Episode 54: “The Big Year-End Party That Lum Organized!”
Original airdate: December 22, 1982
Corresponding manga chapter: “It’s A New Year’s Party!”, volume 11, chapter 11 (Japanese tankobon release)/overall chapter 113
Minor characters introduced: A host of fictional and legendary characters, some of them represented by the main cast
Summary: It’s the end of the year, and the teachers are busily running around, while class 2-4 waits outside the classroom for Lum to finish something. Ataru has a case of the willies and attempts to run, but is caught by Megane and Perm, who exposit that Lum is organizing the end-of-year party and attendance is mandatory. He flashes back to his bedroom the night before, when Lum interrupts his reading of the Urusei Yatsura manga (he and Cherry are visible on the covers) to say that she’s accepted the offer of running the end-of-year-party, and BTW what’s an end-of-year party? Apparently she concluded that the purpose is to party down and forget, and Ataru fears that she misunderstood somewhere.
Lum opens the door and lets them into the classroom, where there are two glowing doorways with curtains labeling them as “Women” and “Men”. Everyone passes through except Lum and Ataru, who attempts to sneak away but is driven through by an electric blast. He finds himself in one of those surreal painted mindscapes, and the door fades out behind him. He suddenly forgets who he is, and continues to wonder as he walks forward to a basket, puts on a jacket, puts his hair up in a topknot, and picks up a jutte and a handful of coins. He’s suddenly attacked by a sword-wielding Cherry, but Ataru takes him down by throwing the coins, and realizes that he must be Zenigata Heiji. (Zenigata from Lupin III is named after this character; this will pay off in a joke later.)
Back in the classroom, Onsen-Mark returns to find it empty. He nobly puts aside his sense of propriety to try to enter the women’s side, but gets splashed with water, and goes to the men’s side instead. From the basket, he picks up clothing and gear to garb himself as a fisherman.
At this point I must pause and explain who he’s dressed as, because the thrust of the rest of the episode is that no one can figure out who he is despite a plethora of obvious clues, and if you don’t know the legend it won’t make any sense. Onsen-Mark is Urashima-Taro, who’s the Japanese cultural equivalent of Rip Van Winkle. In brief, he’s a fisherman who rescued a turtle and was rewarded by spending three days in a palace under the sea. He asked to return home to see his mother, and the palace’s princess gave him a box that he was told not open. He returned to his home village to discover that three centuries had passed. Opening the box, he instantly became ancient, because it held his old age and this is why you listen when people in folk legends tell you not to do something.
A confused Onsen-Mark rides ashore on a turtle, and approaches a pair of dueling men, who turn out to be Miyamoto Musashi and Ganryu Sasaki Kojiro (more on this next episode). A dying Musashi points him toward a police box (actually a small neighborhood station), and Onsen-Mark rides there on his turtle. Entering, he’s greeted by Mendou, who’s dressed in Victorian garb (and is Sherlock Holmes, although the only visual indicator of that is his pipe), who attempts to deduce who he is. Ataru, who’s lounging nearby having his ears cleaned by Shinobu (playing Zenigata’s wife Oshizu), scoffs at Mendou’s efforts, and between them they guess that he’s a sumo wrestler, a turtle racer, dancer, and various turtle- and food-related occupations, capped by Mendou’s brilliant deduction that he’s a cabaret hawker (someone who wears showy clothes and stands outside a club luring in customers).
(Oddly, no one guesses that he might work at a hot springs.) Ataru concludes that he’s been framed for a crime, and summons his assistant Garapachi (played by Megane) to search for clues. Mendou calls out Watson (Kakugari), and they administer Onsen-Mark a Rorschach test, which doesn’t help. They switch to a children’s book with undersea scenes, which almost trigger a recollection. Ataru enters, looks at a page with girls in swimsuits, and concludes that he has a Lolita complex. This book stuff isn’t getting them anywhere, says Ataru, so they need to hit the road.
Mendou and Kakugari set out at top speed in their carriage (actually a Kakugari-pulled cart) while Onsen-Mark chases them, running through a surreal Tokyo while a wide range of cameo characters pass by. A thief joins them, pursued by the police, and draws up next to Ataru: he’s the famous thief, Lupin, of course. Finally, they pass a pine tree, and Onsen-Mark remembers that there were a lot of them near where he grew up, blowing in the ocean breeze. The two geniuses apply their brain power to the problem.
They set out on another chase, this one with Ataru on a Megane-drawn cart as well (and repeatedly passing the Leaning Tower of Pisa) and Onsen-Mark riding on the back of Santa’s sleigh. They pass through the eyecatch and arrive at a beach with Mount Fuji in the background, which Onsen-Mark recognizes as his childhood home. He recalls following the turtle into the ocean and seeing something beautiful. Mendou theorizes that it wasn’t a turtle, but a UFO, and they visualize a UFO rising out of the ocean, aptly lit up like a Christmas tree, and a turtle alien leading Onsen-Mark into it, Close Encounters style.
Onsen-Mark recalls having left a hundred years ago, and Mendou concludes, more or less, that he was the victim of criminal alien activity that moved him forward in time. Ataru doesn’t buy it, since it leaves out the “something beautiful”, which he asks Onsen-Mark to explain in full detail. Onsen-Mark gives the line that sums up most of Oshii’s run on the series (“Was it a dream? Or was it real?”) before flashing back to being surrounded by scantily-clad women, including the bridge crew from Macross.
The sight of naked women bathing in the sea triggers Onsen-Mark’s memory, and Mendou and Ataru grab him and haul off to watch from behind a tree. Ataru finds a piece of cloth on a tree, which he concludes is a nymph’s wrap, and rubs it on him in a fairly sleazy manner. Mendou tries to take it for “evidence”, and their argument scares away the girls. (If you think UY hasn’t had enough nipples, the past couple of episodes make up for it.) Perm arrives, leading an elephant, and demands to know what Ataru is doing with his loincloth. He grabs it and stalks off, but the awkward moment is saved by Onsen-Mark remembering his time undersea. Ataru is not pleased that someone those looks is a lot more successful with the ladies than he is, until he remembers that he had a treasure box until he arrived on the beach.
Ataru and Mendou comb the beach for it, until they dig up an Aladdin-style lamp. (Ataru accuses Onsen-Mark of claiming that it was Urashima Taro’s treasure box while still not concluding that he’s Urashima Taro, which is really impressive.) The two struggle over it until it releases a genie, who of course is Lum in see-through harem pants.
[Aside: The Tenchi Muyo RPG from Guardians of Order had a history of the Magical Girlfriend genre, in which they noted that Japan apparently got really into I Dream of Jeannie. Nowhere is that more apparent than this sequence.]
Mendou tries hitting on her, but she only has eyes for her Master, Ataru, to whom she offers three wishes. Onsen-Mark begs Ataru to send him back in time, but he hasn’t a wish to spare. His first wish is for all the girls in the world to think he’s a scream, which turns out that they scream (in a Beatles concert sense, not a slasher movie sense) while staying a minimum of four feet away from him. His second wish is to have a good poke with all the girls in the world, which takes the form of being repeatedly poked with bokken. (As Mendou observes, this world only has 20 women). Lum helpfully points out that he can poke them back. (Kudos to the translators for finding idioms that made sense here, by the way.)
Onsen-Mark bemoans living in this degenerate world of modern times, and wishes he had the treasure box. At that point things go from weird to surreal, as a range of characters from Frankenstein’s Monster to Tinkerbell to the Japanese Navy show up to look for the treasure, and it turns into the final reel of It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. The turtle rises out of the ocean to roll its eyes on them, with the treasure on its back, and when Ataru spots the box it turns into a huge game of keepaway. “Uchuu wa Taihen da!” starts playing, and Onsen-Mark, with everyone else hot on his heels, opens the box. When the smoke clears, everyone is back to normal and strewn about their classroom, confused about what just happened. Someone remembers that there was going to be an end-of-year party, and they line up outside the classroom, looping back to the beginning of the episode…
Changes from the manga version: The standard hallmarks of filler are here: chase scenes, the ending theme, and in this one, fanservice as well. The rest follows the manga.
Thoughts: A Japanese culture episode, with a touch of the surreal and filler to stretch the material to a full episode. It’s entertaining despite that; the Ursashima Taro episode is simple enough that it’s easy to follow even if it’s not familiar, and the way Ataru and Mendou play detectives is a good source of humor.
We’re in year-end special territory here, which is probably why this episode and the next (they skipped New Year’s week again, so it aired January 5th) have the characters in the role of historical/fictional characters, much like last year’s Meiji story. (They have their origin in the manga, but there they weren’t following any particular timing.)
Next episode: The characters play out the story of Miyamoto Musashi!