Thursday, November 25, 2010

Urusei Yatsura Volume 3

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

With this volume, we get the last of the core cast of four introduced. Urusei Yatsura had a giant, sprawling cast of dozens, but when it came down to most of the stories, especially in the manga (which lacked Megane, as he and his cronies vanish starting with this volume) there were four leads: Ataru, Lum, Shinobu, and Shutarou Mendou, who makes his debut here.

Mendou's arrival is sort of the 'starting' point of UY Mark 2: with it, the art spiffens up a little (only a little, mind), and the characterization is in place. Lum has become default cute, as opposed to default evil, though is still constantly jealous. Ataru is now firmly in pervert mode, losing any modicum of 'normal guy' he had in the first volume. And Shinobu, for the most part, abandons any attempts to win Ataru back from Lum, partly as he's become the lecher we know and love, but mostly as she falls head over heels for Mendou, along with the rest of the class. She also gains the power of super strength when enraged here, picking up desks with ease to throw them at Ataru when enraged.

There is one story, the first in the volume, that falls in that small category that Viz decided to skip due to cultural issues. This is 'Father, You Were Strong!'. where Kurama the crow woman takes Ataru back in time to meet her ancestor Ushiwaka, who as all Japanese readers know would go on to become Minamoto no Yoshitsune. She has Ataru there to learn how to be noble and warrior-like, but Ataru takes it upon himself to teach the innocent young Ushiwaka about girls. It's a fun chapter, but I can see why, with all the historical references most North Americans wouldn't get, Viz decided to skip it.

One chapter they didn't skip, though I bet they wished they had while translating it, is 'Disco Inferno'. (I think the original Japanese is 'Battle Royale of Love'.) We meet Sakura's lover Tsubame, who is a giant doofus who's been studying magical arts in the West. He wants Sakura's hand in marriage, but first has to get the approval of Cherry. Sakura, likely realizing she's not ready for marriage yet, takes Ataru (and Lum) along in order to simply foul the whole thing up by his bad luck being around. They end up at a disco (the chapter came out in early 1980, when I believes the clubs were still big in Japan) and Cherry demands Tsubame prove he has enough spiritual power to be a good husband for Sakura. Tsubame, having studied Western spirits, decides to summon Satan. Sadly, he's pathetic, so summons Santa instead. He then tries summoning a goat-headed demon, only to get Lum's ex-boyfriend Rei, who wreaks more havoc by trying to kill Ataru, grab Lum, and also get hit on by every woman in the club. The puns are rampant in this chapter, which is why I noted the translators must have hated it.

Then, as I noted, Mendou shows up. He's clearly there to make a big splash as a major new character. He arrives by helicopter, seduces the entire female class with his suave charm (including Shinobu), and then promptly falls for Lum. The females in the class clearly note Mendou's huge advantage over all the other boys: he's rich, and handsome. That's it. This is made even more clear in a follow-up chapter, where Lum is annoyed that a computer says Mendou is her ideal match. She heads down to the classroom (at this stage in the series, she's not a student) and tosses Mendou and Ataru, who are both Aries, into a giant alien horoscope thing to see who is her better match. After much wackiness, the astrology chart notes Mendou and Ataru... are equally bad. So Lum, who notes this means she can choose who she wants, picks Ataru. Having someone or something note that, if you take away Mendou's money and looks, he's just like Ataru will be a running theme of the series.

Finally, we have the first chapter where Takahashi throws a bone to the readers who like actual romance. She did this very little. The anime was much better at adding sweet moments where Lum and Ataru revealed that aw, they really do love each other. Takahashi actually thought they overdid it, and preferred the characters be jerks. But even she would give us the occasional chapter. This is the first, involving The guys sending a fake love letter to Ataru. They do this to shut Mendou up, as he's received love letters from the entire female student population. Unfortunately, Ataru reacts to the letter far too much, convinced he has a new girl who's mad for him. He dumps Lum on Mendou and runs off. Lum is annoyed, but then finds out that the guys faked the note, and the girl they were paying to pretend to be the writer has gotten sick. At first she tells herself Ataru deserves what he gets, but the thought of him being humiliated makes her tear up. (Note how far Lum has come from the first few chapters here.) So Lum dresses up as the writer of the note, and sweet talks Ataru. Ataru knows it's her (the previous chapter ALSO had Lum dress as a human girl, but led to a far nastier, more electricity-filled conclusion) but goes along with it. As they walk home, Ataru notices, for perhaps the first time, how attractive Lum is, especially when she's not flying around making his life miserable. He offers to hold her hand, and she accepts.

We still have a bunch of unlikeable protagonists here, mined for comedy in a way that exposes all their flaws and subjects them to constant humiliation. But at least now that Ataru and Shinobu are not being written sympathetically, there's less of an imbalance to be found. And in the final chapter of this volume, we start to see that, given, oh, 31 more volumes, Ataru and Lum might develop real feelings for each other. Maybe.

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