The Urusei Yatsura Viewing Project, part 15: “The Great Spring War”/”The Benten Gang’s Return Match”

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Episode 15a: “The Great Spring War”

Original airdate: 2/3/1982

Corresponding manga chapter: “Take Me Home”, volume 1, chapter 8

Major character introduced: Benten

Minor characters introduced: The remaining 6 Gods of Luck, assorted Oni

Summary: Ataru returns home to find Cherry waiting in the entryway.  He’s initially annoyed, but changes his tune when Cherry says he’s come to say good-bye.  Without letting him finish, he runs to his mother to celebrate Cherry’s presumed departure, and his mother says that she’s making sukiyaki for dinner.  Ataru gives him the bum’s rush without hearing him out, and runs upstairs to discover this:

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Lum drags him into the sky as Cherry says farewell.  She explains that she’s taking him to her homeworld to celebrate Setsubun, the Changing of Seasons festival, which is celebrated earlier than on Earth because of the difference in time zones (one of my favorite jokes in the episode).  Ataru mourns his lost sukiyaki and asks what Oni do at Setsubun, since the Japanese tradition is to drive them away by throwing beans at them.  Lum replies that they fight fiercely, not run, and Ataru says that as a human he won’t run either.

On Lum’s homeworld, her father waits for her amidst a group of other Oni.  Arrayed against them are a variety of characters based on the Seven Lucky Gods, or at least juvenile delinquent versions thereof.

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Lum arrives and she, Ten and Ataru join the Oni side.  Mr. Invader says that he’ll back up Ataru, but Ataru is worried about taking a spiked ball to the face and tries to sneak away while the Gods trash-talk them.  His panic is taken for pre-battle excitement.

Meanwhile, back on Earth, Ataru’s parents ponder his absence while eating sukiyaki.

The battle begins, and Mr. Invader carries Ataru into the fray, only for him to discover that the battle is a scaled-up version of “Fill-Up-The-Basket”, a game played at Japanese high school sports days.

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He’s considerably less impressed until he sees the woman on the left, and charges through the Gods’ side to climb up the statue toward her, unbalancing the scale to her side.  Ten dumps an armful of balls into Lum’s side, sliding Ataru back toward the center.

Meanwhile, back on Earth, the Moroboshis think they hear Ataru’s voice, and feel guilty that he’s come back as a ghost to haunt him while they didn’t leave him any sukiyaki.  Cherry arrives and convinces them to break Ataru’s ties to the world by eating sukiyaki in front of the family altar, while trying to conceal his drooling.

Ataru makes it back to Benten’s side, so Rei flies up to the other side to balance.  Ataru moves closer to Benten, assuring her that he’s getting a divorce any day now, until Rei turns into his tiger-cow form and knocks them toward the points above the baskets.  The ball Ataru is holding touches the point and explodes, and Benten explains that that’s what is meant to happen.  He runs back and forth while Lum gives him encouragement.

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He jumps onto Rei’s head and they run around until Rei gets vertigo and falls off.  Ataru runs toward Benten and hits on her.  Lum jumps up and down on her side, sending Benten’s side upward and sliding Ataru and the basket of balls sliding toward Lum’s side.  The Gods wrap a chain around their end and pull it downwards, and Lum gets fed up and slams her basket into Ataru’s, leaving him stuck between two baskets as they approach the point.  The inevitable explosion occurs.

Meanwhile, back on Earth, Cherry gets up and tries to leave, stuffed, until Mrs. Moroboshi stops him at knifepoint.  Cherry turns to a conveniently placed mandala and summons up a vision of Ataru, lying trembling in a pile of smoking rubble and surrounded by Benten and the Invader family.

Changes from the manga version: Apart from Ten not being included, the main difference in the manga is that the balls aren’t explosive; instead, the Gods’ team wins and Ataru is chosen as the official scapegoat, with a final image of him being suspended in the air as the Oni throw beans at him to drive out the bad luck.

Thoughts: As the structure of this one shows, we’ve jumped backwards again; Cherry has a bigger role, and we’re seeing a Japanese tradition translated onto an alien planet. (I’m not sure if Lum’s planet has an official name, although I’ve heard it called “Planet Oni” in other material.  I’ll call it out if a name is ever given in the show.) We meet Benten for the first time, but don’t learn much about her except that she doesn’t seem to mind Ataru flirting with her.  I’ll say more about her after the next segment.

This is another Japanese culture episode, but while prior knowledge makes some of the jokes funnier (the Lucky Gods usually don’t look that rough and tough) it’s not essential to enjoying the episode.  It’s entertaining but not terribly deep, as fits the part of the manga it was taken from. (I did think the manga had more of an actual punchline than the anime.)

Note that this episode aired on Setsubun, which probably explains why it took this long to adapt these fairly early chapters.  As is not uncommon on TV, the episodes roughly correspond to the time of year they’re aired, which is less true in the manga. (The manga chapter that became the beginning of the Christmas episode wasn’t Christmas-themed originally.) It makes sense to preserve the idea of the year progressing chronologically, although there can be occasional bobbles (Maria Watches Over Us aired a Valentine’s episode before a Christmas episode so one of them could air near the corresponding holiday).  In the manga, these chapters take place a year apart rather than back-to-back, leading to the addition of the line about time zones.

Episode 15b: “The Benten Gang’s Return Match”

Original airdate: 2/3/1982

Corresponding manga chapter: “Hunting Demons with a Pea Shooter”, volume 4, chapter 7 (Viz release)

Minor characters introduced: Benten’s gang

Summary: Ataru waits mysteriously in the woods, wearing a trenchcoat and sunglasses.  Shinobu joins him carrying something in a bag, and they talk mysteriously about tomorrow.  Cherry is watching while disguised in leaves, and predicts a new high (low?) of misfortune.

Outside the Moroboshi’s house, the mysterious object is revealed to be a box of beans.  Setsubun is their one chance to cast the Oni from their life, but as they charge into the house, Lum and Ten reveal that in Soviet Setsubun, Oni throw beans at you.  Mrs. Moroboshi had told Lum that throwing beans at Darling would stop his flirting, which Shinobu takes to heart (my other favorite joke in the episode).

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Ataru gets annoyed with Shinobu throwing beans at him and winds up wearing the box, and Lum follows up by chasing him for being with Shinobu.  She’s chasing him down the street, beans flying, when a vortex in the clouds disgorges Benten on her motorcycle.  She’s come to see Earth Setsubun to relieve her bordeom.  Ataru gets fresh (literally purring), Lum goes after him as usual, and Benten comes to his defense.  Lum gets zappy-zappy, Ataru grabs Benten and shocks her as well, and Benten isn’t impressed by Lum’s protests that she was only trying to electrocute Darling.

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She shouts “Come on, baby!” in fairly good English, and the vortex disgorges the rest of her motorcycle gang, the daughters of the other six Lucky Gods.  In a possible first for the series, they respond positively to Ataru complimenting their looks, which is the last straw for Lum.  Ataru defuses the situation by suggesting that they have a Fighting Festival rematch, this time under Earth rules: gods and humans versus Oni.  He explains that all the Oni do is run away and chucks a handful of beans at Lum and Ten, who decide to retreat for now.  Ataru is all for heading off with Benten on her motorcycle, but she can’t stand to leave something unfinished and charges off to find the Oni, followed by her gang.

Lum finds and tries to warn some other Oni, or rather guys in Oni suits, about the upcoming danger.

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She demands they fight, but they just watch the special effects as Lum zaps Ataru when he and Benten arrive.  Benten loads the beans into a machine gun, but the fake Oni finally start acting scary and their attack is unfruitful.  The rest of the gang pick up the fake Oni, who are enjoying the ride until they’re dropped from a great height (fortunately those outfits look like they’re well padded).  They conclude that they’re not paid enough for this and split, leaving Lum and Ten outnumbered four-to-one.  Lum has a solution in mind, though, and while Ten initially protests he winds up agreeing and goes full Gamera on the gang.

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The gang and the Oni each make strategic withdrawals, Lum to her UFO and Benten to call the mothership, specifically to the other Lucky Gods.  The mothership materializes, revealed to be an enormous golden boat which massively dwarfs the UFO.  Lum employs the better part of valor, and the Remaining Lucky Gods remind Benten that it’s past their daughters’ bedtimes and to come home at once, young lady.  She ejects Ataru, reminding him to be nicer to his wife, and bids a cheerful farewell to Lum over the viewscreen.  As we end, Ataru is dangling from a crane, the Gods are back on the ship, and Lum gets the last word:

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Changes from the manga version: As mentioned above, this is set a year after the previous Setsubun story.  Rather than the scene with Shinobu, the chapter begins with Ten’s disappointment that what would have been his first Setsubun is canceled for budgetary reasons.  Ataru is eager to join them when he hears that Benten is there, and proposes the Earth-style Setsubun.  He and Benten are alone, with no gang.  The chapter ends after the Gamera attack, when Ataru falls from the motorcycle and the fake Oni pound him.  Benten is pleased at how much fun the violent customs on Earth are and goes off to tell the whole gang.

Thoughts: This episode has a freer plot due to being based on a later manga chapter, and gives us a much better sense of Benten’s personality.  She’s the second of Lum’s old gang to appear in the anime (after Oyuki), although they don’t come off as particularly close in this one.  At this point in the anime, the contrasts in her personality to other members of the supporting cast are clearer than when she debuted in the manga.  While she does have a temper, most of the time she has an easygoing personality and takes Ataru’s advances with good humor, while making it clear that nothing’s going to happen.  This sets her apart from Lum’s quick temper, Oyuki’s grace, and Kurama’s snark, and she has more connection to Lum than to Ataru.  She’s a fun character.

The changes to the beginning to get around the changes in the first segment (it can’t be Ten’s first Setsubun if the previous chapter, which came out when he hadn’t been introduced in the manga, was his first Setsubun) are a bit odd but don’t hurt anything, and I enjoyed the brief appearance of Shinobu. (She gets increasingly sidelined as the series goes on, so any extra screen time is good, and her role here is mostly fun rather than angry and jealous.) Benten’s gang are an appropriate addition, although they do blur her role among the Lucky Gods somewhat. (She’s clearly a teenager and they’re clearly not, in any version, but it’s not that important.)

Next episode: Introducing a teacher!  Who may be Onsen Mark although it’s hard to be sure because it’s hard to read his character design in the brief preview!

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