Episode 73: “The Ultimate Match: Sakura vs. Cherry!”
Original airdate: June 22, 1983
Corresponding manga chapter: “The Big Game”, volume 1, chapter 9 (Viz and Japanese tankobon releases)/overall chapter 9
Minor characters introduced: Cherry and Sakura’s spirit guardians
Summary: The sun burns hot and harsh, and the teacher and students in classroom 2-4 are sweating. Outside, the figure of Cherry, his head entirely covered by his hat, approaches Tomobiki High School. He looks up at a window and smiles.
Inside the classroom, Shinobu leaps up in fear, as she detects something moving inside her desk. It’s Cherry, who Onsen-Mark quickly dispatches into the hallway, head-first. He tries to start class again, but Cherry pops up from his desk. He warns them not to mistreat the clergy, and the room explodes.
Outside, Sakura is heading home, and Onsen-Mark catches up to her with his bicycle.
He asks if she wants to hang out, but she isn’t interested. When he persists, she rounds on him and tells him to shut up. She walks off into the glare, and his bicycle falls apart. Watching this, Ataru and the Stormtroopers discuss how hard it is to believe she’s related to Cherry, but as Ataru points out, we can choose our friends but not our relatives, especially parents.
This is reinforced when Ataru returns to an empty house and finds a note from his parents on the coffee table. His mother writes that they’re going away for three days to reinvigorate their relationship, and left Ataru behind because who wouldn’t? She gets oddly philosophical for a moment, then a PS from his father adds that just because he’s alone with Lum doesn’t mean he should be “irresponsible”. Lum pops up behind him and, through dint of accidentally throttling him with his collar, gets hold of the letter and reads it, thrilling her to no end.
In her shrine, Sakura is conducting a purification, while Cherry drops in to look in on his sister. He begins dropping very broad hints about it being the season for food poisoning, and where they keep the preserved foods, which might not be preserved properly and need eating. Sakura dissuades him with a skull malleting, and he remarks on the heat.
Back at Moroboshi Haus, Ataru discovers that Lum has locked the door from the outside (which seems like a bad security feature to me). He demands to know what happens if no one comes along to let them out, but she says that missing a little school won’t hurt if they can be alone like proper newlyweds. Even more alarmingly, she’s planning to cook the entire time. Ataru runs to the living room door, which is also locked.
Ataru thinks of Jariten, but Lum explains that he’s staying at Sakura’s. Dinner time!
At the shrine, Cherry stands before an array of food (much of it instant ramen , cup noodle, and the like). Sakura (Ten in tow) comes up behind him and asks if he’s there to filch food. He turns and beings reminiscing in a fraught manner about something that happened at that barn twenty years ago. The mists of time take us back to the call of the goldfish seller in a long-ago summer, where a young Sakura pleads to be let out, for fear of little men.
The door opens, and for once Cherry’s face is reassuring as he picks her up, scanning the inside as he does so. Back in the present, he caps it by explaining that her psychic powers manifested then. She looks away and tells him to take whatever he wants. He defers, saying that he should check in on Ataru, and Ten adds that he’s home alone with Lum. Sakura and Cherry both sense trouble.
When the cooker stops, she goes to add seasoning. Ataru stops her, saying that he knows it’ll be ultra-spicy. She says that she made it sweeter than usual, but if she adds the wrong amount it’ll explode. She pours in a bucketful of spice pellets, then realizes that it was too much, and there’s a blinding flash of light. On the street, Sakura and Cherry see bursts of light emerging from the house, and Cherry does his Deanna Troi impersonation by saying he senses something unusual. (“It must be Wednesday.”) They enter the house, and are suddenly attacked by two miniature, missile-firing jets.
A miniature army and air force of planes and tanks are swarming from the cooker, which Lum admits isn’t quite the recipe she was trying for. Sakura and Cherry make it into the kitchen unscathed (which they attribute to divine providence). The four barricade themselves in the living room, where Cherry and Sakura say that these things must be remotely controlled, and they need to summon the spirits controlling them. Ataru does his best to dissuade them, but to no avail, and Lum volunteers to talk them out of it once they’re summoned.
Sakura and Cherry intone the names of temples and/or subway stops, and two figures appear, a gorilla-like giant with huge prayer beads, and a blue-skinned woman with a sword. They immediately begin fighting. Lum demands to know what planet they’re from, but they explain that they’re Cherry and Sakura’s guardians, respectively.
They begin tossing around wind and fire, while Lum and Ataru huddle against the wall. Ataru notes that this is a family matter, and therefore not connected to the remote control war.
We cut to Ataru’s parents at their hotel, where they reminisce about when Mrs. Moroboshi was pregnant and how much they both wanted a daughter. They realize they’re stuck with what they have, and choose to take their minds off it through sake.
Back at the house, a noodle delivery boy drops off two orders of udon, and heads off smoldering (I hope Ataru tipped).
Lum isn’t pleased, and less so when Ataru correctly notes that things didn’t turn out so hot after all, but things get worse when a tank destroys his udon. Meanwhile, the guardians argue on their charges’ behalf: Sakura’s guardian accuses Cherry of shutting her in the barn because she ate his food, and Cherry’s guardian retorts that there’s no family when it comes to food. He adds that Cherry suffered too, dousing himself in cold water to share her pain, but Sakura’s guardian points out that in summer that’s scarcely a hardship. They snipe back and forth, while Sakura and Cherry, still meditating, throw small household objects at each other.
Ataru is wondering if there’s any way out of this, and his spirits aren’t lifted when two aliens appear over them. Lum recognizes them as frequent visitors to her planet, however.
They shut down the vehicles, and the smaller alien produces a box that contains Lum’s cooking. They explain that two of their vehicles collided and exploded, and Lum realizes that the two explosions must have caused a space-time linked rift.
Lum goes back into the living room and feeds some of her dinner to Sakura and Cherry. Their guardians immediately stop their fight to check on their charges’ obvious distress, and disappear when they pass out. Ataru explains to Lum that no spirits can share a body with her cooking, to her annoyance. Sakura and Cherry come to with no memory of what happened and see the aliens, who say the remote-control stuff is theirs. They congratulate each other on their success, while Lum flings stuff at Ataru and demands he say her cooking is good. The aliens and priests are both embarrassed by the fighting and turn to go; suddenly Ataru is in the desert, and collapses while saying “Damn, it’s hot…”
Changes from the manga version: The manga begins with Ataru’s parents phoning him from their trip, and goes directly to Lum cooking and all that follows. It ends with Lum cramming her food down Ataru’s throat. The Cherry/Sakura backstory is cut from whole cloth.
Thoughts: After a run of funny manga-faithful chapters and a solid original, we’ve hit one that’s kind of piecemeal. There are good humorous bits in here (mostly from the manga) and some serious bits, but they don’t really connect to each other, and sometimes they come at odd moments–why is Ataru’s mother asking him existential questions in the middle of a note? The scene with Ataru’s parents is interesting as a serious examination of their relationship (it’s funnier in the manga), but it doesn’t have anything to do with the situation at home.
The running theme of the heat doesn’t quite come together, either. There are some artistic overexposed shots at the beginning, and “It’s hot” is a runner throughout the episode, but it doesn’t actually rise to the level of a joke, and the sudden shift to the desert at the ending just seems random.
I did enjoy the humorous parts at the center, but I’d have preferred if the other parts had either tried to be funny or at least tie in more smoothly. In the previous episode (the movie) not every moment of the setup was humorous by itself, but it all built to the conclusion, to the point that it wasn’t obvious where the original manga began, and the earlier parts enhanced the humor when we saw the final result. The setup with the conflict between Sakura and Cherry paid off to some degree when we found out that Cherry locked Sakura away because she ate his snacks, but it doesn’t sit well with the suggestion that this had been a traumatic experience for her.
Next episode: A haunted willow tree!