I knew I was going to write about Shigure for the Manga Moveable Feast, but wasn’t sure if I wanted to write another article. There’s no end of things to talk about in Fruits Basket, but a limited number of hours in the day. But I also keep coming back to Hiro, and I suspected that, as in fandom itself, he wouldn’t get that much love unless I took the time to write about him.
A lot of characters get introductions in Fruits Basket that don’t show off their best side – Kyo, Kagura, Rin – but Hiro’s entire introductory chapter seems to be designed to get the audience to really take a dislike to him. Which is fine, only Takaya did not reckon on the power of Western fans to grab that first impression and encase it in amber, FOREVER. Hiro’s past, in comparison to the other Zodiac, is not as traumatic, he’s a male tsundere (which usually gets you a severe backlash in North America), and worst of all, he’s too young to be a sexy bishonen, and thus have all his sins forgiven because OH SO HOT. Therefore Hiro tends to get some flack.
What Hiro is, of course, is an extraordinarily intelligent and precocious 12-year-old who lacks the emotional maturity to be able to handle it. And you know? I may not be able to identify with the torture, parental neglect, or horrific emotional trauma of the other Zodiac, but I can TOTALLY get where Hiro is coming from. No curse needed. I don’t get angry much, but the combination of pride, arrogance, worry and powerlessness that Hiro has speaks to many of us.
Hiro is also very much hemmed in by his huge crush on Kisa. He’ll do anything she wants as long as it makes her happy, but much like Rin (and it’s telling that the two of them are close – indeed, with Kagura they form a sort of ‘angry trio’ bond in the story), he gets to decide what her definition of happy is. Balancing between childhood and adulthood is next to impossible, which is why the teenage years are so tumultuous. And Akito beating Kisa up and telling Hiro it was his fault… man, why would anyone do that to a kid?
Much of Hiro’s arc is defined by the inability to speak out. Which is hilarious, given that he’s a blunt prodigy who will happily speak his mind to Tohru to the point where Kyo whacks him in the head. But he can’t tell Kisa why she was injured, so he avoids her. Then he realizes that was the wrong thing to do… but how is he supposed to simply go back to normal now? How do you erase a stupid action? Then even worse, he sees Akito pushing Rin out the window and hospitalizing her. The Sohma love and fear of Akito is the curse as much as the animals, and having him belatedly confess to Hatsuharu, as well as to Kisa about what he did is his emotional catharsis.
Hiro also dislikes Tohru. Now admittedly much of this is due to jealousy over Kisa giving Tohru all the attention, but I think even after he gets over this he’s still uncomfortable around her. He’s the one who notes her devotion to her mother is more like an obsession, and it’s almost as much for the reader’s sake – it’s the turning point at which we begin to understand Tohru is NOT the magical healer of all, but is in many ways just as broken as the Sohmas. And in the end, when they’re getting ready to send Tohru off, he tells Kisa it’s OK to cry because of the bond between them, but I think still is distant from Tohru. Which is good – it’s more realistic than Tohru simply being able to cure everyone’s problems.
Now, much of Hiro’s growth toward adulthood comes from his ability to let go of his fear and pride and admit mistakes. The other part comes from his wanting to grow stronger so he can protect his loved ones. He’s not alone here – see Hatsuharu for another good example – but Hiro is in a unique position with the birth of his sister. Hiro’s loving family is almost unique in the Zodiac – we hear Kisa’s family supports her, but never see them, and don’t get me started on how everyone handles her being bullied – in that his mother adores him, and has no issues with the curse at all. When he finds out she’s pregnant, he immediately starts to think ahead, both to what happens before birth (his mother seems to be a bit of a dojikko), and how he can be a good big brother. My favorite Hiro moment in the series may be when he discusses his sister with Kisa, and notes her complete innocence to the world. He knows what life with the Sohmas is like, and what everyone has suffered, and is determined to be a good big brother to her. It’s here that you can see why Kisa has fallen for him as well.
Shortly after this, his curse breaks. It’s only the second to break, and Kureno’s was years earlier, so it’s quite a shock. [EDIT: Yes, sorry, the third to break. I apologize to Momiji fans. Several volumes were unavailable so I was doing this partly on memory.] But really, after his confession, and with a new path he wanted to walk on, there was nothing tying him to Akito. In fact, as Akito is doing their ‘exit interviews’ after the curse breaks for everyone, she notes that Hiro’s stubborn tenacity was something she admired in him.
Hiro can be a spoiled brat at times, but he grows just as much as everyone else in the series. Interestingly, almost all of his growth has little to do with the animal curses, which don’t seem to trouble him much. If you took his character arc and Kisa and plunked them in some other manga without any supernatural elements, it would be much the same. Hiro’s not a manipulator or an innocent victim. He’s just this kid who knows far too much about what’s going on and needs to mature in order to deal with it. He’s just like us. And that may be why it makes some fans uncomfortable with him, but it’s also why I come back to him again and again.