You don't need to be a Sohma to have a terrible home life, and Machi is the show's latest living example. But in a development that only Machi finds surprising, it's the boy she finds not at all princelike who comes to her rescue. This week on Fruits Basket, Yuki got a chance to show off the emotional intelligence he's picked up from Tohru in two different scenarios that would have both previously left him flummoxed. From reaching out to Machi at school, to standing up to Akito at the winter banquet, Yuki is no longer running or hiding from conflict. He's the one uniting factor in an episode that lumps together two separate manga chapters. It's fine as a bookend episode building up to something bigger, but this is unfortunately the second-to-last episode of the season. If there weren't a guaranteed third season on the way, this would be an even more awkward spot to start wrapping things up.
With a junky apartment and her self-esteem in the toilet, Machi's a mess inside and out. Her description of herself as a “void” should resonate with anyone who's ever been seriously depressed: the feeling that you're a bottomless pit of despair, too focused on survival to have anything to offer anyone else. I particularly love the way the anime evokes this feeling while Machi walks through a faceless crowd and the background music sounds like it's being played underwater, far away from her reach. When Machi's absentee mother (who has plenty of availability to her other child, in a detail that adds insult to injury) calls her “dull,” what's really going on is that Machi doesn't feel empowered to add her own contributions to society. It's a lucky break that somebody this miserable even joined the student council in the first place, and no doubt her brother Kakeru has something to do with that. Machi resembles an earlier Yuki, still too absorbed in his own trauma to reach out to others. Back then, Tohru reached out to pull him out of his shell. Now, Yuki is using the Tohru playbook to build up Machi's self-esteem with simple gestures like remembering a previous conversation about favorite colors and otherwise indicating that Machi, and her needs and wants, matter to him. The “motherly” love Yuki has obtained from Tohru is paying off as a confidence booster in social situations.
After Yuki gains some ground with Machi, he decides to play on hard mode and use his newfound confidence to speak to Akito as an equal. In the past, Akito has never been satisfied with anything less than cowering subservience from Yuki, so this was never going to go well. All Yuki has to do is appear at ease while discussing self-improvement to earn a slash from a smashed sake flask. The sudden hush that envelops the room when everyone turns from their festivities to see Akito having a violent outburst feels like the worst case scenario for any holiday gathering with the extended family after somebody's uncle brings up politics. Of course, Akito is worse because he reigns supreme over the family, and all anyone can do is wait for him to calm down and pick up the pieces after he leaves the room. In an environment where everyone else is enabling Akito, Yuki's small assertion is even more brave than it first appears. Yuki has evolved hugely as a character, dwarfed only by his previously chilly and now doting brother. Ayame is a bit of a disappointment here. I loved seeing him stand up to their mom for Yuki's sake. But even he won't dare talk back to Akito? He's still just the comic relief.
Instead, the others expect Shigure to be the one to assuage Akito's crumpled ego. The sly Zodiac dog seems to have a permanent place in Akito's good graces, and this episode it almost appeared that he'd tipped his hand: “Akito should just teach them a lesson already.” However, as several viewers have pointed out already, Shigure's comment here, which is nearly the reverse of his statement in the official manga, is probably just a mistranslation. I reached out to Funimation, which is in charge of translation for this series, and notified them of a potential error. (Thanks to redditor Iasi_Lael for the manga scan.) Though Shigure isn't villainous, he's still complicit in holding up a system that will take more than Yuki's positive new outlook to dismantle.