Urusei Yatsura, Omnibus 4

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’ll be honest, I wasn’t looking forward to this volume quite so much. Don’t get me wrong, I love UY with all my heart. But I knew we were going to get a heaping helping of Ten here, and Jariten has always grated on me. That said, as I re-read these manga chapters, he didn’t come off quite as badly as I’d expected. The thing is, Ten was SUPER popular when he first appeared in Japan – if not with the readers, then definitely with the animators of the soon-to-come anime series, which took the liberty of inserting Ten into the third episode and having him shoehorned into most episodes after that. But “bratty little kid” has always been a harder sell in the West, particularly if they’re not the ‘sarcastic adult’ kind of brat – look at the four or five failed attempts to sell Crayon Shin-chan here. So it was always hard for me to not just grit my teeth. But here, in the manga chapters written specifically for him, he’s a lot of fun.

Ten, like Mendo before him, is meant to set up a basic truth of the series. Many of the male characters are set up to be contrasts to Ataru, only for it to turn out in the end that they’re exactly the same as Ataru. Ten is a “cute little baby” to most of the women around him, which he uses shamelessly, as he notes he’s not into young girls his own age. (What age that is is left up in the air – he certainly seems very angry when someone calls his tiger skin a diaper.) But of course, Ataru never gets anywhere with any girl not named Lum, and the same applies to Ten – sure, he can snuggle in some bosoms, but he’s essentially just as much of a sad sack as everyone else in the book. He’s also naive enough to be taken in by Ataru’s really, really obvious schemes – see the chapter where he and Sakura go on a “date” that is meant to have her beat him like Ataru but doesn’t work as Ten is a x-year-old boy.

Elsewhere, Ran settles in as a main cast member, though when the focus isn’t on her, her characterization can vary – during the poetry competition, she seems like a different person! There’s a 3-chapter arc set during the Heian period… sort of, note they’re all watching TV and have electricity… which is basically there to show that the cast’s crazy adventures are timeless. Probably my favorite chapter is one where Ataru has made an “anti-teenage gang” movie for the school. It’s absolutely terrible, and Mendo tries to have it destroyed, but instead, thanks to Lum’s alien projector, the delinquents in the movie come to life and terrorize the school… then fend off an invasion by delinquents from another school. From seeing the main cast dressed up as stereotypical delinquents, to movie-Ataru’s ‘LOVE AND PEACE!’, to movie-Lum and Shinobu literally being able to fire huge missiles from under their skirts, it’s pure Takahashi hilarity.

With Ten’s arrival, we’re almost at UY’s middle period here. Takahashi has settled in and is doing what she does best – writing zaniness. Anyone who loves seeing what comedy manga was like at its peak should be reading this.

Urusei Yatsura, Omnibus 3

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.

After the soft reboot of this series with the arrival of Shutaro Mendo, Takahashi is going back and trying to see how she can work the pile of characters she introduced at the start back into the series, while also introducing new and hilarious regulars. Sometimes this works and sometimes it does not. The first half of this volume succeeds in re-integrating Sakura into the cast, now the high school nurse in addition to a shrine priestess, and we also meet Mendo’s rival Tobimaro Mizunokoji, a baseball-obsessed samurai type who is after revenge but is too dim to get it. (He’s also really obsessed with his childhood friend/rival, and has a passel of gorgeous female bodyguards that he barely pays attention to. I don’t think Takahashi intended him to have gay overtones, but…) Sakura will stay a regular, and Tobimaro will pop up now and then throughout the series. But not every new character is destined to become part of our beloved cast.

(The cover art, which has Ryuunosuke and her father; Sugar, Ginger and Pepper; and Kotatsu-neko – none of whom are introduced yet – is a tad spoilery. As are the endnotes, which discuss Ran before Ran is introduced.)

The second part of this volume seems like a series of failed cast introductions. Hanako-sensei is introduced to be a variation on the “well-meaning teacher who wants to inspire youth”, but he’s honestly pretty dang dull, and will quickly be replaced by Onsen Mark (who we’ve seen before) becoming a regular. (I will gloss right over Onsen Mark’s name in this omnibus, thanks much.) Natsuko’s volleyball-obsessed girl filled with rage is a very amusing arc, with great facial expressions, but she’s not someone you can imagine showing up over and over again. The same with Kaede the runaway ninja girl, who honestly seems like she’d be better off far away from Ataru and company. Fortunately, at the very end we meet Lum’s cousin and childhood “friend” Ran, who arrives with a cute act and a thirst for revenge, and is easily the best part of the back half of the book. You can see why she sticks around.

As for our regulars, they do pretty well. Ataru and Lum are fighting less, and frequently team up against common enemies (my favorite part being “Cry, Lum.” “Waaaaaaahh!” “See, you made her cry!”). Now, Lum still gets angry, and can be seen hear biting Ataru on the arm in addition to shocking him, but Ataru doesn’t seem to resent her presence anymore. Which is good, as she transfers into his school in this volume, thus helping to avoid finding reasons for her to show up in the classroom. The addition of the other cast members also helps take the focus of the manga off “will Ataru choose Lum” and focus more on “this obnoxious cast of obnoxious humans and aliens”, which will help it survive for the remaining fourteen omnibuses.

So there are some growing pains in this book, but it’s still highly entertaining, and Takahashi’s art has gotten to the point where you don’t have to apologize for it anymore. Still essential.

Urusei Yatsura, Omnibus 2

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.

UY gets a bit of a reboot about a quarter of a way into this omnibus. The cast is streamlined, with a lot of the alien girls after Ataru vanishing (some will be back – Benten, Oyuki – and some won’t – Kurama), and Megane and his three friends also vanishing from the manga (the anime will keep them around, for good and ill). In their place we get Shutaro Mendo, and he immediately shows us that he is going to be a main cast member fot the long haul. Indeed, after Ataru, Lum and Shinobu he’s the biggest member of the cast, and much of this volume is dedicated to showing off his best features (his money, his looks) and his worst features (everything else about him). Takahashi makes a point of showing early on that without his wealth and good looks, he’d be just like Ataru – but of course, he DOES have wealth and good looks, so the girls all fall for him anyway.

This includes Shinobu, who the endnotes at the end of the volume call out for having bad taste in men, and it’s hard to deny, as Mendo will forever be willing to abandon her at a moment’s notice if he can get Lum instead. (Shinobu will get a happy ending, but you may have to wait till Omnibus 16 or so to start seeing it.) There are a few chapters that show off Mendo trying to woo Lum, but he’s at a huge disadvantage, as Lum’s love for Ataru never really wavers at all – even when she’s dating others, it’s in an effort to make him jealous. Here we see her even disguising herself to save Ataru from his own foolishness, or alternatively so he can pretend she’s a real Japanese girl when they go out. As for Ataru, at the start we see he has the same attitude about Lum as he did before – he wants her gone – but this also changed as the story moves forward.

Ataru is, for the most part, a womanizing creep, and this won’t change, though it’s worth noting that even with these traits he’s still one of the better catches in the class. The ‘fake girl for Ataru’ chapter, which the anime put at Christmas and expanded greatly, is the first time that he actually realizes that Lum is gorgeous, and that plus the fact that she clearly went out of her way to help him leads him to soften his stance on her. He still declares that they aren’t going out or married, but she’s become an ally to him now. Two chapters in a row show this off best. In one, he befriends a caterpillar that wants to eat everything – and we do mean everything – and he and Lum try to protect it from the rest of the class, who find it creepy. This works out better than anyone could expect. In the other, possibly the most famous chapter of the series (its anime adaptation was voted the #1 episode by Japan), Lum vanishes, leaving behind only a cute little doll that looks like her, and Ataru worries that he genuinely drove her off.

Heartwarming moments like these are far more common in the anime than in the manga, but they do happen, and for a good purpose – now Ataru is fighting against his affection for Lum, rather than just seeing her as an invader. Now that the core cast of four has been solidified, we can also start to expand the world once more, and we’ll see that in the next volume. Also, Takahashi’s art settles down here – there are some gorgeous pieces of art on display in these pages.