A codified to an extremely popular manga and anime series, Fruits Basket: Prelude moves away from the supernatural elements of its previous iterations while aiming to retain their emotional lyricism. The first half hour of this “prelude” functions as a recap of the series; this lengthy prologue looks back at how sensitive orphan Tohru Honda falls in love with Kyo, a teenager who is cursed to turn into a cat when touched by a member of the opposite sex. These events, absorbing enough when told over the course of the series, are a little harrowing when brought up in this cut-out format. Just ticking off the highlights of their relationship is going to be confusing to newcomers and all too familiar to ardent fans.
But when Fruits Basket: Prelude finally launches its narrative thread, which follows the life of Tohru’s mother, Kyoko, who died in a car accident, becomes gripping. The romantic elements might raise a few eyebrows — Kyoko and Tohru’s father meet as a high school student and teacher — but Kyoko’s transformation from lost delinquent to doting mother is pretty poignant.
Still, given that Kyoko’s story only takes up about two-thirds of the running time, the whole endeavor feels like careless fanservice. The decision to split Tohru and Kyoko’s struggles into parallel lines is odd and a missed opportunity. Considering how Kyoko deals with abuse and neglect from her own parents, Fruits Basket: Prelude could have delved deeper into how intergenerational trauma informs Tohru’s own identity now that she is starting a family with Kyo. All in all, it’s a film that will not only fail to convert new believers, but will also frustrate the existing fanbase.