Episode 77: “Darling’s Gonna Die?!”
Original airdate: July 20, 1983
Corresponding manga chapter: Original
Minor characters introduced: Robot doctor, various surreal creatures
Summary: Ran is cooking something, and gives an alarmingly adorable little hop when she sees it’s almost done. While she waits, she goes into the next room and conducts a magical ritual (seriously).
When it’s done, she has a dish full of glittery powder. Back in the kitchen, the cupcakes are ready, and she decorates them with frosting and cherries, then sprinkles the powder on top. She thinks to herself, “One bite of this and you’re…history!” and cackles evilly.
At the Moroboshi home, Ataru is kneeling in front of the open refrigerator (in another of those images that looks really dodgy out of context).
It’s hot, and not even the fridge can cool Ataru down. To cheer him up, Lum pulls a couple of 1000 yen bills from her bra, which Ataru’s mother gave her to give him (I cannot resist the image of Mrs. Moroboshi tucking them into Lum’s bra strip-club style). He instantly perks up, charging upstairs and getting dressed, and says that this calls for a date, preferably somewhere cool. To stop her hugging him, he sends her to her UFO to change. When she’s gone, he crows that he didn’t mean he’d go on a date with her, and hits the town.
Ataru’s just trying to figure out who to ask out when Ran passes him, carrying a picnic basket. As he tails her, trying to figure out his approach, a wrapped cupcake falls out of her basket. He calls out to her, but she doesn’t hear, and when he bends over to pick it up, she vanishes into the trunk of a tree. After it’s unwrapped it looks too good to pass up, and it’ll spoil soon anyway, so he makes a token attempt to call out to her before chowing down. Partway through, he suddenly jerks, changes art style from humorous to serious, and pitches forward.
A flock of doves flying away takes us to Lum, flying over the city and looking for Ataru. Spotting him lying on the ground, she lands, and stands there for an oddly long time before doing anything. We cut back to Ataru’s room, where Ataru is in agony and being inspected by a doctor robot for his hugely distended stomach. The doctor says it’s poison, and indicates the preparations that are underway, namely Cherry burning incense at a shrine to the dead.
Lum smashes the robot with a mallet, then notices a piece of cloth clutched in Ataru’s hand. She recognizes it as Ran’s handkerchief, and Cherry suggests that whoever made the poison should have the antidote. Lum pulls a piece of machinery and hooks it up to Ataru via a mechanical headband, allowing her to monitor his brainwaves while he’s gone. Ataru mutters Lum’s name in his sleep, moving her to tears, but after she flies off he reverts to type.
Lum flies to Ran’s UFO and pounds on the door. A little replica of Ran’s head pops out on a stick and laughs maniacally, followed by a complete Ran doll holding a microphone and asking her to leave a message. Lum’s message comes in the form of 10,000 volts to the door, blasting it inwards. She searches the UFO and comes up empty, until she finds the magic circle. She curses Ran out and combs the city from above. Returning to the park where she found Ataru, she pulls out a scanner and detects a space-time distortion in the tree trunk. She flies in and disappears, the camera pulling back to show us the entire tree until we go into the eyecatch.
Inside, Lum flies through a tunnel that takes a shortcut through the final act of 2001 before winding up in a freakish version of Alice in Wonderland (specifically the Disney movie, going by the visuals and the talking door).
The door warns her that it closes at sunset, and she sets out with alacrity. Elsewhere, Ran seeks directions from a bespectacled mouse that grows out of a rose. It insists that she give it something from her basket before it’ll help her, and she demurs before giving in when it repeatedly insists.
Lum flies through a surreal skyscape, and lands by the mouse-rose to asks if it’s seen “a girl who looks like this”, pulling on the corners of her eyes. In a surprisingly dark moment, the mouse-rose collapses as if dead. Lum sees a cupcake and handkerchief on the ground, and the shock of Ran’s apparent behavior redoubles her resolve. She flies around, asking for Ran’s whereabouts from a range of strange Wonderland-ish creatures (mushrooms, Cheshire Cat, flamingos) before running into a bizarre version of the characters from Lone Wolf and Cub.
The samurai is sort of like the White Knight from Through the Looking-Glass if he were completely unhelpful and obsessed with the question of whether a stopped clock is better than one that loses a minute a day (a question that Lewis Carroll actually addressed, although I don’t know if the animators knew that). He confirms that he met Ran, but is otherwise useless, and Lum eventually gives up and flies off. She flies over a field of talking flowers and lands on a golf course, where she encounters a version of the Queen of Hearts who isn’t going to do anything for the image of female golfers.
She’s surrounded by soldiers in the form of animated Hanafuda cards, and agrees to answer Lum’s questions if she’ll play a round of golf. Lum is teed up when she notices the ball is actually a curled-up small furry animal, and she balks at hitting it. The Queen urges her to swing, and Lum is torn between the ball and Darling, but finally flies off with the ball in her arms. The Queen calls out for her arrest, and the card soldiers form a card maze. Lum flies through it (presumably she can’t fly above them because they’re crossing spears) until she winds up inside the landscape on one of the cards, and flies through a red sky before finding the exit.
Lum winds up by a river, starting to lose hope, until another one of Ran’s handkerchiefs floats by.
She flies upstream and pulls out the monitor, vowing to it that she’ll be home soon. Abruptly it flatlines, and Lum begins to cry as she envisions Ataru lying dead. In a nearby copse, Ran is sharing her picnic with Rei when she hears Lum’s voice. Rei takes off, Ran following, and they come across Lum weeping in a clearing. When she sees them she flies up and pounds on Ran’s chest, pleading to bring her Darling back.
Ran asks how that’s possible, and we cut to her and Lum riding on Rei’s back as the sun sets (or at least things turn bluish–we never really see a sun, actually). They make it just as the door closes behind them, and crash through the window of Ataru’s bedroom to see him sitting up in bed and wolfing down ramen. Lum flies over to embrace him, and discovers why the monitor stopped: Cherry knocked out the connector. Ran goes into full hose-beast mode, shouting that the cupcakes were for her picnic with Rei.
I now want to see an eating contest between Rei and Sakura, but never mind. Rei accuses Lum of sabotaging her date; Lum kowtows to her in apology, while also breathing a sigh of relief.
Thoughts: The past two episodes were both very well done while being 180 degrees apart from each other: a dark original episode, and a funny manga-based episode. In comparison, this one is kind of muddled; it fluctuates between humorous, surreal, and a couple of serious moments without really committing to any of them. Scenes don’t always flow clearly (see the opening sequence for an example) and Rei’s appearance feels kind of out of nowhere. There are some good moments, but it doesn’t come together into a whole.
The Wonderland imagery is an interesting choice, particularly since it’s never directly remarked on. A friend of mine has noted that the Disney version of Alice is the version that’s cemented itself into the Japanese subconscious, and that can be seen here–the Cheshire Cat doesn’t have blue-and-purple stripes, but it is blue, and the talking door(knob) is original to Disney. The confused logic/conversation of the Lone Wolf character is very Carollian.
We’re hitting the point where dreamlike surrealism becomes a major recurring element in the original parts of the show. There are times that this achieves true greatness (particularly in the film Beautiful Dreamer) and times when it feels like a combination of self-indulgence and the sort of padding that was used to stretch stories earlier in the series. Showing Lum or Ten flying somewhere without something else going on was always a sign of filler, and putting it in front of a surreal dreamscape doesn’t necessarily change that.
It is good to see a Lum-centric episode, since we haven’t had one in a while; it doesn’t shed a lot of new light on her character, though.
Next episode: Mrs. Moroboshi saves the universe!