Urusei Yatsura, Omnibus 1

By Rumiko Takahashi. Released in Japan in two separate volumes by Shogakukan, serialized in the magazine Shonen Sunday. Released in North America by Viz Media. Translated by Camellia Nieh.

I had reviewed the first five volumes of UY back in the days before my blog was part of Manga Bookshelf. At the time, it seemed like a pipe dream that we’d ever see more of it over here. It was started by Viz then cancelled, then put into Animerica Magazine and then cancelled there, then it was back to 32-page floppies, and finally it ground to a halt after 9 volumes (which covered up to about Book 11 in Japan owing to them skipping a bunch of chapters). It was the classic “how many times do you want us to beat our heads against this wall?” series. But now the manga market is stronger, Takahashi’s reputation is super high, and so not only do we get the return of UY, uncut and in omnibus format, we also get it released digitally, the first time this has happened for her series over a multi-platform format. It is truly a love song for Lum. Of course, new readers may be wondering: what’s the big deal?

The manga was originally supposed to be about an unlucky boy (whose very name loosely means “born under a bad sign”), his long-suffering and hot-tempered girlfriend, and the amusing situations that happen in their hometown of Tomobiki. Ataru Moroboshi attracts trouble. In the first chapter, that trouble is aliens, as he has to run a tag race against alien ogres so the Earth is not taken over. His opponent is Lum, who is a hot babe but also has a volatile temper. And can fly. After defeating and accidentally proposing to her, the next chapter is Lumless, and you might be deceived (if it were 1978, which it isn’t) into thinking that Lum would be a minor one-shot character… sort of like many of the other girls introduced in these two volumes. That said, the series is translated as “Those Obnoxious Aliens”, and it’s clear in the third chapter that Lum is back to stay. And also insanely popular.

As with a lot of long-running series, the characterization at the start is a bit off. Ataru is almost sympathetic at times, and occasionally makes the effort to be faithful to Shinobu and not be what he is famous for being, a giant horndog. By the end of this omnibus, that’s mostly worn off. Lum too is far nastier than we’re used to seeing, clearly an antagonist. As for Shinobu… well, no, she’s pretty much the same, though she too is unsympathetic much of the time. In fact, if you’re looking for anyone to root for, “look elsewhere” might be the best answer. This series runs on pure comedy, and Takahashi’s brand of comedy means watching people be terrible for fun. It works. These are terrible people. It’s fun. Ataru’s parents constantly wish he’d never been born. The town despises him (because he brings massive property damage). Cherry is possibly the most irritating character in the entire 34-volume series, which says a LOT. But the humor is there. This is a romp. You’ll find yourself laughing, but also slapping your forehead.

We do meet a large number of the main cast in this book, but they won’t last long… for now. Benten and Oyuki are oddly there to be Lum’s rivals for Ataru’s affection – that will change soon. Ataru’s friends aren’t even named (one is definable by his glasses… and not, thank god, his love of Nazi memorabilia), but they too won’t last long. Much as Viz attempted to reboot the series a couple of times here in North America, Takahashi will also reboot her own series starting in the next volume, with the introduction of the fourth and final “main” character. As for whether you should buy it again… yes. The quality of the reproduction is MUCH better than the original Viz volumes, especially the digital version. The translation is also less intrusive than the original, retaining puns when they’re obvious, but not feeling the need to make more jokes than Takahashi already is. It reads very smoothly.

Again, if you find yourself wishing “I wish everyone was a smidge less awful”, the second omnibus may help a bit. Only a bit, mind. These are characters to laugh AT, not with. I can’t wait for more.

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