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    Why Tohru from Fruits Basket is Empathy Incarnate (SPOILERS)

    If you’ve seen the anime or read the manga, you probably remember the plum scene. We get the quote so early on, it’s impossible not to love the one who said it:

    Image courtesy of TMS Entertainment

    Here, Tohru is giving us a reason for why people become jealous—they’re unable to see what makes them special—but it highlights something key about Tohru. She’s introspective, and constantly shining a light on what makes others special. In the house, Tohru lives with a family of three guys who transform into animals the second they’re embraced by a member of the opposite sex. On the surface, it’s a haha curse—one that’s bound to end in a trip scene or an Oh no~ He’s hugged me~ Whatever will I do~ scene. And it does, but it’s deeper than that.

    Everyone inside of the house is used to the curse, but it comes with a darker backstory Tohru has to learn over time. She comes in from the outside, forced (by circumstance) to live in a house full of people who experience something she never will. In other words, she’ll have to work to understand them.

    In any case that wouldn’t be easy. Even with good intentions, she has to achieve this as an “outsider”. And will she ever truly understand what the Sohmas go through? No. Her inability to experience the curse firsthand is where she gets the title of empathy queen. It doesn’t take away from her ability to see the pain it causes the other members of the Sohma family; in fact, the knowledge of their pain is all she needs to continue doing her best to understand. She has to work to get their struggle, and that’s what makes it so important.

    Over and over the Sohmas underestimate themselves. Often times they’re unable to see the qualities that make them special because they’re locked inside the problem. They can’t see it because they’re in it, and that’s why Tohru plays such a key role in their lives. Her being an outsider plays to her advantage since she doesn’t have to see the curse from a first-person point of view. And though she could’ve seen this as a reason to settle for her lack of knowledge, she tries harder to understand them instead.

    Kyo Sohma, a member of the family who’s shunned according to the zodiac legend, is particularly brash with Tohru. At first, we see this as an anger issue. Broody, broody Kyo punches things and grits his teeth and yells at girls and snaps at Yuki. But it’s more than that. We learn pretty soon from Shigure that Kyo isn’t acting like a reject because he wants to. He believes he is one, subconsciously, and why wouldn’t he? In one of the most climactic moments of the story we learn that Kyo is, in fact, a monster. He smells acrid and he’s terrifying to look at, but the only thing monstrous about Kyo is the way we perceive him physically. He’s horrified of losing Tohru once she sees him. Deep down he believes that his form will lead her to reject him—that she won’t love, unconditionally—and the thought nearly shatters him.

    If there was any moment for Tohru to run away, the monstrous transformation would’ve been it. Instead, she chases after him, screams for him to come home again, and is embraced, willingly.

    We knew that Tohru had nothing in the beginning. She lived in a tent, slept next to a picture of her deceased mother, and regarded that as okay. She had every reason to become someone possessed with their own self-loathing and yet she found a way to see the light. Even when the mellow crept through, she managed to stay above water to prove what we all know to be true: that inside, we just want to be loved.

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