Urusei Yatsura Movie 5: The Final Chapter

Sitcoms rarely feature character development. A half-hour devoted to comedy rarely has enough time to give its characters room to grow. More importantly, it makes it difficult to put into syndication once the show is over. When you tune into a random episode, you want to be able to follow what's going on without too much work. Sure, Friends and The Office might have paired off their players over the seasons, but the ability for each episode to stand alone is still paramount. The only exception to the rule is the season (or series) finale, which often introduces some significant change to keep interest alive or to leave viewers with a pleasant feeling about the show as a whole.

Urusei Yatsura: The Final Chapter fits into this latter scenario. An animated version of the final manga story, this film attempted to bring both humor and gravitas to the ending of the popular series. While not as daring (or interesting) as Beautiful Dreamer and Lum The Forever, The Final Chapter does exactly what it sets out to do. While the opening is far too familiar to fans of the show, the latter half is unpredictable and poignant enough to sell me on the whole.

The film starts with a scenario directly lifted and flip-flopped from the first film in the series...in this case, the handsome Rupa comes to claim Lum as his bride. Decades ago, Rupa's great-great-grandfather did a favor for Lum's great-great-grandfather, and now Rupa is finally getting to collect on the debt. This part is vaguely amusing, particularly Rupa's flying pig cart, but it plays out almost exactly as expected. Rupa steals Lum's powers, takes her to his planet, and plans a wedding for them. No surprises there.

Just as I feared that things would be totally predictable, a new plot twist comes about in the form of Carla, the girl who loves Rupa and considers him hers. Carla's none too pleased with Rupa's infatuation with Lum (simply based on a picture in a locket), and she tortures him unmercifully about his unfaithfulness. Sound familiar? The parallel story of Carla and Rupa plays out as an interesting counterpoint to the main plot.

Due to a huge misunderstanding around a doppelganger Lum, Ataru thinks she actually wants to marry Rupa. He's honked off and refuses to give the real Lum the time of day. But for once, Lum gets it...and she realizes that not once has Ataru ever said that he loves her. Devastated, she sets up another game of tag with Ataru (echoing the one in the first episode of the series) as mushrooms from Rupa's planet take over Earth. The fate of the human race is on the line as Ataru must decide whether or not to say those magical words he doesn't feel.

Anybody who's gotten to the fifth film in this series knows what to expect in terms of technical quality, and this film is steady as a rock on that point. There's a certain lack of detail more noticeable for a film made in the early 1990s, but that's just because it is following in the style of the previous installments. This outing still has cameos from major players, but I never felt they were stuffing in characters just to give them screen time. (I will say at least one or two minor characters weren't familiar to me, and it's my guess that they showed up somewhere in the second half of the series. Your mileage may vary depending on your previous knowledge of the latter parts of the TV show or manga.)

As far as amusement...well, this isn't the funniest UY film or the most clever. It's about as funny as the first film, though there were some moments that made me laugh aloud. There's still the feeling that it's difficult to make something that works in short chunks stretch to an hour and a half. (Keep in mind too that Urusei Yatsura's earliest episodes were only 12 minutes long!) I chuckled here and there, and my two-year-old who wandered in and out of the viewing room thought the various creatures were very funny. But you'll be disappointed if you expect a laugh riot.

What separates this film out from all the rest is its conclusion. The third film, Remember My Love, came closest to being poignant, but to do so, it wasn't very true to its cast. The finale of The Final Chapter worked for me because it dealt straightforwardly with the central dilemma of the entire series -- Ataru doesn't love Lum. He neither acts like it nor does he say it. Remember My Love implied that Ataru somehow did in fact love Lum, but it was difficult to believe. Here, Lum is the one who realizes the truth and attempts to do something about it. What I didn't expect was that the film would find its way to a satisfactory resolution of the problem without doing damage to the personalities of our leads. I genuinely wasn't sure it could happen, and that built real tension into the finale. I won't spoil what happens; I'll just say it exceeded my expectations. This is a fitting end to the whole.

While I'll be returning shortly to review UY 6: Always My Darling, I'm already of the opinion that it's unnecessary. Watching through the film series, I'd suggest saving this one for last. It won't make you laugh the loudest or think the longest, but I don't think the series could have a better ending that this one that remains true to the gang of idiots I've come to love over the years.

Urusei Yatsura Movie 5: The Final Chapter -- slapstick violence, brief profanity -- B