Tohru's crying, Kureno's crying, maybe you're crying too. It's the first episode of the final season of Fruits Basket, aptly titled Fruits Basket the Final, but it's already reached breakdown levels of emotional suffering. Kureno picks up his tale of woe exactly where he let off in September of last year, transforming the black-and-white hero and villain tale of the Sohmas into a messy, complex tragedy with enough pathos to humanize even the series' Big Bad. It's a remarkable tone-shifting speech to start off the series' endgame.
It's hard to overstate just how climactic Fruits Basket the Final is going to be. It'll be the first time the manga's true ending has been adapted to anime. These next few story arcs embody the pinnacle of shojo melodrama, so get ready to feel all the feelings each coming week. The show's distributor, Funimation, has been hyping up this momentous conclusion with limited-edition teas and an English dub-only premiere that streamed on the platform on Friday, more than two weeks before the show is slated to air in Japan. The unnamed episode streamed without opening or ending sequences, or for that matter, a title card, so I'm not sure what to call it. But it's a heavy note to return on, with very little of its typical humor. It's time to stop messing around, this episode says, and get at the heart of the Sohma family dysfunction.
Though fading daylight and evocative music stretch the drama of the situation, I think Tohru's tearful shock at Kureno's speech is a totally justified response. For a while now, Tohru has been propelled by righteous anger – a need to protect Kyo, Yuki, and the others from mean old Akito. She believes that if Kureno could just see Arisa on stage, he'd abandon the evil family head and follow his heart. But this speech doused cold water on her plans because it revealed that the Sohma family isn't that simple. Akito is cruel, but she's also a victim of the Sohma family.
Tohru is incredibly moved by the revelation of Akito's sex here; maybe because Tohru is a girl, it's easier for her to identify with a female Akito? Maybe she suspects a romantic relationship between Kureno and Akito now (which is ew, but Fruits Basket has always been lightly incestuous). Or perhaps it's simply the sympathetic style of Kureno's storytelling, which we the audience see visually, that powerfully portrays Akito as a lonely victim to her own mother. That's right: in order for Fruits Basket to ensure that we sympathize with its big, bad villain, Akito, it devised an even bigger, badder villain. This is our first time meeting Ren (at least when she is identified by name) and unlike with Akito, a redemption arc probably isn't coming. It takes a special kind of hatred to lead to the mother-daughter altercation in the courtyard; most striking to me was that moments after being choked by Akito, Ren still had the audacity to gloat. This sequence is so cold-hearted it's almost funny. Neither of these women has a shred of self-preservation to accompany their boundless fury. We see this later when Akito slaps Kureno, expecting to then be comforted. She has only learned to express herself through rage.
At one of her lowest emotional points so far, Tohru is bolstered by her friends and family. Hana-chan uses her mysterious ability to detect Tohru's sadness and collect her for a “nightgown festival.” She invites Arisa too, and while the three girls' professions of love and friendship are a bit cheesy, it's just what Tohru needs to return to her old self. Kyo somehow retrieves Tohru's scarf, which flew off of her neck in a moment of high drama, and washes it for her. It's just a regular white scarf, but he remembers it—likely because it's probably pretty rare for selfless Tohru to buy anything especially for herself. Despite his protestations, the fact that he went to this effort shows major character development compared to his earliest appearances. He doesn't just care about Tohru; he shows it now, too. Tohru characteristically ends the episode on a high note, but her optimism is anything but contagious. This is only the first episode of the final season, and she's got a lot of trials to overcome ahead.
With no ending credits, the premiere shifts immediately into a Q&A with some of the English voice actors. I think it's worth watching the whole thing. Two of the actors, Eric Vale (Yuki) and Jerry Jewell (Kyo) are reprising their roles from the 2001 series. It was fascinating to hear Eric talk about how his wife and kids helped him understand Fruits Basket's theme of family, and realize that 20 years have passed since the last time he played Yuki. And it's extremely gratifying to hear how affected the actors are by the series, perhaps just as much as the fans. It's going to be difficult for this season to live up to our expectations, since the manga it's based on has reached an almost legendary status in the libraries of shojo fans. But it's clear that the people voicing it have their hearts in the right place.
Fruits Basket the Final is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.