Episode 50: “The Mendou Siblings!”
A milestone entry! (Sort of.) I’ve hit episode 50, except that the end-of-year special means that it’s entry #51. And I’ve made it 25% of the way through the series, except that I actually did that last episode but forgot to mention. Still, 50 is biiiig and roooound, so we’ll go with celebrating this entry.
Original airdate: November 24, 1982
Corresponding manga chapters: “Mendou Brother and Sister, Part 1-2”, volume 12, chapters 8-9 (Japanese tankobon release)/overall chapters 121-122
Major character introduced: Ryoko Mendou
Summary: Chibi and Perm are walking to school when they’re overtaken by a familiar-looking oxcart led by two Kuroko. [*See Urusei Yatsura episode 16, part 2, True Believers!] Lum and Ten are flying over, and Ten flies down to have a look, discovering that there’s someone inside (which is what I would have assumed about an ox-driven palanquin, but then I’m not an alien). The passenger loses her handkerchief, which blows into Ataru’s face. He declares that it must belong to a great beauty, and goes to return it. She takes his hand, which he notices is cold and smooth. He pulls it out and sees it’s kind of…bony, and freaks out when she emerges.
Back in the classroom, the students are chattering about the visitor. Mendou scoffs at their accounts, but when he hears the key words “oxcart” and “Kuroko”, a cold perspiration bespangles his brow. We move on to lunchtime (Ataru’s appetite has been shaken by the morning’s experience, which explains why he still has it this late). The door opens, and two Kuroko roll in a red carpet in advance of a pretty girl in a kimono. She approaches Mendou, who has a “I was afraid it was you” reaction, and they’re instantly surrounded by the class’s girls, demanding to know who she is.
(See?) The Stormtroopers want to know as well, and the girl says that they’re engaged. The class girls accost Mendou and demand that he say it isn’t so. Mendou yells out to her (her name’s Ryoko), but she’s been accosted by Ataru, who nobly tries to save her from a life of happiness with Mendou. She reveals that she was the girl from that morning, and Ataru faints when she puts the skull mask on. Mendou calls her out for the weeping girls, and it’s revealed that she’s actually his younger sister, who loves practical jokes.
Ryoko explains that she’s here to bring Mendou’s lunchbox. He points out that he has his lunchbox, and it comes out that this is Wednesday, and he forgot it on Monday. Last Monday. Oxcarts travel slowly, you know. Now that she’s here, she asks him to eat it, but not being completely stupid he refuses to eat nine-day-old raw fish. Ryoko is devastated, since she just spent nine days in an oxcart for nothing. Mendou consoles her, feeling bad that she spent that much time for him, but he’s pushed away by Ataru, who’s perfectly willing to throw himself on the stupidity grenade for a pretty girl.
His classmates urge him not to, but he gamely sits down and pulls out his chopsticks. Lum seizes them, but rather than stopping him she offers to feed him.
Ryoko says that she’ll feed him, and it turns into a three-way argument between her, Lum, and Mendou, in which Ataru’s face gets shoved into the bento box several times. Ataru declares his devotion to Ryoko (although he says it’s born out of desperation), even though Lum points out that she’s a Mendou and Mendou points out that he’s low-class scum. Ryoko summons the Kuroko,, who dump Mendou in the cleaning supply closet, and she notes that the Kuroko obey only her.
Ataru declares that they’re like Romeo and Juliet, and she says that he should come visit her in secret. Mendou rocks the closet over and knocks it over on Ataru, triumphantly leaping out to see Ryoko checking on him and Ataru going into noble mode. Mendou swears that Ataru will never set foot on the estate, Lum says she won’t let it happen and punctuates it with electricity, and Ataru is more determined than ever. Watching this, Ryoko muses about something that’s very revealing:
At the Mendou estate, Mr. Mendou (who looks exactly like Mendou with a mustache and pipe) interrogates the siblings about Ataru, and whether Mendou’s tenacity toward women is great than his. (Mrs. Mendou is there as well, but befitting her earlier appearance she remains silent and knits.) Mendou admits defeat in that regard, but demonstrates using 4-bit graphics the various defenses he’s set up, from piranha to an electric fence to Dobermans to minefields. (Hopefully he didn’t release the Dobermans in the minefield.) Mr. Mendou insists that this isn’t sufficient, and authorizes deployment of the private army. The defenses are activated, to a ridiculous degree that includes helicopters, but it proves moot when one of the MIBs escorts Ataru in, since the MIB recognized him. Ryoko quotes a dubious proverb to make a Kuroko-pantomime horse kick Mendou, and sends Ataru away on it in a scene that will be familiar to anyone who knows the classic “Dare to be Stupid” AMV. Mendou switches the troops from defensive to offensive mode.
Ten emerges as they ride away, complaining that Ataru had offered to take him somewhere fun and this didn’t qualify. Ataru assures him that this is where things get interesting, and the appearance of a tank from behind some foliage suggests that he’s correct. The Kuroko leave them, and Ataru runs like mad while Mendou coordinates options from his control center. Someone reports an intruder, and it turns out to be Lum, who’s sucking down voltage from the electric fence like it ain’t no thing. Mendou tells them to escort her off the estate without hurting her.
Meanwhile, Ataru manages to accidentally bring down a helicopter by throwing a hammer and hitting the pilot, but that won’t help him against the dozen or so more that follow it. A Kuroko draws his attention, and they hide in a convenient nearby tunnel. Elsewhere, Mendou explains why he can’t let Ryoko meet up with Ataru, and suggests that he and Lum team up since they have common goals. She agrees, and he offers to shake hands, which is unwise since she’s literally glowing from excess electricity.
The Kuroko finishes the tunnel, from which Ataru emerges only to come face-to-face with several troops. He charges forward, clearing the way by using Ten as a flamethrower. He sees Lum glowing like a beacon in the sky, and follows her, but it’s a trap! He’s face-to-face with Mendou and some MIBs. Mendou orders them to open fire, but Lum objects, since this violates the terms of their agreement. She blasts the MIBs, blowing up their equipment.
Elsewhere on the estate, Ryoko has gone full Juliet and is waiting for her Romeo.
Lum flies after Ataru, asking that he do the sensible thing and come home, but he’s not leaving without seeing Ryoko. This hits a slight snag when Ten points out that he doesn’t know where she is. A Kuroko, speaking through a puppet/mannequin, points out the tower. Lurking in the bushes, Ataru notes the presence of guards, and cuffs Ten when he essentially says “duhhh”. Ten has had it, and sets Ataru aflame. Ataru charges the tower wreathed in fire, only to be hit by the door when a set of guards charge out, and again on the inside when the guards charge back (apparently this door swings both ways–no cheap jokes, now).
Ataru charges up the inside of the tower in a sequence that appears to be a tribute to Castle of Cagliostro, dealing with crumbling steps, lasers, and Indiana Jones-style rolling boulders. Mr. Mendou, who’s been coordinating this from the control center, muses that Ataru really is more determined than Mendou. As Ataru approaches the top, two Kuroko strip him and dress him in a Romeo outfit. (In a major departure for anime of this time, he’s wearing briefs, not blue-and-white striped boxers.)
He emerges in a courtyard at the base of the tower. Ryoko begins the balcony speech, and Ataru starts to play along when he finds himself surrounded by Mendou and thugs. Ryoko pitches in to help, in the sense that she throws an armful of grenades into the courtyard.
Lum is drawn by the explosions. Ataru is propelled through the air by the explosion, and tries to reach Ryoko by doing an air-swim that’s definitely out of Cagliostro, but instead he’s caught by Lum and propelled into the chamber, where she discharges her extra electricity into him. Ryoko/Juliet vows to live on for both of them (one of the Kuroko points out that she’s supposed to commit suicide, but the other one hushes him). Lum asks if she can take Ataru home. Ryoko takes a long pause, then says, “Thank you”, and the curtain falls.
Changes from the manga version: The only noteworthy addition in the anime are the various scenes of the troops being deployed and the extended trip up the tower.
Thoughts: A great introduction episode for a fun character. As befits a new addition to the regular cast, she adds both a new dynamic and a new shtick. She’s the first one to bring a real sibling dynamic, since all the other characters appear to be only children. (Ten has a bit of a little brother thing going with both Lum and Ataru, but the age difference dilutes that.) She’s also a girl that Ataru can express interest in that Mendou won’t (it being a couple of decades early for that sort of anime). The fondness for messing with people makes her a good instigator of plots, even as she hides behind an innocent facade. Her classical Japan-and-Kuroko shtick play off what we saw about her mother earlier, and give her a wide range of unexpected capabilities without getting directly involved herself. All in all, she’s a good addition to the cast.
The characters switch to their winter uniforms in this episode. My ad hoc online research suggests that this is about two months late, and it’s not a result of following the manga, since these chapters were printed in early April. *shrug*
I’m not kidding about the apparent Castle of Cagliostro tribute, by the way: the way Ataru leaps up the stairs, the design of the lasers and Ataru’s swimming in the air are all distinctive.
Finally, I want that girl with the short orange hair to get a name (you can see her over Ryoko’s shoulder in the third picture). She’s a recurring background character, and has a distinctive enough design to stand out.
Next episode: Introducing Kotatsu Neko! Yay!