The Urusei Yatsura Viewing Project, part 84: “Terror! Attack of the Killer Potatoes!”

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Episode 84: “Terror! Attack of the Killer Potatoes!”

Original airdate: September 14, 1983

Corresponding manga chapter: Original

Summary: There is nothing wrong with your television: do not attempt to adjust your set.  It’s just Cherry, spinning a yarn of ecological imbalance gone horribly wrong.  We slowly pan in on a mountain lodge, and then cut to Shinobu, trembling as she holds a kitchen knife.  Ataru and Mendou rush in to see what’s wrong, and she points a shaking hand at the true horror: Lum’s cooking.

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Specifically, she’s emptied an entire (enormous) bottle of Tabasco on the spaghetti.  Ataru chides her for not leaving the seasoning to Shinobu, and suggests that she grate the Tororo potatoes instead.

[Aside, since this will run through the episode: The vegetable in question is the Chinese yam or nagaimo, which can be eaten raw and turns slimy when grated; tororo refers to the culinary application of the grated version.  This link has a number of photos of the preparation process.  The subs call them “Tororo potatoes”, “Tororo” or “potatoes”, but for simplicity’s sake I’ll just refer to them as “potatoes” throughout.]

Mendou objects that the potatoes are unsuitable for a beauty like Lum, but Ataru asks if he’d rather have his lips bloat up from too much spice again, and he quickly relents.  Lum goes to grate the potato, but when she turns away the potato mysteriously vanishes.  At dinner, she explains what happened, but Ataru is incredulous, suggesting that maybe it ran away (“Scene from ‘Potato Come Home’?”).  Oddly, Lum agrees.

Outside, something mysteriously moves below the earth, while inside, Mendou turns on the shower.  Downstairs, Lum and Shinobu pull a melon out of the fridge, but when Lum goes to wash it the water shuts off.  Upstairs, the shower stops as well, and while Mendou fiddles with the controls the shower head does its impression of Squirm.

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A scream rings out from the bathroom as Mendou backs away from the shower goop.  The bathroom door cracks and falls open, and Shinobu has an embarrassing face-to-face with a naked Mendou.  He dives into the tub, the goop retracts back into the shower head, and downstairs the water is running in the sink again.

Ataru is drawn to the watermelon, but as he reaches for it a geyser of goop erupts from within, clinging to his face like a starch-based version of Alien.  He collapses, but when things look dire he manages to suck the goop into his mouth and consume it.  Atau identifies the flavor as potato, and this is borne out when a noise from outside draws them to the living room.  Outside hovers a swarm of potatoes, which launch themselves into the room and attack.  The only way to save themselves? Eat!

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After a series of images that are going in my “look bad when taken out of context” file, the characters try to retreat upstairs, but discover that the entire second floor is taken up by a potatolanche.  They take refuge in a sitting room, the door rattling behind them.  Ataru panics and throws open the curtain, only to be greeted by the horrifying sight of row upon row of enormous potatoes massing in ranks outside.

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The potatoes begin to break through the door, and the general consensus is that they’re doomed.  Mendou refuses to disgrace the clan by dying by potato, and stands to fight while the others escape out a hole Lum blows in the wall.  When the wall of potato bursts through the door, he tries to run, but is swallowed and would be lost if not for Shinobu, who pulls him out and hurls him away with great force.  They turn to see the lodge sink into the dark tarn potato flood, and a enormous potato rise in its place.

Morning finds our heroes still in duck-and-cover position.  Lum flies up to investigate the giant potato, and finds that it’s quiescent, as are the rest of the swarm.  They conclude that they’re only active at night, and Ataru sets off to return to the village.  The rest of the group doesn’t want to walk through the potato fields, though, and Mendou takes them on the long route through the mountains.  Unfortunately, this proves to be about as easy as crossing the Misty Mountains.

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Mendou says that the only way through is downriver.  Lum ferries them down the cliff at alarming speed, and soon they’re desperately navigating the whitewater on a raft.  Eventually the river calms, and everyone relaxes as they slowly float along.  Mendou trails his hand in the water…and pulls it back with potato stuck between his fingers.  A potato bobs to the surface, then another, and Mendou grabs the raft pole and flails at the water.

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The others conclude that he’s lost it, but they don’t have time to explore the idea because they hit rapids.  They make it out unscathed, but the raft is a loss.  Lying on the shore, they complain of being hungry.  Lum emerges from the woods with food, but it turns out to be an armful of…potatoes.  The others refuse to eat, and seeing that the sun is approaching the horizon, set out again.

Passing through a sea of grass up to their noses, Ataru realizes they’re going uphill, and calls Mendou out on his responsibility for the bad navigation up to that point.  They come to a clearing, and Lum goes ahead to scout while the boys continue their sniping.  Shinobu notes that it was Mendou’s idea to go to the lodge, and Ataru suggests that an ancestor incurred a curse from a Tororo-monger.

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Mendou points out that strange things always happen around Ataru (true) and they’re at the point of blows when Shinobu tears a tree out of the ground and throws it down between them.  Lum returns to say that the road leads downwards, and everyone takes off at top speed to get back to the village.  Charging downhill, they talk excitedly about returning to civilization…and then the screen freezes on one of those images that inevitably accompanies a voiceover describing how everyone in the picture died.

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As the sun sinks toward the horizon, the characters look on in horror, and the camera shifts to show that they’ve looped back to the Valley of the Potatoes.  The sun vanishes, night falls…and the potatoes begin to flow.  Cherry’s ominous voiceover returns, and there’s a brief, confusing shot of potato violence.

Thoughts: This episode really needed another draft or two, because it really can’t decide what it’s trying to be.  The threat is played a little too silly to really be scary, but there’s not a lot of humor and no real punch line.  Despite the framing sequence, there’s no serious attempt at an ecological message.  This could have been a funny premise with a bit of suspense (see the Melon God or fossil bird episodes for examples), or if it fully committed it could be creepy/scary, like “And Then There Were None”, but instead it’s neither fish nor fowl, just a side of mash.  The amount of the episode that consists of the characters running, which is usually a sign of filler, doesn’t help.

I will say that, while it’s not perfect, the animation never hits the lows that the previous episode did.  Still, this one’s a misfire; it doesn’t hit on the animators’ strengths in original episodes, and if Takahashi had written the original it would be much funnier.  (It might have run with the idea of the Curse of the Tororo People, for example.) If going for the suspense ending, I would have omitted the final ambiguous scene of strangely-colored potato violence, since the shot of them surrounded by potatoes that are starting to move in the dark does much better by leaving it up to the viewer’s imagination.

Next episode: The return of Lum’s robot teacher!

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