Friday, 21 February 2014

FURUBA FRIDAYS: Episode 18 - A Royal Getaway

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Welcome once again to Furuba Fridays, our ongoing look at the Fruits Basket Radio Drama. This week's instalment is going out slightly earlier than usual, since my girlfriend and I are in Coventry this weekend for the Riding Lights Members' Day. And just as I'm going away for a quick break, so are the characters in this week's episode!

One of the most common discussions about anime and manga is the level of fanservice involved and what form said fanservice takes. As a general rule, Fruits Basket is not a fanservice-orientated work: while there are some sexualised characters in it, it doesn't really go for the lowest common denominator, preferring to play on our heartstrings rather than stimulating anything lower down.
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One of the most common forms of fanservice is the 'hot spring episode'; it's so common it even has its own page on TV Tropes (which you can read here). Such episodes are essentially an excuse to see the cast in very little clothing for the amusement and arousal of both male and female viewers or readers. The story that surrounds such events and images is usually total fluff, which may help to explain why this is one of the weaker episodes of the radio drama. JesuOtaku goes the extra mile to make the episode work, but she is working with less substantial material than we've come to expect.
Much like last week's episode, it took a while for me to come round to aspects of this instalment, the biggest obstacle in this case being Ritsu's mother. We won't meet Ritsu in person for a little while longer, but if you're unfamiliar with the character and haven't read the manga it will take a lot for you to not find his mother annoying. To be fair, her mood swings are not played for cheap laughs like they are in the anime, but she does throw you off-balance without adding an awful lot to the plot.
 
Like many 'hot spring episodes', this episode also has an extensive sequence of the characters playing table tennis (I don't understand the connection either). JO does a very good job on a technical level here: the mixing is really good and the sound effects of the table, bats and ball is very realistic. But this sequence is a little too long, considering its only real purpose is to create overly familiar conflict between Yuki and Kyo. As with a lot of this episode, it's a case of making the best of the material, and in her defence JO does manage to make it entertaining.
In spite of all this, there are a number of really good moments in this episode. A lot of the dialogue is pretty funny, such as Momiji's crying and confusing "concierge" with "concubine" early on. The same goes for Tohru's freakout towards the end of the episode, expertly executed by Heather McDonald. But there's also two really tender moments, both involving Tohru: her chat with Ritsu's mother in the bath, and her scene with Yuki where he gives her a gift.
This latter section also gives an indication of how much extra legwork was needed to properly adapt this episode. Not only are we narratively thin on the ground, but moments such as these are low in dialogue in the manga, necessitating a lot of extra monologuing to fill in the audience. Doing a more fanservice-heavy show on radio would be a very tall order, but Fruits Basket's overall emotional depth makes this extra dialogue feel less like exposition that it otherwise could. Evan Bremer is on fine form in the gift scene, bringing out Yuki's enigmatic qualities while also managing to have fun.
 
Ultimately, this episode only makes sense tonally within the context of what is to come. Fruits Basket has a tendency of following something light and cheerful with a darker, more twisted turn, and in hindsight this episode is a pleasant little oasis within the context of some pretty dark stuff in Volume 4. We get a fraction of foreshadowing in Yuki's comment about his parents, but this episode is primarily a more escapist, frothy concoction, which sometimes is just what we need.

Here, then, in Episode 18 for your enjoyment. Remember to download last week's show as an mp3 via the link below this video. Join me next week for another Furuba Friday, when we'll be kicking off Volume 4 in quite some style. See you then!
Download Episode 17 - The Foolish Traveller here

NEXT WEEK: Episode 19 - High School Reunion

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