Fruits Basket Vol. #4: The Clearing Sky (of 4) (Mania.com)
Review Date: Saturday, May 17, 2003
Release Date: Tuesday, May 27, 2003
What They Say
May rolls around again, as does the time for exams. When Tohru fails one of her exams and has to take a re-test, she's feels like she's let Yuki down. But all that worrying isn't good for her health and now she's sick!
Contains episodes 19-26.
The final volume of Fruits Basket introduces more characters and then shifts dramatically during the last three episodes to provide some solid emotional content for an ending.
For our primary viewing session, we listened to this disc in its original language of Japanese. The show features a good stereo mix, but it's not a mix that's real active in general as this is a very dialogue based show with only a few "action" moments here and there. Dialogue is crisp and clear and the opening and closing sounds sound excellent. We listened to the English track in a few places and found that to be about the same level of quality, which is solid but not terribly active. One of the things that Funimation does that I love is they dub the songs, and the one for this release is fantastic. I'm continuing to hold out hope for an actual soundtrack release or maybe a single of some sort or compilation.
Fruits Basket continues to use dual-layered discs and providing wonderful results. There's a full seven episodes of show here as well as about forty minutes of extras and numerous menus and other little bits. In terms of the transfer, it's just about as flawless as I can find it to be on my setup. Colors are beautifully saturated, aliasing is extremely minimal and cross coloration is only noticeable in a few areas during pause/step movements. Like past releases, the opening and ending sequences display an angle based on menu selections, so if you select Japanese with or without subtitles, you'll get the original logo and original untranslated credits. Selecting English with or without (close captioned) subtitles, you'll get the English translation of the credits and the English logo as well as the English opening song.
The third cover for this four volume series features a nice shot of the three primary characters of Kyo, Tohru and Yuki walking along together in their school uniforms all holding hands. This cover really symbolizes the primary force behind the series nicely. The back cover features a few animation sots and a summary of the shows premise. The discs features and extras are clearly listed as well as the basic production information. The insert provides another shot of the front cover without the Funimation or DVD logos while it opens up to provide summaries for each episode as well as two screenshots of each. This is a good package all around.
The menu layout is done in a fake widescreen feel, with the bars at the top and bottom being filled with soft colored flowers that are different in each screen while the center area features character shots and the actual selections. While there is nice relaxing instrumental music playing in each menu, there are no actual animations slowing anything down, which allows for nice fast access and load times.
Unsurprisingly, this final volume is filled with lots of extras. Almost too much one might say. Things kick off with the character biographies and textless opening again, but once past that there is some real meat. The third installment of the "Room" series gets presented here, and this fifteen minute segment has them interviewing the voice actor for Kyo. Once you get through that, there is a twenty-two minute English voice actor interview/commentary piece. This one is done in an interesting way but also problematic; to provide visuals, they provide a video art gallery with a lot of great images to look at while they talk. The downside is that since it's just a commentary really, you don't see the people behind it, which is an aspect I like since it allows you to connect to the actor more. Add in the encoding problem of disabling fast forward and you have a feature that I don't even want to load. The more control that's taken away, the less interested I am. After that, there's a five minute video gallery of illustrations, showcasing all sorts of covers, inserts and other appearances the show made during its run in Japan. There is a huge amount of fantastic artwork here.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Fruits Basket reaches its conclusion with the fourth volume, providing seven more episodes of a series that's quite calm and serene for the most part with a lot of very introspective moments. There's a fair bit of action provided as well during the end here, which thankfully doesn't feel out of place but rather compliments things nicely.
Prior to the three episodes at the end that bring around some amount of resolution to a part of the series, the four episodes before it continue much like all the earlier episodes in the series. This does include introducing yet more characters from the Sohma family, bringing the number up to a level that requires more processing gear than I have. It's reached the point for me that it's easy to lose track of who is who from episode to episode, never mind from disc to disc.
One of the better episodes is right at the start of the disc where Ayame is brought back into the picture and we have him and Yuki really connecting a bit more this time around. With Ayame bragging about how well his store is doing, Yuki tries to call him on it and says that he'll come for a visit, expecting Ayame to refuse and turn him away. So he's a bit surprised when he accepts and the date is made for the next Sunday. Bringing Tohru with him, he's quickly greeted by a crafty-fabric store and the surprising image of Ayame running out at him in a wedding dress.
As it turns out, the store is for custom clothing designs with the bulk of them specializing in the current trend of maids and other similar outfits. Yuki gets a bit bothered by all of this and wonders who would like such a thing, but Tohru is just in love and is in awe of all the outfits. In dealing with Ayame's assistant, she tries out one of his specially made outfits, a truly frilly piece that makes Tohru look extremely girly, but sets poor Yuki into a daze. This episode works out really well in establishing some new inroads between the relationship of Yuki and Ayame, something that plays out nicely.
Another episode that works well in fleshing out the secondary cast is the one focusing on the Prince Yuki club as lead by Minagawa. We get to sit in on more of their meetings and all their fun if insane rules. There's a lot of members that get a few seconds of screen time for this episode, but the bulk of it really deals with Minagawa and her first meeting of Yuki and subsequent reasons for starting the entire concept. Minagawa comes across great here with her mix of overly polite language as well as the way she mixes her innermost thoughts with actually speaking them out loud, causing her to get into some amusing situations. Her self-delusion also reaches some interesting levels.
The final three episodes here is where the really great stuff is, though it may feel a touch dragged out. The real piece that plays out here is that Akito is finally making his move on Tohru and dealing with the joy and happiness that she's brought to that particular Sohma house. His plan isn't exactly all that subtle once it gets unleashed, but as we get to know Akito more and more, he's not quite as maniacally evil as some of his earlier appearances would indicate.
The series ends on a solid note, with the cast having reached a nice point and a resolution of sorts come to regarding it. There's no resolution in terms of the cast and where they're going, but all of the primary characters have definitely changed greatly from when we first got to know them. When a series starts off with two men living alone in a house and ends with all kinds of visitors on a regular basis and a young woman living with them and taking care of them, none of them are going to be the same. The character growth for those who have interacted with Tohru is the real story here, and it's played out beautifully.
Funimation's release of this series has been fantastic. Between a great dub, excellent authoring, lots of episodes per volume and a treasure trove of extras on each release, you get overwhelmed almost with how much is there. This has probably become one of the more underrated releases recently due to its price point, but it's something that people should not miss. Fruits Basket is great fun and a very satisfying series with excellent and complex characters. I can't recommend it enough.
Japanese Language,English Language,English Subtitles,Character Profiles,Textless Opening,Room No. 3 Special,English Cast Interviews,Illustration Gallery
Toshiba TW40X81 40" HDTV, Panasonic RP-82 Progressive Scan codefree DVD player, Sony STR-DE835 DD/DTS receiver, Monster component cable and Sony speakers.
Mania Grade: A
Audio Rating: B+
Video Rating: A
Packaging Rating: B
Menus Rating: B+
Extras Rating: A
Age Rating: 13 & Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: FUNimation Entertainment, Ltd.
Running time: 123
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Fruits Basket