Episode 25: “Fly, Imo!”
Original airdate: April 28, 1982
Corresponding manga chapter: “A Flying Start”, volume 2, chapter 11 (Viz release)
Minor character introduced: Imo
Summary: Ataru is hanging out with Perm and Megane in the Biology Club room (which also has a big poster of Lum hanging on the wall), looking into an aquarium full of caterpillars. Megane explains that they grow them into butterflies and sell them as a fundraiser, but Ataru observes that they appear listless. The reason becomes clear when Perm brings them a lettuce leaf; a large white caterpillar jumps out and devours it all. The caterpillar, who they’ve named Ataru, has been eating all the food and starving the others, and Megane and Perm discuss getting rid of it, both because of the cost and because it’s supposedly ugly. (It’s actually kind of cute, in a Mister Man-drawn-by-Walt-Kelly sort of way.) Ataru volunteers to take it, although he nobly refuses to sully its dignity by paying for it, and Megane agrees in a very portentous way.
Back in the classroom, Ataru is showing the caterpillar to Lum, who exclaims over how cute it is. Mendou is disgusted, and freaks out when Lum shows it to him, although he claims it’s because he hates ugly things. Lum feels sorry for its hurt feelings, and Ataru offers it some food to cheer it up, which it rapidly consumes. Ataru tries eating his own lunch, and…at this rate I’m going to have to collect all the smutfic setup lines into one place:
Shinobu and the other girl are disgusted, and Mendou edges out of the room, but Ataru can’t bring himself to dislike it, and it clearly likes him.
Lunchtime comes, and everyone’s lunchboxes are empty. They all look to Ataru, but he protests his innocence, and in completely unrelated news, can’t find his caterpillar, Imo. Mendou opens his lunchbox and finds Imo, who’s grown from the size of a fingertip to an ear of corn. The students try to smash it with brooms and rakes and implements of dee-struction, but it edges away, while Mendou breaks down into what Shinobu calls Total Infant Regression Syndrome. They chase it into Ataru’s arms, and present him with an ultimatum: will he hand it over to be destroyed, or share its fate? Ataru pretends to agree, but tosses Imo to Lum instead. Rather than just fly off with it, Lum tosses it back to Ataru instead, and a chase through the school ensues.
Ataru eventually gets away, as he, Lum and Ten gather behind the gym. They notice that Imo is bruised, and head off to the infirmary just as the Stormtroopers show up around the corner. Perm suggests that they let it go, but Megane goes off on a tirade on absolute justice that ends with his mouth getting stuck open. Meanwhile, Ataru and co. are sneaking through the hallways when they see a cloud of purple gas, a pesticide which Mendou is distributing like an avenging angel.
Ataru and Lum find themselves trapped between Mendou on one side and the Stormtroopers on the other. Ataru tackles Megane while Lum unscrews the pesticide tank, and they escape under cover of the cloud (“the old Pesticide-Cloaking trick”, as Mendou calls it). The pair arrives in the infirmary, where they’re greeted by Sakura, whose makeup and unkempt hair suggests that she’s coming off a long and exciting night. Something about Imo triggers her Shinto Sense, and proclaiming that it isn’t a true caterpillar, she transforms into priestess mode. Ataru steps up to protect it, and Sakura agrees that she won’t hurt it if it isn’t an evil spirit.
She enacts a ritual to reveal Imo’s true self, and the shape of a glowing butterfly appears. The searchers bust in at this point, and before Sakura can tell Ataru what’s really going on, he and Lum are out the window. Mendou wants to pursue, but the Stormtroopers are too busy harassing Sakura. He insists, and they wind up jumping out the second floor window.
Lum and Ataru duck into the biological specimen closet, and their pursuers follow. Ataru shows Imo to Mendou, and he freaks out, but when the Stormtroopers arrive they’ve gone. The searchers leave, and it’s revealed that Lum has been hiding on the ceiling, while Ataru somehow disguised himself using one of those nightmare fuel anatomical dummies, suggesting that he’s either trying to get a date with Sunako from The Wallflower, or he’s cosplaying as Ultra the Multi-Alien.
Outside, Imo is recovering as it eats, and Ataru can’t remember how to take off the costume. They swathe Imo completely in bandages. Ataru’s hit in the head with a soccer ball, and the girl who comes to get it screams when she sees him. Mendou astutely realizes that feminine screams and Ataru are seldom far apart, and they head out to the grounds. Another chase ensues, but the pursuers are able to follow the trail of stunned girls and corner them on the balcony under the clock tower. Ataru defends Imo from their accusations of ugliness, and it’s about to get physical when beams of light emerge from Imo’s wrappings. A swarm of luminous butterflies approaches from the sunset, and Imo emerges from the bandages as a naked, translucent butterfly-winged girl.
She explains that she’s a fairy, and came to the human world to eat lots of food so she could become a full-fledged fairy, suggesting that she’s from Monster Rancher. She adds that was able to become beautiful because Ataru believed in her, and leaves for the fairy world.
Changes from the manga version: The plot is the same, but there’s less chasing, and they don’t go to the infirmary.
Thoughts: This episode doesn’t handle the extension from single chapter to full-length story as gracefully as the previous one; the chase scenes are fairly obvious filler. I was surprised to go back and see how close the episode’s plot was to the manga, though, and at least the filler is plot-relevant.
The attempt at a sentimental ending didn’t work for me, in part because it’s what TV Tropes calls a Broken Aesop. The message is supposed to be that Ataru’s belief in Imo pays off in her physical beauty when she transforms. The trouble is that this places emphasis on physical beauty over character, and caterpillar Imo is a thieving glutton. The manga actually points this out in the last panel:
- Student #1: “She ate our food and ran off without paying.”
- Student #2: “That’s a fairy tale ending?”
- Mendou: “I’m in the wrong story.”
As Bart Simpson put it, “Hey, just cutting through the treacle”. Perhaps it’s that I’m reading it thirty years later, when it’s nigh-impossible to get away with an unironic sentimental ending in a series like this, but the manga’s ending makes the sentimental aspect more palatable because it shows that Takahashi isn’t trying to force a positive message while ignoring the facts. This isn’t “The Ugly Duckling”; Imo isn’t being unfairly judged due to her appearance, she’s being judged primarily on her behavior. This isn’t a terrible episode, but I’d regard it as skippable; it doesn’t advance anyone’s character and doesn’t have too many funny moments.
One other trend that this episode shows well: Megane as scene-stealer. Mendou doesn’t have a big role in the original story, but he’s the only named character in the group of students chasing Ataru. His role is roughly as large here, but Megane gets several big speeches (which, to be fair, are more in character for him than they would have been for Mendou).
Next episode: Ten has fallen for Sakura!