Urusei Yatsura Volumes 1 – 25
Given how many tropes from Urusei Yatura pop up in more recent anime, you’d be tempted to call it ‘ahead of its time.’ But it was actually very popular in Japan, running 195 episodes, 6 movies, and 11 OAVs, so it was probably got the timing just right.
Urusei Yatsura is a genre defining title, like Sherlock Holmes, or Lord of the Rings (I’m not saying that any of those invented all the elements they entail, but they did seem to set the rules that future titles of their genres would follow). Urusei Yatsura gives us aliens, multicolored hair, multiple women fighting over one man, small mascot characters, magic, supernatural characters, wacky hi-jinks, the spoiled rich kid, etc. I could go on, but the point is that every anime comedy cliche of the past thirty years was present in UY, so it’s easy to see its lasting influence.
Created by Rumiko Takahashi (Ranma 1/2, Maison Ikkoku, Inu Yasha) Urusei Yatsura is about a lecherous high school student named Ataru Moroboshi. One day, aliens invade and give the humans one chance to avoid conquest; a contest pitting one of them against a randomly selected human.
Of course, that human is Ataru and the alien is Lum, the tiger-skin bikini’d girl with horns who can fly and shoot lightning bolts. The contest ends with Lum convinced that Ataru wants to marry her, prompting her to move in with his family.
On the surface, you may expect Ataru to be happy about this, but it turns out he’s much more interested in what he can’t have, and the fact that Lum shocks him when he hits on other women only seems to make him want them more.
The first theme song for the series talks about the show being ‘strange,’ and it is. Episodes can be about aliens, or monsters, time travel, dreams, magic, or whatever. What’s great about the series is that it stays very grounded through it all. Ataru and everyone else in his small town just kind of accept the random strangeness that is constantly plaguing them (although they’re highly annoyed by the disruption, which they place all blame on Ataru for). Because their lifestyles never change, the series is able to keep the strange things from becoming tired. They’re always a little out of place in the UY world, no matter how many times they pop up.
UY has a large cast of characters, though they tend to be archetypes ruled by one or two character traits. Ataru is lecherous and creepy, Lum is doting but jealous, Mendo (the rich kid) is lecherous but suave. There are ‘Lum’s Stormtroopers,’ a group of male students who want Lum for themselves, and Shinobu, the former kind-of girlfriend of Ataru, though she prefers Mendo now, who gets very violent when angry. There’s Cherry the monk, who steals food, and his niece Sakura, who is lusted after by all the male students.
There’s no real character drama or development, but the cast is big enough, and their personalities intersect in such a way to keep things lively. The same fights tend to be fought over and over, but they’re basically just window dressing for the ‘strange’ thing of the week.
Being a show about ‘strangeness,’ the plots, and even the style of the show can vary wildly. Some are more successful than others. I found the episodes based on Japanese folklore to be somewhat dull and slow paced, though that could be because I’m missing something. The sci-fi based episodes are solid, and provide a variety of settings and characters.
But my favorite episodes are the ones were nothing unnatural happens at all, it’s just a slightly strange version of everyday life. Like episode 96, where Ryuunosuke (a girl who was raised as a boy) sets out to buy a bra, and encounters various problems on the way’ or 91, in which a school beauty pageant turns political.
Urusei Yatsura stands up well to any modern anime. Setting the animation style aside, the plot lines and characters are scarcely different than those found in Haruhi Suzumiya. UY is like the ancestor to every modern ‘wacky’ comedy, or harem series.
The show is out of print from its former licensee, though there are still a lot of copies in the retail chain.