Fruits Basket: trauma and healing

Way back during MystiCon this year, I got to take part in a very lovely conversation with Sarah Oliver, Black Dahlia, and Wickedly Stitched Cosplay about Fruits Basket, one of the most beautiful, tender, and strange stories on hereditary chains of abuse that I have read. And it got me thinking about why I love this manga so much, and why I loved the adaptation.

So let’s take a deep dive.

I talked about the adaptation of Fruits Basket last year, but I did this assuming that most fans had read the manga and understood what made this story so special. Fruits Basket is about the power of love to heal and transform us, and also about how violence and trauma can make us feel that we are unworthy of that love. It also happens to be about some people who turn into animals if they are hugged by the opposite sex, obviously played for laughs to alleviate an otherwise deeply emotional storyline. This juxtaposition of comedy and trauma and vulnerability is one of the things that most attracts me to anime and manga when done well, and it’s something that I don’t always see in novels written in English (though some authors, such as T. Kingfisher and Martha Wells, seem to hit that nail right on the head). It’s a thing that keeps me coming back to anime time after time, even when I am disappointed.

And Fruits Basket’s anime adaptation is a perfect example of a well-paced, somewhat absurd but utterly piercing story.

Arguably, Fruits Basket is most interesting because of the relationships it depicts, and the most important relationships in the story are between Tohru and Kyo, Tohru and Yuki, and Yuki and Kyo. Kyo and Yuki have both been subject to abuse but both of these characters have internalized it differently. For Kyo, since much of his abuse was about him being ostracized from others and compared to Yuki, he has learned to be loud, to look for approval from others constantly, to be angry at Yuki as a strawman that symbolizes his subjugation. Simultaneously, Yuki has been told that he is supposed to be perfect, but that that perfection is something he is unworthy of, that no one can love him, that he will be alone and resented forever. He sees Kyo’s anger as a manifestation of that, a proof of what his abuser has told him. His every good act, all of the people who love him for those acts, seem a lie because of that whispering voice in the back of his head.

Enter Tohru, who has known love but lost it, who keeps smiling anyway.

Tohru fundamentally needs to help people, to be kind to them, and she embraces both Kyo and Yuki with all of their foibles. There’s no artifice in her. For Yuki, who wants earnestly to move beyond his abuse and become better, Tohru’s friendship gives him an anchorpoint, a way forward. He admires her and seeks to emulate her. Yuki, as a person conscious of his abuse, is the character who most articulates the realities of the Sohma family situation. The trauma he has received has been handed down to him, a heritage just as real and form-changing as his curse. He could choose to continue to hand this trauma down — does, at points. But Tohru shows him that there is another way.

In contrast, Kyo cannot articulate the abuse he has received because where Yuki has enough sense of self to see that his way of being is untenable, Kyo believes fundamentally that he is unlovable. He hates himself more than anyone. He cannot take the steps the Yuki takes. Yuki must pull himself from the mire of their past relationship — in the process showing Kyo another path. While ultimately Tohru saves Kyo, he would not be salvageable without his relationship with Yuki — and Yuki’s relationship with Tohru, which helps him to grow. It is Tohru’s strength and compassion that break the curse, but it’s Yuki’s decision to defy his history, to care for others despite his abuse, that breaks this cycle of trauma.

Ultimately I think that Fruits Basket becomes the powerful story it is because of its fundamental theme of emotional care and healing. It’s a great comfort watch (or read) in times, like now, where healing is needed, and I hope you get the chance to explore it.

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