FURUBA FRIDAYS: Episode 23 - Memorial

Welcome to another edition of Furuba Fridays, our continuing look at the brilliant Fruits Basket Radio Drama. This week is the penultimate episode of the drama as it currently stands - and in the tradition of Fruits Basket, it's not going to be an easy ride.
So far in this radio drama we've encounter our fair share of emotional trauma. We've had Hatori's enforced break-up with Kana in Episode 12, Haru's childhood rage in Episode 14, and Akito's tormenting of Yuki in Episode 20. But of all the episodes we've encountered thus far, this is perhaps the most 'feelsy', to borrow a term from fangirls. In fact, after a relatively upbeat opening, it becomes a barrage of emotional baggage and heartbreak at which it is impossible not to cry (or at least feel really low).
While the previous examples I listed focussed on trauma surrounding the individual Zodiac members, this episode looks at the impact that being a child of the Zodiac can have on the parents involved. It becomes all the more powerful considering we are dealing with this through Momiji, who up to this point has always seemed the most cheerful member and the most at peace with the curse. It's a way of deepening his character without feeling like a complete volte-face, a sign of how well-written the manga is.
Bringing the wider Sohma family into the story is a way of showing just how painful the curse is - how it contaminates and damages the lives of everyone associated with it, not just the people who transform. There is a comparison between the fate of Momiji's mother and that of Kana, which both the manga and the radio drama reflect; both characters are loving in nature but find it impossible to cope with the curse, only improving when their memories are suppressed. It's utterly heartbreaking, particularly the lines where Momiji goes into detail about his rejection.
In bringing this episode to life, JesuOtaku makes quite a number of changes to flesh out aspects of the manga. Unlike Ayame's episodes, there are a lot of silent panels this time around, resulting in more conversations or monologues to explain what is going on. These range from the addition of the janitor in Momiji's first scene, which makes the big reveal have more impact later on, to the note about Momiji living with Hatori, which ties right back to his presence in Episode 10. All these little touches might not seem like much on paper, but they do make a world of difference.
This episode is one of many poignant conversations, in which you feel the characters are often on the brink of tears (if they're not crying already). In addition to Momiji's interaction with Tohru in the later part of the episode, JO takes a single ambiguous panel of Tohru crying and turns it into a great piece of foreshadowing, as though she can sense what is coming without knowing what it means. We also get a lovely scene between Uo and Hana, talking about what Tohru means to them. It's beautifully acted by Victoria Olivier and Melle Teich, and leads very nicely onto next week's episode.
For the most part, however, this episode is dominated by Momiji. Majorikku is absolutely sensational this time out, dealing with a lot of long speeches but imbuing them with naturalism and a deep-rooted sadness, tempered only by a sense of distant loyalty. The whole reveal of his backstory is achingly sad, not just in the actual story but the tender, sensitive way in which it's being told. Heather McDonald is also great here, particularly given that crying on cue is trickly, let alone for such long periods.
The production of this episode is also fantastic, and helps us appreciate the few lighter moments that occur. The cops and robbers sequence features a number of really good extras, and the imagined encounter between Kyo and Kyoko is very well-realised. On a darker note, JO utilises echo very well in this episode, adding portent to the flashbacks and creating a deafening silence when Momiji's mother first appears. There's an almost ghostly feel to this episode which causes it to linger for a long time afterwards.

Here, then, is Episode 23 for your enjoyment (and heartbreak). Don't forget to download last week's episode as an mp3 via the link below - you may need a big dose of Ayame to counter-act the tears. Join me next week when we'll be rounding off Volume 4 with the final episode that has aired to date. See you then...
Download Episode 22 - Halfway here

NEXT WEEK: Episode 24 - Still Sleeping