The Urusei Yatsura Viewing Project, part 11: “Ataru Genji Goes to the Heian Capital”

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Episode 11: “Ataru Genji Goes to the Heian Capital”

Original airdate: 1/7/1982

Corresponding manga chapters: “Lum: The Heian Version Scroll One to Three”, volume 6, chapters 5-7 (Viz release)

Major character introduced (sort of):  Shutaro Mendou

Minor characters introduced: Murasaki Shikibu, Heian-era cast, future Oni

Summary: It’s New Year’s, and Ataru’s parents admire their New Year’s Pine before going out to make their round of visits.  Inside, Cherry, Ataru, Lum, Sakura, and Shinobu play a poetry card-matching game (in which Cherry reads the first part of a line from a poem and the others have to be the first to spot and grab the card that completes the quote).  Ataru is using this as an opportunity to grab for the girls instead.  This earns him a blow to the head, and Cherry is starting to explain why he deserves it when his sentence is completed by a mysterious voice.

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He explains that he’s a regular character who hasn’t been introduced yet.  Ataru tries to shoo him away, but he explains that it’s okay because it’s a New Year’s Special.  Cut to a stage curtain opening to reveal a woman in traditional garb and New Wave sunglasses; she’s Murasaki Shikibu, author of the Tale of Genji and our narrator for this episode.

It’s the Heian era, and at the Imperial Court in Kyoto, performing their traditional Awa dances.  A Heian-era version of the Moroboshi’s gossipy neighbor (from “Black Hole Love Triangle”) is chatting it up with her friends while her son protests of boredom.  He’s soon less bored, as an enormous UFO appears and sucks him aboard.  As more and more boys are kidnapped by the UFO, the Heian Defense Force meets in a Chinese restaurant to solve the problem eat Chinese food, which the commander (Heian Kakugari) doesn’t like.

Lum’s UFO flies over the countryside, looking for Darling.

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Ten asks to go back to their own time, but Lum is concerned about what Ataru is getting up to.  Sure enough, a shadow creeps toward a room with the silhouette of a woman.  It’s Ataru Genji, come to see Shinobu no Tsubome (indicating that she’s a lady-in-waiting to a noblewoman).  Ataru Genji is just as much a womanizer as both of his namesakes, chasing Shinobu around the room and divesting her of several layers before being suddenly sucked into Lum’s UFO.  He proves that he’s not the Ataru we know by instantly flinging himself at Lum, and they realize that he must be the modern Ataru’s ancestor.

A commotion below turns out to be the Heian Defense Force, led by Heian Mendou, who demands that the UFO release its hostage or they will attack (although most of his men are more concerned with eating noodles from a delivery van).  Ataru doesn’t want to go until he and Lum become one, but they’re interrupted by the arrival of the boy-stealing UFO, which swallows Lum’s UFO whole.

The group wakes up to discover that they’re surrounded by more traditional Oni:

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The leader explains that they’ve come from the 23rd Century to find Momotaro and change the history of Oni oppression.  This is why they’ve kidnapped around 40 boys, none of whom are Momotaro.  Lum says that it’s against the rules of time travel to change history, but another Oni says that it’s the Code of the Oni to break rules, and asks why she’s siding with the humans.  She replies that she’s an alien, so she’s science fiction while the other Oni are fairy tales.  The leader releases the boys (in a sack tied to a rope) and Lum and Ten, while keeping Ataru as a hostage and inviting him to for dinner.

Back on the ground, Lum explains the situation to Mendou, who asks if Momotaro can be found to fight the Oni instead.  Lum flies off to find Momotaro and take him to safety, following which she’ll rescue Ataru, as in any era Darling is still Darling.  Following the eyecatch, they’re exhausted from searching, when a boy with a peach banner and accompanied by a pheasant, dog and monkey runs past, chased by a crowd of women shouting for “Momo-honey!”.  Lum deduces that this might possibly be Momotaro and catches up with him, to discover that he kind of resembles an Edo-era Harry Potter.

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Lum rescues Momotaro from the women and explains the situation, but he refuses to run, explaining that he’s Japan’s #1, with a long list of accomplishments ranging from baseball championships to major literary awards.  So there’s no way he could lose to an Oni.

Cut instantly to a bell ringing and Momotaro on the ground in a wrestling ring, having been creamed by an Oni.  A stretcher carries him away as he melodramatically mourns his defeat, while Ten notes that’s Ataru is taking the situation well, having fallen asleep.

The Oni flag is raised over the capital, and all the humans bow in fear to them except Ataru, who convinced them to make him a Minister.  Lum and Ten watch him from the bushes as he sings and dances for the Oni.  Ten is all for leaving, but Lum asks him for a favor: sneaking a time bomb aboard the Oni UFO, which will create a small explosion to draw the Oni back to there ship, allowing Lum to send them back to the 23rd century.  Ten agrees, and flies through the ship only to be confronted by an Oni version of Andre the Giant, who’s lying in the corridor drowning his sorrows about being the only one stuck on the ship.  He pours out his woes to Ten before eventually wondering what Ten is doing there.

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Meanwhile,  Ataru is dancing on a stage for the Oni (it’s kind of hard to tell if they’re enjoying it or not) when a volley of arrows pins him to the backdrop.  Their attention is drawn to a light from the bushes, which turns out to be a farmer who’s leading his cow with a lantern.  After a wild take, another rain of arrows comes down from the Heian Defense Force, who’ve finally gotten off their duffs to do something.  Mendou orders them to charge, and a melee ensues, while one of the Oni radios a distress call to the ship.

Lum is watching and wondering what’s taking Ten so long when it takes off and flies to the site of the battle, peppering the HDF with missiles.  The drunk Oni is pleased that the Captain’s trust in him paid off.  When Ten, who’s hanging from the ceiling by a rope, points out that it’s probably coincidence, the Oni swats him and knocks the time bomb to the control panel.  Lum lands in the battle and asks where Ataru Genji is.  Mendou assures her that Ataru has the devil’s own luck, before taking a Ten in the small of the back, Ten having been mistaken for a missile by the drunk Oni.

Shinobu confronts Ataru and is about to punish his treachery by running him through with her new love, a naginata, when Lum intervenes and a struggle ensues.

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Ten wonders what happened to the time bomb, and we see that it’s still on the control panel and rapidly reaching zero.  The UFO careens out of control and into the ground, going up in a mushroom cloud.  In the present, Ataru and company (minus Lum) feel the ground shake and run outside to see that Heian Kyoto has been brought to modern Tokyo.  The ending theme, “Uchuu wa Taien da!”, begins to play as chaos breaks out.  Lum realizes that the time bomb must have set off the nuclear weapons, causing a time rift, but whaddyagonnado?  Ataru and Ataru Genji spot each other as they chase different women, and as Lum contemplates the fundamental nature of Ataruness, Murasaki Shikibu complains that women always get the short end of the stick, and women must be strong, and who cares if she’s ugly? while ripping off her outer garments in the modern street as a crowd gathers.  We fade out on a map of the mixed-up Tokyo and Kyoto.

Changes from the manga version: The anime episode is almost entirely original, the only scenes in common being the Chinese restaurant meeting and Ataru hitting on Shinobu.  In the manga, Mendou is investigating a series of glowing sakura, which turns out to be caused by a flying woman.  Ataru launches himself at her, but she escapes as rumors of a terrible monster fly around.  Ataru is promoted as he takes charge of the situation, but is actually seeing Lum on the side.  A disgruntled Ten flies into town to get photos of Ataru’s behavior, and Lum comes to look for him accompanied by Nu-chan, her pet cloud monster.  They track Ataru to the restaurant where the Defense Force is meeting, and TV reporters arrive and report on the presence of the ogre, Nu-chan.  The Defense Force realize that they can’t declare war on a woman and child, so they arrange a combat bout in an arena.  Ataru hits Nu-chan, who turns out to be a tiny creature, and it begins crying as the crowd turns ugly.

Thoughts: This episode is hard to evaluate, because it depends on what you’re expecting.  Taken on its own, it’s pretty well done, with a solid plot and some good jokes.  Taken as part of the larger series, it doesn’t really fit in, since its continuity is even weaker than usual.  Besides the unresolved ending, which is still pretty common at this point, there’s no explanation of how or why Lum travels back in time, and how she’s with the others at the beginning but not at the end, and of course Mendou… As a holiday special episode, it’s probably best to tell yourself “It’s just a show, I should probably just relax.”

This is the second half-hour long episode, and another one that’s mostly original.  Since Japanese New Year’s is a very traditional time, the historical setting is fitting for a New Year’s program (even if it did air on January 7th, skipping a week of broadcast, probably for other specials).  In the manga it’s just a three-chapter diversion that doesn’t connect to anything.  The anime has a few anachronisms (dancing to a radio, the noodle delivery van) but the manga has a lot more, with TVs appearing fairly often.

The loose continuity and fourth-wall breaking means that there’s not a lot of point in exploring the development of the ongoing threads.  The manga chapters are the furthest forward yet (they follow “That Crazy Age of the Dinosaurs”).  The appearance of Mendou is strange if you’re just watching the anime, since he won’t officially appear for another three episodes, but he was undoubtedly well known to viewers through the manga.  The AnimEigo note card explains that the character he’s cast as was very like Genji, and started out his friend but became his rival, making Mendou highly appropriate casting.

How important it is to watch this episode depends in part on how interested you are in the Japanese cultural material.  If the period costumes and literary references interest you, you’ll like this one; if they bore you, go ahead and skip it (although it is entertaining in its own right).  I haven’t attempted to explain most of the references beyond the Wikipedia links, since there are a lot (two and a half sides of the AnimEigo note cards) and the story’s not a close parody of the originals anyway.

Next episode: Introducing Tsubame

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