The good news: Fruits Basket Season 3 will be here in 2021! The bad news: that means we have to sit with Kureno's shocking cliffhanger for at least a couple of months. This end-of-episode reveal might be enough to have anime-only viewers checking out the manga, but the twist was no less surprising even if you knew it was coming. Evocative visuals and slow, teasing storytelling make the lead-up both emotionally and narratively satisfying.
Since the Fruits Basket manga finished in the early '00s, fans have had nearly 20 years to spoil themselves on today's big shocker: Akito is actually a woman. There have been a few hints here and there, from Akito's possessiveness over the male members of the Zodiac, to her female voice actors: Yuka Imai and Colleen Clinkenbeard, to the fact that the subtitles pointedly don't use gender markers to refer to Akito. (Despite this, I have referred to Akito with he/him pronouns throughout my reviews, because otherwise my sentences get really clunky and can make you wonder why I'm bothering, which could itself be a spoiler.) But on the other hand, Akito's displayed femininity could be explained away as a queer villain trope, which is pretty common in shojo anime of its vintage. Even if you watched the 2001 Fruits Basket anime you might not pick up on these hints since that show aired before the big reveal in manga, and Akito had a male voice actor (while Yuki had a female one). Since I knew that this twist was imminent, I was surprised at how invested I was as Kureno slowly unraveled his story. But that's what Fruits Basket excels at: telling familiar stories in an extraordinary way. The show doesn't need to dangle surprises in order to keep my interest. Instead, it gets me emotionally invested in the characters themselves.
Take Kureno's tale, which is both wildly fantastic and deeply relatable. Through a slow, teasing visual demonstration that we see through Tohru's disbelieving eyes, we learn that Kureno broke the curse ages ago—randomly it seems, so there are no answers there yet. (Very astute viewers will notice that the birds flew away from Kureno in episode 41, dropping an early hint there.) But conversely, it's this lack of a spiritual bond with Akito that has made him Akito's closest companion out of every Zodiac member. Kureno is the only one who has free will to leave Akito, but he doesn't. While the others stay close because of Akito's power over them, Kureno sticks around because of Akito's vulnerability. When the curse broke, Akito felt it too, and it terrified her. Without the Zodiac, who would she be? It begins to explain her psychology: the cruelty, the manipulation, and the violence are all born out of her fear. Kureno alone realizes this, and it's enough to keep him away from Arisa, who he is in love with. Somebody needs to tell Kureno, “Don't set yourself on fire to keep somebody else warm.” But the tragedy of Kureno goes past that. He's possessed by the rooster (though we only ever see him represented by sparrows), and that ought to mean he could fly. As the numerous CGI feathers filling the frame remind us, for Kureno, the gift of flight was never a burden. The only Zodiac member to break the curse is the one who benefited most under its spell.
Even though I knew exactly what was coming, this powerful episode still had me on the edge of my seat. Shigure's sly, taunting line of questioning in which he all but gave it away had me waiting for when somebody, anybody, would finally spill the beans to Tohru. As the credits rolled, it wasn't only the cliffhanger that left me wanting more. From the gorgeous opening and ending credits, to narration that made every ensemble character somebody capable of deep inner change, to a story that's still emotionally prescient twenty years later, Fruits Basket Season Two left me with no complaints.