Monday, April 25, 2011

Urusei Yatsura Volume 4

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

This volume of UY was published by Viz in the 2nd Lum collection, The Return of Lum, though the last 2 chapter began the 3rd collection, Lum in the Sun. This is also the last Japanese tankobon that has a 'missing story', at least till Viz drops the series. Well, it's half missing. The first chapter of the volume, 'Eat Drink Man Alien', was put out by Viz in Animerica. However, when the collections came out, it wasn't there.

It's an interesting chapter, though also the weakest in the book, which may be why Viz dropped it. Ataru has Megane and company (in their final appearance in the manga) over to study, but all the other boys want to do is study Lum. Meanwhile, a drunken alien fox spirit crashes near our heroes, and promptly possesses Ataru, who begins to act like a drunken salaryman. He even kisses Lum full-on several times, leaving her dazed. It's rather startling to see, given I don't think they ever kissed in the series while Ataru was not possessed. Things spiral out of control as the fox spirit's wife shows up and starts possessing various women to yell at her husband - including a 6-year-old girl, leaving the town thinking Ataru is a pedophile. Naturally, it ends in chaos and violence, with Ataru in the hospital being threatened by at least two dozen angry townspeople.

The rest of the volume continues to establish Mendou as Ataru's comic foil and rival, and begins to see the establishment of the 'Core Four', which is to say that when a UY chapter begins and we need four people to begin the action, it will almost always be Ataru, Lum, Shinobu and Mendou. Things are actually quite even-handed here, as for every chapter where Ataru acts like a lecherous idiot and gets what's coming to him, there's another chapter with Mendou acting like an egotistical spoiled rich brat and getting what's coming to him. The chapter where Mendou ends up with an alien baby, right after everyone's talking about a boy who got expelled for getting a girl from another school pregnant, is hilarious, and shows us that when Ataru's not in girl-hunt mode he can be quite clever - devious, even.

There are a few chapters here that seem very 'Japanese culture', but unlike previous volumes Viz just rolls with it and translates them as best they can. (Cultural endnotes? Are you kidding? These came out back when it was a 32-page pamphlet comic!) One in particular may seem very familiar to fans of the UY movies - Ataru falls asleep and meets Mujaki, along with his tapir who eats nightmares. Naturally he's trying to get Ataru to have a few more terrifying dreams, while Ataru only wants a harem. (Interestingly, his harem INCLUDES Lum.) Mamoru Oshii would take this chapter and expand it into what is generally considered the best UY movie, Beautiful Dreamer.

In terms of characterization, there is still some, although I note that here, as with Ranma, if characterization stands in the way of a funny gag, the gag wins every time. Lum's temper is still highly variable - sometimes she's trusting and snuggly with Ataru, sometimes she's madly jealous and electrifying him, and sometimes she's merely exhausted and drained at having to watch him mack on everything that moves. Things really get interesting with three chapters towards the end of the book, all of which help to show us that this is about where Takahashi made up her mind to make the main couple Lum and Ataru - and how the manga is better for it.

In the first, the biology club is raising caterpillars, and one of them is more gluttonous than the others. Naturally, they named it Ataru. They're going to get rid of it, but Ataru takes it instead, feeling sympathy for the caterpillar being blamed for things out of its control. Unfortunately, the caterpillar then escapes and eats Mendou's lunch - Mendou, who hates 'ugly things'. What follows is an epic chase, with Lum helping Ataru to try to escape the rest of the class, all of whom have come to the opinion that the caterpillar has to go. They get up onto the roof, and the caterpillar surprises them all by transforming, not into a butterfly, but a fairy. A gorgeous fairy, because she thrived as Ataru believes that she'd be beautiful. This chapter shows us a softer side of Ataru the lech we really hadn't seen before, as well as how well he and Lum work together.

The second was made into an anime episode, and the episode was voted the best ever by Japanese fans. The chapter is simpler but just as nice. Ataru is macking away at girls at school as usual, but Lum isn't jealous, merely sewing a doll of herself to give to Ataru. After he shoos her away (Lum's not attending classes at this point), she turns and says "bye-bye" sweetly, then takes off. When Ataru gets home, he finds the doll she had sewn on his desk, and no sign of her. When she's not at school the following day, he panics, at first thinking Mendou made off with her, then admitting glumly that she's disappeared. After the Mendou servants spend most of the day searching (though their search tactics are fairly questionable) Ataru goes to bed, upset and crying that Lum would simply abandon him like that. Of course Lum has done nothing of the sort, and is merely getting her passport renewed. The doll; holds a microphone so that she can make sure he's not unfaithful. When instead it shows his despair at her absence, the expression on her face is lovely to see. Naturally, when she returns Ataru tries to remain uncaring, but it's not fooling her at all.

The last sweet chapter involves Lum once again pestering Ataru for a date, and he actually agrees - provided she dress up as a normal human girl, and not use her powers. He certainly knows Lum well, as while she manages the first part, the second is much harder, given her powers are a natural part of her. So she tries diving from the high board at the pool, only to chicken out and fly away - Ataru has to drag her into the water and pretend it's 'stunt diving'. She gets hit on by several teens at the pool - so she electrifies the entire thing, knocking them all unconscious. (Ataru is "used to it".) They even hook up with Ataru's friend Kosuke and his girlfriend for lunch, only to find Kosuke's girlfriend eats like a horse and terrifies all three of them with her voracious appetite. Finally, Ataru takes Lum through a haunted house, hoping to impress her with his bravery, only to end up terrified himself. Lum is great here - I love her fake "eek!" pose when she realizes Ataru wants her to be scared and snuggle - and it's just nice seeing them on a date, even if Ataru spends most of it on edge. He and Lum are getting closer and closer, and the audience is now clearly meant to root for them.

A good solid volume of UY here. Some stories weren't quite as good as others (though they did provide us with things like the Devil riding a Vespa with a cart of chow-chows behind him watching television, something that makes you wonder how Takahashi's brain works exactly), but overall things have settled down and we've started to do what UY does best - take the core cast, have some weird situation happen, and watch them react. And in three of the stories, we almost get, dare I say it, heartwarming. Folks who want to see what early Takahashi was like, and who don't mind the art (still finding its feet) should really find Viz's Return of Lum graphic novel, which despite being the second in the series is probably the best starting place for a casual fan.

1 comment:

  1. The caterpillar one also got animated, as Fly, Imo-chan! - a little stretched, but still good.

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