Monday, September 27, 2010

Urusei Yatsura Volume 2

By Rumiko Takahashi. Released in Japan by Shogakukan, serialized in the magazine Shonen Sunday. Released in North America by Viz.

We're still early into Urusei Yatsura's run, and Takahashi is still working on the characterization. Lum is still mostly unlikeable, and Shinobu wobbles between sympathetic long-suffering girlfriend and jealous harridan. This volume, however, does manage to solidify Ataru's character. Having started out as merely your average incredibly unlucky teenager, by the end of this volume we have what would define him for the rest of the series - his excessive lust for women, and inhuman ability to do anything to try to get them.

Many at first might be surprised that UY has so many women after Ataru, considering what a horrible lech he is. This volume would agree with you, as it's filled with people noting that Ataru is lazy, stupid, ugly, perverted, and just plain awful. Amusingly, this puts him one up on the rest of the cast. The reason all the females in the cast go after Ataru is he has a personality, and is far more interesting than the other faceless guys here (theoretically it's Megane and company, but these zeebs are nothing like their anime versions). Moreover, Ataru may want to kiss, snuggle, and generally feel up anything female, but he draws a line at sexual assault, something the other guys around him have no issues with. This all reminds me why modern harem shows can get so tedious - the lead is a loser, but is also boring and 'nice'. Ataru is neither.

We get two more major cast members introduced here, though as with Benten (who also drops in for a dream sequence cameo) they'll leave for a while then come back with personality transplants. Oyuki the Neptunian princess is introduced in the first chapter, and seeing her trying (like Benten did 2 chapters earlier) to mack on Ataru is rather startling. Takahashi is famous for not plotting in advance, which means that early volumes of all her works can seem hideously out of character later on, and Oyuki is a prime example of that. We also meet Kurama, the crow-princess Ataru wakes with a kiss, and thankfully she is exactly as she'll always be - warring between needing to have Ataru as her husband due to tradition and loathing the very sight of him.

As always, the humor stems from watching horrible things happen to horrible people. There's less attempt to play on sympathy here, and Takahashi is already starting to move past the 'Ataru/Shinobu/Lum' triangle that was the majority of Volume 1. One chapter in particular struck me, with Lum creating a puppet Ataru that can move as she wishes. This naturally leads to her deciding to torture Shinobu with a similar puppet, and Ataru trying to stop her. It's a fairly serious chapter in comparison - it's still funny, but has a weird ending with Shinobu sobbing in her parents' arms and Ataru simply walking home with a feeling of doom. It's the death knell of Ataru as the normal guy, too - lech Ataru comes to the forefront from now on.

Two chapters in this volume were never translated by Viz when the series was coming out. This was easier back in the day, as the comics were coming out in 32-page 'pamphlet' format, and the audience did not have easy access to the originals to check, or the ability to whine on forums. The two chapters both deal with Japanese folklore more than the rest of the book, which may have been why they were skipped. They're also the two weakest in the volume, which may have been another reason.

With this volume, we have our Ataru, but Lum is still clearly the villain of the series. She's coming along a bit - one chapter sees her and Cherry teaming up to stop Ataru, the first time she's been shown to work with anyone from Earth - but it's hard to root for them as an actual couple. I'm hoping the next volume will change that, as it also introduces the last of the four 'Star' cast members, Shutaro Mendo.

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