FURUBA FRIDAYS: Episode 8 - All Shapes and Sizes

Welcome to this week's edition of Furuba Fridays, our weekly look at JesuOtaku's brilliant Fruits Basket Radio Drama. We're now a third of the way through the current crop of episodes (how scary is that?) and are gearing up for the school's annual Cultural Festival.
 Fruits Basket Radio Drama
While most of the episodes we've covered thus far focus around a single important event, Episode 8 in made up of three distinct parts - the discussion about the riceball stand, which ends with a cat invasion; Tohru's encounter with the "weird foreigner" in her workplace; and her conversations with Kyo involving her observation that "people are kinda like riceballs". None of these events has the weight or longevity to stand on its own, but JO manages to prevent things from feeling too overtly episodic.
The main technique that JO uses in this regard is elaboration. There is a lot more additional dialogue this time round, particularly in the opening section involving the riceball discussions. In the manga these conversations are reduced to a few snippets of conversation with "chatter" signals in the background - but of course, that doesn't cut it on radio. There are a lot of extras in this scene, including JO herself, which make the classroom seem more authentic, and I like the fact that there is more dialogue for President Takei, building on his "man-crush" on Yuki in Episode 1. The only thing I'm not sold on is the word "retarded", as uttered by Uo in relation to Ko's stupid idea. Even considering Uo's abrasive characterisation, it seems a little unnecessary.
While we're on the subject of extras, it's worth pointing out the contributions that the extras make in creating a more believable soundscape. Extras are credited en masse and so it's harder to pick out individual contributions than it would be on TV or film, but there are a number of juicy lines here which stick on one's mind. Suffice to say all involved are very good, on both a production level and in their performances. The numerous cat voices are the most memorable, ranging from the sweeter female contributions ("I'm sleepy, I need a nap!") to the deeper male ones ("I'm gonna shove my paws in your face!" - though 'paws' sounded like something very different the first time around...)
The cats lead us on to another key addition or departure - the scene on the rooftop involving Kyo's bracelet. This exchange is not in the manga, and is added in by JO as foreshadowing for events that will happen much, much later. I won't say too much on this, save that this bracelet has great significance in Kyo's relationship with Tohru - and also his relationship with Kazuma, whom we last talked about in Episode 5 (though again, he won't show up for a while). While it is a very conscious addition on JO's part, it doesn't feel out of place either tonally or narratively, which is perhaps the greatest compliment one can give.
This episode is also notable for introducing us, albeit unofficially, to two new characters. I'm not going to say a huge amount about either Momiji or Hatori Sohma, since they'll both be properly introduced next week and have a lot to do in the next few episodes (Hatori in particular - brace yourselves). The one thing I will single out this week are the contributions of Melle Teich, who voices Hana and also wrote or checked all of Momiji's German dialogue. Considering that she herself doesn't speak German, Majorikku does a very good job with Momiji's bilingual eccentricities.
The final section, involving Tohru's opining on riceballs, is a very good indicator of why Fruits Basket isn't just another cheesy, schmaltzy, slice-of-life -type story. In isolation, Tohru's analogy between riceballs and people's gifts might seem corny, and if this was your first episode of the radio drama, I wouldn't blame you for not quite feeling it. But in the context of her relationship with Kyo, summed up by his brief response, it becomes so much more than sentimentality - you could in fact argue that this scene is the central message of the story. Heather McDonald does really well in this scene, playing it earnestly but always being one step away from tipping over into slush.

That's all I have to say about this week's episode, so sit back and enjoy Episode 8! Don't forget to download last week's episode at the link below, and join me next week for another Furuba Friday, when the Cultural Festival will be in full swing...
Download Episode 7 - Welcome Home here

NEXT WEEK: Episode 9 - A Multicultural Festival