Episode 97: “Challenge! Benten vs the Girl Trio”
Original airdate: January 25, 1984
Corresponding manga chapters: “Looking For a Lost Thing/Fierce Fight! 3 vs 3/Concluding Chapter”, volume 19, chapters 9-11 (Japanese tankobon release)/overall chapters 9-11
Major characters introduced: Sugar, Pepper, Ginger
Minor character introduced: SALT No. 1
Summary: In her UFO, Lum gets a space-Skype from Oyuki, who tells her that Benten is missing and that she has something to give her. Returning to Ataru’s bedroom, Lum finds a post-bath Benten there, wearing a towel and brushing her hair (fortunately she got there before Ataru). Benten explains that she’s looking for something she’s lost.
No, not her shirt, her chain. At Oyuki’s palace on Neptune, she explains that she was flying home through the peach-mushroom fields when she saw a girl lying on the ground, apparently dead. When she went to check on her, a mushroom released a gas that knocked her out, and when she came to, the girl and her chain were missing. Needless to say, she’s not pleased about this, but when Lum asks why the chain is so important, she changes the subject and asks what Oyuki has for her. It’s a video message, which Oyuki brings up on the screen.
It’s from three teen girls doing the pull-down-the-eyelid-and-stick-out-the-tongue thing. Benten recognizes the blonde one as the “dead” girl from earlier. They introduce themselves, demonstrating that only one of them has the knack for impressive nicknames, even if she does appear to be cosplaying as Linna from Bubblegum Crisis.
They explain that while their gang is tough, their reputation is suffering from living in the shadow of Benten’s gang. (Oyuki and Lum immediately take offense at this, but are in no hurry to defend Benten.) Sugar holds up Benten’s chain and says that they’re holding it hostage until the other gang has a rumble with them, so they can make their name by defeating them. Enraged, Benten smashes the screen and takes off on her motorcycle, and Lum and Oyuki agree they should follow her.
In a UFO circling a planet…somewhere, Sugar’s gang sits in the kitchen and considers their situation. They recount stories of the old gang: how Benten beat up an entire boys’ school, how the grass doesn’t grow where Lum walks, and how Oyuki keeps perverts who bother her permanently frozen on Neptune. They quickly realize how over their heads they are, and that they’re too young to die. Sugar pulls out of it first, giving a pep talk where she reminds them that they’re in the springtime of their youths, and that she used their computer, SALT No. 1, to help them out. The other two are alarmed that she did something so dangerous, but Sugar is determined. Leading them into SALT’s chamber (it looks more like a giant monkey robot in a chef’s hat than a computer), she explains that it’s identified space vector AHO as their best battle location. (As the notes explain, “aho” more or less means “dimwit”, and in fact Benten uses it as an insult later in the episode.) This restores their confidence.
Benten charges toward the confrontation on her motorcylce, the other two following in their own conveyance (although it turns out Oyuki’s just there to get paid back for the broken screen). Lum has something more important: the map to the confrontation. As we find out when the two trios face off, space vector A-H-O is the roof of Tomobiki High.
Sugar is the only one of her gang with the stomach for the confrontation, brandishing the chain while bragging. Ginger and Pepper sneak off to, ah, “look for weapons” while she’s declaiming, and sneak off again when she gives the other gang a tongue-lashing. She says that Benten should be playing a biwa somewhere, Oyuki is staying quiet so she won’t pee herself in fear, and Lum should run home because her Darling is probably cheating on her. When she’s done, she realizes that maybe this wasn’t the best approach.
It’s on like Kubla Khan, with Lum immediately zapping Sugar. Benten takes off after the others, but has to stop to unwrap Ataru from around her hips. Sugar brags that he’s the secret factor that will ensure their victory, and ups the ante by disappearing. The chain remains, which rather dampens the effect, and Lum hits Sugar with a mallet after she hits Ataru with the chain. Sugar tosses the chain to Pepper, and after a brief chase she throws it to Ginger, who’s knocked off the roof and lands on a balcony below. Ginger jumps down to check on her, followed by Lum, Benten and Oyuki, who declares Ginger dead.
Pepper tosses the chain to Sugar, who’s now alone on the rooftop, while Ginger jumps up to reveal that she was using her special ability to feign death. Lum flies up to confront Sugar, who’s standing on the edge of the roof. Ataru rushes at Sugar to stop her from throwing her life away, but she runs down the side of the building while Ataru does a Wile E. Coyote off the roof. A ground chase ensues between Sugar, Benten, Pepper, Lum and Ataru. Pepper winds up with the chain and Ataru hanging onto her, and gets rid of him by shedding her skin. He holds it for a long beat before deciding what to do with it: put it on.
The skin doesn’t last long after Lum shows up and electrocutes it. After checking if he’s okay, Lum catches up with Pepper, who unwisely swings the chain at her. Lum channels a blast down it, breaking several links. Benten and Oyuki catch up while Pepper sneaks away and Lum tries to figure out how to explain. Oyuki tries to encourage her to let it go, since the chain can surely be replaced, but Benten insists that it must be that one. The others imagine a past boyfriend giving her the chain and her accidentally killing him with it. Benten snaps that it’s not a matter of sentiment but of desperation. The argument is cut short when SALT No. 1 flies over them. It lands and spews out a huge pile of chains, then takes off again.
Oyuki cuts through their confusion by noting that there’s no way of telling which chain is real. Sugar’s gang tries to grab the chains and split up, but they don’t get very far because they’re far too heavy to carry. Benten tells Lum to hit them with a shock. The gang says that she’ll melt Benten’s chain, but she gives Lum the go-ahead, and Lum shocks them silly. Benten has a reluctant Oyuki follow up with a cold breeze, sealing the not-warmly-dressed girls in blocks of ice. Benten tosses them aside and picks up the one chain that wasn’t destroyed in the process, which is hers. Lum hugs her excitedly, and Oyuki suggests they call it a day and get some tea. Benten invites them to her place. After they’re safely gone, Sugar’s gang shouts at them to come back and fight.
Benten and co. fly back on her motorcycle (they just left the other vehicle on Earth, I guess) and Oyuki and Lum discuss their curiosity about the chain. They land at Benten’s UFO and find out the answer: it’s her front door key, and she was locked out.
They walk in to find Sugar, Ginger and Pepper sitting around her table, eating snacks. Turns out the back door was open. Sugar chews them out for cutting out on the fight, brandishes a different chain that she says is the real one (more likely it’s the spare) and they take off, taunting Benten’s gang to follow them. They repeat the taunt several times, since Benten’s gang really isn’t feeling it.
Changes from the manga version: The manga version of Ginger has dark skin and hair. The initial faceoff takes place in a restaurant rather than on the school roof. Ataru isn’t in the manga version; Pepper sheds her skin after Lum grabs her, and leaves a long trail of shed skins behind her. SALT No. 1 lands on Benten’s gang, and there’s some business while they’re trapped in a hole before the chains are shed. Apart from those changes, the two stories are quite close.
Thoughts: I really enjoyed this episode. Adapting three chapters of the manga leads to a fast-paced story with a minimum of filler. I like seeing Lum with her friends, where she’s the moderate one, and Sugar, Pepper and Ginger are fun new characters. Having a rival “gang” of alien girls with powers, albeit odd, limited ones, is a dynamic with a lot of potential, and the gap between their attitude and their skill level leads to a lot of humor.
I’m curious as to why the anime changed Ginger’s appearance. It looks like Takahashi was going for a multiracial gang; Pepper is clearly Asian in both versions, while Sugar is a bit ambiguous (pale skin and, in the manga, hair, but clothes and hair in a Chinese style). (Though in that case, since Sugar is the pale one, I’d have expected the darker one to be Pepper, not Ginger.) It was probably for reasons of color composition or something like that, but it would have been nice to see a dark-skinned anime character who wasn’t a stereotype. It’s always interesting to see an anime character who’s notably more Japanese-looking than the Japanese characters around them, as well, especially since she’s an alien in this case.
I do wonder if there’s some mandate to insert Ataru just so viewers don’t forget that he’s the main character. I didn’t mind it here, since the idea of him being the factor that slows down Benten is amusing, but having an all-female story (not counting the computer) was fun as well.
Next episode: Ran makes duplicates of Lum1