Fruits Basket – Prelude is a different kind of anime than we usually see released domestically. It isn't an action-packed adventure like My Hero Academia: World Heroes Mission or Jujutsu Kaisen 0, nor is it a work of fantasy like Belle. Instead, it's an emotion-laden drama that works overtime to tug at your heartstrings. Based on an anime series that was, in turn, based on a manga, this prequel will likely satisfy fans, yet leave newcomers – such as myself – scratching their heads. The movie hits select theaters on June 25, 28, and 29, in both subtitled and dubbed versions. I screened the dubbed version for this review.
The first half-hour of the picture is a recap of the series, which focuses on Kyo Soma – a teen boy who turns into a cat-like creature whenever he's hugged by a human – and Tohru Honda, the girl he loves. She loves him too, but there are obstacles between them. He holds his feelings in to avoid having anyone witness his transformation should the two embrace. Kyo also harbors guilt for the death of Tohru's mother, which he thinks he could have prevented. Because this is a recap, the presentation is extremely choppy. If you aren't already familiar with Fruits Basket, trying to put the pieces together is difficult. Kyo and Tohru wear their hearts on their sleeves, so there's a lot of repetitive dialogue about how much they care for each other. That much is clear.
After that, Fruits Basket – Prelude settles into a more conventional plot. The focus shifts to Tohru's mother Kyoko (voiced by Miyuki Sawashiro in the subbed version, Lydia Mackay in the dubbed), a troubled, rebellious teen who finds a kindred spirit in student teacher Katsuya Honda (Yoshimasa Hosoya/Jerry Jewell). They enter into a relationship that gets her out of an abusive home and gives her a beautiful child. Life is not entirely smooth sailing, however. The film has many elements of tragedy that, combined with the melodramatic story, prove slightly depressing by the end.
To wrap up, a present-day epilogue goes back to Kyo and Tohru, suggesting what might be in store for them in the future.
Fruits Basket – Prelude has excellent animation and an admirable desire to explore deep themes related to love, loss, and guilt. The movie offers up complex material, proving once again that animated fare isn't just for children. Kyoko's journey is one that takes her from places of darkness to places of light and back again, several times over. Watching complex material carried out in this format, which allows for exaggerated expressions, is admittedly captivating. A few moments of humor can found within the drama, and those moments are pretty funny. For all the heavy material, the picture understands a need to lighten up for a few seconds once in a while.
Kyoko's tale comprises less than an hour of screen time, though, meaning that it feels rushed through. More development of her initial attraction to Katsuya, along with expansion of the negative home life he rescues her from, would have substantially increased the effectiveness of Fruits Basket. Trying to pair Kyoko's backstory with a confusing recap of the series makes the movie play in a disjointed fashion. The recap needed to be shorter and the main story needed to be longer in order for the film to play well as a stand-alone feature, rather than as a supplement to the show.
Again, people with a pre-existing investment may not care about any of that. And for them, that's great. Judged on its own merits, apart from the show, Fruits Basket doesn't quite gel, despite some appealing elements.
out of four
Fruits Basket - Prelude is unrated, but contains thematic material and mild language. The running time is 1 hour and 28 minutes.