Episode 52: “Can a Raccoon Repay a Favor?!”
Original airdate: December 8, 1982
Corresponding manga chapter: “The Grateful Raccoon”, volume 13, chapter 10 (Japanese tankobon release)/overall chapter 134
Major character introduced: O-shima I
Summary: Ataru and Lum are riding home through the woods on Ataru’s bike. Ataru is complaining about the cold, and Lum chides him for not dressing warmer (at least he’s wearing pants, Lum). They hear the sound of a bird in the woods, and investigate to find a strange-looking crane with its leg caught in a spring trap.
Ataru frees it, and remarks that the trap must be for tanuki, which makes the crane look nervous. He puts lotion on the injured leg and bandages it, and wonders aloud if it might repay the favor. As he cycles home, he notices the crane flying behind him, and remarks that his backpack feels heavier; it’s probably a coincidence, though, don’t think any more about it.
Going up to his room to put on a sweater, Ataru sees Ten is reading a children’s book. Ten refuses to come down for dinner, and Ataru deduces that he’s angry because they didn’t take him cycling. After Ataru and Lum leave, we see that he’s reading “The Crane Who Repaid a Favor”. Ataru’s backpack unzips from within, and a tanuki (with a bandage where Ataru applied one to the crane) climbs out and wonders aloud how it should repay the favor. It’s startled to see Ten, and gives him a (hand-written) calling card, identifying him as O-shima. (The show is polite enough that he’s concealing it about his torso, not…well, watch Pom Poko for details.) O-shima starts to explain why he’s there, but gets distracted and asks to see the book.
In brief, “The Crane Who Repaid a Favor” is the Japanese equivalent of “The Shoemaker and the Elves”. An old man rescues a crane from a trap, and that evening a girl comes to stay with him and his wife. The girl says she’s going to weave them some fabric, and asks them not to look. She produces beautiful fabric that they can sell to make themselves financially secure. The next time she goes a-weaving, they peek and see that the weaving is being done by the crane, of course. The next morning the girl turns back into the crane and flies away. (This is illustrated with cute chibi-style versions of the cast.)
Finishing the book, O-shima says he knows what to do. Lum comes upstairs with food for Ten (an open can of tuna–how thoughtful?) but O-shima has disappeared, and when Ten tries to show her the calling card it turns out to only be a leaf.
Meanwhile, Ataru is relaxing in the bath when he gets a startling offer.
He introduces himself as the new housemaid, which Ataru doesn’t buy for a second. O-shima explains that he’s here to repay a favor, which of course Ataru doesn’t remember. O-shima attributes this to his excellent housemaid disguise. Returning to the bedroom, Ataru assures him that his shoulders don’t need rubbing, and O-shima says he’ll do anything Ataru wishes. This being Ataru, he asks to be introduced to a cute girl. He goes off to comply, but again the results aren’t quite to Ataru’s taste.
Ataru is not amused, and insists that O-shima do it right or not at all. We cut briefly to a disturbingly hot shot of Mrs. Moroboshi washing Mr. Moroboshi’s back in the bath (she’s wearing a towel, but it’s still more va-va-voom than one expects from her). Back in Ataru’s room, he’s given up on girls and asks for money instead. O-shima goes to the balcony, picks some leaves off a tree, and asks to borrow Ataru’s closet. He tells them not to peek, and casts a spell on the leaves, but they turn into (printed) calling cards instead. Repeating the spell over and over (with a certain “Klaatu Barada pshmknk” quality), he keeps getting cards. By this point copious amounts of smoke are pouring out of the closet door, and Ataru feels he ought to check if everything’s okay, but Lum stops him.
At 10:30 Ataru says it’s been three hours, and he’s definitely going to check. (This implies that his parents went to bed at 7:30.) He cautiously opens the door, to find the closet completely full of leaves and O-shima out like a light. Ataru smacks him awake and demands to know what he’s actually capable of, and gets a great answer:
Ten shows him another storybook, this one titled “Fire Mountain”. In this story, an old farmer captures a troublesome tanuki and ties him to the rafters to eat later. He goes to town while his wife pounds mochi (not a euphemism). The tanuki tricks the woman into letting him go, and then pounds her to death with the mallet. He transforms himself into her likeness, makes soup out of her, and serves it to the old man. The next morning he tells the old man what happened, and at that point O-shima is too appalled to keep reading. Ten finishes the story, wherein a rabbit comes by and offers to get revenge, sets the tanuki’s back on fire, builds a mud boat and lets him drown.
Ataru point out that he doesn’t remember a tanuki owing him a favor. O-shima accuses him of peeking in the closet (prompting an “Oh, come on” reaction from Ataru), turns into the crane, and flies off. (The effect is oddly South Park-like.)
(The black semicircle under his beak is his black neck, not an open mouth, but even so.)
Changes from the manga version: The manga doesn’t include the retelling of the fairy tales. “Fire Mountain” isn’t included; instead, he just reads the ending of the original story, which he’d skipped earlier.
Thoughts: We haven’t had a Japanese folklore episode in a while. This is one time I’m quite grateful to the animators for filling out the episode, because the manga assumes familiarity with the original story, and as someone who isn’t it’s nice to have it spelled out. (Again, an example of how useful UY can be as a learning aid for Westerners.) The introduction of “Fire Mountain” puts a very different spin on O-shima’s departure from the manga version, and it’s probably just as well that he didn’t take it to heart.
(I did find the inclusion of “Fire Mountain” interesting, since UY was notionally a kid’s program and I’m used to seeing that sort of story heavily bowdlerized. Imagine the version of “Little Red Riding Hood” that Gilbert tells in Sandman turning up on Animaniacs for some idea of the effect.)
I refer to O-shima as “O-shma I” above because, according to the AnimEigo note card, there’s another tanuki character with the same name in the third movie, but they aren’t the same character. (I’m resolutely referring to tanuki rather than “raccoon”, which is the translation AnimEigo went with. I don’t hold it against them, but the cultural reference is relevant here, and since I can just link to the Wikipedia page that’s the easiest way to handle it. Although in certain shots he does look a lot like the Racketty Coon Chile from Pogo.)
It amuses me that the manga chapter was published in May, so the opening scene has Ataru in a T-shirt and Lum in her bikini, without the extra layers. Putting the episode in December required a bit of lampshade-hanging on the animators’ parts.
I imagine the target audience would be small, but the H parody of this episode just writes itself, doesn’t it?
Next episode: Ataru gets a job scrubbing backs in a women’s bathhouse!