As Tohru and the boys come home from school, they meet Ritsu Soma, the monkey of the zodiac. Ritsu is a beautiful person, dressed in a lovely girl’s kimono, but is also hysterically apologetic for every minor slight. When Tohru inadvertently hugs them, Ritsu transforms, revealing that “she” is actually a young man. Circumstances escalate, and Ritsu begins questioning his reasons for living. Tohru’s empathy gives him the courage to start looking for his own path, and he takes the first step by befriending Mitsuru, Shigure’s editor.
Ah man, ah jeez, folks… there’s no easy way to say this. Episode nineteen is the lowest, most aggravating part of Fruits Basket for me so far. It offers the same sympathetic drama as the rest of the show, and a sharper insight into Tohru’s experience since her mother’s death, but it’s all dragged down by Ritsu’s teeth-grindingly annoying nature and some truly tasteless humor.
Alright, let me start with the positives. I appreciate how they treat Ritsu’s cross-dressing with some respect and don’t treat it as a joke. It’s something that helps him feel calmer and more at ease, and that’s a nice change from how it’s often handled as a gag or a dig at the character’s masculinity. Thumbs up on that front.
I was also intrigued by how the episode frames the moment Tohru is able to pull Ritsu out of his despair. Part of Ritsu’s anxiety is the belief that he’s worthless and has no reason to live, but too cowardly to end his own life. Tohru says that it’s perfectly okay to keep searching for a purpose, whether it’s in a job, a way of life or a partner. While it’s not explicitly stated, this hints that Tohru has experienced the same feelings of worthlessness and despair since her mother’s death, and may have struggled with suicidal thoughts as well.
This is a deeper and sadder reading of Tohru’s experience than we’ve seen in the past, but those kinds of thoughts are not uncommon in the wake of such a traumatic experience. It’s an authentic feeling, and the fact that she has not only worked through it, but is using her experience to connect with others and offer them comfort when they feel similarly hopeless, is a testament to her inner strength. It’s easy to dismiss Tohru as the least interesting or engaging character compared to the Soma menagerie, but she is still a forceful presence and more than just a plot device.
Unfortunately, this is where the episode runs into trouble for me. To get to this character perspective, we have to slog through fifteen-odd minutes of Ritsu screaming apologies to the heavens and Shigure being an absolute jerk to everyone around him, and it seeps in to diminishes all of the positives I listed before. Ritsu’s constant shouting and groveling is played for laughs, but isn’t funny in the least. The only consolation is that both Ryo and Yuki’s fed-up glares keenly reflect my own frustrations.
Compounding Ritsu’s endless outbursts is Shigure and his ongoing torment of Mitsuru, his frazzled editor. By the midpoint of the episode, she’s become so distraught by his efforts to avoid handing in his latest manuscript that she makes a noose and begins writing her will. It’s treated as a joke, but in an episode where we’re supposed to empathize with other characters for feeling lost and hopeless, it’s incredibly ill-timed and unfunny. Beyond that, it casts Shigure as an unrepentant jackass rather than a jolly prankster, which may very well be intentional, but still rubs me the wrong way.
Fruits Basket has done a really good job adding emotional weight and sympathy to the majority of its cast so far, but this episode feels like a serious step backwards. Ritsu is grating and obnoxious, Shigure is downright malevolent, and Mitsuru acts like an angry doormat. Other than Tohru’s speech to Ritsu about valuing yourself and your search for meaning, it’s a loud, distracting episode that doesn’t come together strongly enough to make up for its flaws. I expect more from the show, and I hope it gets back on track soon.