Reviewby Steve Brandon
After two years of waiting, "Urusei Yatsura" is back! AnimEigo had put this series on hiatus in 1996, ostensibly because they had to renegotiate with Fuji Creative for the rights to distribute more episodes. It is widely suspected that AnimEigo had actually unofficially canceled the series, since it is a well-known fact that "Urusei Yatsura" doesn't sell nearly as well in North America as "Ranma 1/2". However, because of increased awareness of this series, thanks in part to the success of the "Lum's Stormtroopers Unite" fan movement in getting "Urusei Yatsura" on a PBS station in San Jose, AnimEigo has decided to resume releasing new volumes. The first new volume, Volume 20, hits store shelves in late March, but, as an important and powerful Anime critic, I already have my copy. (Just kidding; as a special treat for fans, AnimEigo made the tapes available first to all those who preordered it off their Web site.)
This particular volume contains four episodes that originally aired on Japanese television in 1983. As this tape marks the transition from the second to the third TV season, we can say goodbye to "Lum's Love Song", the signature opening theme song used in the first two seasons, and hello to "Dancing Star", the third season theme song. As always, silly humor and pop-culture references are in abundance; when Lum goes through the tree to enter Ran's twisted dimension in episode 77, the warp effect is a clever takeoff of the psychedelic scene from "2001". (If you keep your eyes peeled, you will see Colonel Sanders among various objects floating around behind Lum.) However, two of the episodes on this tape are fairly serious; Mamoru Oshii had a vision for the series that was considerably more complex than Rumiko Takahashi's simple wacky alien love-triangle comedy Manga.
"And Then There Were None" finds the characters invited to a mansion on a mysterious island, where they are killed, one by one, by an unseen killer who is emulating the Mother Goose rhyme "Who Killed Cock Robin?" Not even Lum is spared. I'd say that this is one of those rare episodes where we see Ataru's true feelings for Lum, but these scenes are getting a little more common as the series progresses. If the plot resolution of this episode seems a bit familiar, it could be because Oshii and Kazunori Itoh would later use a similar ending in the Patlabor episode "It's Called Amnesia".
In "The Fire-Fightin' Mama Arrives", we are introduced to Jariten's (Ten-chan) mother (who is also Lum's aunt). She's on a mission to send all pyromaniacs to hell, which causes no small degree of trepidation for Ten-chan, who likes to torture poor Ataru with his fire-breath. While "Urusei Yatsura" was never a series known for great continuity, I did appreciate one thing; in one scene we see Ten-chan's mother wolfing down Ramen at Mach Noodles; this is also where Mendou's Harrier Jump Jet is found in "Urusei Yatsura: Beautiful Dreamer".
Next is "Darling's Going to Die". Ataru accidentally eats one of Ran's special cupcakes. Needless to say, Ran's cooking turns out to be every bit as toxic as Lum's. As Ataru lays dying in bed, Lum sets out to find Ran who is the only one that could provide an antidote. This episode, which parodies "Alice in Wonderland" very loosely, has a lot of sly in-jokes" I already mentioned the "2001" scene, Lum also encounters Ogami and Daigoro Itto from the Samurai movie classic "Lone Wolf and Cub", and a giant Zaku (with a few changes made for copyright reasons; since when do Zeon pilots sit in the heads of their Mechas?). The most imaginative scene is where Lum meets the Red Queen (here presented as a Sumo wrestler) who challenges Lum to a round of golf (instead of a croquet tournament). In the original "Alice in Wonderland" the Queen's guards were man-sized playing cards; here they're fusama room dividers.
Finally comes "Miserable! A Loving and Roving Mother!" which I consider to be the strongest episode on the tape. Ataru Moroboshi's long-suffering mother hits her head on the floor at a department store sale. She finds herself in a dream, within a dream, within a dream. This episode can be considered almost as a dry run for "Urusei Yatsura: Beautiful Dreamer"; it covers much of the same territory, reflecting Oshii's fascination with dreams. Some interesting questions are raised. How can we be sure that the world in which we live is not just a long, long dream? How do we even know whether we are not just parts of someone else's dream? "Even if you think you're engaging in acts of your own free will, if somebody else was dreaming that you were thinking that thought, then how would you know if you were real or not?" Her younger self shows up at several points during the episode to ask her who she is. Was she always destined to just be Mr. Moroboshi's wife and Ataru's mother? As in "Beautiful Dreamer" we see scenes of a ravaged Tomobiki town, but here it was destroyed by Tripod type aliens. In this dream Cherry, Japan's most annoying monk, is revealed to be an alien spy! Unlike Lum in "Beautiful Dreamer", Ataru's mother doesn't wake up at the end. (Okay, technically Mujaki did show up after Lum "woke up" in "Beautiful Dreamer", but that was a sight gag with no real meaning.) The final scene has all the dramatis personae from the episode dancing together in a game of "Kagome Kagome" (a Japanese children's game similar in concept to the British "Ring Around the Posy"). Has Ataru's mother finally resolved her inner conflicts? All we can be certain of that this attempt to give Ataru's mother some character depth will be completely forgotten and never mentioned again in future episodes.
I admit that the animation quality in "Urusei Yatsura" isn't exactly "Vision of Escaflowne", or even "Ranma 1/2" for that matter. This was produced in the early 80's, when animation budgets and production teams for TV series were both much smaller than today. (I've read interviews with Mamoru Oshii where he says that he was so overworked when he was working on the "Urusei Yatsura" TV series that he rarely went outside, except to buy art supplies. He slept right in the studio.) But to call it primitive really depends what you are comparing it to; the animation is still better than "The Simpsons" or "King of the Hill" (a series which I love, by the way). But it's a comedy, and it's effective. Akemi Takada's character designs are very appealing. Also, you get 2 or 3 minutes more per episode than Anime TV series released today. (25 minutes per episode compared to 22 for "Tenchi in Tokyo".) AnimEigo's famous "liner notes" really do serve an educative function; you learn all types of interesting cultural things about Japan that they might not tell you in most travel guides. I know the comedy is a little tame compared to some of the series' today, but you have to keep in mind that this is the series that revolutionized Anime comedy in the first place. I'm looking forward to the DVD Box set of Volumes 11-20, and I hope that AnimEigo doesn't take 2 more years to release Volume 21! (By the way, I also hope that Viz would resume printing the manga in the near future. If the monthly volumes don't sell that well, then they should consider releasing it straight to Trade Paperback format as is commonplace for manga translations in France.)
Overall (dub) : B+
Story : A+
Animation : B+
Art : B+
Music : A
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