Sean here, readers. Another MMF brings us another guest post! Ysabet MacFarlane is not only a good friend but also a huge Fruits Basket fan, and I knew she would not want to be left out of this month’s discussion. She was even able to adapt the two Fruits Basket fanbooks for Tokyopop! Here she is, discussing the relationship between two of the more prickly members of the Zodiac.
Hi, Sean’s readers! Despite my good intentions in previous months, this is my first-ever MMF post. Sean has had several years to notice that Fruits Basket is quite possibly my favorite thing in the world to discuss, and he kindly invited me to come hang out in his space and chat about it.
Disclaimer: Let’s play it safe and assume that this post contains for spoilers for all 23 volumes of the manga.
As a reader, what I look for in a series is great characters, and Fruits Basket has them in spades. I’m generally happy to talk about any of them, including the few I dislike, but when I’m starting a conversation it almost always starts or ends with Rin, and usually has a lot to do with her relationship with one of the other characters.
Sean already blogged about Hiro this week, but I’m here today to talk specifically about Hiro’s relationship with Rin. Like a lot of people, I discovered Fruits Basket through the anime, and when I switched to the manga I found that my feelings about a few characters changed. The main (although not the only) reason for that the manga offers a lot more development for most of them, often even in the chapters that made it into the anime adaptation. Sometimes it still took me a while to adjust, but Hiro found a shortcut: I fell for Rin pretty much on sight; Hiro was intensely worried about her; and poof!, he entered my good graces. And from my new softened-up position, it was much easier to see the many ways in which he’s a great kid who’s well on the way to growing into a truly awesome adult.
Even though Hiro and Rin’s personalities are very (very!) different, they’ve got some surface similarities: they’re both prickly as all hell, they’re each driven up the wall by some of the same things, and they’re both in the habit of calculated verbal attacks—albeit for entirely different reasons. Hiro’s smart-mouthed tendencies have to do with being young and smart and excruciatingly aware of his own limitations, while Rin’s have more to do with being constantly on both the offensive and defensive and having no energy or inclination to be pleasant about it. (Consider this: she’s a terrible liar, and she spends her first ten volumes living and breathing a lie. That alone would wear on a girl.)
What Takaya shows us with these two is almost an incomplete relationship. Time after time, we see Hiro worrying about Rin and actively checking up on her, and she in turn usually ignores him or tries to drive him off, as she does with pretty much everybody. But there are plenty of things we’re not shown. We don’t have any idea how close they might have been, if they were at all, before Hiro saw Akito attack Rin. (The closest thing we have to a clue is that we see Hiro’s mom wishing Rin were around so she could meet Hinata, which at least suggests that Hiro’s not the only member of his family who’s fond of her.) We also don’t know how seeing Rin attacked might have affected Hiro differently if he weren’t already tormented by knowing that Akito hurt Kisa because of him, and if he weren’t keeping that knowledge secret from Kisa.
Hiro is fundamentally a good kid, as I said, so I’m not at all suggesting that he wouldn’t have cared (or been traumatized) by seeing what happened to Rin, no matter what his circumstances were. But as it is, he already felt powerless and as if he wasn’t there for Kisa when she needed him, and dammit, he’s going to be there for Rin, even if that means she bites his head off just about every time he comes near her.
I think “be there” is really the critical thing here: Hiro knows he can’t actually help her, but only he can fill this particular role for her. Tohru is more than willing to befriend and support her, but Rin never actually confides in her about a lot of things (a trend that continues through the entire series, even after they’re obviously real friends), and Shigure knows what happened to her but can’t exactly be said to be on her side.
And then there’s Hiro, who doesn’t just know what he saw; he knows why she got hurt, and he knows what she’s trying to do—break the curse—and what she’s doing to herself in the process, which is literally sacrificing her life to try to save Haru while pretending she couldn’t care less about him. How much of this Hiro knows because of what Akito told him isn’t clear—he says in volume 18 that Akito and Rin both swore him to secrecy about Rin’s “accident”—but the only way he can know some of it is that somewhere along the line, Rin told him. He probably still doesn’t know everything (her red-herring conversation with Shigure in volumes 9 and 14 comes to mind as a likely omission even if she confided in him again later, but that incident would be a whole ‘nother post), but somewhere off-screen, she trusted him with the truth about what she’s trying to do and then trusted him to keep it secret. Given Rin’s rampant trust issues, that speaks highly of how she feels about him.
What this adds up to, IMO, is an unbalanced but important relationship. Hiro is a child and fully aware of how that limits him—as Tohru says, living with that awareness takes real courage—and he’s Rin’s witness. With the exception of his slip-up in volume 15, when he unthinkingly starts to criticize Haru for how his behavior may have made Rin feel (and oh, that’s such a great scene—poor Hiro! But his internal monologue is so revealing), he keeps her secrets as long as he can.
When Hiro finally does break and tell Haru the truth in volume 18, it seems to be due to a combination of factors. Haru opens the door by referring back to Hiro’s brief outburst in volume 15, and Hiro, who’s been guilt-ridden about Kisa (and he seems to be on the verge of talking to her about it before they bump into Haru and it all comes out), who’s seeing everything in a new light after the birth of his little sister, and who’s so very aware of his own inability to do anything to help Rin, betrays her trust and defies Akito because he believes Haru can help her.
I think it’s also very telling of Rin’s character and Hiro’s understanding of her that what he says isn’t “help her”. It’s “tell her she can stop now”.
“Tell her she can stop now.”
Because Hiro may not know where she is or how bad things have gotten, but he’s been watching her long enough to know that what she needs is to be stopped before she completely destroys herself. Of course, at this point she has stopped, but only because Akito has blackmailed her with a “choice” that leaves her entirely powerless, and the effects of that particular abuse and of losing her momentum stay with her for the rest of the series.
We never see Rin and Hiro together again after this point, so how much Hiro ever finds out about what actually happened to her remains a mystery. We don’t know for sure that Rin tells anyone about it herself; she’s not even in the room when Haru discusses the situation with Yuki and Kazuma, and Shigure knew about it before (probably long before) he comes to talk to her in chapter 107.
I don’t want to wrap this up by extrapolating, but as the series closes Rin is moving in the direction of very, very slowly being less guarded, and Hiro seems to be placing more value on his relationships all the time, with the weight of secrecy lifted and a baby sister in his life. If there’s one thing Fruits Basket is clear about at the end, it’s that everyone is moving forward at their own pace, and that there’s more holding this group of characters together than the supernatural bond that’s been broken.