The 2001 Fruits Basket Anime’s Legacy, 20 Years Later

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20 years later, the 2001 Fruits Basket anime not only left a lasting impression on viewers, but it also helped shape the shojo genre for years to come.

This month marks the 20th year since the 2001 anime adaptation of Natsuki Takaya’s Fruits Basket began airing. In contrast to the recently-ended reboot, Fruits Basket (2001) is a loose adaptation of the original manga series, and while it had its fair share of criticism for that, it still had a big impact on the shojo genre, especially during the 2000s.

Fruits Basket centers around a high school student named Tohru Honda. After her mother passes away and she is unable to live with her grandfather because his home is under construction, she ends up living with the Sohma family instead. While there, Tohru accidentally discovers their family curse: selected members of the household transform into the animals of the Chinese Zodiac. Soon after, Tohru begins to have a positive influence on the Sohma family.

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Fruits Basket made an impact on shojo because its unique romantic storyline caters to all audiences. Most shojo series showcase unrealistic, cheesy romances between their main characters; however, the romance within Fruits Basket happens organically, as characters learn more about one another’s personalities and past traumas. Although the fated romance between Kyo Sohma and Tohru isn’t fully fleshed out in the 2001 version, we do see the two becoming closer to one another, especially in the concluding episodes where Tohru sees Kyo’s grotesque form as a cat. While Tohru admits that she is afraid of Kyo, she still accepts him. The conclusion of the anime does not solidify a romantic relationship between the two, but it does allow audiences to assume that they are, at least, much closer than before.

Fruits Basket also went on to shape the trajectory of romantic stories that followed it. In particular, it refined the “damsel-in-distress” trope, allowing female protagonists to empower their crush or lover by accepting their imperfections or transforming them for the better rather than be ‘rescued’ by wholly heroic male leads. Shojo anime series, like The Wallflower and My Little Monster, later present male protagonists that are rough around the edges but are accepted for their flaws by the female protagonists.

Furthermore, Fruits Basket also redefined the reverse-harem genre. The series is often labeled as a reverse-harem because of its gender split but it actually steers away from the traditional premise of the subgenre, wherein the male characters are all in love with the main female protagonist and desire a romantic relationship with her. Instead, Fruits Basket‘s storyline focuses on Tohru’s family relationships and friendships, through which her optimism and kindness have a positive influence. In Episode 17, “It’s Because I’ve Been Loved That I’ve Become Stronger,” Kisa Sohma, the Tiger of the Chinese Zodiac, becomes fond of Tohru because she takes care of her while staying at Shigure Sohma’s house. Kisa is constantly bullied by her classmates, but Tohru’s comforting nature gives Kisa a sense of protection. The reverse-harem set-up of Fruits Basket is used to develop strong that go beyond mere romantic entanglements.

In addition, Tohru’s vibrancy and optimistic nature became a blueprint for how female protagonists came to be crafted in shojo series, in which women or gender-fluid/non-conforming leads are picture-perfect examples of femininity. Protagonists like Haruhi Fujioka from Ouran High School Host Club and Katarina Claes from My Next Life as a Villainess, who followed Tohru, are other shojo examples of kind-hearted protagonists who use their personalities to positively impact those around them.

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Fruits Basket‘s other characters are also primary examples of some of the most popular gender-bending tropes found in other shojo series. One is the bromance between Shigure and Ayame Sohma: they jokingly act like a candid couple, similar to Hikaru and Kaoru Hitachiin’s forbidden romance role-playing in Ouran. Also, Fruits Basket provided viewers with the comedic gender-bending character Ritsu Sohma, a young man with low self-esteem who enjoys wearing women’s clothing. Although Ritsu didn’t appear as much in the 2001 version, his character helped open the door to other more prominent characters to play with gender roles and exist outside of the gender binary, like Haruhi from Ouran, and the exaggerated nature of these tropes in Fruits Basket provided great comic relief to viewers.

Unlike the 2019 version that perfectly balances its comedy and melodrama, the 2001 version provided viewers with a more slice-of-life, full-on comedic bent that, as well as Ouran, influenced series like Special A and Kamisama Kiss and Kimi ni Todoke. The original Fruits Basket anime may not be the perfect adaptation of the manga, but with its use of melodrama and comedy, dynamic female lead and trend-setting archetypes, it did leave a lasting legacy.

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