Ted Lasso swept the Emmys, sold the public on Apple TV+, and won over even hardened cynics with its optimism and positivity. Every executive in Hollywood has been searching for “The Next Ted Lasso,” and there are certainly many fans looking for similarly funny, inspirational, and well-written stories as they await Ted Lasso’s third, likely final season. While a fantasy anime aimed at teen girls and an American live-action sports sitcom might not seem to have much in common at first glance, one of the closest shows in spirit to Ted Lasso happens to be the anime Fruits Basket.
Fruits Basket, sometimes referred to as Furuba for short, began as a shojo manga series by Natsuki Takaya, published from 1998 to 2006. The manga has been adapted to animation twice: an incomplete single-season adaptation from 2001 and a complete three-season revamp which ran from 2019-21. The latter is the one you want to watch, and it’s streaming in both Japanese with subtitles and English dubbed on Crunchyroll, as well as dubbed-only on Hulu (completionists can also watch the old series on Hulu).
The anime’s main character is Tohru Honda, an orphan high school girl who finds herself living with the wealthy Sohma clan. Thirteen of the Sohmas face an unusual curse: when hugged by a member of the opposite sex, they transform into the different animals of the Chinese Zodiac (plus the cat, who was excluded from the Zodiac and carries an additional curse with them). While this scenario allows for plenty of silly comedy, the story takes the ramifications of this curse seriously: each character has their own form of trauma relating to their isolating condition.
Tohru Honda and Ted Lasso have a lot in common psychologically. Both are outsiders entering into an extended family of sorts (the Sohmas for Tohru, the “found family” of Richmond for Ted), invited in by characters (Shigure Sohma and Rebecca Welton, respectively) whose ulterior motives involve messing with a former partner. Some members of their new family are immediately charmed by their kindness, while others are defensive and take time to warm up to them. Nonetheless, Tohru and Ted both try their best to improve the lives of everyone around them.
The similarities extend beyond their situations and strengths into their deepest weaknesses. While both Tohru and Ted excel when it comes to helping others, they struggle when it comes to accepting help. Their hyper-optimism is a coping mechanism for grief, and their extreme selflessness can be a stumbling block when it comes to facing their own issues. For all the talk about Ted Lasso as “feel-good” viewing, one of its best qualities is how dark and honest it gets when it comes to depicting mental health struggles. As Fruits Basket progresses, it gets even darker.
Tohru and Ted’s similar character arcs naturally have slightly different implications due to the differences in their identities. Tohru is a Japanese teenage girl while Ted is an American adult man, and the context of culture, age, and identity presents slightly different messages. Tohru in many ways fits the Japanese feminine archetype of the yamato nadeshiko, and her story serves to expose the downside to this saintly vision of femininity. Ted, in contrast, has been celebrated as an example of positive masculinity, developed as a counterpoint to the toxic masculinity of Donald Trump, but his reluctance to accept therapy in Season 2 plays as an example of how even the best men can absorb counter-productive cultural attitudes.
Beyond their inspiring yet realistically flawed heroes, both Ted Lasso and Fruits Basket have outstanding supporting casts. Love the rivalry between Roy Kent and Jamie Tartt? Yuki and Kyo Sohma’s fighting stems from a different place, but is equally memorable. Obsessed with Sam Obisanya’s combination of youthful cuteness and mature wisdom? Momiji Sohma will be your Fruits Basket favorite. Both series feature so many characters with so many stories to explore that every viewer will find someone they can relate to.
Ted Lasso and Fruits Basket are romantic shows at heart, though they express this from different cultural reference points. Ted Lasso is “rom-communist,” generously homaging popular American and British romantic comedies. In contrast, Fruits Basket’s soap-operatic tendencies draw more from the standard tropes and aesthetics of shojo manga and anime, with elements of classic fairy tales mixed in as well.
For Western viewers not used to anime, it’s possible the aesthetics of Fruits Basket could be as initially alienating as the aesthetics of Ted Lasso are instantly comforting. Newcomers who give Fruits Basket a chance, however, will be well-rewarded with a show as warm and funny as Ted Lasso and arguably even more emotionally fulfilling. And if you are a fan of both anime and Ted Lasso who still hasn’t seen Fruits Basket, well, what are you waiting for?
Reuben Baron is the author of the webcomic
Con Job: Revenge of the SamurAlchemist
and a regular contributor to Looper and CBR, among other websites. You can follow him on Twitter at @AndalusianDoge.
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