Thursday, July 17, 2003

Urusei Yatsura

(Animated comedy series based on the long-running manga by Rumiko Takahashi)

JAMES says:

Literally ‘Those Obnoxious Aliens.’ That should be enough for you, a TV show about obnoxious aliens. If it isn’t, I suppose I should delve a little deeper. Based on the Manga of Rumiko Takahashi, who also created Ranma ½, the basic plot revolves around Ataru, a hopeless lech, and Lum, the horned bikini clad alien who loves him. And thence the humour arises. But that’s not all, there is a supporting cast who cause emotional or physical pain to Ataru at any given opportunity, including a wizened little monk, an incredibly rich and handsome rival, a girl next door, numerous bikini-clad alien women (bikini’s were ultrafashionable in space in the 80’s, and still are for all I know) and many, oh so many more. Oh, and a giant cat, who never actually seems to do anything, but is always there. Unlike Western cartoons, UY was never content to have a static cast, and was constantly evolving and adding, as witnessed by the group shoots that seem to end all the movies, usually chasing after Ataru. I don’t know who they all are, as the videos rather inconveniently stopped in the UK with only about 8 of the 50-odd volumes available, but are all endearingly odd.

The strength of UY lies in the combination of humour with strong characters that you care about, and bikinis. A lot of the jokes run along a few certain formulas, eg. Someone, usually Mendou, will make an incredibly dramatic/overwrought speech, before something happens to break the tension and make them pull a funny face. But, even though you know this is going to happen every time, the timing is always so impeccably done that it is always funny. There are a fair few jokes about Japanese politics or culture which will pass over most Westerners heads (explanatory liner notes and humour do not really mix), but for my money this is balanced out by the humour of the bizarre, with many moments which are just inexplicable. To my mind at least.

One of the good bits, however, is that some of the odder moments are not just wilful obscurity, by come from UY’s basis in Japanese folklore and the Shinto religion. That small child with an axe riding a bear? Why, he’s a Japanese god, of course. The section where Lum’s family compete with a staggeringly odd collection of misfits to throw beans into a giant set of scales is based on a traditional method of chasing off evil spirits. Therefore, not only is it a wacky screwball comedy, but you also learn about another culture's history and tradition. Although it has its limits, as I found out to my disappointment when visiting the shrine of Benten in Ueno Park I found no gun wielding, space-bike riding babes.

I think Urusei Yatsura is certainly a better anime than Ranma, which is surprising as the Manga of Ranma is by far the btter of the two. However, Ranma the TV series chooses to emphasis the soap opera aspects of the comic, at the expense of the comedy, whereas UY balances the two perfectly. And to those of you who wonder why I’m wasting your time reviewing something that hasn’t been on release for years, I say, seek and ye shall find. You can buy the TV series on region 1 DVD on, and eBay often has old copies of the UK videos at bargain basement-ish price. Or you could come round mine, I’ve got loads of them on video. So, get out there and make it ‘Weird and Weird, Super-weird!’


NEILL says:

And what other obscure cartoon series can claim to have lent its name to a successful Glasgow indy band? Except Belle & Sebastian.


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