Episode 79: “The House of Mendou–Summer X’mas”
Original airdate: August 3, 1983
Corresponding manga chapter: “Noisy Christmas Tree Party”, volume 16, chapter 6 (Japanese tankobon release)/overall chapter 163
Minor character introduced: Shooting instructor
Summary: A tense, determined Shutaro Mendou stalks warily through a junkyard, keeping his pistol ready as he scans through the heat haze. Suddenly he spins and fires, bringing down a cardboard target in the form of Cherry. Another target pops up, but he holds his fire when he sees that it’s a desk-wielding Shinobu. After a long, tense pause, the targets come fast and furious. He shoots down targets of Ataru, Onsen-Mark and the Stormtroopers, but hesitates before holding his fire when Ryuunosuke appears. He’s about to plug another Ataru target when a Lum target interposes, stopping him. Inside a bunker, this is monitored by Mendou’s shooting instructor, who looks like a mercenary version of Gendou Ikari but the AnimEigo notes say is based on Kunie Tanaka.
The final round launches, with targets jumping out from everywhere. Mendou concentrates, then fills an Ataru target full of holes. The PA announces that all targets are damaged and the exercise is complete, and the bunker rises from out of the ground. The instructor congratulates Mendou, but he demurs, saying that Ataru threw him off and he’ll halve his reaction time tomorrow. He adds that he’s proud to have never struck the wrong target–“Never point thy sword at a woman”.
They’re interrupted by a flight of helicopters that look like they should be accompanied by “Flight of the Valkyries” played on sleighbells, as they’re escorting an enormous Christmas tree star. (Note: The subs say “X’mas” throughout, as first seen on a mall sign in the 1981 Christmas episode. This is probably to save space, but it always makes me feel like I’m in Futurama, so I’ll use either as whim takes me.) The instructor says that it’s the kuroko’s cargo-copter fleet, which is taking the star to Ryoko’s part of the complex, but since the kurokos report directly to her the guards don’t know what’s going on. Mendou nixes sending in a spy, and the mystery is heightened when we see Ryoko guiding the star from the roof.
Speaking of the kuroko, they’re at the Moroboshi residence to deliver an invitation to a Summer X’mas Party that night. Lum is excited to go; Ataru tells her she’s not invited, but in fact the invitation specifically requires attendees to come as a couple. Ten says he wants to go, and is disappointed when he’s told that they don’t have any more invitations, until Kuroko Neko points to his own invitation.
The kuroko put in a lot of mileage, delivering invitations to Ran and Sakura (who asks if there’ll be a banquet). Ryuunosuke is not terribly familiar with Christmas, asking if it’s the holiday when you eat cakes and girls wear flimsy clothes. She’s not sure who to bring, but her father pops up in a natty suit. Megane asks if Lum will be there, and agrees to go when told she will. The kuroko stresses that it has to be a man-woman pair (or child/cat, presumably), and the other Stormtroopers tussle over which one will put on a dress.
Shinobu mulls over who to take, since she can’t ask Mendou or Ataru. She wanders the streets and overthinks as a panoply of strangely-drawn characters appear in the background. It has to be someone good, but not someone who’s a long-term prospect. Boys her age are therefore out, but an older man will also draw suspicion, while a younger boy will be like bringing her brother. If it’s someone that would bring a sense of surprise or humor, or naturally logical, she’s all set.
Kudos to Saeko Shimazu for the sad little sigh Shinobu lets out after this.
Mendou is standing over the pool, feeding the octopuses, when Ryoko runs up and “accidentally” shoves him in. She reaches in to pull him up, but gets an octopus instead, commenting that her brother looks grumpy (and heavy). Once they get this sorted out, she explain offscreen as they take an elevator upwards. They emerge in a round room furnished with restaurant-style tables and chairs and the star protruding from a hole in the floor. Mendou doesn’t think it look like much, until he looks down into the hole and boggles: the star is at the top of a tree that runs the entire height of the building’s rotunda, and vanishes into the depths of the eyecatch.
We emerge that night, where a kuroko is chauffering Megane and his date, Chibi, to the skyscraper.
Megane gives a long pause before assuring Chibi that he is pretty, but any potential kiss is cut short by the limo stopping. They process past a line of kuroko holding lanterns (Megane tells Chibi to think of them as scenery). The enormous front door opens to reveal, amid some random unknowns, Lum and Ataru, Ran and Rei, Ryuunosuke and her father, Ten and Kuroko Neko, Shinobu and Onsen-Mark, and Cherry and Sakura. Megane says that the only decent couple is Ataru and Lum, but is interrupted by a kuroko stepping to the microphone to speak. He greets them, but the crowd wants to get started. The kuroko invites them to the Christmas Party room, which they reach by pistons raising the room to the base of the tree. Everyone is boggled by the size of the tree, until the kuroko start attaching chains to their waists and Wolverine gauntlets to their hands.
At the top, Mendou is appalled to find out that the guests are expected to climb to the top of the tree. He asks if she knows how high that is, and Ryoko says it’s 207.5 meters (about 680 feet, although the building doesn’t look 68 stories tall from the outside). Mendou asks who would possibly take part in such an event. We find out below, where the kuroko announces that the man in the winning pair will get a kiss from Ryoko. The women are so out of here, until they find out that the woman in the winning pair gets a kiss from Mendou. Sakura is still out of here, but does an about-face when the kuroko adds that there will be a Chinese banquet at the top.
Ryoko speculates about who will come for her. Mendou is struck with a wild surmise and smashes open a display case with samurai armor, grabs a sword, and jumps down to the tree to take out the main contender, Ataru.
Down below, Ataru is ascending the tree vertically, with Lum dragging behind. She stops their ascent by grabbing a branch, vowing not to let Darling near Ryoko. The voice of Mendou comes from above, telling Ataru to prepare to meet his ancestors. After a pause, Mendou appears from above and hurtles past Ataru, plummeting into the distance and past all the couples.
The kuroko monitor the couples’ progress on a 4-bit quality display; Ataru is at the 100-meter mark, and the next couple (Shinobu and Onsen-Mark) are at 50. Ryoko wonders where Mendou is, and a kuroko says he hit the first floor fifteen seconds ago. She pauses to mourn her brother, tragically leaving the world on X’mas, but her sorrow is cut short by a tattered Mendou arriving on the elevator, vowing not to die until Ataru is slain. He goes over to the hole and prepares to leap again. Ryoko tries to stop him, but his honor won’t be assuaged, and when he hears that Ataru has reached 130 meters he launches himself into space.
Shinobu starts to slip as Mendou passes; he bounces off a branch and pushes her into Ataru’s arms before resuming his plummet. They pause to have a moment, until Rei and Ran fall past them and knock them down again. Mendou return to the top floor and jumps again, just as the kuroko announce that Ataru is moving again.
Chibi wants to give up. Megane wants to keep going, but admits that’s it’s a massive challenge. Inspiration strikes when he sees a branch that reaches over the balcony to a door.
The Fujinamis are on their own section of trunk, and Ryuunosuke muses that this is nothing like her young-girl dreams of Christmas. She flashes back to around age six, when she interrupts her father eating something to ask why they don’t celebrate the holiday. He claims not to have heard of it; he denies knowing what a cake is, and claims that the pastry-like object he’s eating is medicine for grown-ups.
Mr. Fujinami claims he still doesn’t know what she’s talking about, but he’s up for a fight.
Chibi and Megane emerge from an elevator door to find themselves one level below Ryoko. They prepare to leap to the trunk, but Chibi (sensibly) panics, and Megane has to wrestle him to the railing. He’s distracted by Cherry and Sakura, and flails. To save himself he launches himself at the tree, and is just about to make it when he’s struck by Mendou on the way down. They take Cherry and Sakura with them, and pick up everyone else on the way down, until all the named characters are dangling in one long, awkward chain.
Ataru asks Lum if she can fly them out of there, which she finds ridiculous. She accuses him of causing the situation by his lechery, and powers up an electric burst. All the other climbers fall from the tree like overripe fruit (hopefully not landing in the same way). Up in the control area, the readout shows that the eleven remaining climbers are stuck at 130 meters and not moving. Ryoko concludes that they must be having fun on their own and ignoring her, which leaves her with only one option: pushing a button on the control panel. The balls begin lighting up, and things get visual, so I’ll just let the pictures tell the story…
Changes from the manga version: The manga story starts with the kuroko distributing the invitations. It ran in mid-January, so there’s no X’mas in summer aspect. Chibi and Megane aren’t included, of course, and it’s not clear who Shinobu and Ran are partnered with. Mendou only plummets once rather than multiple times.
Thoughts: After a side trip into the surreal, we’re back to the manga with a hilarious return to form. This episode and the previous one sort of mark the extremes of the best of the series: existential surrealism on one hand, taking a funny manga chapter and turning it up to 11 on the other.
As with the recent movie episode, this one’s a slow builder but hits a manic pace by the end. This story is one that really benefits from taking the basic situation and amplifying it; in particular, while the manga introduces Mendou jumping onto the tree to attack Ataru, turning into a runner with a Wile E. Coyote-like chain of leaps is all the animators’ (as are the series of expressions I captured above). Taking advantage of the expanded story space to take an already funny story and make it funnier: that’s firing on all cylinders. (The shooting sequence at the beginning doesn’t really connect to the plot, but it’s interesting enough that it doesn’t feel like filler, either.)
The decision to run this episode at this time of year is a bit odd. Since it’s August, we’re hitting a series of vacation stories, but there are summer stories that haven’t been adapted yet (while the one they’re adapting next kind of overlaps other episodes they’ve done in concept). The takeaway I’m getting from this is that the turnaround from page to screen is about six and a half months.
Next episode: A ghost at the beach!