(Welcome to The Quarantine Stream, a new series where the /Film team shares what they’ve been watching while social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic.)

The Series: Fruits Basket (2019)

Where You Can Stream It: Crunchyroll (with subtitles), Hulu (dubbed in English)

The Pitch: Recently orphaned high school teenager Tohru Honda finds herself living in a house with her handsome classmate Yuki Sohma and his two cousins — Yuki’s hot-headed rival Kyo, and the group’s de facto guardian, Shigure. But she soon discovers that Yuki’s family harbors a strange secret: they’re cursed to transform into an animal of the Chinese zodiac when hugged by a member of the opposite sex. Tohru quickly becomes entangled in the Sohma family’s lives and, through her cheery disposition and unflagging kindness, begins to change the embittered family members’ lives for the better.

Why It’s Essential Quarantine Viewing: Getting over the wacky romantic-comedy premise of this series is always the biggest hurdle for anyone starting Fruits Basket. The idea of several hot men who transform into cute animals living under the same roof of a naive girl has led many to miscategorize Fruits Basket as a reverse harem anime — a trope that describes a fluffy romance between one girl and her many varied suitors. But I promise you that this somewhat silly premise gives way to a sensitive and moving slice-of-life series that manages to profoundly examine depression, alienation, abuse, and the healing power of love.

Based on the manga by Natsuki Takaya first published in 1998, the recent Fruits Basket series is actually the second adaptation of the wildly popular shoujo series. The first premiered in 2001, when the manga was still unfinished, and thus ran for a single, truncated season that took too many departures from the source material and left fans and Takaya dissatisfied. But the 2019 anime adaptation, which comes courtesy of TMS Entertainment, is here to adapt the entire story that took the manga world by storm 20 years ago and became the best-selling shoujo manga series across the globe.

With its updated animation and a more serious take on the source material, the new Fruits Basket series blows the original out of the water. The original leaned much more into the gag comedy of the premise, but the 2019 reboot has a markedly melancholic touch that suggests this is more than just the romantic-comedy that you expect. Tohru Honda is an incredible and unlikely protagonist whose gentle compassion is so strong that she slowly changes the people around her — she’s like if Paddington was turned into a high school anime girl. And combined with the colorful collection of characters around her, each boasting distinct personalities and personal traumas, Fruits Basket is like a wholesome balm for the soul.

The thing about Fruits Basket is that it starts off as the archetype of everything you’d expect in a rom-com anime: a sweet protagonist, a cool love interest and his hot-tempered rival, friends with crazy quirks, schoolyard shenanigans. But Fruits Basket slowly unearths the rich personalities and deeply embedded traumas beneath those character archetypes, resulting in some of the most intricate and complex character work in modern anime. The series itself is actually quite light on plot — mostly following Tohru, Yuki, and Kyo dealing with mundane hijinks, coming-of-age struggles, and heartbreak — but the narrative is in the character growth itself. And yes, of course, there’s a romance that will make your heart flutter.

Having grown up avidly reading the Fruits Basket manga, the 2019 reboot was a beautiful, whimsical godsend to me, and I’ve been returning to it again and again to offset quarantine-induced anxiety. Better yet, its second (darker) season is returning next week on April 6. Catch up with it so you can cry with me.

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