Urusei Yatsura, Omnibus 6

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.

Every fan has their obsessive favorite minor character. Usually more than one. I have two when it comes to Takahashi’s work. I’ve already discussed Akari Unryuu, Ryouga’s girlfriend in the later parts of the manga in my reviews of that. As you might have guessed, my favorite Urusei Yatsura character makes their debut in this volume. No, not Kotatsu-neko, though he sort of amusingly stoic. No, not the school principal either, though it is funny that both he and Kotatsu-neko debuted around the same time. No, it’s Shutaro Mendo’s younger sister Ryoko, introduced here as essentially an agent of chaos in a series entirely composed of agents of chaos. Ryoko is fickle, bored, and also a sociopath, happy to trigger her brother’s fears of the dark, annoy him by flirting with Ataru, or simply toss a hundred grenades out her window because it’s fun. Most North American fans experiences her Ranma knockoff, Kodachi Kuno, first. Accept no substitutes, though, Ryoko is best unfiltered.

Having established most of the regulars by now, Takahashi is starting to experiment with her work, dialing up some things and ramping back some others. Ran, who’d vanished for a while, is back on a semi-regular basis. So is Rei, and we start to get the start of the eventual Ran/Rei pairing when we see the one thing that’s sure to win Rei over: food. (Lum’s cooking, usually lethal to Ataru, is implied at times to also be lethal to actual aliens – she fills the ‘can’t cook’ stereotype box.) Oyuki is starting to be the soft-spoken yamato nadesico, but is still wearing her battle bikini rather than her kimono. And she’s dipping back into Japanese history again – this is the first book to feature new, never before officially translated manga material, and I can imagine 1990s Viz translators wanting to cut the chapters where Ataru is Zenigata (no, not the Lupin one). Nowadays, there are actual endnotes to explain things like Ryoko’s kuroko attendants (being a drama major, they are another reason I love Ryoko).

Also, while it’s always been around, we’re really starting to see a lot more fourth-wall breaking here. Tezuka started this, of course, and Takahashi’s friend and colleague Mitsuru Adachi also does it. But Takahashi is as broad and blatant about it as with the rest of UY’s humor, with Lum appearing on the title page to complain that she’s barely in this chapter, and other characters complaining about Ataru not being in it at the start because he’s still in bed. UY is a performative manga that its characters know they’re in, but they aren’t actors. For the most part the stories are still one-shot chaotic messes, though sometimes chapters run into each other, such as the first part of the book detailing the students trying to leave school to get lunch outside campus, which ends up being the students simply ditching school entirely.

As these chapters were being written, the anime was also being created – it debuted in the Fall of 1981, right around the time the Ryoko chapters would have been in the magazine. As the manga goes on, there will be a little influence from one on the other – though less than you’d expect. Fans of the anime might be startled, though, by one chapter here early in the manga being the basis for the final episode of the anime. That said, even if you’re not an experienced UY fan, these volumes are still chaotic, funny fun.

Urusei Yatsura, Omnibus 5

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.

One of the well-known factoids about the Urusei Yatsura manga is that is is unsentimental. Now, this is not really all that true. There’s plenty of sweet moments scattered throughout its pages. But it is, when compared to its anime adaptation, a lot more interested in laughs than heartwarming. There’s a chapter in this volume where the Moroboshi house is dealing with a hurricane that’s flooded the entire place thanks to some of Lum’s technology, and the manga does not have the touching Ataru/Lum moments the anime put in. Even the manga moments that clearly ARE sentimental are subordinate to the comedy – the longest extended story in this volume has Ataru hitch a ride on Ten’s spaceship to stop Lum getting married off by her dad. Ten being tiny, Ataru spends most of his time stuck in a funny crouch – it’s especially funny when he stops a guy from hitting on Lum by stomping on him, then goes back to pretending he’s not really there. But Lum recognizes him, and smiles. See? Sentimental. Just.

No new major characters are introduced here, though we do get a few two-or-three chapter girls for Ataru and company to deal with. The best of these is the girl who, thanks to her dad, is literally followed by rain everywhere she goes. Miserable, she is nonetheless touched when Ataru insists on dating her anyway, even if it means he just gets a cold. (Unfortunately, her father looks exactly like an abusive dad we will meet later in the series, which sort of threw me off as I was reading it.) And there’s a ghost who everyone tries to help move on to the next world, but is far more interested in mooching off of everyone in this one. Lastly, we get an elderly vampire and his bat companion, most noteworthy for the male bat transforming into a human girl to trick Ataru… something very quickly regretted.

Ataru and Lum have mostly settled into their permanent characterization here. Mendou and Shinobu are here as well, but they mostly function as part of the Greek chorus, so don’t get as much face time. Shinobu has not yet gotten to the point where she can rip trees out of the ground to threaten people with. As a result, these chapters feel very much like a relaxing rest stop for the series, where we can sit back and enjoy the chaos caused, with one exception, on Earth. Soon the “main cast” aliens will return in a big way, and the plots will get even sillier. Certainly there’s not going to be much romantic development – Ataru may not want Lum to get married, but he’s not about to stop trying to date anyone and everyone. Even Tsubame and Sakura, who are an actual couple, can’t settle down to make out without everyone horning in.

Fortunately, a new semi-regular debuts next volume. Unfortunately for you, she’s my favorite character in the whole series. So if you want to hear me gush – a lot – about Kodachi Kuno only done WELL, tune in next time. Till then, this is still a must read.

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.