The Urusei Yatsura Viewing Project, part 2: “Mail From Space–Ten Arrives!”/”Mrs. Swallow and Mrs. Penguin”

Trouble x Ten

Episode 2a: “Mail From Space–Ten Arrives!”

Original airdate: 10/21/1981

Corresponding manga chapter: “Arrival of Ten-Chan”, volume 5, chapter 3 (Viz release)

Major characters introduced: Ten

Summary: Amidst a thunderstorm, Cherry predicts bad luck for the Moroboshis, which arrives in the form of a giant peach that crashes through their roof in a bolt of lightning, interrupting a moment between Lum and Ataru.  Mr. Moroboshi goes catatonic over the damage to the house and his remaining mortgage payments, while Mrs. Moroboshi pulls out a knife and cutting board.  They break into the peach with some difficulty, only to discover that it contains a toddler who bears a family resemblance to Lum (green hair, horn, tiger-skin diaper).  Lum identifies him as her cousin Ten; Ataru promptly mocks Ten’s flight skills and gets a faceful of fire breath from Ten for his trouble.

Ten recounts how he heard about Lum’s marriage and made a difficult trek to Earth (in a spaceship that looks like a duck-shaped toilet training potty, an item that Takahashi references more than once in her work).  Ataru and Ten take an instant dislike to each other, but Ten plays the cute toddler thing for all it’s worth and convinces Mrs. Moroboshi that he should stay with Lum.  When Ataru objects, his father says, “Well, if it becomes necessary, you can get a job too” and retreats back into his newspaper.  Ataru announces that he’s going to run away from home in a funny visual gag where he runs out of the house yelling, quietly comes back to put his shoes on, and runs out yelling again.

Ataru runs in tearful slow motion through long grass, but then contrives to literally run directly into Shinobu.  His come-on is interrupted by the arrival of Ten, who again plays the cute toddler card and makes Ataru profoundly jealous of Ten’s easy access to bosoms.  His attempt to gain the same access to Shinobu is interrupted by Lum, who electrocutes him in order to tell him dinner is ready.

After dinner, the women go off to do the dishes, unwisely leaving Ataru and Ten alone together (with Mr. Moroboshi, who refuses to be budged from his newpaper and cigarette).  Their cold war soon turns hot, and Ataru is driven to chase Ten around the house equipped with goggles, a frying pan and something that’s either a spatula or a flyswatter.  This backfires when he hits the propane delivery man in the face with the frying pan.  The propane delivery man retaliates by burying Ataru under what must be tens of thousands of yen’s worth of propane tanks.  His mother bemoans that they can’t use up this much propane, ignoring the fact that her son’s idiocy has reaped valuable rewards for once.

Ten takes this moment to take his fiery revenge on Ataru, leading to an image of a mushroom cloud (a somewhat surprising visual element in a Japanese comedy of this era).  The music turns into Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor as the family stands outside the burning ruin of the home.  Ataru’s mind snaps at this point and he begins to laugh madly, leading Lum to say “Ten, Darling is happy.  He’s laughing.  All thanks to you, Ten!” “Yup, I’m a good boy!” he replies, as the house collapses amongst a shower of sparks.

Changes from the manga version: Extensive.  As you can see from the manga volume number above, Ten came along much later, when there was a much larger supporting cast.  He arrives in the Moroboshi’s mailbox on New Year’s, and interferes with Ataru’s attempts to be suave.  The only scenes in common are Ten’s slow flight toward Lum at the beginning, and Ataru grabbing a frying pan and what’s definitely a spatula here at the end.

Thoughts: After the first episode’s segments followed the manga reasonably closely, we have a sudden jump to bring forward a character from much further ahead in the story.  The animators seem to have decided to frontload the introductions of the various Oni characters, as Rei will be introduced in the next volume.  This is an interesting decision, but it does break up the character dynamic of the Ataru-Lum-Shinobu triangle by introducing a character who can manipulate it without being part of it. (Later appearances will make it clear that Ten knows exactly what he’s doing.)

The Ataru/Ten dynamic is established quickly and doesn’t change much, although Ataru becomes more resigned to Ten’s presence over time.  I have the impression that Ten became popular very quickly, which would explain both his quick introduction into the anime and the number of stories focusing on him, which is fairly high for a supporting cast member.

It’s a quick bit this time around, but we get our first introduction to something that becomes a major element in the series: Japanese folklore. (Well, the first that isn’t connected to oni, anyway.) The reference to Momotaro is a throwaway and is explained in the subtitles; they will become more extensive in later episodes.

Finally, we see the first time that Lum zaps Ataru in something other than affection.  It’s more like annoyance than a full-on “Darling no baka!” moment, but it’s a harbinger of things to come…

Episode 2b: “Mrs. Swallow and Mrs. Penguin”

Original airdate: 10/21/1981

Corresponding manga chapter: “Ms. Swallow and rs. Penguin”, volume 7, chapter 2 (Viz release)

Minor characters introduced: Physics teacher

Summary: Ten asks Lum to play, but she says she’s headed to school to see Darling.  While flying there, Ten is impressed by a swallow that flies by.  Lum is eager to ditch him, so she gives him a box of candy and flies off by herself.  Ten follows the swallow to her nest, where she is feeding her babies.  He isn’t impressed by their diet of bugs, and gives her a piece of the candy.  The swallow eats it and goes pretty literally ballistic, shooting through the air at great speed and eventually hurtling toward the school.

Following a shot of a mysterious penguin-like creature waddling through the school, we cut to the classroom, where the physics teacher is completely failing to engage the class.  Lum isn’t helping by hanging on Ataru (“Moroboshi! The school is not a Go-Go bar!”) Shinobu snaps, sobbing that Lum is deliberately ruining things for her, but fortunately the scene is interrupted by Ataru spotting a penguin. (<inside joke>Sadly, Penguin Fight Club does not ensue.</inside joke>)

The physics teacher concludes that this is a sign of the imminent arrival of the next Ice Age, but the penguin cuts things off by stealing some students’ lunches, then running into the Home Ec room to do the same thing.  As the Home Ec class chases the penguin, Ten shows up and explains he’s looking for the swallow, who took off after eating his candy.  Lum realizes that an Earth creature who ate the candy would become a giant through “over-nutrition”.

Amongst the chaos, a truck full of penguins breaks open, and the students chase them as they get into various escapades around town.  Meanwhile, Ataru, Lum, Ten, and all the other recognizable students have gone to the tree with the swallow’s nest, which she is unable to reach, being too large and fat to fly.  They try putting the nest on the ground, but she’s still too big to feed them.

Ten’s solution is to feed the babies the candy, but Ataru objects that the (fifteen-foot-tall) babies are now larger than the mother.  Ten takes the next logical step, and a 150-foot kaiju swallow is soon roaming the streets.  Back in school, after a repeat use of stock establishing footage, class is again interrupted, this time by six-foot-long houseflies.  The swallow smashes through the wall to catch them and feed them to her babies, who are now nesting in a radio tower.  Ten explains that he figured the birds were only causing hunger because they were hungry; we end on the touching family scene and Ataru wondering what they’re going to eat from now on.

Changes from the manga version: The story is essentially the same until Ten feeds the candy to the babies; they wind up at the same proportional size to the mother, and the story ends there with no kaiju action in sight.

Thoughts: This was a sensible episode to pair with Ten’s introduction, because even though it’s several volumes into the series it doesn’t require any characters beyond Ataru, Lum and Ten.  This is the anime’s first introduction of a recurring theme, which is that alien food doesn’t mix well with Earth folk, and sometimes vice versa.

This is also a good example of the sort of ending the anime had early on: a major disruptive situation is introduced with no attempt to resolve it or reference to it beyond that point. (The Moroboshi residence burning down in the last episode is a less extreme example.) The manga doesn’t have that issue (the swallows can just be given to a zoo or something) but at this point in the series, things were highly episodic and continuity was fairly loose.

We also see the issues that Lum presents at the high school, which will eventually be addressed.   The classroom is full of students who are the UY equivalent of the weird-looking background students from early seasons of The Simpsons before they all got replaced by named characters.



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