Episode 28: “Lum’s Boy’s Education Lecture Course”
Original airdate: May 19, 1982
Corresponding manga chapter: “Down the Right Path”, volum 7, chapter 3 (Viz release)
Summary: Lum enters Ataru’s bedroom and walks in on him telling his fortune with playing cards. He’s excited to see the ace of hearts and heads out of the house, repeatedly telling Lum not to follow him. She comes upon Mrs. Moroboshi, who shows her photos of Ataru as a child, many of them involving pants-wetting. Suddenly the Plot Advancement Theater show comes on the TV, with a program explaining that a sparrow trained as a chick will stay put and not leave its cave, while an adult sparrow will fly away given the opportunity. You can practically see the gears turning in Lum’s head as she cross-pollinates these ideas.
Heading back to the bedroom, she pulls out a small time travel device, which she places on a mug of tea to create a portal to the nearby vacant lot, ten years ago. She grabs a rucksack and swims through a tea-time portal, arriving to the sight of Cherry cooking a meal. He looks exactly the same, so she’s not sure if it actually worked, until she sees Sakura in her school uniform.
(Cherry notes that she’s in poor health and needs to eat, a nice callback to earlier episodes.) Lum flies away unseen to Ataru’s elementary school, but can’t tell which of a horde of either unobservant or jaded children (no one comments on the half-naked, green-haired flying lady?) until she sees one boy lagging behind the rest, unable to remember the lyrics to a song for preschoolers. This can only be Darling, and Lum reaches into her rucksack to pull out a doll of herself. When she looks up, he’s disappeared.
We see him following two teenage girls. One of them engages him despite the other’s warnings, and he grabs onto her skirt, not letting go no matter what she does. The other one explains that he’s known as the “snapping-turtle first grader”, and won’t give up unless distracted. She lures Ataru away with an ice cream cone. Lum, dismayed by his behavior, flies down to him but is interrupted by the arrival of young Shinobu, still wearing the dress she wore for half the first season.
They go to play house in the vacant lot, during which Ataru starts to undress and nearly eats a mud pie, needing to be told both times that he just needs to pretend. Lum sneaks up and attaches the doll of herself to the back of Ataru’s head, while Shinobu orders her away. She asks Ataru to come play with her, but Shinobu lures him back with the offer of candy. Ataru reaches for it and says he likes Shinobu, only to be shocked by a blast of electricity emanating from the doll. Lum warns him that if he touches any other woman, that’s what he’ll get (which may cause problems with his mother).
In the present, Ataru returns home, and with a mother’s intuition Mrs. Moroboshi divines that he’s been unsuccessful in his pursuit of girls.
He enters his room, seeing that Lum is gone, and is sucked through the tea mug into the past. Elsewhere, Lum explains how the doll works to past Ataru, and buys him an ice cream cone, only for him to be shocked when he touches the saleswoman. Present Ataru sees Lum with his past self but doesn’t recognize himself, so he surreptitiously follows them.
Past Ataru runs across Sakura and is zapped for the third time. While soothing him, Lum refers to him as “Darling”, to present Ataru’s great confusion. Lum explains conditioning in some detail (although doesn’t make the difference between positive and negative conditioning clear), and present Ataru finally figures it out. He’s waiting for Lum when she returns to the vacant lot and insists she take the doll off, and when she refuses, he threatens to return to the present and smash the mug. She says that’ll leave her there to condition Ataru for ten years, and after some back-and-forth over the grandfather paradox, present Ataru tries to grab the doll and Lum flies off with past Ataru. Shinobu returns looking for past Ataru, and doesn’t believe present Ataru when he identifies himself. A lightbulb goes off, and he asks to borrow Shinobu’s doll, but she refuses. He chases her and proves that he can outmaneuver a six-year-old, grabbing the doll and running off.
Lum and past Ataru are in a garden on the roof of a mall, past Ataru repeatedly chasing girls and getting zapped.
Present Ataru admires his young self, and approaches Lum, apologizing and saying that she may have the right idea. In the course of the apology, he swaps dolls. We cut back to Shinobu, crying over her doll, and the young Stormtroopers coming to see what’s wrong. She points out present Ataru, and the Stormtroopers give chase. Present Ataru has somehow managed to attach the doll to his own head, and when Shinobu joins them to demand her doll, he touches her in the course of explaining and is electrocuted.
Back at the garden, Lum extracts a promise not to chase, and past Ataru agrees, only to vanish behind a planter and reappear pursuing two girls. Lum facepalms, then realizes what’s happened and takes off to locate Darling. The sight of a lightning bolt leads her to present Ataru, who’s still hitting on girls and getting shocked. She yells at him, he demands she take the doll off, she refuses and takes off, and he pursues. Cut to the Moroboshis looking at their home, so new that it literally sparkles. They decide to get a photo of themselves in front of the house, and hand the camera to a passing Cherry. Lum and Ataru run past as the picture is taken.
Lum says she’ll take the doll off, and blasts it, causing it to explode and propel him through a fence, in an improbable position. Lum is relieved that he’s all right, and hugs him, electrocuting him in the process. Mr. Moroboshi remarks that they shouldn’t raise Ataru to be like those kids, and Cherry replies that it’s fate.
Ataru and Lum return to the present, and Lum says that she’s halfway given up on Ataru, but he was a cute kid. She pulls out the photo album, and notices that the photo of the Moroboshis in front of the house, which she’d seen before, now has Lum and Ataru in it.
Changes from the manga version: The story’s the same until the point when Ataru travels back in the anime. In the manga, he doesn’t travel back; instead, young Ataru overloads the doll from overuse, and his mother arrives to take him away, echoing her words to him from the present.
Thoughts: This is a cute story, if not a wall-to-wall laughfest. The extension to the manga story fits well, although there are a couple of moments that feel stretched (such as the amount of time it takes Lum to travel back in time and fly to the school).
It’s interesting to see the interaction of young Ataru and Shinobu, because seeing them as childhood friends puts their future relationship into some perspective. It’s hard to imagine Ataru asking her on a date, her accepting, and them becoming an official couple. The idea of young Shinobu deciding that they’ll get married someday, him going along with it, and them sort of becoming a couple by default makes a good deal more sense. (As does Shinobu stubbornly sticking with it despite all the indications that it would be a bad idea.) They’d probably be a couple like Ataru’s parents, a domestic partnership rather than a deep love match.
Present Ataru refers to himself as being seventeen at some point in this episode, which I don’t buy (unless he started counting from 1, like the license plate on the cover of Abbey Road). He and his classmates don’t feel like seventeen-year-olds, and the young versions don’t feel like seven-year-olds (and seven is old to be in the first grade anyway). Six and sixteen, or even five and fifteen, feel more appropriate.
The question of whether the doll would electrocute Ataru if he touched his mother doesn’t really come up in the manga as it does in the anime. It’s not 100% clear if it’s triggered by flirting or just physical contact with a female other than Lum. It does go off when teen Ataru touches child Shinobu, and there’s no intent to flirt there, thank goodness.
This is the episode where we finally learn the names of the Stormtroopers besides Megane (in such a way that it makes me wonder if Ataru meeting them was a deliberate introduction scene). (For the record, Perm and Kakugari are named after their hairstyles and Chibi means “small”.)
I think this is the first episode where we see clearly the problem with Lum’s approach to Ataru: the fact that she shocks him both when she’s angry and when she’s happy. (We’ve seen her do one or the other, but I don’t think they’ve been in the same episode before.) She doesn’t seem to realize she’s doing it, and it’s one of the big barriers to their developing a sensible relationship. I do like that we’ve been seeing the more mature Lum lately; she’s more laid-back about her relationship rather than being shrewish, and she’s more observant about things like Ataru’s behavior. (Her facepalm in this episode is a nice moment.)
Next episode: Ataru and Ten compete for the affections of a flower seller!