The final season of the 2019 Fruits Basket reboot hasn’t held back on the overpowering emotion that marked the first two. The anime’s closing episodes have interrogated the series’ main conflict: the Sohma family curse. It’s been full of sweeping moments, and the aftermath of the climax beats them all. Those events aren’t exactly unprecedented, but the way they play out resonates deeply — not just in the show, but also as a 2021 experience.
[Ed. note: This post contains end spoilers for the 2019 Fruits Basket.]
The anime is a reboot of the 2001 show, based on the manga series of the same name. Plucky orphan Tohru Honda becomes entangled with the mysterious Sohma family and discovers their dark secret: Certain individuals in the family are cursed to turn into animals of the Zodiac when hugged by a member of the opposite sex.
When the curse is broken, naturally one of the first things many of the Zodiac members do is hug someone. Those aren’t just little hugs — the embraces symbolize more than just gaining access to intimacy. The Sohma family curse goes deeper than the transformations. While under its influence, the Zodiac members are also under the influence of domineering family head Akito, the “God” of the Zodiac. And whatever Akito says goes. This isn’t the curse’s most immediately obvious quirk, it’s a revelation Tohru discovers over the course of the show. In the last season, she learns more about why Akito abuses that power.
Despite what the majority of the family members believe, Akito is a woman, but because the role of “Zodiac God” has been traditionally male, she’s been forced to assume the identity of a man for her entire life. She’s also been told that the only thing special about her are the Zodiac bonds and her role within them, and that without them, no one would care for her. She is deeply lonely, as much a victim of this curse as the Zodiac animals are, though that doesn’t necessarily excuse the manipulative way she wields her power over them.
She wants to be the primary factor in all their lives, which gives the magical turning-into-animals curse a more symbolic edge. It isn’t just a physical quirk, it’s a metaphor for the way the Sohmas can never become emotionally close to others, as long as Akito has an overwhelming hold over them. The few who have managed to split from the curse on their own were able to love something or someone more than they feared Akito’s hold over them. The other characters with romantic arcs who haven’t been able to remove the curse do still value their respective partners — it’s just that it’s damn hard to cut yourself off from an abusive cycle when it’s all you’ve ever known.
Akito is the one who chooses to break the cycle that has trapped the Sohma family for generations. After meeting Tohru, who does not turn her away and instead shows her more kindness than anyone has before, Akito realizes just how damaging the family’s bonds have become. That doesn’t excuse her shitty actions — like pushing one of the Zodiac members out of a window for daring to date someone — but it does mark the first active step for her to repent. The curse shatters for all the remaining members at the same time, and they’re left confused by the complex feelings that flood them.
And their first instinct is to hug.
Their relationship with Akito has been toxic and traumatic, but also all they’ve ever known as their primary source of connection, and they lose it suddenly and completely. After they parse through the complicated emotions, many of them immediately just hug the person in their lives that they could not before.
Granted, we don’t see Kyo, the Cat of the Zodiac, turn to Tohru after the curse falls apart, as he’d already decided to throw caution to the wind and embrace her, even before the curse ended. But still, he chose her. For the others, the deliberate decision to embrace their loved ones in the wake of the aftermath is more evident. Dressmaker Ayame immediately embraces his devoted seamstress Mine, saying he can finally love her fully. The Rat of the Zodiac, mild-mannered Yuki, hugs his crush and fellow student-council member Machi. Even broody Hatsuharu and stubborn Rin — who don’t turn into animals when they embrace, since they’re both Zodiac members — choose each other for that first post-curse hug, after Hatsuharu remarks that the curse breaking is lonelier than he expected.
So many of these characters spent almost 60 episodes being unable to hold each other, which makes this moment incredibly satisfying. The action of hugging is specifically hard-hitting, because unlike kissing, it isn’t primarily known as a romantic gesture. The Fruits Basket characters haven’t just been isolated from prospective significant others, but from friends and family members as well. Now that the curse is broken, they’re finally able to express their emotional ties to all sorts of people outside the family — and all those relationships are important, not just the romantic ones.
And while it’s become cliché to respond to every single piece about media as a commentary on the global pandemic, this climax is still a pretty poignant reflection about the world we live in. During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, watching people in movies and TV shows wander through crowds and embrace each other was surreal. But keeping up with Fruits Basket — where hugging literally just could not happen — became a strange fictionalization on reality. The curse is broken now, and the characters can finally, at long last, take each other into their arms — just as vaccinations have allowed some of us to finally hang onto our own loved ones in person.
Sometimes a hug is just a physical action. Sometimes it’s an expression of affection. Sometimes a hug is a deeply symbolic expression of finally being able to allow someone into your life and love them back. Sometimes a hug is a reunion, a physical manifestation of what it feels like to come home after being lonely for so long. Whatever a hug is in 2021, Fruits Basket really nailed it.
All three seasons of Fruits Basket (2019) are available to stream on Crunchyroll and Funimation.