Despite all of the chaos and craziness of These Times, leave it to the trusty Fruits Basket’s second season to end one year to the day after the first season ended in 2019. And it doesn’t end with a whimper, but a one-two punch that will leave your pulverized heart slowly stewing in your stomach, even as the brightest rays of hope yet shine upon Tooru’s mission.
The opening images herald what’s to come. As soon as I saw a young, bewildered Kureno surrounded by floating feathers and a positively terrified Akito cowering behind him, I knew the big secret Shigure has known, and would be dying to reveal were it not up to Kureno himself later: Kureno is not a Zodiac member. He hasn’t been for years. His bond with Akito was severed; the curse lifted…only to be immediately replaced by a new curse of his own making.
To the part about his curse being lifted, it’s the best news yet that Tooru’s dream of lifting it for all isn’t pie-in-the-sky wishful thinking, but a reality waiting to be realized. Of course, Tooru doesn’t know anything about this at first, and nor does Rin: but the fact that Rin will remain in a room and talk with Tooru (but leave the moment Yuki shows up) may well foreshadow future collaboration between the two. I certainly hope so, anyway!
For now, Tooru is happy for a new year with Yuki and Shigure and oh yeah, Kyou, who doesn’t appear in this episode, since the exploration of his and Tooru’s failure to confess to one another is best left to a future season for it to be done justice. Instead, most of the episode is given over to the truth about Kureno, and how he’s always seemed “off” to both Shigure and Hatori.
Kureno manages to steal away from a sleeping Akito’s side deep into the night, and plays the Cinderella-ish DVD given to him by Tooru c/o Momiji Both of them pray he’ll watch it, and he does. The scene with Tooru and Kyou was so powerful I almost forgot Arisa also bore her whole damn heart in the play.
First she castigated Prince Kyou for not acting on his feelings when there are “people out there (like her and Kureno) who can’t see the ones they wish to see.” When Arisa cries out “I want to see him!” Kureno can’t help but reach out. But his image of a smiling Arisa in her work apron is juxtaposed by a hysterical younger Akito begging him “Don’t abandon me!” and the dimensions of Kureno’s own personal prison come into clear focus.
The moment Tooru returns home to Shigure’s, he sends her out on an errand to buy envelopes, knowing full well she’ll do it immediately and with a smile (this is Tooru, after all). He also knows it will take her past a certain park where Kureno is waiting. Before noticing him, Tooru approaches a flock of sparrows, who naturally aren’t afraid of her what with her gentle soul and calming aura.
Then Kureno approaches her, and the birds scatter. This confuses Tooru to no end since she’s seen rabbits, rats and cats naturally gather around Momiji, Yuki, and Kyou, respectively. Then the absolute kicker: Kureno draws Tooru into a hug…and nothing happens. He tells her plainly: he’s different. His curse is broken. He isn’t a member of the Zodiac.
It would have been one thing if his burgeoning love for Arisa had broken the curse, but it happened long before they met, and to this day Kureno couldn’t tell you exactly why. All he knows his how he felt when it happened. At first he was sad upon realizing he’d never fly again. But he also felt a happiness and a freedom and a sense of humanity he’d never felt before.
Even so, he says, upon returning the DVD, Tooru’s present “was for nothing”, as he doesn’t intent to see Arisa again, and will instead remain by Akito’s side as he has done. It seems like a firm declaration, but as he tries desperately to rationalize two simple insignificant meetings with Arisa as easily forgotten with time…he just can’t do it.
There’s no supernatural or spiritual bond keeping him by Akito’s side. It is more pity than love, along with years of trying to make it something it hadn’t been since the curse broke. Upon realizing their bond was broken Akito lost it, taking Kureno aside and threatening to kill anyone else who approached. And then she sobbed and begged and pleaded for him not to leave her. And Kureno, being younger than Tooru is now and not knowing any better, gave in.
Things are even more different now than they were then. Kureno resolved neither to go too far into the outside world nor seek anything there, but he’s fallen in love for the first time since the curse broke, since he “became human”, as he puts it. And as much as he may want to stay by Akito’s side, just as back then, something has happened that cannot be undone.
Kureno might have been able to deceive the other Zodiac members for a while, but I doubt he ever deceived Akito. And yet despite knowing the curse was broken, his staying probably signaled to Akito that their power still held sway, which turned out to be true, only if psychologically and not supernaturally.
As Tooru tries to comfort the long-tormented Kureno, he tells her without self-pity, hatred, or regret, that he made his choice to live only for “the one who cried until sobs racked their body. Weaker than anyone…more fragile than anyone. For the one…so afraid…for a sorrowful girl.”
Akito wakes up before Kureno returns, and notes that it’s the first time he’s left without permission. After ordering their attendants to find him, Akito takes a bath, and when their robe slips off in the mirror, it is finally officially confirmed that Akito is a woman. This had already been heavily implied, both in design, choice of seiyu (Sakamoto Maaya), and in other subtle ways. But that doesn’t lesson the impact of learning the truth explicitly.
Immediately upon Tooru learning Akito is a girl, the second season ends, having answered so many questions and yet left us with so many more about what’s to come. Will Tooru (and Rin, and other allies) succeed in her quest to lift the curse for all? Will she even continue the quest, knowing how much pain it will cause Akito to take her remaining Zodiac members away? Will Tooru ever allow herself to love someone more than her mother? Will Kureno and Arisa meet again? Will Akito escalate her grudge against Tooru?
Lots to ponder, for sure. And that’s even before we get into how we’re supposed to feel about Akito, who regardless of gender has been a pretty consistently selfish, cruel, dispicable character from the start. It goes without saying she’d have a tragic past of her own to match her myriad psychological issues, and while I can empathize, goddamn is it hard to sympathize, when weighing the suffering she’s caused the others.
For all of that food for thought, and yearning for the next season, and the expert direction and framing and pitch-perfect music throughout, I found this one of the best episodes of Fruits Basket yet, which at this point is saying something, and it will be very very hard to wait for what’s next.
P.S. Additional food for thought: the reason Akito cherishes Kureno so much is because he is there by his own free will, and not due to any binding curse, something I hadn’t considered until we learned he’s no longer a Zodiac member. Ultimately this is the way all her companions should be: there by choice and not force. Of course, she’d have to be much nicer to them…
Want to read more? Read Crow’s thoughts here.