It's always interested me that Urusei Yatsura, a wonderfully hilarious comedy manga and anime series, inspired two of the strangest and most compelling anime films ever made. The basic material of the series is hardly deep: Ataru acts like a lecherous fool, Lum electrocutes him, and then we move on to the next gag. So why, then, did anyone come up with Beautiful Dreamer, an extraordinarily moving and very funny examination of human desires, the nature of consciousness, and the basics of perceived reality? That's a question for another review, of course, but it leads directly into the total mystery that is Lum the Forever.
Since the film was released, Lum the Forever has sparked endless debates over what it's really about. Is it as deep as Beautiful Dreamer or just a crazy mess of false leads and mind games for gullible anime fans to ponder when they aren't off polishing their collections of precious waifu figurines?
I don't claim to have an answer to that question. A peremptory look at the amount of material about Lum the Forever online can provide anyone who's interested with a cornucopia of theories, analyses, and perspectives that I couldn't possibly summarize. If you're intrigued by this film, and you want to explore Lum the Forever's meaning in greater depth, then I hope you will. I only want to argue that it's a truly great film that deserves much higher status and visibility than it receives these days (2017).
One thing that I think makes a lot of the Urusei Yatsura anime world seem so unapproachable is that newcomers may feel intimidated by the sheer amount of stuff out there. One might assume that since Lum the Forever is the fourth movie, you ought to have a deep understanding of the many characters that were introduced over the years. Don't worry. Much like Beautiful Dreamer, the cast is limited to the core members of the story. Even if you've just watched a handful of the anime episodes, you'll be fine. Urusei Yatsura is a pretty basic comedy. It's not like you need full backstories or any huge history lessons. This ain't Mobilesuit Gundam. Jump in and take a chance.
What Lum the Forever provides is a beautiful and strange story that takes Lum, Ataru, and the rest of the Tomobiki kids on an emotional journey through a captivating landscape. It pushes the Urusei Yatsura universe in ways that Beautiful Dreamer also does, but while that film was ultimately an intellectual journey, Lum the Forever works in a much more literal dream state -- our emotions and subconscious processes are tapped much more directly here. The logic is that of dreams, and defining an exact linear plot or overarching structure is less important than the experience itself.
Sure, you have a plot about making a fairly ridiculous amateur movie, the death of a cherry tree, and some very unexpected things happening to Lum and her place in well...actual existence.... I thought the movie was immensely entertaining even without getting too deep into what it all meant. The animation is really beautiful, especially in its use of color, and if you see this film as a dreamlike experience with deeply emotional overtones then that's the best way to approach it from the start.
There's not as much comedy here; it's a story about growth, change, and the acceptance that life, and one's experience of lived time, simply alters despite one's hopes that a certain "perfect time" will forever remain constant. And in this sense, Lum the Forever complements and completes the lessons of Beautiful Dreamer. In the latter film, the ultimate message was that it's futile and meaningless to attach one's self-definition to the false security of one treasured moment in time. Lum the Forever illustrates the need to move on from such moments, even when that process is painful and feels like a disaster. At the end, the film offers hope that even such difficult changes ultimately resolve themselves, and though we have to relinquish certain attachments, it doesn't mean that the next stages in life are worse or less important. Love goes on, and memories are to be cherished.
This is an abstract review, but I suppose the film demands that in a way. You can take this movie apart in detail but from my perspective it's best to enjoy it most of all for what it is: a full experience, one that contains a great deal of emotional depth and hard questions for those who love Urusei Yatsura. Nobody may ever really be able to explain the plot, but for me, I'll always remember this film for how it made me feel. It's a movie that fans of more recent and more experimental, more popularly acknowledged anime should see. It's a film that often gets forgotten because it's just one more installment in a giant, rather old franchise that doesn't get much attention these days. Those who don't watch this movie are missing out. It's daring, beautiful. and haunting. I hope you'll give it a chance.