Mike wonders aloud which anime would be a good fit for the prestigious Criterion Collection.
Reviewby Theron Martin, Feb 15th 2005
Urusei Yatsura OVA Set
The adventures of Lum, Ataru, Ten, and all the gang from Tomobiki continue in an assortment of new – but no less weird – stories. Watch as Lum, Ataru, and Shinobu encounter a rabbit-clad youth, enter the Room of Destiny, and get a glimpse into their futures in “Inaba the Dreammaker,” or see Ran's plans to use a sherbet cone-producing bird to open a sherbet shop one hot Tokyo summer go terribly awry in “Raging Sherbet.” Ataru has yet another bad experience with Lum's cooking in “I Howl at the Moon,” while “Catch the Heart” features a peculiar candy that, when eaten, causes a heart to appear above the eater's head – and whomever claims that heart wins the love of the eater! “Goat and Cheese” follows up with a story of a peculiar curse afflicting anyone who gets their photo taken in front of a goat statue on the Mendou family estate, while “A Date With A Spirit” offers up another tale of a date between Sakura and Tsubame gone wrong, this time because the ghost of a cute girl attaches herself to Tsubame. In “Terror of the Girly-Eye Measles” Ataru contracts – and then spread around – a dreadful disease which causes all males to gain large, starry anime-styled girly eyes. “Nagisa's Fiance” offers up a tale of Ryuunosuke discovering that she's been engaged to a girl by her father – and the fact that the girl is already dead isn't to be an impediment to them having a first kiss! In “The Electric House Guard,” Mendou's new personal ninja goes googly over Ryoko, which leads to no small amount of trouble or vexation for Mendou. Or watch as most of the female cast members assemble for a chat session in “Ryoko's September Tea Party.” Finally, witness as one of the Mendou family's satellites becomes self-aware in “Memorial Album, I'm the Shuu-chan.”
With 195 TV episodes, six movies, and two specials under its belt, Urusei Yatsura ranked as one of the most popular and successful anime franchises of the 1980s. It was instrumental in putting creator Rumiko Takahashi on the anime/manga map and its influence on comedic styling in anime can be seen in many later series. (It is also worth noting that Mamoru Oshii of Ghost in the Shell fame got some of his earliest work in the anime field as a storyboard artist for this series.) Even to this day the green-haired, tiger bikini-clad Lum remains one of the most popular and recognizable of all female anime characters amongst anime fans. The wave of popularity for the series continued even after it ended in 1986, resulting in a total of nine OVA episodes released between 1987 and 1991. Thanks to AnimEigo, these episodes are finally available on DVD beginning in April 2005.
Fans of the TV series and movies will probably find these OVA episodes to be a must-see, as all the original cast members are back and up to their same old tricks. Newcomers to the zany world of Lum and Ataru can still enjoy these episodes, but reading up on the characters and their quirks first is strongly recommended; a lot of what goes on won't make much sense otherwise. (For this purpose I recommend checking out Tomobiki-cho, which I found to be quite informative with its character profiles.) None of these episodes add much to the universe of UY beyond a new love interest for Shinobu, nor do they try to take the series in any new direction. They are simply additional examples of the weirdness and madcap style for which UY is so beloved. Are some of the gags a bit repetitive after a while? Perhaps. But they are no less entertaining.
AnimEigo has taken two somewhat unusual approaches in the structuring of this OVA set. First, these OVA episodes and specials are available only in subtitled versions; they were not dubbed for this release. Whether this was merely a cost-cutting measure or a case of being unable to reassemble the vocal cast for earlier English dubs is unclear, but this is an offering aimed more at hard-core anime fans than casual ones so it may not matter. The second odd factor is the presentation of some episodes out of chronological order. The two specials – “Ryoko's September Tea Party” and “Memorial Album, I'm the Shuu-chan,” which combine some new footage with series clips – were made in 1985 and 1986, respectively, yet they are on the fifth and last DVD in the set, while the first DVD contains the OVA episode “Inaba the Dreammaker” from 1987. The OVAs then stay in order until you get to the fifth DVD, whose two episodes predate the ones on the fourth DVD. This does not create any continuity problems since most of these are stand-alone stories (Inaba is the only new character who appears more than once), but it is a bit peculiar.
The technical merits and artistic quality of these specials and OVA episodes vary widely throughout the set, ranging from clean artistry and respectable animation in some episodes (especially “Inaba the Dreammaker”) to rough, ill-defined, and hurried-looking work in others. The ratings I have given for artistry and animation are overall averages, with actual grades for individual episodes ranging anywhere from a B- to a D. The episodes have all been digitally restored from their original releases, though, which make them look a bit clearer and crisper than anime of its age would normally look. (If you want to see how much the picture has been improved, check out the “Restoration Comparison” feature on the last DVD.) The artistry, animation, and character design styles all clearly bear the stamp of early '80s animation, which may be appealing to some and turn off others. This is 100% cel animation, though, so those weaned on the digitally-animated CGI-laden titles of recent years can clearly see how things used to be done. The opener and closers for each episode are chosen from the many used in the original episodes – again, some are distinctly better than others. Musical themes and Japanese vocal work also seem to be carry-overs from the TV series.
Each of the DVDs for the OVA set includes translation notes for each episode, which explain various concepts and terms which couldn't be translated literally. Each DVD also includes an option for “full” or “limited” subtitles, which refers to the occasional pop-up of notes at the top of the screen briefly explaining key bits of terminology in the subtitles (in much the same way as is done on many fansubs). Signs in the episodes are also subtitled, though this is done so subtly that a viewer might not notice at times. Image galleries and trailers of 1980s-era titles are also standard. The last DVD (OVA 6) adds the aforementioned “Restoration Comparison” featurette and tacks a pictorial review of Urusei Yatsura album and video covers onto the end of “Tea Party.” Noticeably lacking in all DVDs are chapter skip options on the menus.
These OVA and special episodes often contain a good amount of violence, but it is purely on the cartoonish level. Fan service is mostly limited to shots of Lum prancing around in her bikini, although one episode does have a couple of the female characters dressing up as Playboy-style bunnies (it makes sense in a weird sort of way when it comes up) and another episode contains a very small amount of nudity. For the most part UY is pretty tame stuff, especially compared to many recent romantic comedies.
If you want to see what “old school” anime comedy looks like, the Urusei Yatsura OVA episodes are a good bet.
Overall (dub) : n/a
Overall (sub) : B
Story : B-
Animation : C
Art : C
Music : C+
+ old-style comedy, translation notes
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