Episode 1a: “I’m Lum the Notorious!”
Original airdate: 10/14/1981
Corresponding manga chapter: “A Good Catch”, volume 1, chapter 1 (Viz edition)
Major characters introduced: Ataru Moroboshi, Cherry, Shinobu Miyake, Mr. & Mrs. Moroboshi, Mr. Invader, 3/4 of Lum’s Stormtroopers (Megane, Perm & Chibi), Lum Invader
Minor character introduced: The Dappya alien (a fishlike creature in a spacesuit from an earlier Takahashi work, who has a number of cameos throughout the series)
Plot summary: We are introduced to our noble hero, Ataru, as his drooling after an attractive woman is interrupted by a baseball to the face. Rising to his feet, he encounters a diminutive Buddhist Monk, Cherry, who warns him that great misfortune awaits him. Ataru refuses to believe him and continues toward home, when he is abruptly kidnapped by mysterious men in a mysterious car.
They drive him home, past a variety of tanks and other military hardware, where he’s greeted by his worried girlfriend, Shinobu, and his parents, who direct him into the kitchen. To his astonishment, he’s greeted by a ten-foot-tall alien, dressed in a tiger print jumpsuit and resembling a traditional Japanese oni. He introduces himself as Invader (the English word, not a translation) and turns out to be unexpectedly personable. The government agent explains that the alien computers have chosen Ataru at random for a duel, and if Ataru wins, the invasion will be called off.
Ataru refuses, despite appeals to his patriotism as an Earthican, until he meets the person he’ll actually be dueling, Invader’s daughter Lum, who arrives in a tiger-striped mothership roughly the size of Ataru’s hometown and bursts into the Moroboshi’s kitchen in a bolt of lightning. The sight of a green-haired girl wearing a tiger-striped bikini instantly shuts down Ataru’s higher brain functions and sense of self-preservation, and when it’s explained that the goal is to grab her horns within ten days, the prospect of grabbing other things as well is enough to bring Ataru around.
The next day, they assemble on a public street for the duel. Ataru opens with a simple tackle dive, only to discover to his chagrin that Lum can fly. He runs through an increasingly silly set of attempts to bring her down (roller skates, pole vault, jetpack), to no avail. After the world media makes it clear that they won’t tolerate any nonsense if Ataru fails to prevent the invasion, we cut to Ataru and Shinobu in his bedroom, where she berates him for taking on the challenge for a completely stupid reason. He agrees (“That’s right! No matter how big a pair she’s got, an enemy is an enemy.”) and begins to break down, until Shinobu offers to marry him if he succeeds.
After some light groping and Shinobu demonstrating her rage-induced strength, we cut to the street the next day, where Ataru stands with newfound determination. Shouting “For my marriage!”, he whips out a suction cup gun and yanks off Lum’s bikini top. She lunges for it (“Give me back my only outfit!”) and Ataru ducks out of the way and grabs her horns, saying “Now, at last, I can get married!” Lum accepts what she takes to be his proposal; Shinobu storms off in anger, and Lum explains to her “darling” that marriage proposals on her planet are sacred, oh, and if he cheats on her she’ll fry him with a massive burst of electricity, which she demonstrates. Cherry pronounces that “This is fate” and we go to the commercial bumper.
Changes from the manga version: The general plot outline is the same but the details are different. The military aren’t involved. Cherry pops up a lot more often. Ataru has a longer string of failures, until on the eighth day he accidentally snags her bikini top (by hand). She comes to his house that evening to demand it back; the next day, her maneuverability is reduced by her arms crossed over her chest, but not enough for Ataru to succeed. The final day, Shinobu shouts out that she’ll marry Ataru if he wins, and that gives him the motivation to lure Lum in with her top and then grab her. Essentially, the anime version streamlines the plot considerably.
Thoughts: This episode is a classic example of the difficulty of introducing some series to people who haven’t seen them: it introduces a large chunk of important characters, but none of them have any depth at this point, and the resolution is a bit dodgy. (Although Lum quickly makes it clear that she’s by no means helpless in this situation.) The only one with a pleasant personality is Mr. Invader. Ataru’s lechery is demonstrated at a couple of points in this episode, and it’s not at all clear what Shinobu sees in him. (This will never become clear.)
It’s clear at this point that Takahashi had different plans for the series than what eventually developed. We get a taste of that in the second manga chapter, which doesn’t even include Lum; it’s a story about a boy who has weird things happen to him, accompanied by his girlfriend and an annoying monk, not about a boy and his alien girlfriend and all her friends and family. The manga was up to volume 10 when the anime started, so it was much clearer where things were headed, and the anime introduces the supporting cast and key plot developments much more quickly. (That probably accounts for Cherry’s reduced role as well.)
All in all, the manga version feels like a lot of Takahashi’s single-chapter work: character is trapped in a weird situation, resolves it in an unusual way, but at what cost? The anime version feels more like the start of a series, though not in a “we have everything mapped out, and this episode sets things in motion” way. It still holds up as funny, but most of the humor is situational or dialogue, not character-driven. The characters are all recognizable as themselves, with personality traits that in many cases will strengthen later, but it’s not the most important element at this point.
Episode 1b: “It’s Raining Oil in Our Town”
Original airdate: 10/14/1981
Corresponding manga chapter: “Raindrops Keep Falling on my Head”, volume 1, chapter 3 (Viz edition)
Major characters introduced: Kakugari (the remaining Stormtrooper)
Minor characters introduced: Space cabbie, Torture Research Club member (in the first movie we find out he’s named Sadoyama)
Plot summary: At Tomobiki High School, four students watch a film of Ataru’s victory over Lum, then bemoan the fact that she’s been off Earth for a week to take care of her paperwork. They announce the formation of “The Committee to Bring Lum Back to Earth” and that they have a beaten and shackled Ataru to use as bait (he was captured attempting to flee the country in Lum’s absence). They say they’ll do anything to see Lum again, and bring in a member of the Torture Research Club to prove it (apparently they go to the school from Bible Black). Ataru retorts that it can’t be as bad as Lum’s lightning.
Shinobu breaks in to convince Ataru not to call Lum back, but Megane, the leader, changes his mind by bribing him with the promise of cheating on tests and introducing him to the hottest student at the nearby girl’s school. (“Shut up! Who cares about the future? I’m living in the pleasure of this particular moment!”) Shinobu breaks free and advances on Ataru while the others tremble in terror.
We cut with no real explanation to Ataru suspended on a rope from the school’s clock tower. The five male students hold hands and dance in a circle, and chant something like “Ventura ventura, space people!” (The first word is unclear, and the manga went with “Bentora” there, but the “space people” is in English.) Abruptly an unfamiliar UFO appears and sucks them aboard. They panic at the sight of the (rather friendly-looking) alien, and Ataru demands to go home.
The UFO winks out and reappears above Ataru’s house, dropping them on the roof. The alien demands that they pay their fare, explaining that he’s a space taxi driver, and for the half-mile trip from the school to Ataru’s house, they owe 3.8 mega-credits, or roughly the value of all the oil on the planet. Since Ataru refuses to pay, the Space Taxi Union appears and starts siphoning up oil from everywhere on earth, from desert wells to cans in peoples’ storerooms.
The news reveals that “the notorious Moroboshi Ataru” is responsible, and a knock comes on the Moroboshi’s door, which they take to be an incoming lynch mob. It turns out to be Lum, to Ataru’s consternation and the others’ delight. A negotiator explains that Lum has agreed to pay the debt, but only on the condition that she be allowed to live with Ataru, as a married couple. Mr. Moroboshi and Megane insist that he agree for the sake of the Earth, but he refuses, driving Lum to tears. The other students begin stomping on Ataru until he gives in, prompting the first “Darling!” electro-hug. She agrees to pay with an electro-crystal, and the cabbie says the oil will be returned within a week.
Cut to a week later, when it’s been raining oil continuously, and someone trying to smoke in public gets ruthlessly stomped by a passerby and the Dappya alien. We end with Ataru (under an umbrella) attempting to explain the situation to Shinobu while literally carrying Lum on her back, and the Stormtroopers charge up from behind, trying to get her attention.
Changes from the manga version: The two are pretty similar, apart from the role of Lum’s Stormtroopers. (Explanation: The manga has a number of generic male students comprising Lum’s Fan Club, but the anime chose to replace them with four specific, named characters who don’t appear as such in the manga. They proved so popular that they wound up taking scenes from other characters.) There’s less material with the other students in the beginning. The manga follows Ataru directly, without the cutaways to the news. Mr. Moroboshi offers to sell the entire Earth to the cabbie, in exchange for taking them somewhere else.
Thoughts: As noted above, there was good reason for postponing the adaptation of the manga’s second chapter to move on to this one, which begins worldbuilding both within the school and in the alien society outside Earth. It continues a trend from the first episode (particularly in the anime version) of Ataru’s exploits having global implications, which doesn’t continue to this degree. We see the beginning of Lum and Ataru as a couple, and their status is clarified as married (in Lum’s mind, at least), rather than engaged. Lum has yet to show her temper, and Ataru is still driven solely by his id. Apart from that, it’s an amusing but not terribly deep early episode.