Manga is without a doubt one of the best mediums when it comes to finding variety. There are so many stories, in so many genres, that the amount of content seems endless, especially in comparison with the Western comic industry, which has focused more of its efforts on constructing superhero mythos. In manga, there are many other subjects besides superpowered characters. Western comics catch up to this standard of variety every day, but they still have a long way to go.
So, just like there are many amazing manga stories about superpowered characters, like Dragon Ball or One Piece. There are also manga series that offer stories that still have a fantastic element but are more grounded in terms of plot, and character work. It is especially interesting to see how manga marketing aims their stories toward both male and female audiences. Males have Shōnen, while females have Shojo. One of the most recognizable and important Shojo mangas of all time is Fruit Basket, and its new movie will try to finally end the tale.
Fruit Basket -prelude- is an anime film directed by Yoshihide Ibata, and starring Lydia Mackay, J. Michael Tatum, Laura Bailey, and Eric Vale. Fruit Basket -prelude- serves as a sort of recap of the 2019 anime adaptation, a prequel that deals with the story of Tohru’s parents, and also as a sort of epilogue to the complete story overall. By being fragmented into these three particular pieces, the movie feels somewhat disjointed, but when things get good, they get excellent.
There seems to be a sort of conflict within the film as it tries to do too many things at once. The movie has the task of being capable of being a standalone story, but also a film that can satisfy the hardcore fans that have been committing their precious time to this story for so long. In trying to appeal to all these masters, the movie fails when it comes to feeling like something that can stand on its own.
This is a shame because there is a lot of good stuff here, especially in the second act, when the story starts focusing on Tohru’s parents. Unfortunately, in order to get there, the film gives us a 30-minute recap of the previous anime adaptation. This recap has the tall order of refreshing the audience’s memories or even catching up with those members of the audience who have not seen the previous anime. It is a hard task to achieve, and the result is a mess.
The recap becomes completely unintelligible as it goes straight into the fantastic revelations and confessions that the characters end up giving to each other during the story. However, these great moments are delivered completely out of context. Content that is vital for people to understand why it is such a big thing that Kyo is finally opening up to Tohru, etc. Without that context, each of the scenes recapped in these first 30 minutes has absolutely no weight. For those who haven’t seen the previous seasons of the anime, it might be a big turn-off.
Thankfully, right when the movie seems to just be a failure, the second act begins and, with it, the great things we love about Fruit Basket. Kyoko and Katsuya, our two main characters for this section of the film, are just great. Lydia Mackay and J. Michael Tatum bring them to life expertly in the English dub, and you can really feel their desperation and love for each other. The journey these two go through is quite a ride and really dwells on the subject of love as the thing that pushes us to be better each day.
When seeing this section of the movie, it is impossible not to ask yourself if it wouldn’t have been better for the movie if this part was expanded a bit more, cutting out the recap at the beginning completely. While what is there is pretty cool, I wanted to spend more time with Kyoko and Katsuya. Or maybe instead of a recap at the beginning of the story, a new prologue with Tohru and Kyo would have been so much better as well. The ending basically works as a payoff for a prologue we never got.
In terms of animation, Fruit Basket hasn’t really been known to be super impressive when it comes to visuals. We are here for the story and relationships between the characters, so while the animation isn’t terrible, it almost reaches the “passable” territory. A bit more flair would have worked wonders, as this really feels like a goodbye for these characters. Nevertheless, the visual style is good enough that it doesn’t become an issue for the movie.
The second and third acts of this film are just fantastic, and the epilogue will bring a smile to your face. The way the themes from the middle section of the film pay off in the last five minutes is the reason this movie was made. Sadly, the movie has that recap in front of all the good stuff, a recap that tries to provide context but only brings confusion. Some people might tune out of the movie before getting to the good stuff.
Fruit Basket -prelude- isn’t perfect, far from it. It has some serious issues when it comes to structuring, and it wasn’t brave enough to stand on its own. By trying to connect itself so much with the previous parts of the story, it ended up becoming a worse film. However, the second and third acts are amazing when it comes to being emotional and having fantastic character work. It takes a while to get there, but for now, Fruit Basket -prelude- works perfectly as an ending to this story and its characters.