a promise revisited
That’s not all there is to say about the finale, however, for there is one more parallel to be made. Kyoko’s continuous presence in the series guides one more person to the truth they need to see: Kyo, the one character aside from Tohru who has been remembering Kyoko the most, chaining himself to her memory and letting his life be ruled by it just as Tohru did. Whereas Tohru was afraid of letting go because it seemed to equate to being guilty of letting Kyoko die (figuratively), Kyo refuses to let go because of his guilt: The long-standing mystery that he confesses to is that he let Kyoko die (physically), and that he heard her say she’d never forgive him for that. Kyo does not allow himself to express his love for Tohru because of his guilt toward Kyoko, so he clings to her memory in order to punish himself.
Even when Tohru tells him that she loves him in volume 21, all he can see is his own guilt: On the day of the accident, he could have reached out to Kyoko and keep her away from harm, but out of fear of revealing his cursed zodiac form, he didn’t. Kyoko’s words ringing in his mind, he sees Tohru as a living reminder of the guilt he mustn’t forget. And here’s a remarkable scene, even before Tohru confronts Akito:
“I don’t forgive you.” Is that what you want to hear from me? Forgive you or not forgive you, are those my only choices? M-mother… would never have said something like that! I can’t believe it! But if… if she really said that, then I… I’d have to tell her that she’s wrong! Tohru, Volume 21
Throughout the entire series, Tohru has only ever embraced Kyoko’s memory and her words, using them to get by. Yet, when Kyo refuses to accept her feelings because he is stuck in the past, that is when Tohru rejects Kyoko for the very first time. It’s drastically different from all the other instances in which Tohru thought of Kyoko, and to me, the intensity with which Tohru said this came as somewhat of a shock. Tohru does so for Kyo’s sake and her own, choosing to be true to her own feelings rather than denying them any longer — an important step into the right direction: that of living in the present, not the past.
Unable to accept that, Kyo flees the scene. But when Tohru falls of a cliff and sustains seemingly life-threatening injuries right after the confrontation with Akito, Kyo is immediately reminded of Kyoko’s death, and how much he regretted not having saved her, and not having gone back to apologize to her many years before. It is this memory, the reality of Kyoko’s death and the possibility of never having the chance to see each other again or to apologize, that allows him to finally get over himself, accept Tohru’s feelings for what they are and confess his own.
As the story heads to its conclusion, Kyo and Tohru visit Kyoko’s grave again. That in itself is a gesture of self-reconciliation, as Kyo wasn’t able to face the grave alongside Tohru on Kyoko’s latest death anniversary. With the curse lifted and everyone slowly moving on, Kyo tells Tohru that he intends to leave this place behind once he finishes school. For the first time in his life, he is able to speak freely of the future, and he asks Tohru to come with him. And even though he knows it’s a selfish thing to ask, and even though as a reader, I hate to see Tohru being torn away from her environment and all the people she knows, within the narrative, this move is the physical representation of letting go and braving the world on your own, no longer bound by either the curse or memories of the past.
Tohru readily accepts, and tells Kyo that she’s sure Kyoko isn’t angry with him, and that even if she did say that she wouldn’t forgive him, it can’t have been out of hatred. Facing Kyoko’s grave, Kyo finally addresses the woman he had last spoken to many, many years ago.
Is it alright? … For me to take her with me. As you see, I keep my promise. Even though it took me quite some time. I’ll keep it my entire life. Kyo, Volume 23
As the final flashback of Kyoko’s life reveals, Kyo had indeed misinterpreted Kyoko’s words: Rather than cursing him for letting her die, Kyoko was trying to remind him of the promise they had made, for the last moments of her life were all about Tohru’s well-being.
What’s beautiful to me in this last grave visit is the way it wraps up not only Kyo, Tohru and Kyoko’s intersecting stories, but the series as a whole: In facing the ghost that has been haunting him, Kyo faces himself; in renewing his promise, he receives another chance to make good on it. It’s late, as many things are in Fruits Basket, but it’s not too late.
And as Kyo finally lets go of his burdens and faces the future, the smiling Kyoko from his childhood waves at him — the same smile that had already forgiven him once before back when he couldn’t accept Kyoko’s words of advice. Just as the final flashback in the same chapter serves as a bridge in the story, and just as the chapter cover shows Katsuya and Kyoko joining hands, Kyoko sees her protégés off one final time.