For a slice-of-life shojo anime with quite a lot of romantic relationships, Fruits Basket avoids some of the worst romance tropes, even when it comes to who the main character Tohru ends up with. While Tohru's romantic life is often framed as a love triangle, especially by those who haven't read the entire manga, Tohru herself never really hesitates between love interests. Even when she doesn't dare admit it to herself, she knows what she wants, and eventually, everything is resolved in a very human way. This is not to say that the anime is entirely angst-free. The trope of an awkward main girl being wanted by many male characters has lately been evoked following a revelation about Momiji. So, does Momiji love Tohru?
Warning: Anime and manga spoilers below.
When Momiji, the rabbit of the zodiac cycle, is introduced in season 1, he can hardly be considered a love interest. He might be only a year younger than Tohru, but he looks and behaves like a much younger child. This is a trope in itself, but Momiji subverts in a heart-breaking way. Behind his overenthusiastic, carefree demeanor, he hides a lot of pain due to having been rejected by his mother, who chose to have all memories of him erased. Momiji then had to watch his mother from afar, having a daughter, Momo, whom he can't get to know even though he desperately wants to be her big brother.
His maturity, in putting his family's well-being over his own, and his insistence on enjoying moments of happiness with his friends despite his pain make Momiji a fan-favorite, much more complex than your typical childlike side character. Momiji and Tohru always had a special relationship, but given the show's subtlety, you wouldn't expect any obvious declaration of love. Even Kyo, her main love interest, whom she loves back, never expresses his feelings explicitly until the very end of the show, instead of showing his love through little things–and occasionally in awkward ways.
It's not until Season 3 that Momiji, who had a growth spurt over the summer and finally appears his age, reveals he's in love with Tohru. While he never tells her so, he is pleased that his growth causes her to see him as a peer. Momiji is one of the most well-written characters in anime and manga, so he isn't perfect and happy all the time. Nor is he beyond bitterness; at some point, he tells Kyo that if he grows taller and more handsome than him, Tohru might accept his proposal. Even then, however, kindness is Momiji's first instinct, as he encourages Kyo not to give up on Tohru's love.
In the same episode, it's revealed that Momiji's curse has been broken. This causes him to see the world and his life ahead with new eyes. No longer does he feel bound to Akito, and he finds it strange that he ever felt that way. One of the things that make Fruits Basket so worth watching, is its use of fantasy to talk about mental health and family trauma. Although what appeared to be Momiji's only source of problems–namely his curse–no longer binds him, he doesn't regard this freedom with his normal carefree attitude. Rather, he realizes that life is still going to be complicated; he won't get the girl he wants, he still can't be with his family, and what connected him to his cousins is gone.
As is expected, Momiji takes time to process this, but he still handles it in an amazingly sweet way. While theoretically, his broken curse would make it easier to pursue Tohru if he wanted, he chooses not to do so. Instead, he has an honest chat with Kyo, telling him that he knows Tohru would be happier for Kyo's curse to be broken than she would ever be about his own, and once again encourages his cousin to acknowledge his feelings for her. Momiji might be a bit bitter but he doesn't dwell on it too much. He knows that what lies ahead of him isn't a perfect life as he had once envisioned but he still believes he can find happiness, even if Akito doesn't think him capable of that.
Momiji loves Tohru and is disappointed he can't be with her. In many cases, this kind of subplot can be annoying and frustrating, detracting from the main couple but Takaya Natsuki and the recent anime adaptation handled this amazingly well. Rather than reducing the character to his romantic frustration, they tell a relatable story that is sweet and deeply human. Momiji cares about Tohru's happiness, which is why he chooses to remain friends with her, knowing this is all she wants, but he also cares about his own, which is why he is determined to move on despite all he has gone through.
Meanwhile, for those interested in the anime, a Fruits Basket prelude movie is coming out soon.
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