Saturday, 8 March 2014

FURUBA FRIDAYS: Episode 20 - Indelible Stars

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Welcome once again to Furuba Fridays, our continuing examination of the brilliant Fruits Basket Radio Drama. This week is of great personal significance, since we're taking a look at my absolute favourite episode - an episode which sees the long-awaited return of the terrifying Lord Akito.

In case it's not abundantly clear by now, Akito Sohma is my favourite character in Fruits Basket (though Hatori comes a close second). The frustating part about this is that it is very hard to explain why without giving away an awful lot about the later events in the manga, and thereby violating my promise of being spoiler-free. Suffice to say, he is one of the most fascinating, enigmatic and ultimately tragic characters that I have ever come across in fiction, and he is brilliantly realised in this radio drama.
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While Akito's previous appearances have been in a supporting or scene-stealing capacity (see Episode 12), this episode is both driven and dominated by his interactions with Tohru. JesuOtaku makes a brief appearance at the beginning as the young Akito, repeating the threat to Yuki that we first heard in Episode 14, and Vitamin Three is truly terrifying: his Akito barely rises above a whisper and is never anything less than deeply threatening. There has been speculation among fans of the drama that JO and Vitamin Three are actually one and the same - speculation that I'm sure JO will be quick to dismiss, at least until the drama has run its course.
Tohru's first meeting with Akito is one of the most powerful scenes in the manga. At this stage of the story, it is darkness and light coming face to face, with good grace and manners, with the former trying to size up the latter. It's an incredibly tense scene, akin to the first meeting between Sherlock Holmes and Professor Moriarty in The Final Problem, and like that meeting it has great repurcussions on the wider fate of the characters. The dialogue is beautifully mixed and the script perfectly enunciated so that even the tiniest cough or awkward laugh can carry great meaning.
The production is a big part of why I love this episode so much. JO understands the importance of atmosphere, and moreover how much extra work is needed on radio to achieve the sense of threat that is plain to see on paper. The soundtrack is understated but cleverly layered, with the bass kicking in at key moments alongside the unsettling percussion. The echoey sound of Yuki's running footsteps successfully convey the danger that Akito presents, as do the preceding moments where Yuki hyperventilates while walking through the busy corridor.
 
The two most successful moments in the episode come one after the other, happening after Yuki has joined the confrontation. Firstly, we have Akito's guilt-tripping dialogue about the New Year's Banquet, which is so beautifully executed that it still freaks me out even after hearing it more than 50 times. Secondly, we have Tohru shoving Akito aside in a bid to stop him hurting Yuki: it's an act of great significance, which both confirms Akito's current feelings towards her and begins Tohru's resistance to his mistreatment of the Sohmas.
In addition to production, there is a lot more active adaptation in this episode, with JO adding a lot more dialogue to explain what is happening in all the silent moments. She adds an entire (albeit brief) conversation between Akito and Kyo, turning what in the manga is a brief glance into a neat slice of foreshadowing about Kyo's feelings for Tohru. We also get an expanded conversation between Hatori and Shigure on the porch, more friendly in tone than their last talk in Episode 16 but still loaded with dark undercurrents. Interestingly, the scanlations of Hatori's conversation include the phrase: "those who hurt others will also hurt themselves" - which, if you've read ahead, is rather telling (and more than a little clunky).
For all its darkness and intimidation, however there is reassurance to be found in this episode. Just as Episode 12 gave us a glimpse of how Tohru was starting to improve Hatori's outlook, so the badminton match here is a fitting way to release the tension and demonstrate the changes coming over Yuki through Tohru's presence (and vice versa). The flicking back and forth between the match and Yuki's monologue is beautifully done, and JO really brings the illustrations on that page to life, capturing their spirit while adding something more bespoke with the dialogue.

Here then is my favourite episode of the radio drama. Don't forget to download last week's episode as an mp3 below, and I'll see you next week for another Furuba Friday, when another member of the Zodiac will be coming to stay...
Download Episode 19 - High School Reunion here

NEXT WEEK: Episode 21 - Barely Brothers

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