Anime Review: Urusei Yatsura
Ataru Moroboshi is not precisely your average teenaged boy. For one thing, he’s an incurable skirt-chaser, constantly hitting on any pretty lady who happens by. Also, he’s incredibly unlucky. So unlucky, that when alien invaders declare that a random person from Earth must compete against their champion in a game of tag, Ataru is that random person.
The alien champion is Lum, who looks like a sexy version of a Japanese oni. Ataru is suddenly much more pumped at the prospect of catching her, but the alien girl turns out to be able to fly. The Earth is on the brink of defeat when Ataru’s long-suffering main romantic target Shinobu agrees to marry him if he wins.
This gives Ataru just the boost he needs to catch Lum and win, but in the process he accidentally proposes to Lum, who accepts, because she’s fallen in love with him. Soon Ataru’s home suburb of Tomobiki Town is a hotbed of aliens and weirdness.
Urusei Yatsura, also known as “Those Annoying Aliens”, was the first big hit by manga creator Rumiko Takahashi. It was turned into a long-running televison series, several direct to video features and some movies. I recently finished watching all fifty DVD volumes of the TV show. The manga, marketed in America as Lum: Urusei Yatsura, has not been fully released in English due to misguided marketing leading to poor sales.
This romantic comedy series, heavy on the comedy part, is full of zany characters, puns, slapstick gags and amusing situations. Ataru is a jerk, yes, and deserves about 80% of what happens to him, with the rest being random bad luck. But he also has his good points, when the mood strikes him. And it’s not as though the other fellows in the series are much better in their own ways.
Lum undergoes a huge change over the course of the series. At the beginning, she’s a pretty horrible person, the type who shouts “I’m having your baby!” while Ataru is trying to talk on the telephone. But she soon becomes much more likable, with her innocent failure to fully understand human culture taking the fore. Part of this is because Shinobu was supposed to be the main love interest, but the readers liked Lum better, and feedback caused Ms. Takahashi to adjust the story to match.
During the first couple of seasons of the anime, this makes for some inconsistent characterization, as earlier stories from the manga were sometimes skipped over, only to be done later with the original characterization intact. Over the course of the series, the anime also did a number of filler episodes. These can usually be spotted by having much less Ataru, and a more melancholy/nostalgic tone. Takahashi-penned stories often ended with a stinger that restored the status quo or punctured any lingering seriousness, filler episodes tend not to do this.
One pattern Ms. Takahashi uses a lot of is introducing a new zany character whenever the series starts to drag, having stories that pair them up with various members of the existing cast, and seeing if they stick. This wound up with the series having loads of characters, some of whom only showed up once a year. The most successful of the later characters is Ryuunosuke, a young woman raised as a boy by her crazed father, who explored gender issues in a way that would be more directly referenced in Ranma 1/2.
There’s a lot of slapstick violence, mostly aimed at Ataru; modern audiences may find Lum’s habit of shocking him with lightning bolts every time he displeases her uncomfortable. Also quite a bit of fanservice, with Lum topless in the first episode (it’s for plot-related reasons! Totally legit!)
While the series is massive, it’s very episodic, so picking any random volume or one of the movies shouldn’t be too confusing. Okay, the second movie, Beautiful Dreamer, is very confusing, but that’s on purpose due to the nature of the plot.
Recommended to anime fans who haven’t seen where a lot of the currently used romantic comedy tropes came from, and comedy fans in general.