Rant: Riceballs aren’t Fruit and Don’t Need to be!

I’m watching Fruits Basket (2019) this season and writing episode reviews. When I covered episodes 4-6, there was more I wanted to say about episode 5, but I was trying too hard to avoid spoilers. That’s why I’ll discuss things here. The title of this quick post says it all, but in case it’s unclear what I mean, please allow me to explain.

Fruits Basket is so named because of a childhood experience of Tooru. She played a game with her class where everyone was assigned the name of a fruit. When it came time for Tooru to be named, a boy told her she was an onigiri (riceball). Tooru wasn’t emotionally hurt, and only realized later that the boy was trying to be mean. Still, the memory stuck with her. She always felt like she was the odd one out, the misfit, or the black sheep. She was the riceball in the fruits basket.

Tooru never had the feeling of belonging except with her loving mother and her two faithful friends, Hana and Uo. However, because she didn’t want to cause problems, she didn’t even rely on those two friends when she was in need. (Not until starting in episode 6, anyway.) Early on, there’s a sense of not quite belonging with Uo and Hana, probably because she is aware she is so different. Tooru’s mother apparently had a slight criminal record. Gossip about she and her daughter ran wild. The extended family treated Tooru like a criminal. No wonder she felt like she didn’t fit in. And when Tooru’s mother died a sudden, premature death, the unfortunate girl lost the last true person with whom she could feel completely comfortable in her own skin.

It’s almost downplayed in the anime how dark things were for Tooru. The house she loved was being sold, and she couldn’t move in with her grandfather (and extended family) right away because of renovations. Rather than “bothering” Uo and Hana, Tooru resorted to sleeping in a tent in the woods. That was her living situation, probably for several weeks. Everything changed, however, when Tooru and her tent were discovered by members of the Souma family, who owned the land. We should all know what happened from there. Yuki, Shigure, and Kyo were welcoming and accepting of Tooru as she started to live with them.

She felt deeply happy, and began to think of them as family. After all, they were more supportive of her than her awful aunt, uncle, and cousin. Thus, when her grandfather (who lived with the aunt and company) called to say the renovations were about done, Tooru was shocked and sad. Though she didn’t show it, she was especially sad that the boys let her go so easily and without any argument. So Tooru tried living with her extended family for a few days. Her grandpa was nice to her as always, but the rest of the family was insulting and nosy. The culmination was the scene in episode 5, where Tooru cried and said she wanted to go “home,” with her home being the Souma house. Yuki and Kyo arrived while she was still crying, intent on bringing her back.

Related to all that happens in episode 5, there is the theme that Tooru is trying to be something she’s not: a “normal” girl who doesn’t live in a house of highschool boys, and is completely selfless and always at peace with where she is. From the very start, Tooru Honda has tried her best to be happy wherever she ended up, counting her blessings and focusing on the positives. That is a wonderful trait and it’s part of her unique personality. However, sometimes Tooru takes it too far. She thinks it would be selfish to ask Hana and Uo to give her a place to stay, which is how she ended up a tent. Likewise, it would be “selfish” to express that she doesn’t want to live her extended family, but with the Souma boys. Asking for help and acknowledging what one wants are not selfish things, and even if they are, Tooru is human, and can’t be perfectly selfless.

After “rescuing” her from the extended family, Kyo says to Tooru, “Isn’t it ok to be selfish sometimes? If somebody asked for selfish things day after day, I’d be pissed off. But in your case, it’s ok to complain, or be selfish, or get discouraged… every now and then.” Hearing this makes Tooru so relieved she cries again. It’s the first time she’s ever felt so vulnerable, but so accepted. This is where I make my point that Tooru doesn’t need to try to be what she’s not. She’s never going to become one of the zodiac animals like the Soumas. She’s never going to be their “real” family. And she’s never going to be a perfectly selfless, eternally positive girl. Tooru Honda is a riceball in the fruits basket, and that’s absolutely fine, because Shigure, Yuki, Kyo, Uo, and Hana all love and accept her for who she is.

This theme is probably important to every age and generation, but it seems especially applicable to youth in the U.S. This is a time when it’s challenging– and even dangerous sometimes– to be who you are. Psychologically, it’s harder and harder for people to accept themselves, with depression and anxiety disorders on the rise, in a society so divisive and hateful. There’s a strong drive to “standardize” everyone into homogenous values, or else shut them up. In a social and political landscape like this, it’s vital to find a sense of emotional belonging, and be with people who know what you are and won’t try to change you. We can’t all be fruit. Some of us are grains. Some of us are meat. Some of us are vegetables. Tooru Honda is a riceball. And nobody has any business telling her be a standard fruit.

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