The Urusei Yatsura Viewing Project, part 14: “Mendou Brings Trouble”/”Constellation-Go-Round”

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Episode 14a: “Mendou Brings Trouble”

Original Airdate: 1/27/1982

Corresponding manga chapter: “Trouble Drops In”, volume 2, chapter 1 (Viz release)

Major character introduced: Shutaro Mendou (for real this time)

Minor characters introduced: A different set of background schoolmates, Mendou’s grandfather

Summary: A young man dressed in an all-white school uniform, whose name we learn is Shutaro Mendou, is speaking to his grandfather before attending his first day at Tomobiki High School.  The senior Mendou tells him that he must be an example to the other students, and he swears it on his family’s goofy-looking octopus crest.

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The curtain pulls back on the traditional-looking room to reveal a high-tech headquarters, a hatch opens, and Mendou jumps out of an enormous plane, his parachute opening above the high school.

Inside, Shinobu is pitching a fit, as well as desks and barbells, about how smoochy Ataru and Lum have been lately, while the latter dodge the attacks and everyone else takes cover.  The Stormtroopers observe that their relationship doesn’t seem to have grown any (very perceptive, guys) but are pleased that class will be cancelled again.

Everyone is distracted by something orange flapping outside.  It turns out to be Mendou’s parachute (which is odd, since it’s hanging from the clock tower and that’s not where their classroom is).  As a crowd gathers, he releases the harness and suavely lands on the ground.  The plane flies overhead and asks if Mendou is all right.  He responds through a megaphone that he is, and they should pick him up after school.  As it flies away, accompanied by jets, Ataru and Mendou engage in “ask a silly question, get a silly answer”:

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Mendou explains that it would have besmirched his family’s honor to be late on his first day, but that he’s surprised to be met by flying desks (his very words).  Shinobu demurely apologizes, but Mendou assures her that he couldn’t be angry with a beautiful girl like her.  Lum makes the second highly perceptive comment of the episode:

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Shinobu is awestruck, and slams Ataru when he tries to interrupt.  Back in the classroom, which has had the desks rapidly restored, the girls cluster around Mendou while the boys look on in disgust.  He mentions that his family is worth a trivial 5 trillion yen, and uses the old lint-on-the-shoulder trick to try out a terrible pickup line: “I would become lint, if it meant I could be near you.”  The Stormtroopers realize that Mendou has a combination of looks, money and smoove that they can’t hope to emulate, and are depressed.

Ataru is so annoyed by Shinobu writing a love letter to Mendou that he begins chewing on her desk, but Mendou steps in to protect her from the obnoxious desk-eater.  Megane interrupts their argument because they have to elect class officers during homeroom.  Mendou steps up, and gives his platform, but imaginary power seems to have gone to his head:

  1. A crackdown on tardiness, the source of all evil in student life.  This requires construction of a torture chamber on school grounds for the use of this class, where Mendou will chastise latecomers, all of whom look like Ataru.
  2. The use of lie detectors to catch those who intend to be late (Ataru again), with violators to be sent to the torture chamber.
  3. Those who play hooky (still Ataru) to be punished by the Mendou Clan Private Police Force using firearms.
  4. Oh, and these rules only apply to male students.

The male students realize that a counter-candidate is needed, but while no ordinary person would think of challenging Mendou, Ataru’s stupidity is anything but ordinary.  Ataru’s platform is much simpler:

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The vote is counted, and it’s a tie: 23 to 23 (presumably along gender lines).  This shatters Mendou’s world, and he demands a tiebreaker: a duel with the traditional weapons of the Mendou clan.  The challenge is to shoot an apple off the opponent’s head, and the weapons:

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Ataru fires and misses, and Mendou returns fire and destroys Ataru’s cannon.  Ataru runs for help, and as Lum flies to campus with the lunch she made, the schoolyard is filled with smoke and pyrotechnics.  Ataru has somehow managed to keep his apple attached, but as Mendou has him cornered (against the school–unwise, perhaps) Lum flies in and sees what’s going on.  Mendou assures her that she doesn’t need to worry her pretty little head about it, but Lum won’t stand by and let her husband be killed, and electrocutes Mendou.  The apple falls to the ground and splits, and Mendou prepares to atone for his loss.

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The girls don’t want to see Mendou commit seppuku, and crowd around him, leading him to be “crushed by the weight of their love”.  Eyecatch.

Changes from the manga version: The original story includes Onsen Mark (Megane leads the voting instead) but not Ten.  They still prepare to duel with cannons, but rather than firing them Mendou needs to hit Ataru with his glove in order for it to be a proper challenge.  Apart from that they’re very close, including incidental jokes such as the desk-chewing.

Thoughts: And the show takes another major jump towards its later form.

To begin with, this and the following segment are set almost entirely in Ataru’s classroom, and this segment doesn’t revolve around anything supernatural or alien.  We still don’t have a teacher, which is a bit odd, but we’re starting to see stories driven just by the characters’ personalities rather than an external element.  That isn’t standard at this point in either the anime or the manga, and never replaces the external gimmicks altogether (some characters, such as Kurama, wouldn’t even interact with the others if not for those), but it is a step forward.

Second and probably even more significantly, we have the most important character to be introduced to the core cast in the form of Mendou.  He’s the first to enter the tier of the Ataru/Lum/Shinobu trio, and his presence doubles the number of two-character interactions available.  He also increases the number of available interaction types, by being a rival to Ataru and able to interact romantically with both the girls. (Previously this revolved only around Ataru, since a Lum/Shinobu pairing wasn’t very likely.) This shores up Shinobu’s role, which the other two didn’t need as much since they were already the Designated Couple, and allows her to move on from only being interested in Ataru, making her taste in boys appear less deranged.  Giving Ataru a rival likewise lets him interact in a negative way with someone other than Lum, which allows his relationship with her to grow.

Lum points out one of the essential facts about Mendou early on: he has looks, money, and charm, but fundamentally there’s no different from Ataru, he just hides it better.  In some ways he fills Rei’s niche, but with a much wider range of other functions available as well.  He expedites stories in the way Lum does, by allowing characters to do things they couldn’t otherwise (such as paying for the vacation in the original manga version of “Hawaiian Swimsuit Thief”).  In the manga particularly, he’s an important Boy Who Isn’t Ataru (the Stormtroopers help fill this role in the anime).

In a more minor point, I’ve always wondered about the Boy With Pure White School Uniform trope, which also turns up in places like Full Metal Panic Fumoffu.  It generally indicates a student who’s particularly important or classy.  I have no idea if Mendou is the source of the trope or whether he’s just continuing it, or if there’s a Japanese term for it (there often is).

It is odd that it took this long to bring Mendou in, since the animators’ awareness of his significance was shown in the Heian episode.  Technically he appears in roughly the same place in the narrative in both places (Chapter 22 of the Japanese manga release, the 25th segment in the anime) but the anime has been front-loading character introductions, particularly with Ten.  It may be that they felt his early presence would blur some of the storylines, such as Kurama’s, since she would doubtless prefer Mendou to Ataru on first sight (this is dealt with later).

On a final note, there’s a lot of funny stuff in this episode (I had to restrain myself to not screencap all the good jokes), most of it directly from the manga–the only change to lengthen the segment is actually seeing the cannons used, and that’s funnier than just throwing a glove.

Episode 14b: “Constellation-Go-Round”

Original episode date: 1/27/1982

Corresponding manga chapter: “Zodiac-Go-Round”, volume 2, chapter 2 (Viz release)

Minor character introduced: Lum’s computer

Summary: Aboard her UFO, Lum appears to be playing pachinko, but as she explains to Ten she’s actually doing a compatability diagnosis between her and Ataru.  After receiving all the data on the two of them, the machine ticks Lum off by saying that it has insufficient data.  She feeds in data on all the boys she knows, threatening to cream it if the answer is anyone but Darling.  The machine flashes its lights and comes up with its answer:

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Lum beats up the computer, c0mplaining that she hardly knows Mendou, but the computer and Ten encourage her to go to the school and check him out.

In the classroom, Mendou says that his birthday is April 1.  Shinobu and some of the other girls are pleased because he’s an Aries, and as a Libra she’s most compatible with him.  Ataru points out that he’s also an Aries, gobsmacking the entire class.  Looking through the astrology book, she finds that Aries are lewd, vulgar and unable to control their urges.  Ataru resembles that remark, but Mendou says that using astrology to determine compatibility is absurd.  He calls out one girl who, as a Scorpio, should be incompatible with him, but lays it on thick, saying that there’s no way a beautiful girl could be incompatible with him.  This leads to a somewhat unfortunate screenshot.

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(Um, she’s just clutching him and weeping, honest.)

Lum arrives to hear that Ataru and Mendou are the same sign despite being so different (what happened to the perception from the last episode, Lum?) and proposes to test them for compatibility.  She admits that she’s interested in Mendou, crushing all the girls in the class and hitting Ataru as well.

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As Lum assembles a machine, Mendou chastises her for her cruelty and curses his fate in being so amazing, sounding like a more eloquent version of Cat from Red Dwarf.  Perm and Mendou discuss that Ataru’s out-of-character behavior means he really loves Lum, but he’s actually thinking that if he dumps Lum onto Mendou, he won’t be able to hit on alien babes.

Lum pulls the two to her device, which Ten calls a “horoscope” but is more of an orrery.  Lum points out the centerpiece, her own sign.

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She says she’ll analyze the other signs in relation to her.  Mendou is offended to be compared to Ataru, and tries to sweet-talk Lum but gets electrocuted for his troubles.  Holding up a strange device (no, not the word “Excelsior”), she shrinks the pair down to a couple of inches and puts them on Aries.  Ataru immediately tries to hit on Virgo, but Lum flicks him back before shrinking herself down and interrogating the Ram.  She determines that neither of them are into guys and sends them to Taurus, where Ataru’s consumption of Beefbowl shows his greed.  Mendou jumps onto Gemini (a pair of Dappya aliens), who aren’t pleased and zap him.  The next one should be Cancer, but he skips it for a Chinese New Year parade-looking creature that must be Leo, who confirms his overconfidence.  He moves on to put the moves on Virgo, but Ataru rushes to stop him because he has dibs.  Lum has Sagittarius pepper them with the Arrows of Love, resulting in 6 for Ataru and 7 for Mendou.  The final step is to put them in Libra, where they balance perfectly.

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(She also appears to have borrowed her book from Lightning Lad.) Lum realizes that it comes down to her feelings after all, and throws herself at Ataru.  Shinobu and the other girls can’t accept this, and they ask Ten to shrink them down as well, descending on Mendou en masse.  The boys demand to be put in as well, and their combined weight on Lum’s side breaks the support of the scales and causes the orrery to explode.  A fire truck rushes to the scene to find that the roof has blown up and the students have become constellations.  The end.

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Changes from the manga version: Ten isn’t present.  Gemini are Ultraman and Ultrawoman rather than Dappya aliens (amusing, since the show’s production company also made Ultraman).  The manga chapter ends when Lum chooses Ataru, with one of the boys noting “So if you take away Mendo’s money and power…he becomes Ataru?!” (The manga omits the indicator for the long “O” in Mendou’s name, but I keep it because it’s more accurate and because that’s how the subtitles spell it.)

Summary: This episode has a more standard central element, but revolves around the new dynamics of the previous episode.  It’s also an example of one of the weaker bits of filler at the end; the manga ends with a punch line, while the anime ends with a strange, unresolved situation.  If you ignore that part, it’s a fun episode with more of the character-based material from the previous segment.  It also shows that Lum isn’t likely to seriously reciprocate Mendou’s interest, which is probably for the best.

Next episode: (Finally) introducing Benten!

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