The Urusei Yatsura Viewing Project, part 94: “The Story of a Traveling Snowman”

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Episode 94: “The Story of a Traveling Snowman”

Original airdate: December 21, 1983

Corresponding manga chapter: “Tales of the Wandering Snowman”, volume 12, episode 2 (Japanese tankobon release)/overall chapter 115

Minor character introduced: The snowman

Summary: Like an odd version of The Powers of Ten, we fade in on the Milky Way, then the Earth and Moon, then a snowman wearing a traditional traveling hat and cloak as it plummets toward Japan, passing a satellite on the way.  A confused weatherman announces that there’s a chance of “snowman fall” today (chubby snow?).

It’s snowing regular snow outside the Moroboshi home, where Mrs. Moroboshi is annoyed that Cherry is with them for dinner.  She sits down angrily at the table, to her husband’s alarm.  Ataru pops his head in to say he’s leaving, and she tells him to take out the garbage, which Mr. Moroboshi thinks is aimed at him (due to a slang phrase).  He panics, until he sees that Ataru’s just taking out the trash, and Cherry with it.

In the sky above, Lum and Ten revel in the snow despite being massively underdressed for it.  Their revels are interrupted when Ten is struck by a falling snowman (shoulda watched the weather report).

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It crashes outside Cherry’s tent in the vacant lot.  Ten angrily crawls out from under it, and the snowman jumps backward and runs away with Ten in pursuit.  They run down the street, the snowman dodging jets of flame, while Ataru slogs in the other direction on his way to the public baths.  Ataru makes the cardinal comedy mistake of hoping something will warm him up, and immediately takes a burst of flame from Ten.  A swing of Ataru’s umbrella sends Ten flying, and he decides to head home.

The next morning, he rushes out the front door, but stops when he sees the snowman outside the door.  Lum and Ten appear, and Ten tries his take his vengeance with another gout of flame, but the snowman dodges behind Ataru and he takes it instead.  Ataru doesn’t buy Ten’s explanation that it moved behind him, even when Lum agrees that she saw it move.  He swats Ten with his briefcase and charges off to school.  Lum eyes the snowman, then takes off, the snowman following.  At school, everyone laughs at Lum when she insists she saw it move.  Kakugari enters to tell them that the boys have to run a marathon in gym class, while outside, two children give the snowman arms.

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The boys jog past, and the snowman follows.  As it gains on them, Mendou and the Stormtroopers spy it flanking them, but all conclude that they must be imagining it and don’t say anything.  The snowman pulls ahead of Mendou and slaps Ataru on the butt (twice), which he blames on Mendou.  Onsen-Mark calls a rest, giving Ataru a chance to confront Mendou for finally putting the moves on him.

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Mendou insists that Ataru’s butt holds no interest for him, so it must be the snowman.  He’s waxing on eloquent on how he would never touch Ataru’s butt if it were the last thing on Earth when Ten flies up from behind, spies the snowman, and tries to flame it.  Once again it dodges around Ataru, letting him take the blast.  Mendou and the Stormtroopers all agree that they saw it, but Ataru insists that snowmen don’t move (because that would be strange) and tosses a trash can at the flying, flame-breathing alien child..

Back in Ataru’s room, he still isn’t buying the “snowman did it” excuse.  Lum tries to get Ten to apologize, which he’s not eager to do, and speculates about why wherever Darling goes, there’s a snowman.  Cherry pops up to put his two yen in.

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Ataru says that he’d rather be haunted by a hot babe, and outside the snowman’s eyes light up.  After the eyecatch, Ataru pulls out his futon and tells Lum to go to her UFO, despite her insistence that she’s staying there.  His arguments are cut short when he sees a pink-haired babe on the balcony.  Not stopping to question this (in fairness, it’s hardly the weirdest thing to ever happen to him), he asks why she’s there, and she says she’s prepared a banquet to thank him for saving her life three times.  Inside the room, Lum and Ten are confused by Ataru’s friendliness with the snowman.

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She shows him a fire and a spread laid out in the yard.  In Ataru’s head she flies him over the railing, while Lum sees him plummeting to the ground with the snowman hanging onto him.  She serves him oden and sake, which warm him up to the point of taking off his robe.  There follow a series of tricks with rabbits and turtles, which we see are actually snow constructs made by the snowman.  Lum and Ten watch his excitement from above, bemused.  She follows with the main course of rice (causing Ten to wonder why he’s eating snow).  At this point alcohol gets the better of him, and he flings himself on her.

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Lum and Ten fly off, since Ataru is having fun on his own.  He asks the snowman girl if they can be friends, and her appearance shifts to that of Oyuki, then Sakura, Kurama, Ran, Ryoko, and then a few random girls.  Ataru goes from eloquent propositions to leaping at them to just becoming a confused, drooling mess.  Shinobu appears, but when he embraces her she becomes Lum. (All the girls do is giggle a bit.) He freaks out, shouting that he can’t choose just one and that all the girls in the world are his.

The scene shifts to a strange inverse view of the town, and then Ataru standing in an empty, snow-covered plaza.

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A variety of his male friends and acquaintances appear: Megane (talking about life originating in space), Chibi (youth and naivete), Mendou (art), Perm (gibberish), Kakugari (quoting something about detectives), Onsen-Mark (boxing), Cherry (causality), Mr. Moroboshi (banking and interest), and then an ever-increasing group of random characters and speeches.  Ataru’s response is largely to gibber and freak out.  The camera pans out from the plaza to reveal Ataru sitting in his back yard with the sun rising and the snow starting to melt.  Lum flies down to him, and he does a sort of inverse-Wizard of Oz ending, asking where everyone is.  She says that he was just playing with a snowman all night, but she’s here for him like she always is, to brush him off and invite him in to a warm bath.  It starts to snow again, and we pan back to see the snowman on the roof, wearing its hat and cloak again.

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Changes from the manga version: The story starts with the snowman hitting Ten, and goes the same way until Ataru jumps the snowman.  In the manga it changes back and flies off, and ends with Ataru sick in bed (well, futon).

Thoughts: I enjoy the base (manga) story, which is in classic UY form (even if the premise is a bit odd even by UY standards).  The original material is all over the place, although it’s kind of entertainingly random.  We go from a greatest hits of the series’ women (though where’s Benten?) that ends with a pretty good summary of Ataru’s worldview.  It goes to the just plain strange, and ends in a way that suggests they wanted a touchingly romantic ending for Christmas.  Unlike, say, “Pitter Patter Christmas Eve”, it’s not really a fitting coda to “the episode where Ataru tried to do it with a snowman”.  The filler material isn’t bad, if a bit disjointed, but having the manga story end at minute 15 followed by 7 minutes of filler is kind of blatant.

The character designs are sometimes awry in this one, probably once again as a result of movie prep.  It’s particularly noticeable in Ataru’s mother and Ten’s facial expressions.

This episode also has what I believe is the first appearance of a recurring musical theme: “The Fool on the Hill” by the Beatles.

Next episode: Japanese fairy tales, Urusei Yatsura style!

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