There are many evolving relationships in Natsuki Takaya’s Fruits Basket (Tokyopop), familial and romantic. There’s the central love triangle consisting of brave and virtuous Tohru, princely Yuki, and black-sheep (or cat) Kyo. There’s the whole Sohma nightmare, with head of the family Akito trying to keep everyone’s relationships within and beyond the family under control, or at least unstable enough that they’ll never challenge the bonds of those who share the curse that helps drive the manga’s plot.
Of course, I’ve never been one to take sides in triangles. Few of them are especially plausible to me, because most of them require all choices be equal, which obviates the difficulty of choice (at least in a fictional context). In Fruits Basket, the putative triangle is so hopelessly stacked in the favor of one character that Takaya spends almost half of the series constructing consolation prizes for the odd man out. (It’s a generous impulse.)
But if the romantic geometry is a non-starter, there’s a different kind of triad that I love dearly, as illustrated below:
Love triangles may do nothing for me, but enduring platonic friendships put a lock on my attention as few other emotional dynamics can. That’s why I’m so crazy about Tohru’s never-say-die bond with former gang-girl Arisa Uotani and spooky psychic Saki Hanajima. Beyond being a nicely constructed blend of personality types – sweet, rambunctious, and eerie – Takaya makes their dynamic credible. It takes a while, but we learn how Tohru bonded with Uotani, and then Hanajima.
We also learn that Tohru’s mother, former gang-girl Kyoko, was central to these friendships. It’s a legacy of her loving bond with Tohru, that Tohru was able to extend those feelings to people who are so different from herself. It could be argued that Tohru’s ability to achieve such a rapport with Uotani and Hamajima proves that she can get through to anyone, even a creepy family that’s been cursed for centuries.
But that would diminish the pleasure of the friendship for its own sake. Takaya tries to insert a number of high-school mayhem into the narrative (when not expertly assaying family dysfunction), and very little of it works. Yuki’s fan club, the stupid student council, and so on… all of these aspects land with something of a thud, and it’s probably partly because Uotani and Hanajima are so eccentric and authentic at the same time, and their affection for Tohru is so sincere. Everything else that happens in the classroom feels like play-acting compared to this inseparable trio.