Demon Slayer: Mugen Train was 2020's big success story at the box office. Despite launching during the pandemic, the film shattered records by making over ¥4.6 billion in its first weekend before quickly shooting up the highest-grossing film charts, becoming the highest-grossing film in Japanese history. For weeks Mugen Train was the most popular film at the Japanese box office, and people questioned what movie would knock it off the top spot. The one that finally did it, while part of a famous franchise, might not be as known by American audiences. However, as that film comes to US theaters in November, now is the perfect time to get familiar with it.
After 12 weeks of box office dominance, Demon Slayer was finally toppled by Gintama: The Very Final. When this film was released on January 8th, 2021, it quickly rose to the top spot, knocking Demon Slayer to number two. Overall, Gintama: The Very Final made over ¥1.8 billion during its box office run. While not as much as Demon Slayer, this is no mean feat. And when you look into the franchise's history, it actually makes a lot of sense that this Gintama film beat out Mugen Train.
Gintama: The Very Final is the latest film in the long-running Gintama franchise, which launched in Weekly Shōnen Jump in 2003. Written and illustrated by Hideaki Sorachi, the series is set in an alternative history version of the late-Edo period of Japanese history. Things change from established history when an alien force, called the Amanto, comes down from the sky. The samurai fight hard against the invaders but are betrayed by the shōgun, who capitulates to the aliens, forcing the samurai to lay down their swords while turning the government into their puppets.
The series follows Gintoki Sakata, an odd-jobs freelancer and samurai. He teams up with teenager Shinpachi Shimura and super-strong alien Kagura to form the Yorozuya freelancing group. They travel the world, helping people and eventually attempting to stop the interstellar invaders who now rule Japan.
Gintama proved extremely popular and quickly became a franchise. Aside from the original manga, the series spawned an anime, a live-action film, and a trilogy of films, of which Gintama: The Very Final is the latest. The first of these films retold the manga's original Benizakura Arc with some new material. The second film was a time-travel storyline that saw Gintoki dragged to the future. Gintama: The Very Final aims to retell the manga's final arc with new, updated story elements.
It isn't hard to see why Gintama: The Very Final knocked even the beloved Demon Slayer: Mugen Train off the top spot. Both films had a lot of hype, and their respective fans had been waiting with bated breath to see the continuation of both stories. On top of this, Gintama: The Very Final is also the end of its specific story, meaning fans who want to see how this version of the story finishes have to see this movie, which is an excellent motivator for box office success. Gintama has also had a long time to build up a dedicated fanbase as it started much earlier than Demon Slayer, meaning there's a massive inbuilt audience for this film.
The simple passage of time should be remembered as well. Demon Slayer did amazingly well at the box office -- and so quickly -- as evidenced by its massive opening weekend. And, even though some people will go and see the film more than once, with each passing week, the number of movie-goers who want to watch the film falls, making it easier for new films to beat it in the weekly ratings. So, after 12 stunning weeks, it makes sense that a movie based on a massive franchise like Gintama would swoop in and take the top spot.
While Gintama isn't a name most American fans will think of when asked to name a popular anime, it can't be denied that the franchise has a massive fanbase that's keen to see how the movie trilogy ends. And while Demon Slayer's success was meteoric, it simply couldn't stay at the top forever. Eventually, something would have to come along and beat it, and due to its impressive lineage, Gintama's rise makes perfect sense.