Picture the scene: you've recently been orphaned, your extended family doesn't want to take you in, and you're left with a choice between living in a tent, or with a family with a rather unusual curse. What do you do? If you're Tohru Honda, you choose the family with the curse - which of course brings some unexpected changes to her life, as she comes to term with the good and bad of the Sohma family...
One of my favourite series gets a new boxset re-release after a few years out-of-print, and I'll say upfront that this is a must-buy set. When Tohru's mother passes away, she's left to take care of herself and sets up a tent in what she assumes is an empty woodland. As it turns out, the wood is actually part of the grounds of the home of Shigure and Yuki Sohma, and when Yuki - one of her classmates - stumbles across her campsite, he arranges for Tohru to live at his home in return for doing the housework. Given the rather unique curse that his family lives under, though, chaos soon follows.
Yuki's always had the reputation at school of being an aloof loner - he keeps people, especially girls, at arms length, but Tohru soon learns there's a simple reason for this: in common with other members of the family, if Yuki's hugged, he turns into a animal from the Chinese Zodiac - in his case, a rat. Shigure's the dog, and rebellious Kyo, who soon joins the others at Shigure's home, is the cat. Over the course of the series, the other 'animals' appear, some more accepting of Tohru's presence than others, and each having personalities that in some way reflect which member of the zodiac they are.
Fruits Basket is directed by Akitaro Daichi, who brings his signature frenetic style to the series - comic scenes, which are very common during the early part of the series, are usually accompanied by a mad little drumbeat and give the impression that the animators were on crack while they were working on them. Since the humour is often more visual than coming from the dialogue, this works really well - it's almost impossible not to laugh along. As the series progresses, though, things get more serious, as Tohru's presence comes to be seen as a problem by Akito, the reculsive head of the Sohma family, and as the particular problems of being the cat start to have their effect on Kyo. Throughout, Tohru shows maturity beyond her years in the way that she deals with the people around her, and slowly brings even the most hostile members of the Sohma family around - maybe not to the point where they actively like her, the family's emotional defences are too high for that, but at least to the point where they see the good effect she's been having, and that she may be the one capable of helping Kyo deal with the more unwelcome effects of his curse.
On the fringes of the main story are Tohru's friends Hanajima & Uotani. Hana's got a goth / occult thing going, and makes a lot of her ability to read and influence people's "vibes" - which she uses to quite unnerving effect on anyone who shows any inclination towards upsetting Tohru. Uotani's a yankee girl, very much like Torhu's mother was when she was young - she's just as protective of Tohru as Hana is, but in a more physical way. They're the sort of friends that everyone should have, and their appearances are something I really look forward to - which in a series as full of great characters as Fruits Basket is, is definitely saying something.
There's really very little here that can be criticised - the worst I can say is that I really don't like the opening and closing themes, as they don't fit with the tone of the show. In terms of the characters, the story, and how it's all brought together and portrayed on screen, Fruits Basket is just about perfect. There's a tendency for people not to give the series a chance - it's seen as being targetted more at young girls, which puts a lot of people off - but there's plenty here that should appeal to any anime fan, male or female, young or old. A series that deserves to be in any collection, no question. Go buy it now.