The Urusei Yatsura Viewing Project, part 20: “Sleepy Springtime Classroom”/”Peach-blossom Poetry Contest”

Note: we’re now around 10% of the way through the TV series!

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Episode 20a: “Sleepy Springtime Classroom”

Original airdate: March 17, 1982

Corresponding manga chapter: “Spring Fever”, volume 2, chapter 3 (Viz release)

Minor characters introduced: Shunmin, Manchinro

Summary: The cherry blossoms are still falling, and waft into the classroom, where Kiriyabashi desperately tries to stay awake while teaching math to a largely sleeping classroom.  Not even the matchsticks he’s using to prop his eyelids are enough, though, and he’s soon snoring on the floor.  Mendou is appalled, in a very Sam the Eagle-like way, even though he, too, feels the draw to the arms of Hypnos.  The sight of Ataru reading intently gives him added incentive, and he slurps down a six-pack of energy drinks;  he might be less driven if he knew that Ataru’s secret is the girlie mag hidden in his textbook

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Outside on a cherry tree branch, an adorable, tiny pink-haired spirit in Chinese costume (Shunmin) is casting a sleep spell on the classroom.  She pauses for a smoke break, and her teacher appears and berates her, telling her that if she doesn’t put the whole class to sleep, she can’t become a spirit second class.  Shunmin resumes, although the two exchange insults under their breaths.

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Ataru is interrupted and, in a panic, attempts to justify his magazine reading, but it turns out to be Lum, who wants to go flower viewing with him.  Mendou walks over and passes a remark about the girlie mag, and Ataru explains that this classroom always experiences “class hypnosis” at this time of year.  Lum overhears the teacher, Manchinro, berating Shunmin, and flies out to take a look.  Distraught at being seen, Shunmin decides to take the direct approach, flying into the classroom on a cloud and trying to knock out the boys using tiny mallets.  This is as effective as it sounds.

We cut to Manchinro explaining that making the class fall asleep each year is a makeup test for spirits who failed their exams.  Mendou openly scoffs, saying he doesn’t believe in spirits and they must be an illusion.  Manchiro steps up to try to knock him out, but Mendou outmaneuvers him by pulling out a mirror to reflect the effect.  Ataru tries to join in by waving a coin on a string, and Manchiro becomes fed up, whispering a shocking new strategy to Shunmin.

It turns out to be an apology party over Shunmin’s rudeness, which Ataru is instantly enthusiastic for, but Mendou and Lum are suspicious that this will be an excuse to slip them a Mickey.  In the meantime, Ataru has rearranged the classroom, putting the boys and girls in separate heaps.  The spirits produce decorations and sake, and urge them to drink up.  Lum produces a chemical that will change color in the presence of sleeping potion, which prompts a response from Mendou that you can write your own punchline to:

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The spirits pour vast quantities of powder in the sake, then offer a bowl to Ataru.  He’s eager to drink up, but Lum stops him and drops the chemical in.  It doesn’t change color, but Mendou is still suspicious and decides to pour his into his handkerchief instead…until Ataru slaps him on the back.  Manchinro urges Shunmin to amp up the party atmosphere, which is right up her alley.  She grows to human size and changes her appearance slightly.

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She pours more sake for the boys, who are now wearing court garb for some reason (Ataru has a Fu Manchu mustache), and Manchinro starts drinking as well.  Mendou is still trepidatious, until Ataru slaps him on the back, sending enough sake down his throat to release his inhibitions.  He and Mendou get up and dance like there’s nobody watching.  Shunmin is confused that drinking more makes them more energetic, not less.  Lum tries to separate Ataru and Shunmin but falls backwards onto Mendou instead.  The girls launch into the air (there are clouds, even though they’re still in the classroom), Ataru clinging to Shunmin’s legs and Mendou to Lum’s, and Lum asks what was in that sake.  Shunmin lists the ingredients and realizes that she made a stimulant, not a soporific.

Shunmin changes back to her normal form, dropping Ataru to the ground, and seizes Manchinro, threatening to go public with this humiliating story if he doesn’t promote her immediately.  He drunkenly agrees, and they shoot out the window, Lum shouting that the place is still a mess.

Cut to the principal and the PTA walking down the hallway, preparing for a surprise inspection of the flunking class.  The principal assures them that there’s nothing to worry about, but privately the fact that this is Ataru’s classroom gives him pause.  And rightly so, as they open the door to the sight of a room decorated for a party, with all the students asleep except for Mendou chasing Lum and Ataru chasing Shinobu.  Lum electrocutes the other three as we fade to black.

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Changes from the manga version: There are only superficial changes: Shunmin and Lum don’t launch into the air when the boys grab them, and at the end it’s the superintendent, not the PTA.

Thoughts: We’re still in spring here, with another cherry blossom episode (also in the next segment). (The cherry blossom season isn’t actually that long, but they’ve run three years’ worth of spring chapters in a row.) Despite the date, we don’t get a St. Patrick’s day episode, for tolerably obvious reasons.

This is the first outright supernatural episode we’ve had in a while (and the first one since Mendou appeared, making his skepticism seem sort of reasonable).  The supernatural has been part of the series since the second chapter of the manga, but it’s taken second place to the aliens, in part by taking Japanese legends and making them science fiction rather than fantasy, as Lum put it.  It doesn’t go away, but it remains a secondary theme.

This is the closest adaptation of the manga to the anime we’ve seen yet–apart from minor points like having Kiriyabashi rather than Onsen-Mark, the dialogue is pretty much phrase-for-phrase the same (not word-for-word, since they’re different translations, but the intent is clearly the same).  The ending does show how a final panel fadeout plays differently on the page, where it’s all one tableau, to the moment-by-moment replay in the anime.

Episode 20b: “Peach-blossom Poetry Contest”

Original airdate: March 17, 1982

Corresponding manga chapter: “Peachy Poems”, chapter 6, chapter 1 (Viz release)

Minor characters introduced: Peach Spirit, Wizard of Poetry

Summary: Mendou’s voice-over tells us about a local legend regarding a Wizard of Poetry, who used a Peach Spirit to lure men into poetry contests and then eat them (turning into a giant first, to be fair).  We return to the present, with a cherry blossom viewing party consisting of Mendou, Ataru, Cherry, Sakura, Shinobu, Ran, Lum, and Ten.  All are dressed in traditional garb, except Ten.  Mendou waxes poetic about how the flowers made people wax poetic, but Ataru isn’t impressed, laying out a picnic blanket and a vast quantity of junk food.

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From another blanket, the rest of the group tries to get to the true purpose of the trip, reciting poetry.  Sakura starts, but is continually distracted by Ataru’s loud eating and Philistine nature.  He asks where the music is, and he and Mendou engage in a who’s-on-first routine around “waka” (a type of poem or song) and “baka” (idiot).  Cherry starts reciting a poem about peach blossoms, and the faint image of a woman appears, to Ataru’s great excitement.  Sakura speculates that it’s the Peach Spirit, and suggests that Cherry finish the poem to see if she materializes fully.  He tries, but can’t remember more than a couple of lines, and the woman disappears.

Ataru begs someone else to recite a poem, and Mendou agrees.  He recites a short poem, the Peach Spirit materializes, and Ataru instantly grabs her, sticks her under his arm, and vanishes over the horizon, leaving the others agog.  The others give chase, while Ataru comes to rest in a clearing, assuring the spirit that she’s safe, although she feels otherwise.  As the others arrive, a strong wind rises, blowing the spirit around, and the giant figure of Bluto appears.

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The Peach Spirit greets the giant figure.  Cherry and Sakura try to exorcise him, but he informs them that he’s not a ghost, but the Wizard of Poetry.  He gets annoyed when Ataru and Mendou ignore him in favor of the Spirit and Lum, and demands a poetry contest, with him eating the loser.  The Spirit requests a judge, who will not be eaten; everybody immediately volunteers, but she chooses Cherry, as the least appetizing of the lot.  Ataru tries to volunteer Mendou to go first, but gets shoved forward himself.

Ataru’s attempts to flee come to naught, and he launches into a poem to praise the Peach Spirit.  His pose is quite dramatic, but his poem is nonsensical:

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The Peach Spirit is moved, and the Wizard is impressed.  It’s now the Wizard’s turn, and he’ll recite about peach blossoms too.  He can’t get past the words “Peach blossoms…” (a phrase that someone who’s picked up Japanese from anime should be able to follow, “momo no hana) until he starts singing the children’s song about the canary who forgot how to sing, and does a little dance before wandering off.  The Peach Spirit apologizes, noting that he hasn’t recited any poetry in 500 years and has forgotten how, and takes off after him.  Ataru has the last word:

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Changes from the manga version: The setup is different; Mendou set up the party with the intention of summoning the Peach Nymph.  Ataru volunteers to go first, but sings rather than recites; the judges determine that, although unorthodox, singing does qualify, but since Ataru’s singing sucks his song is disqualified.

Thoughts: In keeping the spring episodes together, we’ve leapfrogged forward 4 volumes, which leads to some strangeness.  In particular, it’s odd to see Ran as part of the party, since we last saw her trying to get vengeance on Lum, and their relationship in the anime hasn’t grown to make her feel like a logical part of the group yet.  Given that she has about two lines in the entire episode, they could have cut her without losing much.

This episode helps to explain an oddity of anime.  Note the pose the women are running in when they’re chasing after Ataru (Ran in particular):

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This is a pose you sometimes see women adopt when running in anime: moving from the knees in short. mincing steps, elbows to the body, waving the forearms outwards.  It looks bizarre when they’re wearing street clothes, but we see here its true purpose: it’s the way they’re forced to run when wearing a kimono.  The skirts are too tight to allow much movement in the thighs, and the upper arms are held to the body to keep the sleeves from flapping around.

Ataru is unusually obnoxious in this episode, partially through a combination of his behavior in the original manga (nabbing the Peach Spirit) and new material added here (the loud eating, acting like a coward).  In the manga he does genuinely volunteer to recite first rather than trying to throw Mendou under the bus. (I found the bit in the manga with him singing funny, if somewhat random, particularly the backup singer who appears out of nowhere.)

While the episode contains, not exactly filler material, but at least stretching material, it doesn’t feel out of place even when it’s fairly obvious.  I’m thinking specifically of the added dramatic shots of posing with blossoms flying through the air during the poetry contest: stretching it out heightens the absurd contrast between the characters’ attitudes and their actual behavior.

Next episode: Due to a food mixup, there are two Atarus!

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