opposed yet alike
Tohru and Akito’s narratives seem at odds at first, as Tohru manages to move on without Kyoko, and is continuously pointed out to handle Kyoko’s passing well. Akito, on the other hand, with her father gone, desperately tries to chain the members of the zodiac to the Sohma household for fear of being abandoned. The one-sided rivalry between these two is emphasized by Akito’s scheme that dares Tohru to socialize with the zodiac only to see that the zodiac cannot be swayed in their blood loyalty. As it turns out, Tohru does manage to sway them, and one by one they turn away from Akito, which paints Tohru as the enemy in Akito’s eyes.
Tohru’s cheerful face and strong exterior, however, turn out to be a façade in part. It’s worth pointing out that Kyoko’s presence and mentions diminish over the course of the manga (with the exception of Kyo’s story, all mentions of Kyoko under Legacy take part within the first nine volumes of the series) — a natural progression as time passes, life goes on and Tohru moves on, with many new people by her side. It is, however, also the narrative reflection of Tohru’s biggest fear, something she only admits to herself in the most quiet of moments (volumes 10, 12, 14 and 19, just to illustrate how heavily it weighs on her mind): Deep down, Tohru is afraid of moving on, as not constantly remembering Kyoko would mean losing her for good.
There’s a reason Kyoko’s presence is so strong in the early series: Tohru talks to her in her head as she narrates, addressing Kyoko with words and calling upon her for strength. Throughout the series, you also see many different pictures of Kyoko that Tohru carries with her wherever she goes (even when she visits the hot springs in an early volume), something that Hiro (the Sheep) points out as a “mother complex”. But it goes much further than that: Tohru puts herself under an enormous amount of pressure to keep her last promise to Kyoko, that of finishing high school, even when it starts affecting her health as she stresses out over a test and feels deeply ashamed for failing one.
What’s more, any thoughts regarding her future paralyze her with fear — not just due to its uncertainty, but because of the certainty of moving on. The reason Kyoko features so prominently is because Tohru is trying so very hard to keep the image of her mother alive.
In the later half of the series, the impossibility of her endeavor hits Tohru with its full force when she slowly begins to realize how strong her feelings are for Kyo, and how he has come to mean the most to her in the world. Yet, she does not allow herself to express that love, and is afraid of even admitting it to herself, silencing herself over and over as she feels that admitting would be the same as replacing Kyoko as the one thing she loves the most.
I swore it. Firmly swore it to myself when we vacated the place where mother and I used to live. That day, I knew that her shadow would disappear, even though she was still around just a while ago. She was sitting there, laughing. My mother — she existed! But now she’s gone. She’s disappearing. Fading away. She’s slipping from me. But she existed! […] And so, I swore that from then on, I would carry her in my heart, always. No matter what. I was convinced that as long as she came first in my heart, she’d never fade away. In my memories, in my promise. Had I not believed that, I would have never been able to bear all of it. Tohru, Volume 19
Here’s something ugly that isn’t implied in the series, but may very well apply: Tohru’s grief and coping mechanisms may in part be a result of Katsuya’s passing when she was still just a child — more precisely, it’s a subconscious reaction to the way Kyoko had grieved, even though it wasn’t Kyoko’s “fault”. Kyoko completely ceased to function after Katsuya’s death, severely neglecting Tohru while she was in stasis. Not only that, she said out loud how much she wanted to see Katsuya again, and how she wished she could go meet him. Volume 12 and 19 address how immensely afraid Tohru was that she would end up losing her mother to her father as well — to the point she started mimicking Katsuya’s speech pattern and mannerisms to “bring her mother back”. Tohru had already almost lost Kyoko once: There’s precedent.
So when Kyoko died, leaving Tohru for good, Tohru must have undoubtedly been reminded of the time Kyoko “just wasn’t there”, and it triggered her fear of being abandoned once more. Not knowing how to deal with it, she chained herself to Kyoko’s memory, preserving her and thinking of her and carrying her picture everywhere, ensuring that they would, as promised, be together forever. Even Katsuya’s father understood how hard it was, and started calling Tohru by Kyoko’s name to help root Kyoko to the present — for Tohru’s sake.
All of those things between Tohru and Kyoko come down to this: As opposed as Tohru first seems to be to Akito’s rule over the zodiac, in truth, she would have very much liked to stay with her mother forever, wishing for their time to be everlasting. To Akito and Tohru both, blood ties are something precious; Tohru even calls up Kyoko’s face the moment she hears about the curse’s connection to the zodiac’s blood in volume 12, acknowledging that they’re a powerful thing. Both Akito and Tohru try to maintain eternity in their own way: Akito clings to her father through the zodiac and to an empty box said to contain his soul, just as Tohru clings to her mother’s pictures. Both the box as well as the pictures are physical stand-ins for the people no longer among them, a symbol of the promise of eternity that binds them.
But in order to live in the present and move towards the future, both of them need to let go of that mindset, and stop clinging to the false promise of eternity.