FURUBA FRIDAYS: Episode 1 - Great Transformations

Welcome to the first proper instalment of Furuba Fridays, as we begin our journey through the fantastic Fruits Basket Radio Drama. If you're not up to speed with what Fruits Basket is or how the radio drama came about, you may wish to take a glance at last week's introduction here. Otherwise, let's get cracking!
Fruits Basket Radio Drama
It's best to regard Great Transformations as a feature-length pilot rather than a normal episode. While all subsequent episodes have clocked in at around 20-25 minutes, this comes in at just over 41 minutes - a factor which some may find off-putting. I will admit that I don't often revisit this episode: once the basic groundwork has been laid, it's not necessary to refer back to the character origins all that much. That said, there is a lot of groundwork to be laid, so the length can be at least partly justified.
This first episode is a very good showcase for two things the radio drama has always possessed. Firstly, it is thoroughly well-produced, which is a big achievement considering how these things are recorded. Rather than gather the cast together in one place for multiple recordings (as often happens with professional radio or animation), JesuOtaku's talented cast record their parts individually, in differing qualities of recording environment and varying levels of tech. It's up to JO to stitch them all together to make it sound like everyone's in the same room, and she does a masterful job.
The drama benefits in this regard from both its original score (courtesy of Ken Clayton) and its impressive foley effects, created by Andrew Llanos. Both aspects lend a professional, bespoke air to the production, giving the impression that a lot of effort has gone into this (which indeed it has). JO uses sound very creatively, using leitmotifs to set up recurring settings and thereby avoiding exposition - the door chimes for Shigure's house, the school clock and so on. Clayton's score is playful yet mysterious, complimenting the enigmatic narration during the opening sprawl.
The big goal of this episode is setting up the basic relationships between Tohru, Yuki and Shigure, and acclimatising us to the world in which they find themselves. Having created a world that is technically polished and inviting, the second big plus can come into play: the voice acting.The highest compliment I can give in this regard is that I can't watch the anime now without feeling like it would sound better with this cast. I could stand here praising every part in turn, but for this week we'll just focus on the three I've mentioned.
One of the best decisions JO took with the project is not making the actors sound like their anime counterparts, especially in their delivery speed and intonation. Tohru has to sound sweet, engaging and natural, and in this respect Heather McDonald is the perfect choice. Evan Bremer is very good as Yuki, his calm voice lending an air of intrigue to the character while still making him sound like a typical teenager. And Jesse Frola (a.k.a. Demoversi) is fantastic as Shigure, playing up the suggestive elements with relish and bringing a real swagger which compliments the understatement of Tohru and Yuki. I'll go into more detail about what I like about these characters in future instalment, but since we're still getting introduced to the Furuba-verse, I'll leave that there for now.

Here then is the pilot episode for the Fruits Basket Radio Drama. The Blip videos split the episode into two 20-minute segments for your convenience; the mp3 download I will link to next week puts the two halves back together. Enjoy!

NEXT WEEK: Episode 2 - The Sohma Curse