The curse at the center of the anime series Fruit basket goes beyond the obvious magic that turns Sohma members into animals when they hug other people. The Sohmas are all bound by the will and whims of the domineering head of the family Akito, the “god” of the zodiac, which prevents them from entering into further emotionally close ties. As the series’ main villain, Akito does some terrible things including, but not limited to, verbally abusing most Zodiac members, isolating them from their friends and family, beating a little girl, throwing another girl out a window and locking up the same girl in a hut with limited food and water without telling anyone where she is, stabbing someone, and even blinding a man.
But when the protagonist, the brave orphan Tohru Honda, becomes more and more entangled with the Sohma family, Akito’s power over them is threatened. And last season, it turns out that Akito is just as much a victim of the curse as the rest of her family, albeit in a different way.
[Ed. note: This post contains end spoilers for the 2019 Fruits Basket series.]< /p>
Because the god of the zodiac is traditionally male, Akito was forced to assume the identity of a man all her life. She was told over and over that people only held on around her because they were forced to. Her mother, jealous of the close bond Akito had with her father, verbally abused her. And after her father died, Akito was isolated from the rest of the family.
But the problem with the last season of Fruit basket not necessarily learning why it is the way it is, but what happens afterwards.
Throughout the show, as Tohru connects with the Zodiac members and they envision a world free from their curse, everything Akito knows begins to unravel. After Akito meets Tohru – who, despite everything, is perfectly and infallibly kind to her – Akito realizes that some people care for others unconditionally, without the obligations of a centuries-old curse. After an accident nearly kills Tohru, Akito makes an active decision to risk losing the only connections she ever really knew in order to break the curse and free the Zodiac members. It could be the first step on your path to salvation.
Unless the story ends there.
After releasing the Zodiac members, which comes with big, sweeping emotional scenes (and lots of hugs!), She greets them as her real self – not the dominant man most of them suspected, but a woman in a flowing one Kimono. And then after that very general “You are free!” Speech (she can’t even bring herself to apologize – she interrupts herself with “I’m so -”), she just disappears. She doesn’t even properly apologize for all the shit she did to the Zodiac members, which is the literal minimum she could have done. For example, “Hey Rin, I’m sorry I pushed you out the window!” Can go a long way.
To the merit of the series, many of the Zodiac members do not forgive Akito, and there is no evidence that the creators condemn them for doing so. In the final episode, the horse of the zodiac, Rin, says she can never forgive Akito, not like the others did. Akito realizes that her family has no obligation to exonerate them, and that not everyone in the world is going to like her. But the series doesn’t need time to question that line of thought or consider the consequences of trauma and abuse.
Most Sohmas get together to bid Tohru and her boyfriend Kyo goodbye, except for Akito, who tells her own partner Shigure that she doesn’t feel like she needs to disturb the festivities. And then her little date continues and Akito is happy for the first time in her life. Which is just a little frustrating – yes, she was traumatized as a child, but she stabbed a man, so it’s strange to see her get away with it completely, save for some lingering guilt.
Sometimes villains should stay villains. (Cough, Cruella de Vil, cough.) Not every villain needs a full-fledged arc of salvation. Surely there are plenty of instances where a bad villain makes for a more fulfilling story. That’s not to say that Akito should have remained completely villainous; for the context of this story, it is thematically appropriate to actively make the decision to end the cycle of abuse of the zodiac.
But the problem is that Fruit basket is caught in a strange in-between where we are expected to feel sorry for Akito when it has no effect. While it is implied that she will eventually make amends and rectify her actions, she doesn’t even begin that process from within the show. Much has been done to get them to take the first step to get things right, but the reward just isn’t there. What could be a fulfilling emotional arc of salvation will be neglected. Akito remains on the main property, retains her position as head of the family, and becomes romantically engaged to Shigure. She stays away from the other family members’ farewell party, but beyond that there is no emotional closure to her actions.
Fortunately, Fruit basket is not their story. While the storyline centers heavily on the Sohma family, it is primarily the story of Tohru learning to accept that people love them. In many ways, she is a foil for Akito, another unloved child who feels like a burden to others. But instead of being cruel, Tohru chooses to love people no matter what – not just her romantic interests Kyo, but also her close childhood friends and the Sohma family, with whom she is connected through deep, platonic bonds.
Throughout the show, Tohru meets, gets to know, and takes care of every Zodiac member. Each of them grows on her in different ways, and in the end she ends up accepting that they love her too. Akito, who went to see every Zodiac member and atone for their wrongdoing, would represent a poignant parallel to Tohru’s story arc. But the story stops there. Tohru’s journey comes to an emotional end when Tohru moves out of town with Kyo, finally accepting the love others have for her, and choosing to do things because they make them happy instead of making others happy. Akito’s potential growth is disrupted. It’s an oddly detached thought that could have bolstered the overarching themes of the show but never got a chance to.
All three seasons of Fruit basket (2019) can be streamed on Crunchyroll and Funimation.