Episode 21a: “Duel! Ataru vs. Ataru”
Original airdate: March 24, 1982
Corresponding manga chapter: “Just the Two of Us”, volume 1, chapter 17
Summary: Ataru and Shinobu are walking to school when Shinobu notices something round and tiger-striped sticking out of Ataru’s pocket. It turns out to be a lollipop that Lum made for him, and despite Shinobu urging caution, he consumes it immediately. He enjoys it for about two steps before his face turns red and he does the cartoon character thing of launching into space from a jet of fire from his mouth. Running for water (and trampling a couple of characters in traditional garb that we’re probably supposed to recognize but the notes don’t identify), he spots Cherry praying next to a hole in the ground, a spade, and a manju (sweet bun). After a fierce struggle, Ataru overpowers Cherry and wolfs down the manju. Cherry is appalled to what seems like a disproportionate degree, until he explains:
(You’re a strange little man, Cherry.) Ataru scoffs and walks off, but only gets a short distance before he starts to shake. Cherry employs Deanna Troi-level powers of observation by saying “I sense something!” After some more shaking, Ataru splits, and there are two of him standing side by side. One has his jacket opened, showing his red shirt underneath, while the other has it buttoned neatly. For the sake of simplicity, I’ll refer to them as Ataru-Red and Ataru-Blue.
The pair bickers as they walk home, prompting gossip among the neighbors. Ataru-Red takes an opportunity to flip the skirt of a passing girl, and Ataru-Blue reprimands him for his loose morals. Ataru-Red casts aspersions on the girl’s looks, and the two wind up with faces full of vegetables in one of those weird shots that wind up being used out of context in AMVs.
At the Moroboshi residence, Shinobu is returning Ataru’s book bag. Ten says that Lum probably put too many red peppers in the lollipop, but Lum insists it was just right. Mrs. Moroboshi is inviting Shinobu to stay when the two Atarus enter, to everyone’s shock. Mrs. Moroboshi shiftily closes the curtains and everyone gathers in the living room, like the end of an Agatha Christie mystery. Each of the Atarus insists they’re the original, but no one can tell them apart. Ataru-Blue pleads with Shinobu, saying he’ll leave Lum, go to a good school, and marry her. Ataru-Red similarly says that he’ll Shinobu and stay with Lum. Unsurprisingly, each girl thinks that hers is the real one, and Mrs. Moroboshi gets to use her catchphrase, “Oh, I never should have had him!”
Ten enters with Cherry in tow, and after taking a refrigerator to the face, explains that the lollipop and manju were incompatible foods, like eel and sour plums or orange juice and toothpaste. Mrs. Moroboshi insists that Cherry restore them, but both want to stay separate and remain with the girl of their choice. Cut to Mr. Moroboshi returning from a hard day’s work to see Lum’s UFO hovering over his roof. He heads to Ataru’s room, where Ataru-Red is loading his belongings onto the UFO (except the textbooks). This is too much for his father’s overheated brain.
Cherry pulls Mrs. Moroboshi aside and gives her a potion for Ataru to ingest. She takes it with an incredibly shifty expression, and with the same expression asks Ataru-Red to stay for a last dinner before leaving. (Her terrible poker face is matched by the others’ lack of observation skills.) At dinner, Mr. Moroboshi wishes that they could let the bad Ataru go and keep the good one, but Mrs. Moroboshi says that it’s the original Ataru she loves, idiot though he be.
Despite Ataru-Red scarfing his food and Ataru-Blue eating it politely, they finish at the same time, and the adults watch in anticipation as they begin hiccupping. They’re soon drawn to each other as if by magnets, and Cherry explains that the drug in their food will reunite them. This gloating proves premature, as Lum and Shinobu each grab an Ataru and pull, separating them. They somehow wind up with the wrong ones (we can see that the one Shinobu is holding has a buttoned-up jacket, and afterwards both their jackets are half-buttoned; space is weird). The Atarus are unable to hold on, though, and wind up smushed together into a ball.
From their reaction, this appears to be a moment of Cronenburg-esque body horror, and one of them reaches a hand to Lum imploringly. She grabs it and lets out a shock, leaving two unconscious Atarus on the floor. When they wake up, they look the same and speak in synch. Cherry explains that the disruption has left them with their original personalities and two normal bodies. Mrs. Moroboshi asks if this can be fixed, and Cherry bluntly says no. The Moroboshis feel that their house is too small for two Atarus, but neither of them is up for the girls’ solution of splitting up and each going with one of them. Mrs. Moroboshi suggests they step outside and settle it, and the entire neighborhood gathers to watch the Ataru deathmatch as we pan out and fade.
Changes from the manga version: Effectively none, apart from the minor presence of Ten; the plot and the dialogue are the same.
Thoughts: This episode is a jump backwards, as we see from the fact that the original triangle is front and center again. It’s still an amusing story, if not terribly deep, and the fidelity to the original manga is striking. It’s liable to get overlooked due to the second segment, though.
Amusingly, if not for Mrs. Moroboshi the series could have ended right here, with a happy ending for everyone but her. As it is, unlike some of the other stories with ambiguous endings, this one has a much easier mundane solution than, say, the characters getting stuck in the sky as constellations; it’s not hard to believe that one of the duplicates wound up in the cornfield. (For those of a tender disposition, he went to live on a farm in Aomori where he could run around and chase girls.)
Episode 21b: “Wake Up to a Nightmare”
Original airdate: March 24, 1982
Corresponding manga chapter: “Waking to a Nightmare”, volume 2, chapter 9
Minor characters introduced: Mujaki and his baku
Summary: The class officers are having a meeting, which is being run by Vice-President Mendou because President Ataru is sound asleep with his head in Lum’s lap. Mendou is annoyed that Ataru is talking back to him in his sleep, but Lum says he can’t help it because she and Darling were up all night. Mendou and Shinobu are instantly appalled, but Lum whispers to them that they were playing Hanafuda and Ataru wouldn’t give up until he won a game.
In his dreams, Ataru is wearing Chinese clothes and running through a sticky lake in what appears to be a low-rent section of the Yellow Submarine universe.
He’s rescued via rope by a panther-man wearing Yogi Bear’s vest and tie, who asks him to be a fourth for Mah Jongg. Ataru doesn’t particularly want to join the others (a robot and a one-eyed Yakuza cat), but the panther insists, since he did save Ataru from “The Sticky Hell”. He soon loses his shirt, literally, and mutters in his sleep about it, which Lum interprets as being about their Hanafuda game.
Despite Lum’s comment about being with Darling in his dreams, dream-Ataru returns to the one-room hovel that he shares with his wife, Shinobu. (Dream-Ataru is surprisingly buff, by the way.) Even though their debts are due that day, Shinobu is of good cheer, having made Ataru oyaku (rice porridge). He’s unable to eat it, though, because the roof breaks away to reveal the debt collector, Mendou, riding on a goofy-looking version of a Chinese dragon that will be familiar to anyone who’s watched Dragon Ball. He snares Shinobu with a fishhook and announces he’ll take her as payment for their debts, and overcomes her with his looks.
Mendou is not pleased when Ataru curses him out as a thief and liar both in the dream and in real life, but Lum shushes him since Darling is sleeping. In the dream, the dragon flies away, but Ataru pursues on a bicycle (in the sky). Ataru is about to catch up when a giant fork winds the dragon up like a noodle. It’s being wielded by a giant tapir, who eats the dragon, while a strange man riding on his head encourages him to eat up. They shrink to normal size, and the man introduces himself as Mujaki, and the tapir as his Baku.
(Baku refers to a class of creatures, but Mujaki may be using it as a name as well, or it might just be translator confusion.)
Mujaki asks him to have another nightmare, since the Baku gets hungry quickly, but Ataru insists that they owe him a good dream in exchange. Mujaki confers with the Baku, and they agree to give Ataru a good dream in the form of a dream egg. The dreams all sound good at first but have bad endings (eating a mushroom and laughing to death, winning the lottery and being hit by a car on the way to the bank). We see a series of Mujaki offering him dreams while being increasingly roughed up, until Ataru finally complains about the litany of nightmares and demands a harem.
Hey presto, Ataru is in a harem full of scantily-clad women, including Lum. He calls for food (really? That’s your first thought?) and is brought oyaku. He’s displeased by that but pleased to discover that the servant bringing it is Mendou. Mendou hears him talking about it and is finally pushed too far, bringing out the ancestral sword of the Mendou Clan (which was only available in Imperial Edition starters).
Ataru responds to the challenge, but in his dream, where he and Mendou are dueling with statues of a lucky cat and a tanuki. In real life, Megane is trying to wake Ataru while Mendou tries and fails to draw the sword. Dream-Ataru and Mendou’s duel is interrupted as the Baku charges in, first eating the scenery and then vacuuming up the entire dream. Ataru and Mujaki berate it, and it runs away. Mujaki chases after it, saying there will be trouble if they don’t catch it before Ataru wakes.
Ataru’s classmates are doing their best, and the dreamscape is suddenly flooded with light.
There ensues an epic struggle between Megane in the waking world and Ataru inside his own head (while Mendou keeps trying to draw his sword). Mujaki and the Baku burst from Ataru’s eye into the real world. Mujaki wails that he can’t go back and begs the students for a job, while the Baku bites Mendou’s sword in half and Ataru falls asleep again.
Changes from the manga version: Really none except in the storytelling (there are random scenery changes between panels in the manga while the anime keeps the same background, for example, and the Mah Jongg sequence is a bit more disjointed). The joke of Mendou not being able to draw his sword is original to the anime.
Thoughts: In and of itself, this is a fairly standard episode in which Ataru stumbles over the supernatural and it all goes agley. However, it’s very significant for the series in that it inspired an upcoming story that showed the series could be art, and had a strong influence on the series from that point on (for better and worse). I won’t go into more detail in order to avoid spoilers, but rest assured I’ll point it out when we reach it.
This episode does presage a trend in the anime in particular, even though it’s taking its lead from the manga. The switch to full-length stories leads to manga chapters being extended, and that sometimes meant running around in surreal situations. Imagine if this segment had ten more minutes of Ataru running into weird things in the dreamscape before Mujaki shows up, and you have the idea.
From a character perspective, it’s interesting that it’s Shinobu Ataru dreams of being married to, while Lum only shows up briefly as part of the harem. Shinobu’s relative prominence marks this as an early-ish story; most of the chapters from the first few volumes have been adapted by now. (I should mention that the first Viz collection is unusually long, so the volume numbers don’t correspond to the Japanese release.)
This episode is the last one in the original format; from this point onward it’s full-length stories. That will mean one plot per recap but more material in the “changes from the manga” section. (Perhaps poor timing coming on the heels of the two segments that are closest to the manga, but this was also the last screenplay written by Akira Nakahara in any event.)
Next episode: An hour-long special! With a ninja girl!