Hey guys, good to see ya. I know I’m a little early, but I’ve got a pretty interesting one for you today. This franchise totally took me by surprise – I discovered it while casually browsing on the net a couple weeks ago, and about four days in I already decided I was gonna write an article for it. I will give you guys advance warning: this is going to be a long one. In fact, this may end up being Hopped on Pop’s longest post; I have tons to talk about, and I wanna go all out on this one. Well, here we go!
Please excuse the use of the trailer for the first film instead of one for the series; I couldn’t find a decent one apart from this. Anywho, Urusei Yatsura or Those Obnoxious Aliens is the creation of Takahashi Rumiko, and one of her first major works. Moroboshi Ataru is the unluckiest guy in the world – his face seems to supernaturally draw bad luck to him and his family like a magnet. One day, he is randomly chosen to compete against alien invaders named Oni (named after the mythological enemy of ancient Japan) in a game of tag; if he can grab the horns atop the beautiful Princess Lum‘s head in ten days, he will save Earth from destruction and slavery. He’s confident it will be a piece of cake, until he learns on the first day that Lum can fly. With only one day left, his best friend Shinobu promises to marry him if he wins, and reinvigorated, he manages to beat Lum on the last day, to which he cries, “Now I can get married!” Unfortunately, Lum is convinced that Ataru is proposing to her, to which she quickly accepts.
Ataru, now technically a married man, cannot accept his fate (i.e. a life of being electrocuted), and so what ensues is a zany series of flirting with random women, beatings at the hands of Lum’s creepy fanboys, and a satire of Japanese culture. Along the way, Ataru and Lum encounter a crazy cast that includes (quoted from AniDb.net): “the richest boy on the planet…a superhuman schoolgirl…a fire-breathing baby…a powerful and very beautiful priestess/school nurse…a cute and psychotic alien vixen with a split personality, a gender-bending martial artist, an alien biker chick, an ice queen of Neptune, a deranged monk, a giant ghost cat and hundreds of other lunatic personalities.” As you’ll see in one of the articles I’m going to link to below, Urusei Yatsura is for Japanese satire what The Simpsons was for Americans before the Simpsons came out: a very wacky and snarky pushing of buttons, but with plenty of fourth wall knocking and silliness. I would also draw parallels to Three’s Company, except that both of the girls involved in the initial love triangle do want Ataru’s love and (exclusive) commitment (in other words, throw in a dash of Betty and Veronica from the Archie comics).
The production quality of the anime itself is great; apart from great directors, writers, and the like, the voice actors are really talented – it’s no surprise that a lot of them went on to fantastic careers at the conclusion of this show. They make Ataru and Lum believable, and Mendou’s voice actor does a great job of turning his character into scum. And that’s another thing, but with this credit goes to the writing: as much as the characters are meant to be caricatures, they’re given a sort of three dimensionality that I daresay is rare in modern anime (with the possible exceptions of Toradora! and Haruhi Suzumiya). Lum isn’t just some eye candy alien – she’s a sensitive girl who’s a bad cook and a bit of a trouble maker, who won’t take crap but will also defend her man. Mendou the obnoxious rich guy as I said is scum, but he also happens to be terrified of dark, confined spaces, and in some cases turns out to really be a good guy. As much as I love modern anime, I’ve found the lack of this sort of character depth a chronic problem.
Apart from that, as you can see the drawing style is pretty good (although at times inconsistent, which is not quite as visible in the examples I’ve provided). The general style I feel is refreshing, especially after dozens of look-alike anime and manga in recent years, particularly since the late ’90s and early ’00s. Maybe some of you can relate, I don’t really know, but I feel like the art style in the greater part of Japanese animation these days has gotten rather static and homogenous (with rare exceptions), whereas aesthetically Urusei Yatsura reminds me much more of Dragonball, an unforgettable classic.
Now Urusei Yatsura naturally is adapted from Takahashi’s original comic series, reputedly spanning nearly 6000 pages (I haven’t read it; the closest I’ve gotten to that is Bone by Jeff Smith, at 1,332 pages). There are some key differences between this and the original work, one of the main ones being the relative lack of continuity in the anime. There is a sequence to the episodes, but less of one compared to the source material, and each individual episode is independent of one another in certain ways, such as some episodes ending without an actual resolution to the problem (in one episode, a dozen characters’ personalities are irretrievably switched between all of their bodies, and in another, Ataru is cursed with an incurable toothache). As a result, the character development is sporadic and inconsistent, because it’s out of order (although not non-existent, just different from that in the manga and definitely not as obvious). Instead, what we get is more like character “fleshing out.”
This randomness does not detract from the series, in my opinion. Given my prior experience with anime, I take it as somewhat of a relief. See, the main reason I loved anime from the beginning was the experience of an actual linear narrative, something missing from most American ‘toons (with the exception of Avatar and a small handful of others). That said, many anime and manga series hang on subtle hints and plot points and strings and whatnot, so that in order to not get lost, you have to watch every single episode/read every chapter, including sometimes filler, which is often inconsistent in terms of quality (hanging of course on the overall quality of the production team in question and their ability to improvise). Urusei Yatsura doesn’t have this problem; there is no filler, because as I said, there’s a tenuous connection between episodes as it is. I can’t say for sure how it compares to the manga because I haven’t read it, but what would otherwise be filler episodes are enjoyable to watch because I’m not just slogging through them to get to the next important episode. I can actually sit back, relax, and enjoy the episode for what it is for once. Therefore, even though I don’t have to slavishly watch every episode if I don’t want to just because I want to understand what’s going on, the superb quality instead makes me want to do so; it’s just a good, fun time for all.
Urusei Yatsura interests me for a number of reasons. Believe it or not, it actually passes the Bechdel test several times throughout the course of the series, pretty impressive for a series entirely predicated on an alien princess chasing after and violently punishing her lecherous human husband. What’s funny is it kinda strikes me that this could’ve been the premise of an old fashioned cartoon in America. I can see it now: a mid-’60s or early ’70s animated sitcom, in which instead of a high school loser, a down-on-his-luck pencil pusher living in New York suddenly and accidentally gets married to an exotic alien princess after her spaceship crash lands in the middle of his living room (granted, with more modest clothing than Lum Invader, given the times). The humor and animation would be in the style of The Flintstones or the Jetsons, with a scheme in every episode that’s foiled spectacularly by his electrifying wife. Take a few seconds to picture it if you need to.
I was also struck by something that was said during a recap episode, with regards to the couple of Lum and Ataru: “What will become of their dangerous relationship?” A dangerous relationship. Aren’t all relationships a dangerous venture? Now hear me out on this one. I’ve been in a great relationship with a wonderful girlfriend for three years and a little extra, but anyone who’s been in an extended relationship knows they’re never free from trouble, even in the most ideal circumstances. Even if there’s no drama within the couple, there could be envious friends or flirty classmates, exes from either side looking to rekindle the old flame, parents that don’t like you (or your significant other), having to deal with long distances, not being able to see one another much because of work or school…any number of things could happen. The mark of a strong relationship is being able to work through that stuff together.
I don’t think Ataru hates the idea of a relationship with Lum, deny it though he may for pretty much the entire series. But how would you feel if someone you don’t love and may not even know very well barged into your life and just started living with you, demanding you take them out on dates, and then got angry when you didn’t seem to be enjoying yourself? And on top of that, your proposal was meant for someone else who you really did love! Kind of a bind Ataru is in – not that I’m defending his behavior, but again, it’s a rather sorry situation (for both of them). But as time goes on, the viewer does get a sense that Ataru actually does depend on Lum quite a bit, and he too gradually realizes how happy she makes him, and how much of a mess he is without her (this becomes especially evident toward the end of the first movie). It doesn’t matter how it happens really, but eventually he does fall for Lum, though he doesn’t stop his fooling around, probably because he’s afraid of commitment, or more interestingly, perhaps because he’s afraid of admitting she finally worked her charms on him.
Getting into relationships is a dangerous business; you might not always end up with the one you loved and wanted at first. And as I said before, there are plenty of occupational hazards to keep you occupied in the meantime. But as with all dangerous work, the payoff is (usually) worth it in the end, and as you get to know one another, you’ll soon find you love the one you’re with (if things are meant to work out – if not, then get outta there for both of your sakes!). To me, that is what Ataru and Lum’s relationship is all about – even Lum has to get used to Ataru’s dirty habits and general idiocy. But the more they get to know of each other, their bond ultimately does get stronger, Ataru’s constant hijinks and Lum’s bizarre alien behavior notwithstanding. What’s even more interesting is that Lum is widely recognized as a type B tsundere (normally sweet, but violent when provoked), and indeed one of the first of their kind, and I consider Ataru to be type A – rude and moody by default, who sometimes can’t help but show his more affectionate side. Quite neat then that these two opposites attract like a magnet, and I think this builds on the idea of them learning over time to love the one they’re with in a symbolic way, and in a more effective way than I think we see in many anime and manga series today.
Finally, I wanted to share with you a quote by the mangaka herself. When explaining the inspiration behind her creation, she said, “[Urusei Yatsura] really includes everything I ever wanted to do. I love science fiction because sci-fi has tremendous flexibility. I adopted the science fiction-style for the series because then I could write any way I wanted to.” I think she’s totally right: science fiction does open up limitless possibilities, not only because of the number of scientific hypotheticals one can explore by adopting the genre, but because sci-fi is not only limited to itself. With sci-fi fantasy like Urutsei Yatsura – as long as they don’t take themselves too seriously – you can throw in elements from literally almost any other genre you want, wave away any explanations that need to be made, and then let the fun begin. That’s what made Star Trek’s original series so fun and camp; they were able to put Captain Kirk in Ancient Rome and nobody would bat an eye! That’s the sort of creative freedom I dream of having. As far as Urusei Yatsura is concerned, that mission has been thoroughly accomplished.
Thus ends my review of Urusei Yatsura, or Those Obnoxious Aliens. It began as a manga series in 1978, and although the TV series ended in 1986 (the manga followed suit in 1987), every once in a while they poke their heads out of the sands of time for just one more go, the most recent OVA having been released in 2008. The mangaka has long since stopped writing new stories as far as the source material, and over time it will get harder and harder to wrangle up the original crew (even the youngest among them are now in their early to mid-50s), but I will always watch for the return of this splendid “wacky boy meets alien” series, in whatever form that may be.
As for myself, I’ve recently been accepted to law school, which will officially commence at the beginning of this summer. I’m going to get very busy very soon, so I want to enjoy myself as much as possible until then. Additionally, I started this blog during a period of intense, intractable writer’s block, and I thought getting myself to write on a frequent and regular basis would help me get the creative juices flowing again. It worked, and a couple months ago I resumed work on my private creative writing projects. I found however that not only did I not have enough free time to thrust myself fully into that writing while also trying to maintain consistent weekly posts here, but it was increasingly difficult to divide my attention between the two. Writing a typical blog post here requires combing through a sea of potential movies, albums, books, and others for a fruitful topic, analyzing and synthesizing the main points I want to talk about, and then pouring it onto the page. I want to be able to have the time and energy to do that now for my creative projects.
So where do we go from here? Fret not, for this is not the (permanent) end of Hopped on Pop. Perhaps someday I’ll return again, and it would make more sense to think of this as a hiatus. I assure you this isn’t some spur of the moment thing; only one post this month was a movie review, and that’s because the topics I’ve been posting about lately had been on my to-do list almost since I began this blog, and I wanted to make sure to get them out before closing up shop. This has been a really fun project to pore over, and I will miss doing it, but my priorities have changed and I wanna look boldly into the future. I hope you’ve all enjoyed reading Hopped on Pop, and I thank you endlessly for dropping by week after week for over seven months now. It’s been a helluva ride. So I say to you goodbye, au revoire, so long, farewell, and thanks for all the fish.