One thing I’ve seen bouncing around shojo-dominated spaces of the internet is anticipation for this movie. Specifically, people are excited about the all-new epilogue written by Natsuki Takaya. If that’s your main reason for watching, allow me to give you the most vital information first: it lasts three minutes and the payoff is weak. Perhaps I would have felt more charitably toward it if everything that came before it in Fruits Basket -prelude- didn’t emphasize what I have always felt were the two most glaring flaws in an otherwise exemplary story: Kyo’s connection to Kyoko and Kyoko’s relationship with Katsuya, Tohru’s father.
The first half hour of the movie is a clip show, free of any framing device or narration to tie it together. It felt more like a fan-made compilation posted on YouTube with the title “BEST Kyo/Tohru relationship moments!!!” than anything actually professional. In fairness, I can sort of see what they were going for with it; the clips are arranged in a way that indicates they wanted to draw out a theme rather than depicting their relationship’s development chronologically. Instead, the importance is placed on how Kyo knew Kyoko long before he met Tohru, his feelings of guilt and how he perceives himself as responsible for her death, and how Tohru offers him absolution.
The thing is, Kyo having known Kyoko has always felt entirely contrived and unnecessary to me, so the extended montage left me cold. Their relationship, which began with a random woman approaching a child and then telling him all about her daughter for no reason, makes no sense. His connection to Kyoko and her death doesn’t add anything to the narrative, which is already strong enough on its own, nor does it make his relationship with Tohru more meaningful. Being the cat in the Sohma family has already isolated and traumatized that poor boy enough.
But then the clipshow concludes, and the movie gets to its real meat: Kyoko’s relationship with Katsuya, from the moment they met her grief when he died. There are parts of it that I like, that resonate with the show’s themes about the power of kindness and the importance of a sense of belonging. Kyoko joined a gang not because she was born rotten, but because the dearth of parental love in her life left a hole in her that she didn’t know how to fill otherwise. Finding someone who valued and believed in her, who didn’t treat her as a worthless inconvenience, helped to heal her heart.
But why, why, why did he have to be her teacher?
You see, Katsuya and Kyoko met when she’s in middle school, thus no older than 15, and he’s a student teacher in his early 20’s. The first time he encounters her, he pulls her out of school and takes her out to lunch. Even after his stint in student teaching ends, he tutors her up until she misses her high school entrance exam, and then, when her parents are kicking her out and she has nowhere else to go, he shows up and declares his intent to marry her . Remember when someone recut the Twilight trailer to make it look like a psychological thriller? Kyoko and Katsuya’s relationship wouldn’t even need to be recut; A simple lighting change and shifting the music to a minor key would turn it into a cautionary tale about a predatory man targeting a troubled, vulnerable child to trap her into a controlling relationship she can’t escape from.
Of course, that’s not what happens, because this is the realm of fiction, where a 15-year-old can totally have a consenting relationship with her 23-year-old teacher and there’s no risk of abuse. Katsuya is a lovely husband and doting father – which is actually genuinely cute – but it still gives me the screaming heebie-jeebies to see this narrative in a story ostensibly aimed at girls around the same age as Kyoko. The emotional beats were genuine, but I was too intensely creeped out for them to hit right. Perhaps if you are not as bothered by adult/child age gaps or teacher/student romances as I am, you will be touched by Katsuya’s tenderness toward Tohru, and the intensity of Kyoko’s grief in the way the story intends.
Both the dubbed and subbed versions are coming out, and speaking as someone who has been watching Fruits Basket dubbed since I got the DVD for my 16th birthday in 2003… go with the sub for this one. The strongest members of the English cast are barely present, and while Lydia Mackay is fine, her performance just doesn’t come remotely close to the powerhouse that is Miyuki Sawashiro as Kyoko. If the dub is the more viable option to you for whatever reason, don’t feel like you need to skip it, but this is one of the cases where the Japanese version is simply better.
The animation is about on par with the TV series – nice, but occasionally stiff and certainly not theatrical quality. There were moments where the characters’ physicality was distinctly lacking, including Kyo and Tohru sharing one of the least romantic-looking kisses I ever did see. This was not the kiss of two young adults passionately in love; it was the kiss of a pair of 40-year-olds who are staying together for the kids. The film also uses seagulls as a frequent motif, and every single time, they are rendered in the most awkward CG and don’t move at all like the real birds.
Fruits Basket has always been a series with some major flaws that were fortunately outshone by its strengths. However, -prelude- Focuses on what I have always considered its weakest elements, isolating them from its ensemble cast and most resonant themes.