Anime Review – Urusei Yatsura: Season 1

So, next week is the week of March 15. In Japan, this is White Day, the companion holiday to Valentine’s Day. In Japan, on Valentine’s Day, the girls give the guys chocolate, and on White Day the guys reciprocate. Well, I’m kind of flipping that on its head. On Valentine’s Day I reviewed a romantic comedy created by a guy (Ah! My Goddess). For White Day, I review one created by a woman, and one that could not be more different than Ah! My Goddess.

Cast, Crew & Other Stuff

Fumi Hirano as Lum
Toshio Furukawa as Ataru Moroboshi
Akira Kamiya as Shuutarou Mendou
Akira Murayama as Perm
Ichirô Nagai as Cherry
Issei Futamata as Chibi
Kazue Komiya as Ran (later episodes)
Kazuko Sugiyama as Ten
Kenichi Ogata as Ataru’s father
Machiko Washio as Sakura
Michihiro Ikemizu as Onsen-mark
Natsumi Sakuma as Ataru’s Mother
Noriko Ohara as Oyuki
Saeko Shimazu as Shinobu Miyake
Shigeru Chiba as Megane
Shinji Nomura as Kakugari
You Inoue as Ran (early episodes)
Yuko Mita as Benten

Directed by Mamoru Oshii
Screenplays by Kazunori Ito, Michiru Shimada, Takao Koyama
Animation by Studio DEEN and Studio Pierrot
Created by Rumiko Takahashi

The Premise

Ataru Moroboshi is a moderately normal High School student. Perhaps his two most distinguishing traits are his uncanny bad luck, and his lust for just about any shapely woman. When an alien race of Oni (Japanese demons) who look a lot (well, almost exactly) like humans, except with two small horns, invade Earth, the first (his bad luck) leads to the aliens picking them as Earth’s Champion. He must defeat one of their race in a game of “Oni Tag” with the winner grabbing the horns of the loser. The second (his lust) leads to him accepting – the champion for the Oni is their leader’s daughter, Lum Invader (who is not only beautiful, her favored attire is a leopard print bikini – and that’s it). Ataru wins, but inadvertently semi-proposes to Lum. Lum accepts the proposal. Hilarity ensues.

The High Points

The show is generally funny, in some of the ways that Family Guy is  – you’re not laughing with the characters, you’re laughing at them when they get their just desserts for some of the things they do. I also have to say that I didn’t know going into this that this part of the series was the part directed by Oshii and written by Ito. I knew they were involved, but I didn’t know they were involved at the beginning. Further, this couldn’t be further from the standard Mamoru Oshii project, in terms of subject matter and visual style. If I told you that this was an Oshii show, and you told me I was under the influence of something, I would consider the remark semi-justified.

The Low Points

I didn’t like a single character in this show. Everyone in this show is a nasty petty jerk at best, though they aren’t as cruel as the characters on Family Guy, which is why I was able to get through the “season”. I use quotes there because while the series is still in print (and available pretty cheaply – $7.99 a disk) on the web page of the distributor, AnimEigo, there aren’t Season bricks available, so I had to estimate – going with the first four disks (about 16 episodes). This actually leads into my next point.

The show is ultra episodic, with two stories per episode, with little to no connection. I’d even describe this series as being more episodic than Ranma 1/2, with Ataru’s home being destroyed in the first story of the episode, and being restored in the second story without mention of the damage. Occasionally new characters will be introduced, or certain moments will be referenced in previous episodes, but you could just about come in anywhere and not be lost in the series (except maybe with the introductions of some characters). This is actually something of a problem, because the show is long. 195 episodes long, to be exact. That’s on par with some Shonen series, and those have plot arcs and continuity. This has barely any continuity to speak of.

Content Notes

There are a lot of lewd remarks made about various women in the series, though nothing as explicit as the stuff in, say, Desert Punk (a series with much discussion about various female characters breasts – enough that they had to create new terms for breasts in the English dub to provide some variety). However, they replace the any lack of “colorful metaphors” in the dialog with topless shots of various female characters, specifically Lum. They even have her topless in one of the end-of-story eyecatches, so you’re getting at least one topless shot of Lum per episode in this season. So, if this is a problem for you, it’s there, and you can’t avoid it.

The Scores

Originality: This is perhaps the most influential “Magical Girlfriend” romantic comedy in the history of Japanese animation. Often, in other anime series, if an attractive female character is cosplaying, odds are high it will be as Lum. Several of the characters in Urusei Yatsura were prototypes for characters in Ranma 1/2* (Shampoo has some similarities to Lum when she’s introduced, some of Mendou’s traits carry on to Tatewaki Kuno). The plot gets borrowed and modified for other series as well (Outlanders treats the alien invasion much more seriously than Urusei Yatsura does, ToLOVERu makes the cast considerably more likable). 6 out of 6.

Acting: The acting is generally okay, though there are a few standout performances. In particular, Akira Kamiya’s performance as Mendou. Kamiya is probably best known amongst anime viewers as Ryou Saeba from City Hunter, and Kenshiro from Fist of the North Star – two roles which are radical opposites from Mendou. Also, the late You Inoue (who was Sayla Mass in Mobile Suit Gundam and Kanuka Clancy from Patlabor), played the role of Ran, a character which was radically different from Sayla (which was probably considerably more famous). 4 out of 6

Animation: The animation is generally pretty good for an very early 80s anime. 4 out of 6.

Production: The sound effects and the music are pretty good here. The spaceship designs are decent, though a little generic, just variations on your standard flying saucer. However, there’s nothing that really stands out about the production design, for good or for ill. 3 out of 6.

Story: Frankly, the story around this series isn’t very deep, has little continuity, and for that matter, barely any character development. 2 out of 6.

Emotional Response: When I wasn’t laughing at the series, I wanted to punch every single character in the face. I’m confident that the first was Takehashi’s intent. I’m not so sure about the second. 3 out of 6.

Overall: This series is definitely worth watching on historical grounds, as it’s an important series as far as the history of anime in general is concerned. However, I’m not a fan of it. 3 out of 6.

In Total, Urusei Yatsura Season 1 gets 25 out of 42.

*A few fun little voice actor notes. There was some carry over from the cast of this to the cast of Ranma 1/2. Saeko Shimazu went on to play Kodachi Kuno on Ranma 1/2 and Kenichi Ogata went on to play Genma Saotome. Additionally, as a fun fact, Lum’s voice actress overdubbed Elisabeth Sladen as Sarah Jane Smith on the Japanese broadcasts of Doctor Who.