Episode 23: “The Big Springtime Picnic Uproar!”
Original airdate: April 14, 1982
Corresponding manga chapters: “Now Surfacing”, volume 2, chapter 5 (Japanese release); “A-Mazed!”, volume 2, chapter 8 (Viz release)
Minor characters introduced: Kappa
Summary: The hills are alive with the sound of Ataru, as he celebrates being on a school trip without Lum. It goes without saying that she appears immediately, with Ten under her arm. Ataru tries to get Kiriyabashi-sensei to send her home, but he gives her special permission to stay, to the excitement of the Stormtroopers.
Come mealtime, Lum can’t find Ataru. She goes off to look and sends Ten off as well, but he joins a party of girls and disappears for the rest of the episode. Cut to Ataru running through the woods with Shinobu in tow. When he gets to a point he thinks should be safe from Lum, he makes his pitch and is just about to land a kiss when Shinobu’s attention is caught by something in a tree.
Showing a weird sense of priorities, she says she’ll only consider kissing him if he brings it down to her, tells Ataru to hang onto it to show their teacher, then refuses to kiss Ataru because he’s got something gross in his pocket. (There are easier ways to say “no”, Shinobu.)
While they’re playing chasey-chase through the woods, the Stormtroopers are spying on a woman in a hot spring. Ataru and Shinobu stop to discuss whether they’re lost, and Ataru goes for the kiss again. They turn out to be in the same clearing as the Stormtroopers, who turn to watch the new show. Shinobu still doesn’t want to kiss Ataru with the thing in his pocket, but when it comes up, the woman launches herself out of the water; the steam appears to have been kind to her, since up close she looks like Kermit the Frog as drawn by Jules Feiffer.
She throws Ataru in the hot spring, and he emerges in the clutches of an enormous kappa, who invites him to his underwater palace, and disappears back into the spring. They land at the palace, which is surrounded by air, fortunately, and are greeted by normal-sized kappa asking where he’s been for the past six months. (Ataru is trying to swim away despite the lack of water; turtles do the same thing.)
Inside, the head kappa explains to the female kappa and Ataru that he let the bowl of water on his head run empty, dehydrated, and was grabbed by a shrike. The entertainment is doing much for Ataru; the food is all cucumbers, and the floor show consists of sexy dancing kappa, which even Ataru can’t be turned on by. He asks about the princess, who turns out to be the woman from the hot srpings. Ataru demands to go home, and the head kappa sends him back with the gift of a mermaid, definitely more to his liking.
Back on land, Kiriyabashi-sensei is bemoaning the likely loss of his job, Shinobu is doing the widow’s walk and mourning lost opportunities, and the Stormtroopers are just generally unhappy. That’s until Ataru returns with his mermaid, and everyone chews him out, including the just-arrived Lum. We go to commercial amidst a hail of boulders and lightning bolts, if lightning can be said to hail.
When we return, Lum and Ataru are sitting on the grass, Ataru wishing that she’d go home. Kiriyabashi-sensei announces that they have an hour left, so stay close. Mendou shows up and invites Lum to visit a nearby cavern system. Lum says she’ll go if Darling does, and he refuses until Shinobu shows up and the wheels start turning. He suggests they all go, in another of those smutfic setup lines.
As they walk, their inner thoughts show that Mendou wants to be with Lum, Ataru with Shinobu, and Lum with Darling. (Eventually the four of them wound up in a cavern together, but you mustn’t ask how because it’s naughty.) Kakugari and Perm watch them go by, and Perm fulfills his Star Wars quota by saying “I’ve got a bad feeling about this.”
Inside the cave, Ataru pulls Mendou aside and suggests they get separated, since a boy and a girl and the dark and heh heh heh. They find a fork, Mendou turns the flashlight off, and they take their separate paths. Ataru is ready to get busy in the darkness until he discovers that he’s with Lum. Mendou and Shinobu rejoin them, Shinobu hanging around his neck.
They try it again, only this time it turns out to be Ataru and Mendou embracing each other. (We don’t get to see Lum and Shinobu embrace, sadly. Also, Mendou chews out Ataru earlier for not being able to tell Lum and Shinobu apart by the feel of their bodies, but somehow Mendou and Ataru don’t notice until the flashlight goes on, even though they’re both getting a bit ass-grabby.)
Ataru and Mendou stop to ponder the life choices that led them to this moment, then set out to look for the girls. Ataru notices that Mendou is looking edgy, and Mendou explains that he’s afraid of the dark and enclosed spaces, leading to an unmacho freakout. Ataru asks why he wanted to go into a cave, then, and Mendou admits that he’s all right with an attractive girl because he craves feminine attention.
The girls find them at that point, and Mendou snaps back to normal, comforting Shinobu. Ataru decides to try covering the girls’ eyes, and Mendou starts freaking out until they can see him again, to Ataru’s disgust.
Everyone agrees they should go back for food, but no one is sure how to get back. Mendou has a compass, but the needle is spinning uselessly, and Lum says the magnetic field is messed up down here. Ataru spots an open food can, and a whole trail of them leading into a passageway. He checks to see if there’s any food left, and Mendou gets snooty until Ataru starts messing around with him.
After what appears to be a lot of walking, they arrive at a metal wall. Ataru is so eager for food that he manages to run straight through it, and he calls out that there’s a mountain of canned food inside. Shinobu follows but lets out a shriek. Mendou and Lum rush in to see that Shinobu freaked out at the sight of something in a tube, which Ataru didn’t even notice past the food.
Gathering around, they conclude that the spaceship was the cause of the scrambled magnetic fields, and that it put itself into suspended animation after crashing here. Lum says she hasn’t had the food before, but doesn’t think it’s harmful. Mendou initially refuses to eat it, but his hunger leads him to conclude that he owes it to the employees of the Mendou Conglomerate not to starve to death. They are about to eat when a horrible thought occurs to them….
Shinobu spots a can opener at the bottom of a vent, and they search for a magnet and a piece of string to retrieve it. Cut to outside, where we see that it’s on the corner of three girls’ picnic blanket. After some bickering, Lum retrieves the can opener, and the girls spot it going into the hole and hear Ataru’s voice from within.
Inside the UFO, everyone is well-fed, and everyone but Lum is rotund due to the food’s effect on Earth people. They hear Kiriyabashi-sensei calling to them, and realize that the duct leads outside (which they’d have noticed if anything but the can opener had been visible earlier. Ataru tries to squeeze through, but the effect is not unlike Pooh exiting Rabbit’s burrow, and they’re clearly not getting out that way (the possibility of Lum trying it doesn’t come up). Shinobu and Mendou demand that Ataru account for himself, and it ends on a literal blackout gag:
Changes from the manga version: Part 1: Lum is not in this story. Shinobu asks Ataru to get the dried kappa as a clear distraction from unwanted attentions, rather than a random whim. The female kappa appears to be embracing Ataru rather than throwing him directly in the hot springs. After Ataru shows no interesting in the kappa dancing girls, they offer him dancing boys instead. The random students in this chapter are very close to the Stormtroopers in appearance.
Part 2: The only notable change is that Ataru crawls through the duct to get the can opener, making it clearer that they could have escaped that way.
Thoughts: After the highs of the previous two episodes, we’re back to an average one again, and one that feels more like the first season at that. It’s blatantly two different stories stuck together; only the lack of a second title card makes it a single episode. (The Animeigo info card points out that Kitty counts some episodes, including this one, as having two “stories”, even if there’s only one title.) There’s also a large jump backwards in the source material.
The first part was skipped by Viz in their release (the second one we’ve hit to date) and it’s fairly clear why: Lum isn’t in it, and there’s not much to the story beyond “Ataru goes somewhere, gets bored and leaves again”. In the anime, Shinobu’s behavior seems oddly fickle, since she appears to be up for Ataru kissing her before getting distracted; in the manga, it’s clear that fetching the kappa is a diversion. This isn’t a bad segment, but there’s not a lot to it, including a punch line.
The second segment is much better, because it’s funnier and more character driven. It also marks the introduction of two important character elements. The first is the configuration that the series appeared to be heading toward for a while, and would have been the simplest resolution: pairing Ataru/Lum and Mendou/Shinobu. (The boys aren’t on board yet, as this episode shows.)
The second noteworthy new element is Mendou’s phobia. It’s a good addition because it keeps him from being obnoxiously flawless (at least as far as his outward behavior goes), but comes up rarely enough that Ataru can’t use it to undercut him any time he chooses. As this episode shows, his lightning switches of behavior based on whether he’s being watched or not are a great source of humor.
As a side observation, there are a surprising number of flaws in the video early in the episode, making me wonder why it hadn’t been cleaned up more. I didn’t notice any past the initial sequence, but I’m not sure if that’s because they weren’t there or because I had more to look at than just scenery.
Next episode: Earmuffs switch Ataru and Ten’s minds into each others’ bodies!