Fruits Basket – Old or New?

Did Fruits Basket get the FMA Treatment?

Awhile back I watched the original 2001 version of Fruits Basket which is a slightly dated, partial adaptation of the source material of the same name. I enjoyed it, but didn’t have enough to say to write a full piece. Now I’ve had the chance to watch through the first season of the 2019 version, and it begs the question:  Did this receive the Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood treatment? By which I mean, is the old one worth watching, and by extension, do you need to watch the first season of the new one afterwards? Today I aim to answer these questions and walk you through exactly what’s been improved upon, and what hasn’t.

Series Overview

Just in case you haven’t seen either version, don’t worry. Let me give you a quick rundown of the general plot, which is largely the same in both versions. Tohru Honda’s mother has recently died. Now alone, she’s taken to living in a tent, working late-night jobs, and going to school just like everyone else. It’s not easy, but she does it all with a smile. By chance she happens across a house near where she’s decided to pitch her tent, and after a series of events, is taken in by the mysterious Souma family. They are a bit eccentric, but otherwise a nice bunch, oh and they’re cursed. When a member of the opposite sex hugs them, they transform into one of the zodiac spirits. That’s the basic plot, misfortune and hope mix together as Tohru may be the Sohma’s last hope.

What’s Improved?

For the new adaptation it should be obvious that the visuals have been overhauled, but there are other improvements which range from substantial to relatively minor. The rest we’ll talk about in the next section as, even with these improvements, I’m not sure they are really enough for return viewers.

Old trailer…

The most notable improvement is in the English performances. For you sub watchers, feel free to skip this section, but if you have any interest in seeing how the cast improved from the old show to the new one, you’ll be pretty pleased. The old Fruits Basket dub wasn’t terrible, more like inconsistent. This was mostly due to the relative inexperience of Laura Bailey at the time, with several of the other cast members spanning the gambit in terms of experience. What this meant for the show was an uneven vocal performance.

Returning to the role for this new adaptation of the work, it’s clear that she, along with the other cast members, have continued to hone and improve their craft. So for dub fans, the 2019 version of the show is absolutely going to be the better experience for you. I’d start here if you haven’t already watched the 2001 version.

For the second improvement, I’d consider this one less important, but from a “feel” perspective, it’s a big deal for me at least. Tohru doesn’t lament about her mom as much. In fact, a lot of the more “annoying” things have been trimmed down in favor of tightening the script and keeping focus on plot progression. Thankfully, the new Fruits Basket trusts the viewer to remember core concepts about the characters and recognizes that you can only have so many screaming characters be “comedically violent” so often before that wears thin.

New Trailer. It’s clear there were improvements

Finally, I do want to circle back to the visuals. While I do like the style of the older show, I would be lying if I said that modernizing the production didn’t benefit some of this iteration’s direction. The extra little touches such as the transformation scenes being hyper-realistic colored smoke clouds give them an otherworldly quality. When the changes work, they really work in the show’s favor.

What Didn’t?

Unfortunately, there’s a lot about the new show that just doesn’t work for me coming from the older series. It isn’t to say that the new version is bad, in fact, it’s the place to start for a modern viewer with no prior experience, but for everyone else? Not so much.

If you place each show side-by-side I would call the 2019 adaptation “safe” and even “sterile” at times. Compared to its predecessor, there’s a lot less personality in the direction and shots. An easy example to point to is in the episode where the Yuki Fanclub girls visit “Wave Girl’s” house. In the older show, this is kind of like a found footage documentary that let’s you get into the perspective of the fanclub pretty easily. Meanwhile in the new show… it’s just a standard episode with no fanfare whatsoever. It’s well-constructed, by modern standards perfectly fine, but it’s just too safe. It’s boring.

You’ll feel this throughout the entire first season, and honestly, even into the second season to some degree as it doesn’t really bring much new material to the table. Now, when that new material comes, whenever that happens (still hasn’t for me), I’m sure the series will be great, but as a returning viewer I found the experience to be a lot of head nodding, just waiting for the show to do something interesting.

I should clarify that the show isn’t bad, but having this reference point for the show does hurt the experience. I can confidently say that they have reorganized some of the material to flow a bit better, even sprinkling in some foreshadowing and additional plotting absent in the old series, but the personality that got sucked out of the show as a result makes the sacrifice somewhat bittersweet.

The tighter pacing, while generally a good thing, also hurts the show to some degree. Fruits Basket is an emotionally charged series, and with the old one, I could feel those beats. In the new one, they are still very much there, but they go by a lot faster. Take the backstory of Hatori for example, they are the same story, but in the old version we spend a lot more time with the character and their story. In the new one, it’s almost a blink-and-you-miss it kind of deal, despite taking about half of its episode’s runtime.

Over, and over, you are going to see stuff like that. Scenes being stripped of their potential power in favor of this faster pacing. Occasionally, these kinds of changes make even less sense, like when Tohru meets Akito for the first time. There’s no foreboding feeling, it just happens, and then the next moment Akito is speaking ill of Tohru in private. It conveys all the same information, but the presentation is, again, safe and overly straightforward.

I’d consider the way things are shot and presented to be done in a way you’d expect a movie to be. Everything is consistent to a fault. It’s a TV anime though, play with the medium and take some risks. Since the old show did that, and I have that to point to, it’s hard to justify these changes.

Recommendation

If you haven’t seen the 2001 Fruits Basket, you should just start with the new show. This is especially true for newer anime fans. Overall, it’s going to offer a better experience for you. Seeing that this is also a complete adaptation of the source material, you’ll also have the benefit of seeing the events in a more deliberate and intentioned way with no ambiguity in t heir presentation. The old show will still be there if you are a completionist like myself.

For everyone else, it’s complicated. The average viewer is going to want to see the new scenes and small plot additions as to not be lost later, but at the same time, they are so minor that I’m pretty sure you could just watch a few targeted episodes and miss nothing as far as season one of the 2019 version is concerned. If it’s been a long time, then the new show might be worth it from the start. Personally, I’d skip straight to season two. The story isn’t complicated, most beats are identical, and season two starts with material that isn’t new. You’ll be able to anchor just fine jumping in at that point, I’m fairly confident in that recommendation.

In a lot of ways this is like the FMA comparison I made at the start. New fans aren’t going to notice these complaints, but old fans are going to struggle to connect with the repeated material because it’s watered down and “sped” through in order to reach the new stuff. Is that a bad thing? In some ways it is unfortunate, but it really is only an issue for a small fraction of the show’s audience at the end of the day, becoming less of an issue over time as the older series fades from the public’s eye.

That’s just my take though, let me know what you think about the new vs old debate for Fruits Basket in the comments below. Did you experience both? Just one? Read the manga? I’d love to hear about your experience either way. Please refrain from spoilers though!


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