A riceball in a basket of fruit: How well does Fruits Basket compare to the original adaptation?

It’s been three months now since Fruits Basket (2019) started airing, meaning we’re a little over halfway through the first season of the long-awaited reboot.

At 14 episodes deep, we’re entering the period where comparisons between the new and old adaptations of the beloved series will be able to hold some real weight – so what better time to look at how well the two are stacking up against each other so far?

For the unaware, Fruits Basket was a Japanese manga (comic) series that ran in Hana to Yume (a semi-monthly girls magazine) from 1998 to 2006, with its English translation coming to the west between 2004 and 2008.

With 136 chapters compiled over 23 volumes, it’s a fairly lengthy series – though it comes nowhere near the final resting numbers of more well-known international phenomenons like Dragon Ball (519 over 42 volumes) and Naruto (700 over 72 volumes).

Unlike what the name suggests, the show isn’t about a literal basket of fruit – or anything food-related at all, for that matter.

The story follows 16-year-old Tohru Honda, who finds herself living in a tent in the woods following the sudden death of her mother. When her tent is buried in a landslide, she has no choice but to rely on the kindness of her classmate, Yuki Sohma, and his elder cousin, Shigure, who offer to let her stay with them in exchange for doing the housework.

On the same day she moves in, another of Yuki’s cousins, Kyo, crashes through the roof and challenges Yuki to a fight. Attempting to break them apart, Tohru trips over and ends up grabbing Kyo – only for him to transform into a cat in her arms.

It is then that she discovers the Sohma family’s secret – 13 of its members are cursed to turn into the animals of the Chinese zodiac (plus the cat, due to the zodiac’s original mythology) when hugged by someone of the opposite sex. Tohru is sworn to secrecy in order to continue living with them, and as the series continues she meets more members of the eclectic family and discovers just how deep and dark the curse’s mystery runs.

While the premise may seem silly, the series is largely considered a masterclass in drama and portrayals of human emotion – what starts as a lackadaisical romp in the life of a young girl finding a place she belongs quickly turns into a touching yet dark tale that shows the extreme horrors of abuse, as well as how people can touch each other’s lives.

The series is particularly beloved by western fans – the original anime series aired in the west in 2002, around the time that anime started to become truly popularised internationally (Pokémon and Dragon Ball Z, both insanely popular, hit western screens at the tail end of the ’90s, and the medium’s popularity began to steadily climb after that).

As such, Fruits Basket is considered something of a classic, popular enough that an anime adaptation was produced quite early into the series’ life-span. The series was animated and produced by Studio Deen – at the time best known for its adaptations of Ranma ½ and Rurouni Kenshin – but reportedly the anime’s director, Akitaro Daichi, quickly ran into disagreements with series creator, Natsuki Takaya.

The plot was altered in a range of ways – events were moved around, and characters’ mannerisms altered – and over the course of production, there were further clashes between the two on casting, colouring details and Daichi’s storytelling style. This ultimately ended in Takaya disliking the adaptation.

While it’s unclear if production conflicts were the sole reason for the adaptation never continuing past one season, it is also worth noting that the adaptation had covered almost all chapters released by the time it finished airing. Once enough chapters had been published for a new season to be made, animation technology would’ve grown so extensively that the stylistic whiplash would’ve been substantial.

Fortunately for both Takaya and die-hard fans, a new anime adaptation was announced late last year and began airing on April 6th 2019. The new series is created by 8PAN, a subsidiary of TMS Entertainment – anime fans will know 8PAN as the company behind Yowamushi Pedal, but TMS Entertainment may be more recognisable internationally as one of the companies involved in classic cartoons DuckTales and Animaniacs.

From the very beginning of this new adaptation, western fans have had the pleasure of near-simultaneous releases – long gone are the days where fans would have to wait several years for a popular series to be translated and subtitled, or dubbed over in English.

Now the dub can be watched within half an hour of the Japanese release, and not only that – much of the original English cast has returned too. Laura Bailey reprises her role as Tohru, along with Eric Vale as Yuki, Jerry Jewell as Kyo, John Burgmeier as Shigure – and that’s just a few of the returning actors. Along with the nostalgia factor, the cast has had a long time to hone their skills – 17 whole years – and it shows.

This is where the positives end for the dub, however. Funimation is unfortunately notorious for awkward-sounding dubs, with many sentences running directly into each other where pauses would occur in natural speech. No matter how insanely skilful Bailey has grown, there’s only so much she can do with a script that’s hard to integrate into the animation shown on screen. The team certainly has a lot of passion for the series, but there’s an awkwardness there that just isn’t at all present in Japanese.

Fortunately, the Japanese voice acting is also a joy to listen to, and as the animation is matched to voice actors performances, there is no unnatural pacing. Unlike the dub, the Japanese team cares little for bringing back old talent for the sake of nostalgia – so far, not a single original cast member has reprised their role. Instead, we have Manaka Iwami as Tohru, Nobunaga Shimazaki as Yuki, Yuuma Uchida as Kyo, and Yuichi Nakamura as Shigure.

Our main trio of voice actors have all won some form of best voice actor award, be it actor of the year or best newcomer, while Nakamura is an industry veteran with extensive experience under his belt – this all shines through clearly in the skill of their performances. Particularly enrapturing is Iwami’s ability to capture Tohru’s innocent ditzy nature, as well as how perfectly Shimazaki shows off the many different complex sides to Yuki’s character.

Also impressive this time around is the show’s music. The opening of the original adaptation, For Fruits Basket by Ritsuko Okazaki, stood out for its gentle flowing melody and was greatly mourned by fans once they realised it would be replaced for the new series. However the first opening of the new adaptation, Again by Beverly, also perfectly encapsulates the early series’ gentle, innocent tones, with a slow, sugar-sweet melody about the importance of bonds – a very key theme in Fruits Basket.

The opening for the second cour (a term which, in anime, refers to 10-13 episodes – typically half a season), Chime by Ai Otsuka, is a little more mismatched in style to the series. While still very sweet it’s much more upbeat and cheerful, though perhaps this is needed as we start heading into darker content. Chime is much more typical of an opening for a series aimed at girls, and while this makes it less standout than Again’s more mature sound, or even For Fruits Basket’s innocent nature, it doesn’t make it any less of a joy to listen to.

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