Starring Fumi Hirano, Toshi Furukawa, Naoko Matsui, Shinnosuke Furumoto, Akira Kamiya, Ichiro Nagai, Machiko Washio, Yuko Mita, Noriko Ohara, Kazuko Sugiyama, Saeko Shimazu
Directed by Katsuhisa Yamada
What, did you think that just because the previous movie was called The Final Chapter it meant that the series was over? In fact, The Final Chapter spawned an entire 12-episode series as a sequel, of which this film in turn is a sequel. But don’t worry; this is my last review of the series (unless I go insane and decide to somehow write a coherent review of a series spanning over 200 episodes). This one really is the last Urusei Yatsura film, and it’s actually a 10th anniversary special that was meant as more of a fond nostalgia trip than a continuation of the story. By this point Rumiko Takahashi’s latest romantic comedy series Ranma 1/2, which is every bit as absurd as Urusei Yatsura, was in full swing, and two concurrent Rumiko Takahashi series was apparently too much weird even for Japan to handle.
While I would love to say that the series goes out with a bang, I’m afraid it goes out with more of a “meh” instead. Sure, I laughed enough times to justify watching it, but not enough to call it a great piece of comedy. In this tale Ataru is kidnapped by an alien princess because he is the only one in the galaxy who can navigate Indiana Jones style through an ancient temple to find a fabled love potion. Now if you’ve seen any story revolving around a love potion, you can probably predict the vast majority of the plot. Hell, even if you haven’t seen a love potion story you can probably piece much of it together.
Something else that made the film feel out of place are the visuals. The character design is very obviously from the ’90s. Since the rest of the series maintained an early ’80s aesthetic, this film comes across feeling very odd. The animation itself is a step down from the previous films as well. The TV series had never been great in that regard, but the films had some memorably great looking scenes, particularly Lum’s chase scene in Remember My Love. There are some action scenes in Always My Darling that step up and deliver some decent animation, but none of it is stellar. All of this only added to the lackluster feel of the film.
Now that I’m done with the series, or at least my reviews of it, I feel like I should give a small retrospective on the films and what changes and surprises I’ve encountered watching this series. It was one of the most influential titles of my early anime fandom, and the series holds a special place in my pantheon of great anime. Despite that, I never saw the entire TV series (much of it did not get released in America until long after it had drifted off my radar), and a lot of changes went on over the course of the series that surprised me when I set out to watch the films. There wasn’t even one time where Ataru’s mother sobs, “I wish I’d never had him!” which was a staple running gag of the TV series, and that just might be the change I miss the most.
The biggest change, though, was Shinobu’s change from primary love interest — one of the three main characters of the series — to minor side character. She was also one of my favorite characters (all right, all right, I’ll just come out and admit it, every character in the series is one of my favorite characters). This caused a drastic change in the nature of the series. In those early tales, Lum was almost the antagonist, constantly coming between Ataru and Shinobu’s true love (setting aside the fact that Ataru would hit on anything with boobs). That shift from center stage to minor footnote was shocking to me and left me wishing I had seen it progress more naturally across the length of the TV series.
So I’m glad I watched all these films, but the TV series is unquestionably the best of the bunch. All the rest of these spinoffs are rather nonessential, but they are interesting experiments that have their fair share of entertainment value, even Always My Darling, as weak as it may be compared to the others. Unfortunately, the series is kinda hard to come by any more. But watching all these films has galvanized me to tracking the entire TV series down so I can fill in the gaps, and I’m expecting to find a great time.