The Urusei Yatsura Viewing Project, part 78: “Miserable! A Roving and Loving Mother!”

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Episode 78: “Miserable! A Roving and Loving Mother!”

Original airdate: July 27, 1983

Corresponding manga chapter: Original

Minor characters introduced: Creepy little girl, various doctors

Summary: HOLY CRAP NEW OPENING SEQUENCE!

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Once that’s done, we slowly zoom in on Tomobiki, the Moroboshi house, and the master bedroom, where a timer sets off a large number of electronic devices.  Mr. Moroboshi levitates upwards in shock, collapses back to the futon, and falls asleep, but his wife sits up with a determined expression.  A voiceover from Mrs. Moroboshi begins as she describes her morning: getting up and making breakfast (wearing a “Piyo Piyo” apron), waking up the menfolk, and getting everyone out the door as fast as possible so she can face the daily grind.  Her daily tasks include laundry, chasing away an insurance salesman, beating futons (and knocking Cherry off one), washing the floor, lifting dumbbells, and taking a nap with Ten.  Dinner must be prepared with a maximum of economy, and dissension must be suppressed to maintain order.

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Everyone must be bathed, and she can finally rest in the leftover bathwater.  This will continue until Ataru goes off to college and she and her husband settle into retirement.  And yet, there’s a certain something in the back of her mind…

In a department store, Mrs. Moroboshi engages in a surprisingly graphic brawl over the latest sale.  She’s holding her own until a woman in Far Side-style cat glasses launches herself at her, she loses her footing, and things go black.  We fade in on a little girl (who resembles a young Mrs. Moroboshi, although this is never made explicit) who recites an old poem about a crane and a turtle, then asks “Who…are you?” Confused, Mrs. Moroboshi comes around on a bed in an infirmary, where a doctor who looks like Sakura explains that she hit her head. “You had a minor blackout, but you don’t have any other injuries, so you need not worry about anything.” When she gets up to leave, the doctor asks her if she knows where to go.

Mrs. Moroboshi walks through the dark and empty department store, wordlessly passing the glowing apparition of the little girl on the stairs.  She rides a nearly empty train, and arrives home to find the door unlocked.  Only Ataru appears, and doesn’t say anything as she calls out to her husband.  Getting no response, she asks Ataru where his father is, and he wordlessly points at the shrine in the next room.

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The voice of Lum calls out to Ataru, saying that his mother thinks her husband is still alive and that their son Kokeru is really Ataru.  Cut to an elderly Mrs. Moroboshi, who begins to weep…and starts awake in a bed in an infirmary.  A doctor who looks like Onsen-Mark gives almost the exact same speech about her hitting her head.  She tells him what she experience, and he reassures her that it must be a dream.  This time when she leaves it’s still daytime, the store is crowded, and the scrum over the sale is still going on.  Ataru is there when she returns home, but after she greets him another Mrs. Moroboshi steps into the entryway.  Ataru freaks out, repeating “There’s two of Mom!” A look of horror draws Mrs. Moroboshi into the eyecatch.

She comes out of it as a voice counts her down out of hypnosis.  A doctor who looks like Megane opens the curtains to reveal that she’s on a psychiatrist’s couch.  He explains that he’s a psychoanalyst for middle-aged women, named Jigolo, and her previous experiences were scenarios he designed to draw out her issues and deepest desires while under hypnosis.  He recounts the two scenarios, and concludes that because she only saw herself and Ataru, she wants to push her husband and Lum away as nuisances so she can be Ataru’s mother forever.

Mrs. Moroboshi is not buying it.

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She gets up from the couch and a Saiyan-style energy aura appears around her, while she rants about whether this is real or still a dream as well.  If it’s a dream she might as well live out all her repressed urges, she says, and flies off into the sky.  She eats a huge meal at a restaurant and flies off without paying, then launches on a stealing spree that fills the house with items ranging from diamond necklaces to a Tanuki statue and a tuna.  She explains to the family that she can do anything because this is just a dream, and demonstrates by levitating.  Ten flies up and congratulates her, but adds that if she falls in her dream she’ll wake up.  Turning, she’s startled to see the little girl, loses her balance, and heads toward the floor.

She wakes up having fallen out of a bed in yet another infirmary, where a doctor who looks like Mendou gives her the standard speech about having fallen in the store and not to worry.  She asks the doctor if there’s any way to tell if this is real or a dream.  The doctor says he’s not sure, and anything that seems real could be a dream, your own or someone else’s.  As she leaves, the doctor warns her that this could be a dream or it could be real.

She walks out into a desolate street, and sees a tank roll down the street and a fleet of fighter jets overhead.  A ball bounces past her, chased by the little girl, who runs after it into the path of a tank.  Mrs. Moroboshi runs into the street and pulls her out of the way; she repays the favor by being creepy, as is her wont.vlcsnap-2014-10-21-19h37m12s181

Mrs. Moroboshi smiles and says that she’s not sure, but she’s not necessarily stuck in the roles of wife and mother.  The girl bows and runs off.  Walking through the streets, she’s passed by a stream of vehicles, shouting that “They’re coming!”.  She looks up to see that “they” are a group of Martian tripods, marching through the streets and destroying buildings.  Mr. Moroboshi stands on the roof of their house and tries to warn them off with a baseball bat, but as she calls out to him a Martian heat ray disintegrates him.  She cries out, and things go white.

She comes to inside a bunker, where Sakura, dressed in fatigues, explains that she hit her head during a battle, etc., etc.  She looks down to see that she’s in fatigues as well, and Onsen-Mark comes over to check if she’s all right.  She describes her dream, and he says that it feels like they’ve been fighting forever, since the nation fell on the first day of the attack.  We see that the bunker also contains Perm, Chibi and Megane (in fatigues) and Shinobu (in a pink smock).  They receive word of an enemy attack.  Marching with the tripods are hordes of Cherrys, which answers a lot of questions Sakura had about her uncle.

As the groups opens fire, Mrs. Moroboshi asks what happened to Ataru, and Megane says he and Lum scarpered into outer space.  She looks over from her machine gun to see Mendou leading a charge of ragtag samurai (and a football player).  The platoon charges out to join them, firing their weapons and shouting slogans.

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A blinding white light appears before them, and when it clears the little girl sits alone on a washed-out plain, singing the crane and turtle song.  A group of characters from the episode appear and dance in a ring around her.  She looks up and her eyes meet Mrs. Moroboshi’s, and fireworks start going off behind them.  A flying boat appears, from whose deck Ataru and Lum wave to Mrs. Moroboshi.  The girl and Mrs. Moroboshi dance in the ring beside each other, and we fade out on the boat flying across the landscape.

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Thoughts: *deep breath* Okay, I said I was going to talk about the serious/surreal episodes, and this is the one I picked to cover it.

To begin with, I don’t think this is a badly done episode for what it’s trying to do (unlike the previous episode, which while not outright bad was muddled in concept and execution).  There’s a lot left unspoken, but it’s not hard to read between the lines to get what’s being said about Mrs. Moroboshi and her inner life.  It’s more a question of to what extent this series is an appropriate venue for this kind of story.

By itself, an episode focusing on Mrs. Moroboshi’s inner life is an interesting idea. She’s at her most interesting when she’s a bit off in her own world and clinging tightly to it (such as the flooding episode, where she goes to sleep underwater using a vacuum cleaner attachment as a snorkel).  She’s often on the fringe of strange events, and enough of a blank slate that giving her a plot of her own would be interesting space to explore.  Rather than an a story where she goes off into space or something, the episode goes into her subconscious instead, while laying the “is it a dream or is it real” theme on thick.

While we’ve seen some serious episodes before, this is the point in the series where Mamoru Oshii’s themes and style start to overshadow Takahashi’s on a more regular basis (3 of the 4 episodes on this DVD, to be specific).  While there’s no doubt that Oshii is a directing genius, it’s worth noting that the projects he’s undertaken for the rest of his career are nothing like Urusei Yatsura.  There are times that Oshii is telling his own stories using the UY characters and setting as his tools, and this is one of those times.  It can produce good stories, but when an episode doesn’t fit the style, tone or themes of the original, is it a good adaptation?  This isn’t an issue of making changes to the material to make a good episode–we’ve seen cases where that’s been done, and we’ve also seen episodes that are practically frame-by-frame translations of the manga onto the screen.  How far can the definition of an adaptation stretch in the service of a good story, and does there come a point when the director is becoming too self-indulgent and should just get their own show?

To a certain extent, the answer is just that Oshii’s UY is a different animal from Takahashi’s UY, and they’re both good in their own way.  However, the ultimate purpose of the series is to provide an animated version of the UY manga, and there comes a point where telling wildly different stories stops serving that purpose.  UY is supposed to be a comedy with romantic elements, and earlier mostly-serious episodes were primarily in the service of exploring the romantic elements.  The shift in emphasis is not just a change from the manga, but also from the earlier direction of the show, and if the other type of episode appears too often it starts to feel like it’s abandoning the elements that drew the viewer to the series in the first place.

Ultimately, I don’t mind episodes of this type if they’re done well, and if they’re not overdone.  I’m drawn to the series as a comedy with good character bits, though, and when the series forgets it’s a comedy it’s not necessarily what I’m looking for, even if it’s well-done.  I also think it works best if there’s at least a nod to the reality of the series. Episodes 75 (“And Then There Were None”) and 77 (Wonderland) go strange places, but the events are real to the characters, and they follow the real-world-to-fantasy pattern of starting in “normal” reality and returning us there in the end.  This episode doesn’t take us back out, and leaves us in a situation that clearly isn’t “real” in the sense that other characters are experiencing it, so it feels less consequential.

(There’s also the problem of trying to depict strange situations in an already strange series–it’s hard to believe that Ataru would freak out at seeing a duplicate of his mother when we’ve seen two different episodes with duplicate Atarus, one with dozens of them.)

This episode does bring up something that hasn’t been explored, namely Mrs. Moroboshi’s relationship with Ten.  We generally see him interacting with the teenagers, but since he doesn’t go to school himself, he logically must spend a lot of time around Mrs. Moroboshi during the day.  Do they have any sort of a mother-son relationship?  The montage at the beginning suggests so, but it never really goes anywhere.

On a completely different note, new season, new opening and closing!  We’ve got “Dancing Star” as the opening theme and “Yume wa Love me More” as the end theme.  It’s about time we had a new opening sequence, because the original opening stopped reflecting the status quo about halfway through season 1, and it was high time to stop pretending that Shinobu was coequal with Lum.  The animation is a lot better by now, too.  I like the new opening, but the end theme doesn’t do anything for me–it’s pretty generic and there isn’t a lot going on in the animation.

Next episode: The Mendous celebrate Christmas in the summer!

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