Wednesdays Watching Anime – Urusei Yatsura

April 29, 2015 § 1 Comment

For our pick this week, we have OP1 from Urusei Yatsura, “Lum’s Love Song” by Matsutani Yuko.

Ben: How many episodes of Urusei Yatsura have you seen? The movies don’t count, especially if the only one that you’ve watched is the second one, Urusei Yatsura: Beautiful Dreamer, which was written and directed by Oshii Mamoru.

I’ve seen twelve. They’re the first twelve, because I’m stubborn and think that visual media should be watched in broadcast order, all other things being equal. Those twelve episodes were enough to exhaust me with the repetitive structure of Japanese gag comedy, especially as done by Takahashi Rumiko, but even though Jonathan Clements and Helen McCarthy have justly called it “a Japanese Simpsons,” mostly in reference to its humor based on domestic pop-culture references, I’ve still found Urusei Yatsura to be fascinatingly unique in more than one way. For instance, the setup is that the male protagonist, Ataru, defeats an invading alien appropriately named Lum Invader, who mistakes his victory for a marriage proposal and becomes enamored with him. However, the fuel for the comedy is not circumstances keeping Ataru and Lum apart, nor is it Ataru having to choose between Lum and his human girlfriend Shinobu. No, Ataru is a disgusting lech who is deeply unworthy of both women, but won’t commit to either of them anyway, because he refuses to limit his sexual options, and so the humor comes when Ataru’s selfish and stupid efforts to placate Shinobu and especially Lum instead lead to disaster, even to the point of the world being destroyed multiple times. It’s certainly not the kind of show that would meet with much success in the United States, which makes it at least somewhat dear to me.

The OP exhibits a similarly orthogonal tendency toward innovation. Wikipedia tells me that “Lum’s Love Song” was the first time that pop music was used for the OP of an anime, which I regarded with skepticism, but sure thing, the near-contemporary OPs for both Mobile Suit Gundam and Space Battleship Yamato both feature bass-driven ballads, bordering on enka music at times. The entirety of Urusei Yatsura‘s OP is choreographed closely with the music and is divided distinctly into three phases: introduction of Lum and her fascination with Ataru, rivalry between Lum and Shinobu over Ataru, and introduction of the secondary cast of characters, with a brief reprise of the first two phases at the end. It’s a fairly high-concept treatment by today’s standards, but it feels very modern nonetheless, especially compared to something like the Gundam OP, which manages to synchronize a select few character movements to the rhythm of the lyrics and that’s about it. Only two years later, Urusei Yatsura has an independently intelligible pop song that dictates a lot of the content of the OP, in a manner that becomes the gold standard for almost all of anime henceforth. I think that’s cool, even if I can’t make much progress with the show to which it belongs.

It also has a really good cover by the inimitable Platina Jazz, but I couldn’t really figure out how to work it into my discussion above. Check it out, it makes me thrill like the picture below!

Lum Invader from Urusei Yatsura

Lum Invader from Urusei Yatsura

 

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