I’ve mentioned before that I’m not a huge fan of Fruits Basket. Even though the series has its touching moments, Fruits Basket often gets praised for being the best at comedy and romance when I feel that there are other shojo series do these things better. My biggest problem with the series, however, is Tohru. I found Tohru Honda to have absolutely no personality – she never stands up for herself, has no distinct likes or dislikes, and I found her constant positivity to be annoying. Soaringwings did an excellent post discussing the flaws of Tohru’s character and why she is ultimately a passive heroine compared to other female shojo protagonists. Although there are many passive shojo heroines, the main character I’ve often seen Tohru compared to is Sawako Kuronoma from Kimi ni Todoke. When I started reading Kimi ni Todoke, I immediately found myself gravitating toward Sawako, the ‘loner’ protagonist who, despite her extreme kindness, has trouble communicating her feelings to others. I began to wonder: how is it that I had such different reactions to these two characters when they share so many of the same personality traits? After giving the question some thought, I began to realizes that many of their shared attributes only skim the surface of these characters.
Tohru and Sawako’s similarities begin with their willingness to bend over backward for the people around them. For example, in Fruits Basket Tohru spends all of her money to buy chocolates for the Sohma family even though she needed it for school. And in Kimi ni Todoke, Sawako does everything from doing all the classroom chores to tutoring her entire class for a test without expecting anything in return. Tohru and Sawako are extremely optimistic, and they each try to see the good in others. Because of their kindness and hyperconsciousness of others, this also means that they have trouble saying what they want and they often feel as though they’re being selfish or inconveniencing the people around them by stating their opinions or desires. Both girls are also purehearted, which is probably why they are so naïve, especially when it comes to romantic matters. However, I feel that Sawako possesses several characteristics that make her very likeable. First of all, Sawako has never really had friends, and seeing her try so hard just to say ‘good morning’ to her classmates (not to mention how elated she gets when they respond) makes it hard not to root for her. Her shyness, combined with her desire to have friends, makes her extremely relatable and also makes it easier to overlook the fact that it’d be hard to find someone as kind and positive as she is in real life. Sawako also has more to her than just her kindness – part of the reason she has always been a loner her whole life is because people are scared of her: her jet black hair and sometimes creepy smile reminds people of a horror movie character named ‘Sadako.’ Rather than resent her nickname, Sawako feels bad that she doesn’t have any supernatural powers and tries to impress people by telling ghost stories. I found this to be an interesting quirk to Sawako’s character, and I loved seeing her accidentally make creepy faces whenever she tries to be cheerful.
But while Sawako is relatable and quirky, Tohru has no real defining characteristics other than her kindness. She’s not especially smart or athletic, and the only thing she seems to be good at is cooking (of course). While a lot of Sawako’s inability to speak up for herself comes from shyness, there’s no real reason to explain why Tohru is as passive as she is. Ultimately, I think the main reason why Tohru is a far more bothersome character to me than Sawako is because there are far more interesting characters than Tohru in Fruits Basket. Tohru’s character serves the sole purpose of healing the Sohma family, and the character development of each Sohma member is more important than Tohru’s own. Yet while Tohru learning to stand up for herself isn’t the main focus of the story, Sawako’s character development is the main attraction of Kimi ni Todoke. By focusing on Sawako over Kazehaya or their romance, she is empowered and feels more like fully dimensional character. It’s fun to see Sawako learn to love herself, and once she falls for Kazehaya she realizes that sometimes it’s okay to ‘be selfish’ and say how you feel. So while both of these characters are supposed to be the ‘average girl next door’ so that any female fan can relate to them, Kimi ni Todoke shows that ‘average’ doesn’t have to mean ‘boring.’