Friday, February 14, 2014

Anime Archive - Urusei Yatsura

So as I was plugging away at my review for Urusei Yatsura 2: Beautiful Dreamer I discovered I was spending half the review describing the television series that was the source for the film. I’m reviewing the film because I’m examining the works of director Mamoru Oshii. And while I enjoy Urusei Yatsura, I don’t think I’ll be giving it a full review for this blog.

That said, I didn’t want to bog down my Beautiful Dreamer review with a bunch of explanation of the series. So I figured I’d write up this primer to give those unfamiliar with the series a bit of a background. This should allow me to cover what I need to for the Beautiful Dreamer review. So here we go…

Little do they know how obnoxious the ETs are
going to get!
The title Urusei Yatsura is translated as “Those Obnoxious Aliens”. It started as a comic (manga) series created in 1978 by Rumiko Takahashi. Takahashi is one of the most popular manga creators in Japan, with many of her creations making the transitions to anime and film. In addition to Urusei Yatsura (which I’ll call UY from now on) she created Maison Ikkoku, Inu Yasha and one of my personal favorites Ranma ½. The manga series for UY ran until 1987 and proved incredibly popular.

This popularity brought about the creation of a television series in 1981. This lead to four theatrical films, original animated videos (OAVs), CDs and all kinds of merchandizing. Of course it was only a matter of time before the series came over to North America, and was one of the earliest official subtitled releases by Animeigo back in 1992. The character Lum, became a fan favorite, and even appeared in a Matthew Sweet music video in the early 1990s.

If you see UY mentioned, then it's only a matter of
time before someone mentions Lum (with her dad
in this picture).
These days, I don’t see too many folks talking about UY, but I still see Lum pop up when favorite anime gals are discussed. She’s considered one of the classics. But just who the heck is Lum?

The Plot
Shinobu and Ataru try to have a normal life
after their close encounter of a Lum kind.
UY essentially falls into the magical girlfriend genre. It focuses on comedy with a splash of romance. The television series can feel a lot like a sitcom but with outlandish characters, off the wall situations and a lot of humor based off of Japanese culture.

The first episode sets the stage. Ataru Moroboshi (Toshio Furukawa) is heading home from school one day. Ataru is an extremely unlucky lad who usually has one thing on his mind: girls. So while he is ogling some babes jogging he is abducted by government agents and spirited away to his home. He finds an enormous alien sitting in his living room. The aliens are called the Oni (based off the Japanese concept of demons). The reason their lord is sitting in Ataru’s living room is because the Oni will allow a duel dictate the fate of earth. If the Oni champion wins, Earth becomes a colony for the Oni. But if earth’s champion wins, then they will be spared. Ataru was chosen randomly by computer to be Earth’s champion.

Gloat now my smarmy little friend, it's all going to
go downhill in a moment. Notice he is wearing number
four. That is the equivalent of number 13 in asian
At first, Ataru scoffs at the whole thing. He’s no champion and the Oni are scary looking. But when it is revealed that the Oni are represented by the princess Lum (Fumi Hirano), that changes things. Lum may have tiny horns, but she’s cute as a button and wanders around in a tiger stripe bikini and go-go boots all day. Ataru can’t resist her, especially when it is declared that all he has to do is touch her horns. Horny Ataru is ready for the challenge. He’s got a whole week to do it after all.

Well, there is one little catch. Lum can fly. Now Ataru is hopelessly running around trying to touch Lum and failing spectacularly. Each passing day makes the people of earth more nervous (and hating Ataru more and more). On the final day, Ataru is despairing, but his childhood friend (and girl next door) Shinobu Miyake (Saeko Shimazu) declares that she will marry Ataru if his wins. Ataru is inspired by potential honeymoon rewards (and he has a thing for Shinobu). He comes up with a cunning plan, and manages to steal Lum’s bikini top. While she is busy trying to cover up, Ataru touches her horns and saves the earth.

The first of many electrocutions for Ataru. 
As he stands there gloating, he mentions that now he can get married. Lum thinks that means he wants to marry her, and she accepts. Now Ataru has a lovely alien girl hanging around him all the time. Shinobu is ticked off and thinks that Ataru did it all on purpose. And Ataru is just annoyed that every time he looks at another woman, Lum electrocutes him with her alien powers.

So the stage is set for wacky shinnaigans and silly adventures.


Since UY is framed like a sitcom much of the humor is mined from putting the trio of “lovers” into a variety of situations and see how they react. Much of the time additional characters are introduced to spice up the show. By the time the series, movies, and OAVs all ended the cast to UY was HUGE. But I’ll just cover the key characters that also appear in the Beautiful Dreamer film.

Ataru Moroboshi
Our protagonist is not the brightest bulb in the box. He loves looking, touching and talking about women – but has no tact at all when dealing with them. He eats like a typical teenage boy (which means he eats a lot all the time). He has the amazing ability to end up electrocuted at least once an episode. But he comes back virtually unscathed in the next one. Ataru is a coward, a sneak and lies if he is in trouble. He can be mean spirited and vengeful. The only thing keeping him from being a villain is that he’s a bit of an idiot. He’s more like the bumbling side kick.

Lum Invader
Bright, bubbly and not the least bit body conscious, Lum is a fun loving alien girl. She is also madly in love with Ataru. Why is anyone’s guess. When she isn’t flying around the town, she is usually found clinging to Ataru, or yelling at him, or electrocuting him. She is very jealous, and has a real problem with Shinobu and her childhood relationship with Ataru. Lum tends to be friendly and kind to everyone else. She doesn’t seem to mind all the attention she gets from boys, but girls had better avoid looking at Ataru when Lum is around.

Shinobu Miyake
Literally the girl next door, she’s been a friend of Ataru’s since they were young. She’s always liked him, even when he was acting like a horny teenager (which is pretty much all the time). Once Lum shows up, Shinobu feels out of her league. But this doesn’t stop her from feeling like Lum and Ataru are making fun of her devotion. When she is enraged Shinobu obtains superhuman strength as well as a large wooden mallet. Ataru usually ends up the focus of her wrath.

Shutaro Mendou
With a family that is of samurai decent and enormous wealth to match, Mendou has a lot going for him. Add the fact that he is devastatingly handsome, confident, classy and refined, well he’s pretty much the polar opposite of Ataru. But Mendou is still a teenage boy, and like all men in this series, he falls for Lum. But that doesn’t stop him from hitting on any other woman who shows interest. Mendou does have a secret – he is terrified of the dark, and will often fly into a panic in a dark enclosed space.

Lum’s Stormtroopers
Four teenage boys who worship the ground Lum floats over. They are friends with Ataru, but only so they can be close to Lum. Given the chance they will all turn on each other just to talk with her. The “leader” of the stormtroopers is Megane, with his glasses and serious attitude. He is usually the one making speeches or telling Ataru he’s a moron. Perm is the one with the poofy hair. He usually acts as Megane’s sidekick. Chibi is the short one that gets picked on by the other three. Kukugari is the large one who picks on Chibi the most. These four usually end up getting fried by Lum too, usually as a case of friendly fire.

He is Lum’s little cousin. Ten is small, floats around like a balloon, and breaths fire. You know, just like all little cousins do. He shows up early on to find out what kind of man Lum has devoted herself too. It doesn't take long for him to develop a strong hate for Ataru. Ten spends most of his time trying to convince Lum that Ataru is a loser. But Ten is a kid at heart and loves being pampered, will accept bribes of candy and has been known to act dumber than he is to get his way.

This tall, stunning woman is the school nurse. She is so alluring that the boys in the school hurt themselves on purpose just so they can be treated by her. Sakura is also a fully trained Shinto priestess. She has the power to exorcise demons and provide blessings. Her occult experience comes in very handy during the course of the series, as some kind of creature from Japanese folklore shows up in every other episode. She also has the ability to eat about 100 times her own weight. You’d be surprised how often that comes up.

He is a dedicated teacher at Tomobiki high school. He wants the kids to learn and he wants discipline in the class room. It should be a simple thing, right? Unfortunately, Onsen-Mark is no match for obnoxious aliens and massive destruction. No matter how hard he works, the kids in his class are too distracted by Lum and her antics to really pay attention. So he usually feels like a failure. He’s fallen for Sakura, but spends most of his time moping around and not feeling worthy of her strength and beauty.

Ataru’s Parents
Ever suffering because of their son, they do their best to put up with it. Many times Ataru and Lum's antics end up shaming the whole family. Worse the widespread destruction caused by all the aliens and bizarre vistors ends up destroying thier home and/or neighborhood. Dad hides behind his newspaper. Mother usually mentions how she never should have given birth to Ataru. When the whole neighborhood (or whole world) starts chanting for Ataru's demise, you start to wonder when these two will just bump their kid off.

I could describe why this is happening, but... I'll just
let your imagination go.
You can probably see from the various characters how this whole thing ends up going. UY is very silly and quite a bit of fun to watch. One of the things that really caught up fans in North America when it first was released, was how much you could pick up about Japanese culture and traditions from the show. So much of the humor is based off of breaking the traditions, and showing everyday life in Japan suddenly thrown for a loop by Lum and her zany adventures.

As is typical of sitcoms, the characters don’t really ever change. In that way it starts to feel old after a while. I mean how many times can Lum catch Ataru drooling on a woman (literally and/or figuratively) and electrocute him. Many, many times. Sometimes a new character adds a twist. Mendou is a great foil for Ataru, and they get into some funny situations, but eventually it loses its freshness.
Lum and Ten celebrate the end of this primer!
My biggest issue with UY, is the fact that I don’t like Ataru. He’s pretty much a stupid jerk. I want to see him get electrocuted. Since the whole series revolves around his lecherous ways, it ends up losing me after a while. I much prefer Ranma and his stubborn but loyal demeanor. Still, I can’t deny that Lum is very cute and looks great in a bikini. She is the main reason the series was so popular for so long. And whenever you see anyone mention Urusei Yatsura it is followed quickly by mentioning Lum. 


  1. It's unlikely I will find time in my busy schedule to check this out, but I enjoyed reading about it and you have crafted a lovingly detailed tribute to an anime classic for people to seek out and find and that is exceptional.

    Lum is clearly the highlight and the stuff of high school day dreams.


    1. Thank you. It was fun to put together. And even though I'm not a huge fan of the show, I did find it entertaining. The film I'm going to review based on this series is worth checking out. But you'll have to read the review of that to find out more.

  2. You can't get much more of an adolescent (and adolescent at heart) male fantasy than a magical girlfriend Lum -- oh, yes you can: you can throw in an adoring neighbor who regret having lost you to her.

    That's OK. Equivalent fantasies are aimed at women in those romance novels that most guys find unreadable: the ones in which the heroine wins the heart of a dashing highwayman who gives her up in the end so she can marry the Duke and have decent life.

    1. Ok, I laughed out loud to your first paragraph. It really is the stuff of teenage male dreams isn't it. It's funny to compare this to something like "Tenchi Muyo" or "Oh My Goddess" and see how they took that magical girl formula and switched it up. For Tenchi and OMG both have male leads who are fairly bland, so the viewer can easily put themselves into the role. But UY has such a jerky lecherous lead, he really is nothing more than a comic tool. Literally, Ataru is a buffoon - plain and simple. But what makes UY fun is that all the characters are so colorful. I think "Ranma 1/2" did it all a bit better, and has more likable cast, plus plenty of action with a kung fu fight in every episode. :)

      You make a very apt comparison to the romance novels. The teenage boy in me thinks Lum is swell, and laughs at Ataru's antics. Of course I would never behave like a sex crazed lunatic in front of a woman in a tiger striped bikini and go-go boots... right? Back me up on this guys. ;)