Episode 61: “The Mendou Family ‘Masked Ball'”
Original airdate: March 2, 1983
Corresponding manga chapter: “Mendou Household Masquerade Ball/War”, volume 13, chapter 11 (Japanese tankobon release)/overall chapter 135
Minor characters introduced: The Reaper, various other martial artists
Summary: It’s a moonlit night, and Ten, dressed as Zorro, rides Torajima (the one-eyed cat) from rooftop to rooftop, striking down balloons painted with faces of boys he doesn’t like as he goes. Torajima falls at the final hurdle (the balloon of Ataru) and stops for a smoke, to Ten’s annoyance.
They’re interrupted by the sudden appearance of Godzilla (well, a four-foot-tall version). Ten tries to spur Torajima into action, to no avail, and Ataru and Lum climb onto the roof with a flashlight to find out what the commotion is. It turns out to be manipulated by two kuroko.
In Ataru’s room, they put on a marionette show in which Mendou beats Ryoko with a bokken to prevent her from seeing Ataru. In order to date Ataru on the DL, puppet-Ryoko invites him to a masked ball to be held that night, with the winner to get a kiss from Ryoko. Lum scoffs at the idea that Ataru could win, despite his claims to be a great dancer. We cut to a fantasy sequence of a uniformed Ataru suavely dancing with a rapt Ryoko, running away when the clock strikes midnight, and falling down the stairs. Returning to reality, Ataru says he doesn’t have appropriate clothes and asks the kuroko to hook him up, but they assure him that anything will be fine as long as he’s masked, and add that he shouldn’t wear his best clothes, to everyone’s confusion.
At the Mendou family complex, some kuroko dress Ryoko in a Chinese-style pantsuit with long ponytails. She stands and practices kissing until Mendou comes in and asks if it’s true that she invited Ataru. When she says yes, he asks his goons to get him a mask, since he’ll be attending to cut Ataru down before he reaches her. Ryoko scares him by popping up behind him with her skull mask, then says it’s okay for him to come as long as there are no guns.
We immediately see a gun firing, and Mendou walking through a firing range to inspect the gathered ranks of Mendou family thugs, who are given an inspirational speech about protecting Ryoko and the family’s honor. They respond with a show of loyalty:
Yes, well, let’s just move on, shall we? We cut to Onsen-Mark in his sad efficiency apartment, eating cup noodle, when Mendou appears on a TV commercial. He announces that the masked ball that evening is open to everyone, and this would be a good time for anyone who wants revenge on Ataru to get it. Megane and Perm, watching this in a restaurant, are first inclined to write it off a “rich people are different”, but Megane gets an idea (he doesn’t say what it is but it’s pretty obvious) and tells Perm to get the other Stormtroopers. In the TV studio (amusingly named “MTV”), Ryoko confronts Mendou about the announcement, but then says she’s looking forward to it and laughs alarmingly.
Inside a kuroko-drawn carriage, Lum and Ataru approach the Mendou complex. Lum says she’s there to watch Ataru, and he schemes to lose her in the ball while Lum schemes to stay with him. When they arrive, they see that Ten is there as well (in his Zorro getup). The kuroko give them masks (a cat for Ataru and a butterfly for Lum) and leave a crate, telling them to select their implements, then scram.
Ataru opens the crate and finds it full of implements of destruction, from sais to power drills. Three men suddenly appear and start whaling on Ataru, until Lum brings them down with an electric blast. A mysterious figure wearing a white outfit and a Mendou family octopus mask, and carrying a katana, mysteriously leaps in and proclaims that tonight is the night for secrecy.
Ataru immediately asks Mendou for directions, to his annoyance. Mendou draws his sword and lunges for Ataru, who dodges and hides behind Lum. She asks Mendou what’s going on, since Darling is a dancer, not a fighter, but Mendou declares that he knew the risks. Lum and Ataru check with each other to make sure that it’s really a masked ball, but Mendou confirms that it’s actually a masked combat party.
At this point we must pause to explain the pun the episode is based on (which is also explained by onscreen text): The phrase used to describe the event is “kamen butookai”, “kamen” meaning “masked” (as in Kamen Rider or Tuxedo Kamen). “Butookai” can mean either “ball” or “martial arts” (the latter should be familiar to Dragon Ball fans), depending on which kanji are used.
With that, a bunch of people in masks appear, and everyone is kung fu fighting. (There are a lot of references in this sequence, some of them very odd.)
Ataru grabs a mallet, smacks Mendou upside the head, and splits. He gets a ways down the path before Lum catches up and smashes the ground in front of him with a large club, trying to protect him by diverting him. Ataru keeps running but narrowly misses being hit by a suit-wearing figure wielding a shinai. Lum hits the figure by mistake, and by the symbol on his tie Ataru recognizes him as Onsen-Mark. Ataru lifts his mallet to strike, but Onsen-Mark blocks, identifying Ataru by his pulling such a chump move. A group of four more figures leaps in, but hit Onsen-Mark rather than Ataru, and he identifies them as the Stormtroopers. They face off, and Ataru flees under cover of the ensuing fracas.
He arrives at a courtyard around a tower, filled with creepily masked martial arts thugs, who swear Ataru’s defeat. He charges toward his certain doom, but is interrupted by a flying disc that turns out to be Cherry, looking for a grape harvest (“budoogari”). Cherry then explodes for no adequately explained reason, scattering the thugs and, much worse, blowing his pants off. One thug warns him of the man waiting for him, the “devil of martial arts”.
Childe Ataru to the dark tower comes, and a trio of kuroko tell him that Ryoko is on the top floor while changing him into a Bruce Lee jumpsuit. He pushes open the doors, selects a pair of nunchaku from a wall of martial arts weapons, and is confronted by the devil of martial arts, the Reaper.
However, it turns out that the “Reaper’s Dance” is an interpretive dance about death, and Ataru gets disgusted and makes short work of him.
Two family goons carry Mendou to Ryoko on a stretcher, and she vows to marry well and carry on the family. Mendou, who aten’t dead, is annoyed that vengeance isn’t on her list of priorities, and she agrees to avenge whoever did this to him. Mendou is just about to name his assailant when Ataru leaps in for his kiss. Mendou interposes a board, which Ataru gets stuck in, and tells Ryoko that Ataru attacked him. She is properly horrified, and refuses his reward since he has interfered with her family. Lum flies up to see her advancing on him with the nunchaku while two goons hold the board from behind. Ryoko winds up clobbering the goons instead of Ataru, breaking him free of the board. He interprets this as a positive sign, and moves in to Ryoko when Lum appears behind him with her club.
The fighting Stormtroopers hear the resulting crack and wonder if it’s a sign the fighting’s over. Lum appears from the base of the tower, dragging the unconscious Ataru behind her. Ryoko leans on the railing and watches, musing that nunchaku are unreliable and don’t hit the people she wants, then swings it behind her and clocks Mendou.
Changes from the manga version: The manga doesn’t have the lengthy/filler-y sequence of Mendou inspecting the troops, or Mendou’s commercial and the subsequent appearance of the Stormtroopers (although Onsen-Mark does appear). Ataru encounters and mallets a few random fighters rather than an army, and there’s no Reaper.
Thoughts: Another in a run of fun episodes; they’ve been on a roll lately. (This and the next one were the first two volumes of the series I bought on DVD, since they had the catchball episode and a big character introduction on the next disc; I chose well.) I don’t know if it’s the timing relative to the movie or what, but they’ve stuck relatively close to the manga for these recent ones as well.
This is an instructive episode in picking out which elements are original to the manga and which were added for the anime. Anything involving the Stormtroopers specifically is usually original, of course. Another tell we see in this episode is pacing: the joke with the Reaper requires buildup for the joke to work, by letting the implied threat of the character grow before the reveal. Takahashi doesn’t have time for that in a single-chapter story, so it’s not surprising that it comes from the animators. (The joke also has a different texture in other ways, but not in ways that are particularly easy to explain; in part, Takahashi characters tend to be driven not by randomly odd behavior as odd characteristics that cause them to behave oddly.)
(Interestingly, looking back I see that I’ve picked a disproportionate number of screenshots from anime-original scenes, but those tend to be the ones with visual gags that can be appreciated at a glance.)
I’m not sure, but this might be the first time Kakugari is named onscreen; if it isn’t, it’s come up precious few times before. At this point in the series he’s the least-developed and least-used Stormtrooper (following, in order, Megane, Perm and Chibi) but it’s still surprising how seldom his name has been mentioned. (Then again, the only place “Ewok” appears in “Return of the Jedi” is buried in the credits for the extras, so maybe cultural osmosis is all you need.)
Finally, this is a very dark episode, so I hope the screencaps will come out okay (they don’t show up on the posting screen as well as they do on the final version). I’d been thinking that this disc in general seemed darker than the others, but partway through watching the episode I noticed that the TV was set to “Energy Saver”, so I’m sure that was a factor. An episode that takes place entirely at night isn’t the best one for testing how much of a difference “Vivid” makes, however.
Next episode: Lum has an alien cold, and is trying not to spread it to the class!