never forget your own childhood
Kyoko’s presence in the series is enormous and constant, and there are many roles that she plays, roles that resemble each other: mother, confidant, friend, surrogate parent — home. Her physical appearance in the memory of others changes, and her presence gradually fades away, but through everything, she remains a guide for those that are lost. So, why Kyoko of all people?
The vast majority of parents in Fruits Basket are downright awful not just as human beings, but in their capacity as parents specifically — an important fact to remember in a cast made up of plenty of teenagers who are struggling to find their way in the world. This does not just pertain the parents of characters inhabited by zodiac spirits either, who are, by tendency, said to either reject their cursed child or to treat it with exaggerated caution or concern. No, this extends to the parents with no connection to the Sohmas: Arisa’s father used to be an alcoholic who didn’t pay attention to his daughter, and Kyoko and Machi’s parents throw them away when they don’t live up to expectations.
As for this generation’s Sohmas: Yuki’s parents pretty much treated him as a tool to be sold for their own comfort; Kyo’s mother smothered him with false love when in truth she wanted to lock him away, then took her own life, leaving him with a father who blamed Kyo’s very existence for the misfortune; Rin’s parents played pretend family until their repulsion won out and they found a convenient excuse to get rid of Rin; Momiji’s mother’s disgust made her sick until she happily chose to discard her memories of him; Kisa’s mother cannot cope with her own exaggerated concern for her daughter; Ren is locked in a rivalry with Akito for the position as the number one in her late husband’s heart.
It’s telling that Kyoko is featured dominantly (even if indirectly via Tohru’s memories) in chapters that mention parenting: When Ayame talks about Yuki’s ill-treatment in the past, for example, or when scenes of Arisa and Saki fondly remembering Kyoko are juxtaposed with Momiji trying to cherish the few memories he has of his mother, or when Tohru tells Kisa and her mother about Kyoko’s reaction to bullying. Then, there are also her past interactions with Arisa and Kyo, who were both very lost and very lonely, along with a memory of Yuki’s, where he was struck by how much Kyoko cared for Tohru, so unlike everything he knew about his own parents.
In a story full of abusive parents, Kyoko is a sanctuary — someone who whole-heartedly loves their own child, and whose impact on that child is visible throughout the story, as it is that love that lives on and continues to touch many other people.
But there’s more to it: It’s no narrative coincidence that Kyoko had a difficult time during her adolescence, and it’s no coincidence that she got a backstory of her own with abusive parents. Kyoko never forgot what it was like to be a child, a teenager, and what struggles she had during that time: with authority, with parents, with everyone who spoke over her and tried to eliminate the problem that she posed, rather than taking her seriously.
It is because she had it so rough as a teenager that as an adult, she never assumes to know better than her protégés: When Arisa and Kyo imply that there’s no one waiting for them at home, Kyoko doesn’t invalidate them with a “but all parents love their children” rhetoric, no. Kyoko knows exactly what it is like not to have a place to return to, a place to call home, and not to be loved by your own parents, so she leaves it at that. Instead, she does her best to be a confidant for those two children, and to Arisa, she provides another place to call home.
It’s also noteworthy that the adult Kyoko says — on numerous occasions — that adults are no better than anyone. This echoes what she already said as a teenager, but when she says it as an adult, it’s not just an expression of frustration and anger: It’s self-reflection. It’s growing up and realizing that there is always more to learn and more to understand, and that you need to listen — really listen, without the intention to argue or to preach — to others, including children and teenagers, and see things from their perspective in order to understand them. It’s growing up and being determined not to turn into one of the adults who stepped all over you in their so-called infinite wisdom.
Kyoko treats each child as their own person — not an investment, a tool, an abomination, or an extension of her own. A child is a person first and foremost, and Kyoko understood that before she even gave birth to her own child.
And what allows Kyoko to do all of this, in contrast to the many abusive and neglectful parents in the series, is the fact that she has preserved her own childhood and adolescence in her memories. As Katsuya once said, Kyoko remembers all the good and the bad times, and draws from them in order to understand and feel along with those who confide in her and those in need of someone, anyone, to listen to them and acknowledge their worries.
Kyoko knows the meaning of loneliness, and how much it means to have even just one person of support, one person to tell you that things will be alright, one person to draw you back into the stream of life, to give you the strength and courage to go on. And if possible, she wants to be that person for all those who need her — for the teenager she once was, and in honour of Katsuya’s memory, the one adult and the one person to not have dismissed her.