Reviewby Paul "Momotaro" Chapman
Before there was Tenchi Muyo, before there was El-Hazard, even before there was Ranma 1/2, there was a much beloved romantic sci-fi comedy called Urusei Yatsura ("Those Obnoxious Aliens.") Hailing from the demented brain of Rumiko Takahashi, creator of Ranma 1/2 and Maison Ikkoku. Urusei Yatsura is the story that spawned a thousand tributes and imitators, the story that put romantic comedy on the anime map. Now the devoted folks at AnimEigo have brought UY back, improved for the millennium, in DVD format. But what's it all about anyway?
It's about an unlikely love-story that spans time, space, and species. Meet Ataru Moroboshi, a seemingly normal high school student known for his horrendous bad luck and his equally horrific libido. Ataru is randomly selected to defend the Earth when the Oni, alien invaders from the planet Uru, arrive seeking planetary conquest. Ataru must face the Oni's champion in a grueling physical contest of "Onigokko", the Oni's national past time, which we know of as… tag. Unfortunately the Earth's would be champion is not interested in risking his neck to save the world...until he discovers that the Oni's champion is none other than Lum, a beautiful and buxom alien princess clad in a skimpy, tiger-skin bikini!
Without giving too much away; Ataru sinks to new lows of lechery and treachery in his attempts to grab Lum, eventually saving the Earth in the process. However, Lum mistakes his victory cry for a marriage proposal and decides to dedicate her life to her newfound (and largely unwilling) husband...the rest is anime history.
In the Urusei Yatsura box set we find yet another great set of DVDs. While the story has been imitated, Urusei Yatsura's quality has never been duplicated. Sure, character designs by Akemi Takada and executive-direction by Mamoru Oshii (Patlabor, Ghost in the Shell) help, but what sets Urusei Yatsura a step above the rest is its versatility. Urusei Yatsura is comedy, it's romance, it's drama; it's the wackiest mix of science fiction, Japanese mythology, and fantasy that you'll ever see.
Urusei Yatsura has hundreds of unique and lovable characters, so you're sure to find one you can identify with, be it the luckless, lecherous Ataru Moroboshi, the quiet-and-unassuming (though fiery-tempered) Shinobu, or the love-struck but jealous Lum. However, even if you don't identify with any of the characters, you'll still bust a gut laughing at their antics.
This box set contains the first twenty episodes of the Urusei Yatsura T.V. series. Each episode is split in half, some with two "mini-stories" per episode, some with a single episode that spans both halves. The DVDs have four episodes per tape, each with four chapter-stops per episode, corresponding to the opening theme, the ending theme, and each "mini-story," respectively.
On the technical side, these disks are wonderful. The box-art is upbeat and colorful, and each individual plastic case comes with a synopsis of the episodes it contains AND a character profile for one member of UY's zany cast. While the DVD menus lack animation and other neat-o window dressings, they certainly serve their purpose well, with the titles of each "mini-story" and a screen-shot of its content available for easy viewing purposes. Furthermore, the subtitling of these discs are wonderful, some of the best I've ever seen. The subtitles are clear and crisp, with such attention to detail as Italics to represent thoughts, Capitalization to represent shouting, and different on-screen colors to represent different speakers. Also, in spots where something was untranslatable or otherwise unknown to the common anime fan, AnimEigo was good enough to include separate white subtitles elsewhere on screen, explaining the joke or reference. Even better, each and every DVD comes with liner notes that are simply overflowing with explanations of the countless puns, in-jokes, and mythological and historical references that the series uses so frequently.
Other improvements over the VHS (not counting the standard DVD benefits) include a sharper, clearer translation: many "iffy" words, phrases, and sentences have been cleaned up, so that they flow more like normal English speech and make more sense in context. For example, Sakura's title of "miko" was originally translated as "sorceress", but in the DVD translation the more appropriate "priestess" has replaced it. Also, the subtitles list the names of the characters in their proper Japanese order, first name last, family name first, instead of converting it to the Western format of first name-family name. (I.e.: When someone addresses the main character as "Moroboshi Ataru," family-name-first, that's exactly what the subtitles say, instead of changing it to read "Ataru Moroboshi.") Finally, the tiny, nearly-impossible-to-read English subtitles which were plastered over the original Japanese credits in the opening and ending themes have been removed and placed in the liner notes as well as on AnimEigo's home-page. This strikes me as a vast improvement, because now UY fans are able to view the opening and ending themes in pure Japanese, if they understand kanji, that is.
Be warned: this series is nearly twenty years old; the animation itself is long-since dated, however the quality of the colors and the rendering of the imagery is second to none for a show of this age. The mastering job done here is as easily as good as that done by Manga Entertainment for Lupin III: Castle of Cagliostro.
As no disc is perfect, the UY DVDs have one major drawback. Once again, dub-o-philes are out of luck. These DVDs are strictly pure Japanese with English subtitles; no English vocal track is available. The original English dubbing of the first few episodes of UY was so hideous and poorly received (only three-hundred VHS copies sold nationwide) that AnimEigo decided not to dub the rest of the series into English.
If you love Tenchi Muyo!, Ranma 1/2, El Hazard, or any of the myriad other "unlikely love" anime stories, why not check out the series that started it all? With 200 TV episodes, 6 Movies, and a plethora of OAVs to keep you coming back for more, you just may never have time for a different show. (^_~)
Overall : A
+ Excellent direction, wonderful character development, great mix of comedy, drama, and romance, massive running time, great liner notes
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