Genre: Romance, Comedy
Episodes: 26 episodes
Notes: Manga continues where anime left off with some nice twists. If you like the comedy in this series, try Ranma ½. Souma Hatori's voice actor is the same as Kakashi's!
Honda Tohru is an orphan living in a tent when she is found and taken in by her classmate Souma Yuki and his family. Soon she discovers their secret - they turn into the Chinese Zodiac animals when hugged by a member of the opposite gender!
The animation is about average with typical shoujo character designs where the guys often look (and dress) like girls. The zodiac animals are drawn generically and are disappointingly uninteresting. The opening and ending themes are touching and the overall score is appropriate even with the use of the comedy drum roll. Voices are fitting with some as annoying as the characters portrayed.
The series spans about a year. It starts off with Tohru, a high school student, who recently lost her mother. She was living with her paternal grandfather, but due to renovations, she has to find another place to stay temporarily. Instead of saying she has no other place to go, she lies and says she's staying with her friends. But she ends up living in a tent and trespassing on private property owned by the Souma family. Her impossibly cool classmate Yuki, who lives with his uncle Shigure, takes her in as a cook and housekeeper. They are joined by Yuki's hot-headed rival, Kyo, who though not a Souma, wants to be adopted into the family. Tohru quickly finds out about the curse since she is a clumsy girl who can't help but trip onto the various clan members. They each turn into a different animal of the Chinese zodiac. There are 12 animals but not all are represented in the anime. Kyo is cursed by the vengeful spirit of a cat, which is not one of the zodiac animals, and which makes him a double outsider.
The series is mostly episodic with some typical situations and various characters popping in and out. Overall theme is how the Souma family members are able to change and accept themselves and others because of Tohru. Of interest is the mystery/origin of the curse, but be warned, that isn't explained. But the main problem is it tries too hard to be funny. There are too many of the same formulaic comedy filler episodes and not enough about the curse. There's even a typical comedy drum roll track. All that's missing is the laugh track. It relies on exaggerated expressions and annoying characters for laughs, using the same contrived fights over and over, which play better to a younger audience. This would've been a better series if it had either fewer episodes or more episodes devoted to how the clan deals with the curse or the origins of the curse.
The title refers to a game from Tohru's childhood where children are assigned the names of various fruit. She is assigned "riceball" and doesn't get called to play with the other fruits (until the end). The theme of "Fruits Basket" is about being different and not fitting in. The series introduces a number of cursed Souma family members and of course they all have their angst and ways of (not) dealing with society. You don't get to meet all of the zodiac animals but after the first few, it's enough as everything is just repeated.
What redeems this anime from being just another school life romantic comedy is the little moral lessons. There are three of note: one about how kindness is often seen as hypocrisy; how melting snow is seen as spring; and a fable about the foolish traveler who gives so much of himself away yet receives nothing but contempt. There are also a number of moving scenes as the characters reflect upon their lives and each other. Though the feeling of being contrived is present, they are nicely executed.
The main characters are likeable enough. Tohru may be too sweet and innocent for some people and the forced rivalry between Yuki and Kyo is annoying after a while. There are a number of very annoying minor characters (bad tempered cursed girl who is obsessed with Kyo and likes to beat him up; cross-dressing cursed boy who looks very young for his age; super-gloomy-wacko landlady and her just as wacko-gloomy cursed child), who are ultimately there more for comedy than for character development. Everyone in touch with Tohru (almost instantly) loves her and resolves his or her personal issues. The best character is Shigure, probably because he is apparently the most well adjusted of the cursed members, and his antics against his editor are genuinely funny (he's a writer of both serious works and smut).
Honda Tohru is a saint. If you have problems with main characters who are saccharin-sweet with endless patience and self-sacrificing actions, then you will find her annoying and this anime to be over-rated, like I did. The episodes that directly deal with being cursed, including the last couple of episodes, are the most interesting and moving. But overall the outcome is just too predictable.
The premise is similar to "Ranma ½" where the main character turns into a girl when he's doused by cold water, and a side character turns into a pig. "Ranma ½" is pure comedy with no life lessons, and though the characters may be even more annoying, it's much funnier. However, Fruits Basket is a good enough mix of comedy, drama, romance, angst, and morality, though it doesn't excel at any genre.
Recommended for shoujo fans, hardcore romantics, and for family viewing. Older audiences might find this boring and contrived. Rated PG for cross dressing, bathhouse scenes, and a very funny joke involving hair in lower regions.