I'm stunned. So that's why Rumiko Takahashi hated all those other Urusei Yatsura movies! If this is the potential she saw in the franchise, no wonder she didn't like impenetrable stuff like Beautiful Dreamer and Lum the Forever.
As the title suggests, this movie is an adaptation of the finale of Takahashi's manga. Not all anime adaptations of her work were so lucky, by the way. Maison Ikkoku got a proper ending, but Ranma 1/2 didn't and we're still waiting to see what happens to Inu-Yasha.
Admittedly being faithful to the source material isn't in itself a guarantee of quality. I don't really like the early, more faithful episodes of the Urusei Yatsura TV series. Nevertheless Takahashi remains a skilled storyteller who understands the characters and knows how to make them work within the framework of an emotionally-driven story. Oddly enough, that's something we'd never really seen before. The films had certainly never managed it. Urusei Yatsura had always been powered by weirdness and manic energy, with plot and story very much taking a back seat. Admittedly the first and sixth movies are more plot-based than the others, but that might be why I've never found them wholly successful. This film however does justice to the deranged Urusei Yatsura universe, yet also manages to give the characters more depth and complexity than they'd managed in the preceding hundred-odd hours of anime put together.
I'm in awe of the beginning. Look at how it gets across almost everything you need to know the characters within seconds. Furthermore it does this by being funny. Everyone's a bastard, Lum's a ditz who electrocutes people without thinking... if this were a one-off film, I'd be raving right now. Admittedly these introductory scenes are just more Urusei Yatsura nonsense, but that doesn't mean it's not skillfully done. Besides, there's Lum's ominous dream and Sakura's presentiments to keep us on edge. Something's coming. Even these portents are unusual, since I can't remember another occasion on which this show managed to spook me.
Sure enough, there are bad guys. What's more, they're remarkable. At first, they're mysterious. Then when we meet them, they're loons. Show me another movie that dares to make its villains this silly, then turns it all around and making them dangerous enough to ravage entire planets. They have silly speech patterns "po". They have sky chariots drawn by flying pigs "po" and knock their heads while making a dramatic entrance "po". We've seen plenty of stories in which either Lum or Ataru gets kidnapped for marriage by some hopelessly ill-advised alien, but never have the kidnappers been so childish and oddly human. However at the same time, they come from the Kingdom of Darkness, to reach which you've got to pilot your UFO down a flight path that reminded me of Peter Pan's directions. They fly spaceships that look like poisonous fungi and can devastate worlds by accident.
All this is fun, but nothing too remarkable by Urusei Yatsura standards. The story's crunch point comes when Lum and Ataru have a big misunderstanding that makes them angry with each other and have a big falling-out. No, really. That's the good bit. What's interesting about this is that I normally hate all that. I should have been rolling my eyes and calling them both a pair of idiots, but Takahashi makes it work. She knows they're idiots. She embraces it as the core of their characterisation, then takes it further than we've seen it before as Ataru's pig-headedness threatens to get the world destroyed and his friends brain-wiped. However at the same time, she's looking hard at their relationship and what it would be like to be in love with someone with that kind of personality. Even when they know the truth, they still can't bring themselves to admit it. When it comes to love, it's not your head that's in charge. Both Lum and Ataru are full of pride and pain, which is what's driving the story even when everything's as wild and over-the-top as usual.
The ending made me cry a little. It's honestly earned and it feels right for the characters, although this mean you shouldn't go in expecting Ataru to suddenly turn into Rhett Butler. It's a happy conclusion, though. After 200+ episodes over all those years, anything else would have been an outrage.
Not everyone from the show appears, but it's a close thing. The roll-call is so comprehensive that it even makes room for Inaba, a manga character in a rabbit suit who never made it into the TV series and only cropped up in the OVAs. What's more, it never feels as if they're ticking off a checklist. Admittedly Ryuunosuke's scary dad pops up out of nowhere for a completely gratuitous appearance that has nothing to do with anything, but that's what he used to do in the show too. People get story roles. Yuki uses her ice powers, Benten does the stupidest thing in the whole film, Mendou wheels out his private army and Ran gets her spaceship hijacked by her, ahem, friends.
Oh, and I have a feeling that all the music is original. They didn't reuse any of the TV series's stock music, wonderful though it is, but simply wrote even more. I'd need a rewatch to be sure of that, though.
In case I haven't made it clear, I was deeply impressed by this film. The hallucinogenic art-house Urusei Yatsura movies are an experience, but The Final Chapter left me feel as if I'd been hypnotised to see a shape that's at once a square and a circle. It had simply never before occurred to me to associate Urusei Yatsura with strong storytelling. You'd probably need to be familiar with the franchise to realise why that's extraordinary, mind you. The film can run completely wild when it feels like it (Mendou's Mazinger robot) and yet there isn't a moment when it's not in control of its emotional story. It has an important message for us. Violence is funny. Childishness is also funny. Oh, and you should think about the consequences of what you say and don't say to the people you love, rather than simply assuming they know everything without you having told them. Note the scene near the end in which Sakura tells the extraterrestrials how everyone feels about them. It's sweet, but it's also at the heart of the movie's theme.
This film made me love Ataru and Lum all over again. I've had a complicated relationship with those two.
P.S. It's not necessary, but it might help when watching this film if you've seen the first episode of the TV series, or at least read a synopsis or something. They come full circle back to it.