Fruits Basket is iconic. It’s a franchise that launched a love of cat boys and the pure emotional damage that can come from supernatural shoujo romances. Fruits Basket Prelude (Stylized Fruits Basket -prelude-) is the prequel to the 2019 anime series based on the award-winning shoujo manga Fruits Basket, written and illustrated by Natsuki Takaya and published by Hakusensha from 1998 to 2006. This feature film comes from those involved with the 2019 series, which includes director Yoshihide Ibata, a screenplay by Taku Kishimoto, character design by Masaru Shindō, art direction by Tamako Kamiyama, and music composed by Masaru Yokoyama, as well as animation from TMS Entertainment and 8PAN.
If you’re unfamiliar, in Fruits Basket, Tohru Honda is an orphan girl who, after meeting Yuki, Kyo, and Shigure Sohma, learns that 13 members of the Sohma family are possessed by the animals of the Chinese zodiac and are cursed to turn into their animal forms when embraced by anyone of the opposite sex. Filled with moments of grief and trauma, the series follows Tohru as she learns of the hardships and pain faced by the afflicted members of the Sohma family, and she tries to heal them. But this isn’t Tohru’s story; it’s supposed to be her mother Kyoko’s story instead.
Fruits Basket Prelude takes audiences into the lives of Kyoto and Katsuya Honda before they tragically died. With a runtime of only 88-minutes, Fruits Basket Prelude crams in a lot of emotion and focuses entirely on romance as we get to see the emotional story of Tohru Honda officially conclude through the exploration of her mom’s dark past. While we’ve seen glimpses of Katsuya and Kyoko, now we get to explore it. This story allows audiences to watch the evolution of their love story and the birth of the Honda family. Unfortunately, the choice to make the first act a recap of the series from Kyo’s perspective winds up messy above all else.
What could have been exposition that worked instead muddies the film and isn’t necessarily the cleanest way to usher in a new audience. As a quick recap of a series in such a short span, I doubt new viewers will get a full understanding of the way Fruits Basket handles trauma and darkness instead of just young love. The recap flattens the series in a way that feels both rushed and empty. Despite its best effort in the film’s opening, Fruits Basket Prelude isn’t friendly for newcomers to the series. Truthfully, it didn’t need to be, and this attempt to make it cheapens much of the depth that has made the IP so beloved. In fact, it isn’t until the 33-minute mark that the title card comes up, and the real story can begin.
The last hour of the film is where its beauty is, and truthfully, it’s why I’ve fallen in love with the franchise (manga and anime). Kyoko is a rebellious teenager struggling to find a life to call her own and people she can trust. Filled with every emotion and yet trapped in a void of nothingness, it’s when she meets Katsuya that her life begins to change. A product of the shoujo era that embraced age-gap relationships, the presentation of Kyoko and Katsuya’s relationship and the deep emotions involved works.
In fact, Kyoko’s situation as a 16-year-old runaway that is spending her life on the streets instead of her parent’s home makes for such a real and raw exploration of how anger and pain build up until one day you don’t realize how you got that way. Kyoko is intense, she’s struggling, and she’s looking to love. That said, the series manages to balance the age gap by calling out that Katsuya is a student teacher, not a full teacher, and, more specifically, not Kyoko’s teacher helping to dampen the age gap. It even comments on in their first meeting. Plus, the film is aware of it all, commenting on it jokingly, and ultimately outlining that the marriage came after Kyoko was out of school.
Kyoko’s narration of their romance is more about her sharing her life, opening up to show what happens when you realize you’re a husk of who you thought you were. Fruits Basket Prelude works when it embraces the deep, emotional journey that Kyoko goes through. Her fear and guilt, her love and pain mean so much. Taking a delinquent and turning her into someone who wants to live is a move that works in the romance’s favor. Additionally, Kyoko, as much as she loves Katsuya, isn’t defined by him. Their meeting, romance, marriage, and family feel equal and balanced while still emotionally dense.
The intensity with which we get to see Kyoko, and the rawness the voice actress Miyuki Sawashiro brings to the character is unmatched. You can feel the grief as she spirals into it, and you can see what happens when she finds her way out. While much of the performance is highly emotive, there are two moments that cut like a knife. The first is when Kyoko finds out that she’s pregnant, and she has to grapple with how she treated and hurt her own mother. The second is when Katsuya dies; her pain is so emotionally resonant that it’s hard not to be moved. Crushed by his death but beaten by the way those who mourn her husband blame her, the last act of Fruits Basket Prelude hurts to watch in the best way. Her depression is palpable, and the way her daughter watches rips your heart out.
I want to love Fruits Basket Prelude because of how good Kyoko’s story is. Her story taps into everything I love about the series, but to get to it only after a 30-minute recap of the series feels completely disjointed from the meat of the film. By weighing down a potent story of finding your path forward instead of just letting it shine on its own, I’m mixed. Had the last hour of the film been allowed to thrive on its own or included as a pair of episodes in the regular season, it would have been perfect. However, fit into this 88 minutes film where an uneven recap takes up a third of it, Fruits Basket Prelude falters. Should you watch it for Kyoko and Katsuya? Yes. But maybe do it when you can skip the first 30 minutes.
Fruits Basket is playing in select theaters in the United States and Canada on June 25, 28, and 29 in both subtitled and dubbed in English.
Fruits Basket -prelude-
I want to love Fruits Basket Prelude because of how good Kyoko’s story is. Her story taps into everything I love about the series, but to get to it only after a 30-minute recap of the series feels completely disjointed from the meat of the film…Had the last hour of the film been allowed to thrive on its own, or included as a pair of episodes in the regular season, it would have been perfect. However, fit into this 88 minutes film where an uneven recap takes up a third of it, Fruits Basket Prelude falters.