The Urusei Yatsura Viewing Project, part 43: “The Terror of Meow”

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Episode 43: “The Terror of Meow”

Original airdate: September 22, 1982

Corresponding manga chapter: “‘Meow’ Means Fear!”, volume 6, chapter 3 (Viz release)/volume 8, chapter 4 (Japanese tankobon release)/overall chapter 73

Minor characters introduced: Misuzu, Torajima

Summary: It’s a moonlit night, and the courting cats are singing a lustful symphony that’s keeping Ten awake.  Ataru explains that it’s just something they have to put up with twice a year, although Lum would be happy if Ataru could limit his flirting to that seldom.  Ataru is philosophical about the whole thing, but Ten reaches his limit and goes up to have words with them.  Lum tries to stop him, but Ataru is eager to see him learn a life lesson the hard way.  This happens almost immediately, as a cat bounces off Ten’s face and scratches him up before running off.  This is the least of his problems, though, as he soon comes face-to-face with one bad mother–

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Just talkin’ about Torajima (“tiger stripes”), who may also be angry because Ten is wearing one of his relatives.  He knocks Ten to the roof with one swipe of his mighty paw, but he’s picked up and consoled by a beautiful white cat-woman.  She offers to take away the pain of his wounds by licking them, which Ten accepts (due, no doubt, to unfamiliarity with cat tongues).

Torajima pulls out a cat-skeleton bouquet, but the cat-woman spurns his advances, not for the first time.  As he’s mourning his rejection, Ataru and Lum climb up to the roof, and Ataru goes from “I told you so” to full-on letch mode in .9 seconds.  Lum chews him out for lusting after a cat, but Ataru explains that she must be human, because he’s attracted to her and he’s not a sicko or anything, and anyway Lum isn’t human either.  The cat-woman says she’ll tell them her story, which she’s never told before because it’s terrifying.  Everyone nervously goes off to the bathroom, then comes back and settles in with snacks to listen, while the cat that hangs out with Cherry wanders by.

She explains that once she had a white cat named “Yuki”.  The girl was sickly (possibly from spending too much time as a gossip-monger in Utena) and spent a lot of time in the hospital, where Yuki accompanied her.

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She wished that she could be as free as Yuki, and one day Yuki answered, telling Misuzu (as that is her name) that she wanted to be human.  As their wishes were the same, Yuki moved into her body, and she became what you now see before you.  She (and Torajima) are overcome by this tale of woe, and they ask if there’s anything they can do.  Cherry takes that moment to pop in, explaining that the cat told him what was going on, and charges Misuzu with his ring-staff.  Ataru stops him, and they use the commercial break to fill Cherry in on the backstory.

Torajima explains (he talks, sort of) that he still loves Misuzu, and for his sake Cherry agrees (leaning in to tell her not to be afraid, which is the most terrifying thing so far).  The noise wakes Ataru’s parents up, but they can’t be arsed and go back to sleep.  Cherry explains that the those who love her (human or cat) need to fight, then the winner will jump to the ground, spin around while meowing, then climb back to the roof again and kiss her.  Ataru isn’t sure, so Misuzu shows them a photo of her and Yuki.

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Ataru, Ten and Torajima instantly leap into fighting stance, and Cherry declares himself referee.  Lum tries to talk the boys out of it, pointing out that Torajima is currently 85-0 by TKO.  Ataru and Ten decide to gang up on him, but he calls in help in the form of an enormous horde of neighborhood cats, some of them quite strangely drawn.

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Lum begs for sanity, but no one can back out at this point, and a mighty combat ensues (which we see mainly from the vantage point of his sleeping parents’ bedroom) until a tattered Ataru and Ten stand victorious among a circle of unconscious cats.  Ten attempts to scorch Torajima, but he’s out of fire, and Torajima cuffs him aside.  Ataru tears off his shirt, and it turns into a parody of classic boxing series Ashita no Joe.

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Ataru is pounded six ways from Sunday by Torajima, but he rallies and the two trade blows, until they both launch into the ultimate counterblow, each leaping in to punch the other.  The fact that Ataru’s arms are as long as Torajima’s entire body works to his advantage, and Torajima is KO’d.

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Ataru embraces Lum, then jumps to the ground, meows, and scrambles back up the wall, landing the kiss on Misuzu.  A flash of light bursts forth, and Misuzu is revealed in her true beauty.

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She points out that she tried to explain that it was a picture of her from years ago, but they kept interrupting her.  The boys are shocked, the cats wander off, and Lum goes off in disgust to sleep in her UFO.

Changes from the manga version: The plot’s the same, but with a less extended fight sequence.  At the end Misuzu says that the photo was of her granddaughter, but I don’t know if that’s a difference in the formats or just the translation.

Thoughts: So I’ve been saying that I was going to go into more detail about Mamoru Oshii, and this is the perfect episode to do it, since this is the first episode that he wrote, storyboarded, and directed.

Oshii started working in anime in 1977, but Urusei Yatsura was the series that brought him into the spotlight.  He’s the one who’s most responsible for the shift from a straight gag-based adaptation of the manga to the introduction of more serious, artistic and introspective themes.  The second UY movie, Beautiful Dreamer, was the epitome of his style, and had a significant impact on the direction of the anime.

Following UY, Oshii went on to work on series such as Patlabor. (Aside: I and some of my friends have our names in the acknowledgements section of the revised DVDs of the Patlabor movies; remind me to explain why that’s ironic sometimes).  His magnum opus, and the work of his most people will have heard of, was 1995’s Ghost in the Shell.

This episode is the best one yet for pointing out signature Oshii moments.  The unusual visual style of the flashback sequence is a particular standout: the depiction of Yuki’s face in silhouette is from the manga, but the framing and the statue-like people are pure Oshii.  (In later episodes, the flashback would have taken up more of the episode.) I can’t say the bizarre cat faces are particularly his style, but as director he’d have approved them, at least.  The boxing parody isn’t specifically Oshiiesque in that he doesn’t regularly parody other series, but it is a good example of well-done episode extension; it adds an extra layer of humor and doesn’t feel tacked-on.

Next episode: Lum is gone!

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