up this mothering or nurturing role that starts to heal everybody, maybe because they are themselves trapped in this cycle of trauma. But also, I think, because the expectation is that boys are not nurturing. Now, I don’t believe that that’s true because there is some biological element to boys that makes them incapable of nurturing, right? I think we know I don’t believe in biological essentialism. And through Tohru’s influences, Yuki and Kyo do start to show nurturing traits, especially toward Tohru. But I think it’s worth noting how easily Tohru becomes this mothering figure as well as a recipient of both romantic and platonic love, which is kind of the role of a mother, right? Now, the thing I want to make clear is that while it is frustrating to have a character slip into this role because of gendered expectations, that doesn’t inherently make the character bad, right In fact, I would argue that Fruits Basket is doing something very interesting in being shoujo by dealing with masculinity and femininity and by making Tohru this very compassionate and feminine figure who is nonetheless very strong. It feels to me like this whole series really is about untangling misogyny from trauma and cultural teachings about women and femininity.

Merri
I so totally agree with that.

Missy
Just snaps.

Merri
Yeah.

[SAD SNAPPING SOUNDS]

Missy
I can’t fucking snap.

Merri
I’ll do it for you.

Missy
I go to poetry readings, and it’s just soundless.

Merri
You can probably get an app.

Missy
[LAUGHING] To snap for me. Again, we won’t be able to discuss all of the evidence for this in full in this episode because of events that come later. But we can talk quite a bit about Tohru. So this is a quote from Shoujo Feminism, or How I Learned to Love Women and Myself Through Shoujo Manga, which is by Naoko Hoshi. Now, I also had to do a blog for one of my classes. And I always feel like when you publish something as part of a blog for a class online, you probably don’t expect it in a podcast and so I apologize if you’re like, “Oh my god, I can’t believe this got quoted somewhere. I just had to write it for an assignment.”

Merri
But it’s good, obviously!

Missy
You did a good job.

Merri
You did a good job.

Missy
So Hoshi writes, “What I ultimately think is the radical feminist portrayal of shoujo manga is the reevaluation of feminine selflessness and the potential of a feminist politics based on selflessness. Kittay alludes to the revolutionary potential of women’s selfless selfhood: “If gender theory is correct, then the key to women’s liberation may not lie in the reciprocity of Otherness. Instead women will be liberated by creating new social conditions that will forge alternatives to men’s current conception of the relation between self and other.” I would argue that women are already at the forefront of such movements which seek to break down the oppressive boundaries of self and other; as Emily Gaarder, among many other ecofeminists, notes, “from its early stirring in Victorian England to contemporary times, one of the most striking characteristics of the animal rights movement is that the majority of its activists are women.”

Merri
I had a whole class on ecofeminists.

Missy
It’s very interesting.

Merri
It’s just one of those things you rarely hear about. So when I hear I’m like, “Yeah, I know what that is.” It’s intense. And it is very difficul to be like, “Yeah, I can get behind that.” Anyone who can, like – phew.

Missy
So as you may have heard me talk about before, I get really frustrated with suggestions that women behave in a more masculine fashion to achieve more, like things like lean in culture, like stop using exclamation points in your emails, because it makes you look weak. That kind of thing.

Merri
Every time I use exclamation point. I’m like, “Good thing I work with all women.”

Missy
On the one hand, yeah, those are practical tips for being taken seriously. Right. Sure. I acknowledge that. On the other hand, why is the way I choose to express myself the problem, rather than the way that that expression is received?

Merri
Yeah.

Missy
Why is the onus on me to change when I’m expressing myself in a way that feels natural and comfortable to me?

Merri
Yeah, I feel it’s important for someone to know the tone in my voice.

Missy
Yeah.

Merri
I feel it’s important for someone to know when I’m excited for something, especially since I’m a person who feels – I really feel like, as a whole, our culture doesn’t give gratitude very well. I don’t think that we tell each other when – and this could just be my own need for gratitude – I don’t think that we tell people when we truly appreciate each other, and I feel like that simple use of using an exclamation point for me is like, I’m letting you know, I truly am excited about this. I really appreciate what you’ve done. Without me saying, “I really appreciate that you have done this for me because…”

Missy
Yeah, and I understand that a lot of my desire to do these things comes from cultural concepts for gender. I want to be seen and understood in a particular way that is not – you can’t disentangle it from my gender. But at the same time, why is my gender and my gender expression the problem? And the answer is it’s not, right? This is not the problem. But things associated with femininity are devalued in our culture. Therefore, they are seen as a problem. Hoshi argues here that in shoujo manga, the exploration of feminine selflessness has radical potential and that it celebrates rather than denigrates the traits associated with women. Instead of, for example, looking at Tohru and saying she’s weak because she cares so much, if she punched Akito all this would be over, it says her compassion is her strength, and when others emulate that compassion, the world is transformed. Again, the role model here is not Tohru’s toxic behavior, when she is sacrificing herself to the point of being sick. It’s the fact that other people see that there is strength in her compassion and begin to emulate it. Again, I want to be clear here that compassion and nurturing are not inherent traits to women. Women can be cruel and callous and murderous, and men can be kind and nurturing. Anybody anywhere on the gender spectrum can exhibit any of these traits [SAID IN A WAY THAT SOUNDS LIKE ‘TREATS.’] –

Merri
They are treats.

Missy
[LAUGHING] – these TRAITS, because we are not just a product of our genitalia, but also our minds and experiences and hormones and nature and nurture, and so on, right? We’re very complex beings.

Merri
We’re not in a vacuum.

Missy
We don’t live in a vacuum. There’s always forces exercising on us and we are always exercising.

Merri
We are always being exorcised.

Missy
I wish. Not because I like exercise –

Merri
Not exercising, but like a Constantine exorcism. That’s what I mean.

Missy
[LAUGHING] Two different things. But what Hoshi argues, and what I think Fruits Basket is showing, is that instead of devaluing the traits often associated with women, shoujo manga celebrates them and makes them a source of strength. So while Tohru is cute in both the American and Japanese sense, in that she’s sweet and pretty but also maybe a little weak, that cuteness isn’t a flaw. Her perceived lack of strength is itself a strength, it just looks different from what we how we would normally understand the word strength. This is another quote from that same essay, Shojo Feminism, or How I Learned to Love Women (and myself) through Shojo Manga by Naoko Hoshi, who writes, “Feminine selflessness is not necessarily about literally “losing” your “self,” but about understanding that being a human being is a necessarily social endeavour, in which the boundaries of self and other are socially constructed, and thus, permeable. Indeed, as Midori learns throughout the series, it is through her relationships with others that ultimately give her the power to flourish. We learn to like ourselves through liking others. In realizing my dependency on others, like Midori does, I can become not only a better feminist, but perhaps a better person, and live happily ever after.”

Merri
I think that the person who wrote this should be really proud because I feel like this really encapsulates the fourth wave feminism of embracing – just because it’s a stereotype of women, you can still embrace it. And that can be a form of power. And that’s a lot of what I’m getting from this person who’s writing and like, that works really well for what Tohru is doing and how we see her as a character.

Missy
Yeah. In Kisa’s episode of the original anime, Yuki, and I think it’s Tohru, have a conversation about how sometimes it takes affirmation from another person to begin to love yourself, which flies in the face of a lot of what we hear in American culture, as in you can’t love anybody until you love yourself. And like, I understand the logic behind that. But like –

Merri
Like I just said, gratitude is important.

Missy
Yeah! I have a lot of love for other people. And throughout my life, I did not have a lot of love for myself. That doesn’t mean that the love I experienced for other people wasn’t true. It just meant that I still had some steps to go on my journey.

Merri
Well, also it simply is easier to build yourself up when other people are saying it too. When you have nobody telling you, it’s more difficult. So maybe it’s not that you need that, but that it’s imperative to get to that point sooner.

Missy
You need some social approval, to some degree, to appreciate your characteristics, and what Hoshi is suggesting here is that humans are social creatures, and the characteristics exhibited in shoujo manga encourage social behavior. In that earlier quote from Srividya Ramasubramanian and Sarah Kornfield, they identified these behaviors as pro social, right? They encourage us to communicate effectively, and to work with people rather than against them. That’s a key piece of shoujo manga, and again, Hoshi is arguing that rather than seeing these things as childish or as weak, we can see them as immensely beneficial ideas and behaviors and that they have genuine transformative power. They’re not the solution in every situation. They are not the answer to all of the world’s problems. But if we all behaved, and were willing to grow as the characters in Fruits Baskets grow, and that we start to realize that the things that are easy to us are harmful, and if we push back against them, then we become kinder, more empathetic, and more social beings – like if everybody got that, the world would be a better place.It’s not that easy. And I don’t think Fruits Basket is arguing that it’s that easy. It is, in fact, quite hard.

Merri
Yeah, I think it’s showing how difficult it really is.

Missy
Yeah. But at the same time, it’s showing that that potential for change is there and that it can really be transformative. This is a quote from Honda Tohru and the Strength of Nurturing, which is by Caitlin Moore, who writes Since that talent is something that is considered to come naturally to girls, rather than throwing punches or swinging a sword, audiences tend to discount it as an actual strength. They don’t consider that empathy is something learned rather than inborn, nor take into account that it’s quite literally text that it’s a skill that takes a lot of conscious effort to learn. It’s a pernicious cultural belief that leads to female-dominated caregiving professions like early childhood education, social work, and elder care to be underpaid and underappreciated. Tohru never gives up on those around her, which takes an unbelievable amount of determination.”

Merri
I think this is – when I think back to my mom telling me, “You get further in life by being nice,” I think this distinction is where she lost this idea. And something moving forward with my future children will be important. It takes strength to be nice. And it is not always easy. And you can learn from that. And you will get further as a person and therefore emotionally through life, by being kind, by choosing kindness.

Missy
And it’s hard! It’s not easy!

Merri
It’s hard. Instead of being what Tohru is trying to get past of being kind because you are… submissive is not the right word. But that’s the only word is coming to my mind right now. But lthere’s a distinction there. And I think that that lesson my mom was trying to teach me lacked that. Not that she – I think she literally didn’t have the tool to understand that and be able to, instill that in me. And so when I hear “Nice gets you further in life,” I have that automatic like, “Ugh,” but when I hear it this way, it’s very much like, “Yeah, that’s empowering.”

Missy
And this echoes a lot of what we’ve already said with regard to these traits not being innate, right? Like it’s not like people are born kind or unkind, that is created in some way. Whatever. Wherever it comes from –

Merri
That’s what we believe.

Missy
It’s just not something that you’re just born with. But I like what Moore adds here, which is that these are skills that must be learned and it takes work and effort to do so. Tohru has learned to do these things and she teaches those around her through her example. Did you have something to add there?

Merri
No.

Missy
Okay.

Merri
My note was, “Yeah, I love Tohru.” It was literally like, “This is why I love Tohru.”

Missy
If Tohru was just innately positive and compassionate, she would be uninteresting, right? It would not be – it’s not interesting to watch a person who’s just naturally good at being good.

Merri
Yeah.

Missy
It’s the fact that she is those things despite her circumstances and the pain that she has endured that does make her endearing.I think it is easier for her to be kind than maybe for Kyo to be kind. But that doesn’t mean that it is easy for, for example, Tohru to respond to Akito or Hiro with kindness. Like she’s hurt by those things, and she still chooses to be kind in response and that is the strong thing.

Merri
She’s not oblivious to hurt.

Missy
No. She’s oblivious to a lot of things.

Merri
Well, and that’s why when she – in the manga, at least – when she goes to ask to see Akito, she asks to go alone and not tell anybody. If she was oblivious, she’d be like, “Come on everybody!”

Missy
“Nothing wrong here”! This is a quote from The Always Smiling Girl: How Tohru critiques toxic positivity by Olivia “Livi” Burke, who writes, “Tohru is established quickly as the type of person who will push her own feelings and struggles aside so that she can put others first. While she puts on a happy front, she herself is struggling: homeless, grieving her mother, and exhausted from overwork. When Yuki, Shigure, and Kyo Sohma take her in, she insists that she is fine, and makes a point to cover up her true feelings with kindness and a smile on her face. This sort of behavior is one kind of “toxic positivity.”

Toxic positivity is essentially the belief that no matter what is going on in one’s life or around them, one must maintain a positive mindset. While it’s good to try to look on the bright side, forcing oneself to be optimistic 100% of the time can do more harm than good, as it forces the individual to suppress their true feelings and ignore their own needs. In Tohru’s case, she pushes aside her struggles with her trauma and mental health in order to help her friends.”

Merri
That’s why we all need a Kyo in our life.

Missy
It’s true. What I think is easy to overlook here is that her efforts to be kind to everybody else are great, but it’s because of those efforts that Kyo, Yuki, Uo, and Hana are able to reciprocate. They each make a point of either telling directly or showing how Toro has impacted them through their actions, right? Like they make it pretty clear, Uo and Hana especially, that without Tohru, they’d be different people. They were living very different lives.

Merri
Yeah, especially Uo.

Missy
Yeah, especially Uo. Though they might not be saying thank you in the most explicit way, they are expressing gratitude by returning all of the love that Tohru has shown them in their own unique ways. Uo does not become Tohru.

Merri
No, I was surprised in how mean she was.

Missy
Uo?

Merri
Yeah! She was so mean!

Missy
And Tohru managed to love her out of it.

Merri
I know, it was just crazy!

Missy
She was really showing Uo a different way to be, and so was Kyoko for that matter.

Merri
Yeah.

Missy
They don’t let Tohru poison herself by only helping other. In their own ways – Kyo’s insistence that should be selfish and open up, Uo and Hana’s protectiveness, Yuki’ more verbal appreciation and the amount of time he spends with her -through all of those things they’re showing Tohru how loved she is, and they push her to love herself as much as she loves others.

Merri
Oh, I love this show. I just love this show.

Missy
It’s so good. And this is a quote from the same essay, The Always Smiling Girl: How Tohru critiques toxic positivity by Olivia “Livi” Burke
, who writes, “While the people she loves grow because of her, Tohru grows with them as well. Instead of being reduced to an unpaid therapist and constant shoulder to cry on for the other characters who get more development, Tohru learns that her hopes and dreams are just as important as theirs. ” I think it would be a poor reading to take away from the show and from the manga that the way Tohru acts is because she’s a woman and that it’s a good thing to be that selfless. I think that would be a poor reading.

Merri
Yeah.

Missy
The show is championing feminine traits and kindness, but not at Tohru’s expense. There is a balance to be found between someone like Tohru and someone like Kyo, when we first meet him, and they push each other closer and closer to finding that balance over time.

Merri
I love them.

Missy
Seeing a character as kind and beloved as Tohru is really validating, and that’s nice. But it’s more interesting and important that her being beloved doesn’t mean that her loved ones let her off the hook for not caring about herself. Sometimes love is hard work. There’s like –

Merri
I mean, marriage is hard work and so love is hard work, like you can’t deny that

Missy
There’s some Twitter discourse going on at the moment about what is meant by the phrase “Marriage is hard work.”

Merri
Really?

Missy
Because some people understand it to mean that marriage is unpleasant. And some people understand it to mean that being in a relationship can mean sometimes that you have to do things that are uncomfortable for you.

Merri
I mean, I don’t think unpleasant is the word I would use. But I would say sometimes marriage can be difficult. It can be not its best. I wouldn’t use unpleasant.

Missy
Yeah, well, there’s an association between work and unpleasantness.

Merri
I see.

Missy
When I say that marriage can be hard work, I mean it is hard work when I have had a bad day to not snap at my husband. Because that is indulging in my, like, basest instinct to let off steam. It can be hard to not do that.

Merri
Yeah. When I think marriage is hard work, and ultimately, love is hard work, I think that not everybody is going to see eye to eye. And it’s important to realize the sacrifices that need to be made. And – how do I explain this? I’ve never thought about what this means. Because you just feel it. To me it feels more like – I don’t know how to explain it.

Missy
I think work is not bad.

Merri
Yeah, I don’t think that – yeah, work is not bad. And it’s not always going to be easy. And there’s going to be ugly parts of it. And there’s going to be ugly parts of all of us. But the work is getting past those and finding the good at the other end. And without that ugly, sometimes you can’t get to the good.

Missy
It’s not always easy to love somebody and it’s not always easy to be loved, either.

Merri
Like I see it as like – my mental health makes me really hard to love sometimes. And my husband comes at it with absolute – like, I don’t know how the fuck he does it – such ease that it’s just – sometimes I have to recognize the care he gives me in that I’m not giving that same care back.

Missy
Yeah. And I think that that is something that this anime and this manga is showing really effectively is that loving people can be quite difficult. Not just that not just the idea of loving, right? It is easy – I mean, it’s not easy for everybody – but like, me feeling love toward my husband is in fact quite easy. I can do it without thinking. Me loving my husband enough to curb my worst impulses, the impulses that feel most comfortable to me, the indulgences that feel most comfortable to me, but that are harmful to people around me, my desire for self destruction – curbing those is work. And when we’re talking about the characters in the show, like Kyo, for example, has to learn that his tendency toward rage can be hurtful. And that’s his natural response to things.

Merri
I feel like Kyo.

Missy
That’s his natural response to things is to react with rage and the work for him is to curb that instinct. For Tohru, it’s easy to love. It’s not easy to love herself, and so the work that she has to put in is paying as much attention to herself as she pays to everybody else. That’s difficult for her. That’s work. That’s love. It’s very easy to feel love. It is a lot harder to express it, not just in saying, “I love you,” but in the actions that go along with that.

Merri
Kyo’s learning, though.

Missy
Yeah.

Merri
My boy’s learnin’.

Missy
Not just in the way that Tohru loves, but the way that people love her, because for them, love is telling her to stop doing so much of the things that they love about her because they care about her as much as she cares about them. To them, love is saying, “Stop caring about me. Care about yourself.”

Merri
And I think that’s what’s so important about her friends and Kyo especially, because they verbalize that.

Missy
Yeah.

Merri
Yuki’s really good at verbalizing and like acting out, like, “I will care for you.” Whereas – and her friends do that as well -but especially Kyo is very good at acting out like, “No, this is what you need to take.”

Missy
Sometimes Kyo says things in a way that are like – I mean, this is just Kyo – they’re too harsh. Like he says things in a mean fashion. But Tohru needs to hear them said directly.

Merri
Yeah, yes. Yes.

Missy
She needs to hear, “Stop. Don’t do that.”

Merri
Yes.

Missy
It’s not the way that like I would prefer to be spoken to. And I’m sure it’s not the way that most people would prefer to be spoken to. And I’m sure if Kyo was more emotionally mature, he could express it in a way that is even more impactful for Tohru. He’s not there yet.

Merri
No.

Missy
So for him to say, like, “Stop, you’re being stupid.” That’s hard for Tohru to hear. That’s work, but she has to hear it.

Merri
But I think there’s also the sense of – I fall into this idea that’s toxic of that. Kyo is angry and mean, therefore, when he says something like that, he truly means it. Yeah. Whereas Yuki might just be being nice.

Missy
Yeah. Yeah. Anyway, Fruits Basket’s a good show.

Merri
It’s such a good show.

Missy
It’s a good manga.

Merri
It’s so good. It’s just a good.

Missy
Yeah, it’s very good. Do you anything else to say?

Merri
I watched Turning Red, which is the new Pixar movie where the young girl turns into red panda and it has influences of Fruits Basket. So if you like Fruits Basket, go watch it. It’s so cute! It also takes place in 2002. And it’s great.

Missy
So that’s gonna do it for this episode. You can find us online at fakegeekgirlscast.com, which has all of our previous episodes, such as our Steven Universe one, which I feel like is a good – a nice pairing for this one. You can also find a link to our podcast network, Penwitch Studio, which has lots of other great shows for you to check out. If you like this podcast, consider leaving us a review on your podcast service of choice. It’s a nice thing to do. It’s what it’s what Tohru would do.

Merri
It’s what Tohru would do. She’d do it every day,

Missy
Every single day, a new review from Tohru. Next time, we will be doing the remaining chapters of Fruits Basket as well as the second anime. We’re gonna do our best to hold to that schedule. There’s a lot of Fruits Basket, y’all.

Merri
I don’t think anybody would be upset, Missy.

Missy
Yeah.

Merri
I think they would all say, “Do what’s best for you.”

Missy
What would Tohru do?

Merri
I’m gonna be Kyo and be like, “If this is – if this is gonna harm you, then we can push it back.”

Missy
Yeah, well, I’ll see where I’m at by the end of this week.

Merri
Because, I mean, I have to read it too. And I’m much slower – but you do way more than me, so.

Missy
I’m a busy girl.

Merri
You are a busy girl.

Missy
After Fruits Basket, we will be doing Eclipse. The torture continues. And then we will be doing Saint Maud, followed by probably The Matrix. So the Keanussaince continues. I just rewatched The Matrix, so I’m gonna have to watch it again. But like really watch it, not my, like. half-ass watching it. But it’s okay. because as I said, Keanu Reeves is a babe in that movie. I’m not into the sunglasses and trench coat. But like his face, babely.

Merri
Babely.

Missy
Babely.

Merri
I love that. I love the babely.

Missy
So that’s it.

Merri
Catch you on the flip side.

[THEME MUSIC] [LOVELYCRAFTIANS INTRO]

Narrator
We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. And yet here we are in defiance of Lovecraft, laughing through the darkness. The Lovelycraftians is an all-ladies Call of Cthulhu actual-play podcast with horror, humor, and no small amount of chaos, set in an occasionally familiar modern-day Chicago. Brought to you by Wampus House Productions and the Penwitch Studio network, you can find the Lovelies on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or your favorite podcatcher, or any time at Lovelycraftians.com. And remember, you never roll sanity alone here.

Categories
episodes

Episode 173 – Fruits Basket Part One

We’re talking about the first half of Fruits Basket, Natsuki Takaya’s hit manga (and the first anime series) about the kindest girl you’ll ever meet.

Are you ready to cry? We’re talking about the first half of Fruits Basket, Natsuki Takaya’s hit manga (and the first anime series) about the kindest girl you’ll ever meet and a bunch of rowdy, cursed people who turn into the animals of the zodiac when hugged by a person of a different gender. As you might have guessed, this whole thing smacks of gender, but we’re also talking about radical compassion and the strength of feminine-coded traits.

Some Sources You Might Find Interesting:

2-D Boys, 3-D Desires: A Critical Fan’s Primer to Romance, Sexuality & Gender in Shoujo Manga, Anime & Otome Video Games by Katherine M. Randazzo

Girls Return Home: Portrayal of Femininity in Popular Japanese Girls’ Manga and Anime Texts during the 1990s in Hana yori Dango and Fruits Basket by Kukhee Choo

Japanese Anime Heroines as Role Models f or U.S. Youth: Wishful Identification, Parasocial Interaction, and Intercultural Entertainment Effects by Srividya Ramasubramanian  and Sarah Kornfield

“A Man Who Can Experience His Feelings”: Fruits Basket, toxic masculinity, and mental health by Katie Randazzo

Shojo Feminism, or How I Learned to Love Women (and myself) through Shojo Manga by Naoko Hoshi

Honda Tohru and the Strength of Nurturing by Caitlin Moore

The Always Smiling Girl: How Tohru critiques toxic positivity by Olivia “Livi” Burke

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Check out the Lovelycraftians, an all-lady Call of Cthulhu actual-play podcast also featured on the Penwitch Studio network!

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