[Ed. note: This review contains end spoilers for Fruits Basket season 3 and setup spoilers for Fruits Basket: Prelude.]
The 2019 television adaptation of the manga series Fruit basket ended in 2021, bringing tears and big hugs all around, as the Sohma family finally broke their curse and were able to move on. Courageous protagonist Tohru Honda and her love Kyo, the Sohma family’s angst zodiac cat, have found themselves together. There were happy endings all around, including some for characters who maybe didn’t deserve them.
With the story largely resolved, the new Fruits Basket movie looks to the past instead. The prequel Basket of Fruits: Prelude shifts Tohru’s focus to her parents, Kyoko and Katsuya, and the love story that first brought them together. The romantic relationship between her parents has caused some controversy, and the story dives into moments that are overly exaggerated and contrived. But digging deep, the emotional thread that makes Fruit basket so memorable is present in the film – there is just one plot dubious stuff covering it.
PreludeThe first half hour of is basically a recap of the final season of Fruit basket, in all its heartwarming and heartbreaking glory. Sadly, that’s all it really is: a straightforward recap that doesn’t add much for anyone who’s ever watched the show. It mainly exists to remind viewers that Kyo knew Kyoko as a child and that she was one of the few adults who showed him kindness. The recap also resurfaces that Kyo was a witness the day Kyoko died in a car accident, and he could have saved her if he hadn’t been paralyzed with fear. Everything that has been covered in Fruit basket season 3, however, which makes the length of this recap unnecessary except for new viewers or fans wishing to relive the emotional highs and lows of the final season.
The TV series has revealed small snippets about Tohru’s mother over time, but not enough to paint a concrete picture of her past. She was a junior high school delinquent who skipped school and joined a gang. When she met Tohru’s father, Katsuya, who came from a wealthier family. They got married and had Tohru, but Katsuya died unexpectedly. Kyoko’s family had already abandoned her, as they considered her a lost cause, and Katsuya’s family didn’t want much to do with her after her death, so she raised Tohru on her own.
Basket of Fruits: Prelude, then, should be a touching romance between Kyoko and Katsuya, continuing the anime’s themes of love and redemption. But the problem – which manga readers will know and may have hoped to find in this adaptation – is that when Katsuya and Kyoko met, she was a 14-year-old middle schooler and he was… a teacher. Technically a student teacher, not his teacher. But he’s still a 19-year-old authority figure who falls in love with a 14-year-old girl and shows her the only affection she’s ever known. It doesn’t get any easier when Kyoko calls him out for falling in love with a younger girl – and he just replies that he didn’t. his Unless she was born later than him. It’s hard to overcome this inherent speed factor, no matter how smoothly it’s painted.
As a show, Fruit basket has two great strengths: moments when characters meditate on the nature of love and loneliness, usually while beautiful animations unfold, and when love (platonic, familial, or romantic) is portrayed in careful gestures but deliberate. Fruit basket reaches its most memorable and evocative climaxes when it embraces over-the-top emotions and simultaneously uses small details to justify those over-embellished internal monologues.
The film follows suit. Despite the inherent Hmm of Kyoko and Katsuya’s relationship, her words almost turn it into something beautiful. This is especially true early in their marriage, where she talks about their happiness and the little personal efforts she plans to make him happy. When baby Tohru enters the mix, those moments get even sweeter. But it’s still Fruit basketso it’s bound to be devastating.
The Sohma family is not at the center of Basket of Fruits: Prelude, so there are no magical bonds or curses to contend with. All the tension comes from mundane life, whether it’s Kyoko’s neglectful parents or Katsuya’s family pressure. To match the fantasy tone of the TV show, all of these dramatic elements are taken to extremes: for example, as a young teenager, Kyoko is something of a hardened gangster, and she fails her exams because the head of her gang beats her so badly for jumping on gang meetings to study.
The worst offender, however, is Katsuya’s over-the-top, soap opera-worthy death. Cause and result are exaggerated to an almost comical point. Yet while this plot point is the film’s most incredible twist, it also allows for the film’s strongest scenes. Kyoko falls into a deep depression, and her resulting narration cuts through the convoluted plot and makes her grief compelling. When Kyoko describes Katsuya’s cremation, it’s a short sentence – Katsuya burned and turned into white smoke, then he was bone – it’s always a punch.
With so much focus on the frankly problematic relationship at its center, Basket of Fruits: Prelude is hard to watch – and it’s even harder to figure out what he’s trying to do. But when the focus shifts back to Tohru and Kyo, the questionable aspects of her parents’ relationship become a little easier to digest. After all their hardships, they’ve managed to untangle the tangled web that the Sohma family and Tohru’s parents have both caught them in, and their happiness is well deserved. The movie gives them a sweet epilogue that the series only briefly touched on.
Their resolution is a happy juxtaposition with Kyoko’s sad story, and it passes on the happiness she felt at the start of her young family to the new couple that comes after her. But that’s not enough to balance the film’s uncomfortable relationship and over-the-top melodrama. Prelude still have some traces of what makes Fruit basket so convincing. But stripped of the magic – literally and figuratively – it loses what makes it special.
Basket of Fruits: Prelude hits select theaters on June 25. The 2019 Fruit basket The series is streaming on Crunchyroll.