Fruits Basket Vol. #1 (of 4) (Mania.com)

By:Dani Moure
Review Date: Saturday, April 17, 2004
Release Date: Monday, April 05, 2004



What They Say
The Sohma family is cursed. However, this is no ordinary family curse. When a member of the family is embraced by a person of the opposite gender, they transform into an animal of the Chinese Zodiac! The Sohma's managed to keep the curse private for generations, but when a young girl stumbles upon their secret, life at the Sohma house changes forever. Conflict erupts as Zodiac rivals clash in this most unusual household. Young Tohru Honda must promise the secret will remain her own, or face the consequences!


The Review!
FUNimation break out of their usual mold by releasing a far more niche title, but give it a top class presentation that has finally made it to the UK via MVM.

Audio:
The show is presented in both Japanese and English stereo, and I listened to the Japanese track for my main viewing. The stereo mix is pretty basic but serves its purpose, since the show is mostly dialogue-oriented anyway thanks to the relative lack of action and sound effects. I noticed no dropouts or distortions during regular playback. The Japanese voices are all very nice, particularly Horie Yui as Tohru, who is really subtle and subdued at all the right moments, which makes it easy to connect to her.

I spot-checked the English track, and liked what I heard. Laura Bailey's Tohru didn't have quite the soft-sounding voice that Horie Yui had, but her performance still worked very well. Eric Vale's voice of Yuki is a little too disconnected at times, but it's a moot point for what is otherwise a good dub.

One big, big way in which FUNimation continue to win me over is that they're the only company left now who consistently dub all the opening and ending themes to their anime, and accurately at that. Fruits Basket is no different, and when it could've been easy to massacre a beautiful song like the opening "For Fruits Basket", they pulled it off really well. The dubbed end theme is very good, too. While I love the Japanese versions, I actually enjoy the English versions too, which is a great thing to be able to say.

Video:
Despite packing six episodes and a near thirty-minute featurette on this dual-layer disc, the video quality is very, very good. I noticed no artifacting at all, and very minimal aliasing throughout the show. Even in the darkest areas, there was no noticeable macro-blocking during regular playback. Colours are vibrant and the picture is nice and clear; it really is a great looking disc.

As with most of their shows, FUNimation also went the extra length here, providing alternate angles for the openings, endings and next episode previews. This means that you can either watch the translated, English credits in the opening, or the original Japanese opening with kanji. Likewise for the ending, and the text on the next episode previews is replaced on the English angle but in kanji on the other. My only gripe would be the lack of translated credits on the English angle for the Japanese cast - I don't particularly appreciate having to look up the cast names online.

Subtitles are in a nice yellow font, bigger than the white font used on the US discs. They're generally good with only a couple of grammatical errors that I noticed, but my biggest gripe is that they use the same yellow colour for everything: multiple subtitles when people talk at the same time (in which case the lines are preceded by "--"), and on-screen text. There were several times where this became a little confusing and it was a bit undesirable; but ultimately it's a minor niggle in the grand scheme of things.

Packaging:
The cover is a very simple affair, with Tohru taking the stage on the cover in front of a creamy, almost dream-like background. The show's logo is in the lower half of the cover along with the clearly marked volume title (though sadly, there's no numbering on this cover anywhere). The BBFC and FUNimation logos take up the bottom left corner. While it's definitely a more simple approach, it really works for the show. The back cover has a few screenshots, along with an Animerica quote at the top, and a note that Fruits was the "winner of the 25th Kodansha Manga Award!" The show's logo and volume title appear again, along with a description of the first volume. The technical details (episode numbers, run-time, extras and so on) are clearly listed, as is the disc's regions. While overall the package is nice, it's only let down by the slightly blurry print quality, which is even worse on the disc itself.

Menu:
The menus are a straightforward affair. The main menu has a bit of the cover image of Tohru in a widescreen-like bordered setup, with the Sohma house in the background and images of the other characters fading in and out beside her. The border is a really fitting pink flower pattern. Episodes numbers run across the bottom to jump straight to an episode, with the "setup" and "extras" options. The two sub-menus are static but use a nice, suitable font for the selections. The menus really fit with the warm style of the show.

Extras:
The main extra here on the first disc is a behind the scenes featurette that runs just over 25 minutes. Taken from the original Japanese DVD release, it follows the production of the first episode of the anime, and is a really nice piece. You have interviews with director Daichi and other staff members including the character designer and developer, where they talk about their approach to adapting Fruits Basket into an anime series. There are segments on the voice recording with brief interviews with the main actors, and even a brief segment that discusses the recording of the opening theme. It's a very nice piece that's really interesting. You could criticise it for being too brief, but that'd be picky considering it was partly done as a bit of promo before the first episode aired.

The other extras are a textless opening, which is nicely presented with both versions of the song, and also seven character profiles for the key characters that show up during this volume. Overall this is a very nice selection, and I hope we get more meaty extras as the release continues.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
With director Akitaro Daichi at the helm, Fruits Basket was never going to be quite straightforward, and sure enough, on the first six episodes so far, it's easily one of the best releases in the UK this year so far. Based on the manga by Natsuki Takaya, this anime series is a faithful adaptation that just tends to play up the comedy a little more, and expands on a few areas to fill out stories to a full episode.

The series focuses on Tohru Honda, a young girl whose still at school, but at the start of the series, is living alone in a tent. Her mother recently passed away, so Tohru moved in with her grandfather, but when the house had to be remodelled to accommodate some extra family, he asked Tohru to stay with a friend until it was over. Not wanting to be a burden on her best friends (or anyone else), she decided to go it alone in a tent on some empty woodland. Less than a week later, on her way to school, she walks by a house and sees a display of some of the characters from the Chinese Zodiac. She's always been fascinated with this, ever since her mother told her the story of the cat that wanted to be part of the Zodiac, and somewhat idolizes the cat.

Anyhow, as it turns out, one of the people living in the house is Yuki Sohma, the school heartthrob who always keeps girls at arm's length ? literally. He's there with Shigure Sohma, and Yuki and Tohru end up walking to school together that morning (much to the chagrin of the amusing Yuki-lover posse). The Sohma boys come across Tohru living in her tent, since the land it's pitched on is actually owned by the Sohma family. After the tent is mangled, Tohru is invited to move in to the Sohma house, but the boys have a secret ? they're possessed by the spirits of the Zodiac, as Tohru finds out, when she accidentally hugs them and Yuki turns into a rat, and Shigure becomes a dog!

With the secret out, the story truly begins. The thrust of the show focuses around the daily life of Tohru as she lives with the Sohmas, exploring their characters, relationships, friendships and any other drama that happens to get thrown in their general direction.

Tohru is a really sweet character to follow ? she's so innocent and childlike in some respects, but has a great sense of values instilled in her by her mother, and has an air of maturity around her most of the time, too. She's always quick to try and be the peacemaker between the various Sohma in-fighting, and generally comes off as an inspiring person in all of the episodes on the disc.

The Sohma family really makes things interesting, though. Each of the characters has their own traits, often modeled after the animals they represent, which makes things amusing. Yuki comes across as a really nice guy with a hidden side that seems a little more sinister. He does seem a little cold at times, but when you consider his situation it's certainly understandable with the girls. But the caring side also comes through, especially in the episode where Tohru leaves the Sohma house and the boys are left to go after her. The same goes for Kyo, who comes off like a little brat (and indeed, kind of is), but there's always more depth to the characters than what's on the surface. Over the course of the episodes, we see the sweeter side of Kyo, who explains why he's not good with people and acts how he does, and we see how important his rivalry with Yuki really is. Shigure provides a lot of the comic relief at times (both appropriate and not!), but he also brings the more mature air to the Sohma side, for instance in driving Yuki and Kyo in exactly the right way to go and get Tohru when she's left.

Even in this short space of time, with Tohru having moved into the house we see the characters grow and change, and it's the characters that are the beauty of Fruits Basket. You only have to watch the sixth episode, with Tohru's friends sleeping over, to see the difference in how the various characters are, like how Kyo doesn't throw a fit at Tohru even after everything that happens. Even the supporting characters that we don't see so much, like Tohru's friends and Kagura Sohma, feel far more well rounded and developed than some main characters in other shows.

There really is just something kind of magical about Fruits Basket. It's not action-packed (though there is some action), there's not some massive over-arching plot and it's quite slow-paced, but there's a lot of comedy, a healthy dose of drama, nice music and animation, and a whole lot of heart that really makes the show something special. Daichi strikes again achieving exactly what he sets out to ? a perfect balance between drama and comedy.

In Summary:
Despite all its excellent points, Fruits Basket isn't a series that will appeal to everyone, but I would strongly urge any anime fan that isn't completely put off by the mere mention of a lack of action to check this series out. With the release set to span four discs, each also carrying some fine extras, the series represents great value for money, and is a breath of fresh air. Buy the disc, then sit back, relax, and watch it unfold; it's almost guaranteed to make you laugh and pull at your heartstrings.

Features
Japanese Language,English Language,English Subtitles,Textless Songs,Behind the Scenes Featurette

Review Equipment
Philips 28" Pure Flat Widescreen TV, Pioneer DV-464 code free DVD player, JVC gold-plated RGB SCART cable, standard stereo sound.




Mania Grade: A
Audio Rating: A-
Video Rating: A-
Packaging Rating: A-
Menus Rating: B+
Extras Rating: A
Age Rating: 12 & Up
Region: 2 - Europe
Released By: MVM Entertainment
MSRP: £19.99
Running time: 145
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Fruits Basket