The Urusei Yatsura Viewing Project, part 111: “The Steel Cage Flower Viewing Death Match”

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Episode 111: “The Steel Cage Flower Viewing Death Match”

Original airdate: May 16, 1984

Corresponding manga chapter: “Flower Viewing Deathmatch”, volume 17, chapter 7 (Japanese tankobon release)/overall chapter 175

Summary: On a misty night, Kotatsu Neko walks through an alley, smoking a pipe.  A garbage can lid rolls past him, and a stray dog barks furiously, but Kotatsu Neko just regards it coolly until it tires itself out and slinks away.  He knocks the ember out of his pipe, but drops the pipe in shock when he sees something offscreen.  He pops his claws, and trembles in terror as an amorphous shadow shifts at the end of the alley.

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He edges to the wall, and looks around, but nothing’s there but a small object fluttering on the breeze.  Catching it in his paw, he sees that it’s a single sakura blossom, and lets out a terrified “MEEEEOOOOOWWW!”

In his bedroom, Ataru sleeps with his head peacefully on a girlie mag, until his mother storms in and kicks him awake.  After an uncomfortable moment when he mistakes her for Shinobu, his father bursts in and asks what Ataru did with the canned salmon he’s been hoarding.  Ataru never did nothin’ to no canned salmon, but his mother drags him to the wrecked kitchen, where the fridge door is open and food is scattered everywhere.  Lum points out that Ataru steals food sneakily, and Ataru says it must be Cherry.  The monk himself pops up to deny it, adding that if he’d done it there wouldn’t be any food left.  He points out a clue to the culprit: a few cherry blossom petals drifting near the broken kitchen window, even though sakura season is over.  Then Lum has a flash of insight!

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Sakura denies leaving clues behind like a Batman villain, and adds that she has plenty of food and doesn’t need to steal any.  She further rejects the suggestion that she wanders the city by night in a sleep-eating trance, and asks to see what Cherry’s hiding in his tunic.  When she sees the sakura petal, she says, “So, the rumors are true.”

In classroom 2-4, Shinobu regales the Stormtroopers with an account of something she encountered last night.  She heard the noise of something heavy being dragged, and saw a shadow on the curtains, in the shape of a giant cauliflower.  Chibi suggests that they’re dealing with a mushroom monster, but Megane scoffs, telling of his own experience.  He was awoken by a barking dog, and against his better judgment looked out the window to see…Kimaila, the vegetable Frankenstein monster!  Ataru breaks in to tell him that it’s a sakura monster, and there’s a who’s-on-first exchange where the Stormtroopers think he means Sakura herself, or a monster she owns.  While they go back and forth over it, Mendou is struck by troubling thoughts.

At the Mendou complex, Mendou asks his grandfather about the ancient legend, wherein a conjunction between Mars and the Big Dipper summons the monster Konohana to destroy the clan.  He notes that this conjunction is astronomically impossible, so the clan should prosper forever…but the red light atop a tower on their complex lines up with the Dipper, and he’s heard rumors of a flower monster, or “konohana”.  Mendou wishes to avail himself of his grandfather’s wisdom, but his grandfather has other ideas.

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Two of his guards rescue him from the tickle monster, one sacrificing himself in Mendou’s place.  Mendou looks out at the Big Dipper above the red beacon light, and calls out the troops, who deploy tanks, fighter jets, and a weird human-and-rope fence arrangement.  They’re not aware that the true threat is already inside the complex, as Ryoko is talking to…something behind a screen, scolding it for almost being caught and telling it she’ll take it out to find living flesh to eat after dark.  On the floor are a scattering of sakura petals…

The next morning, a group of Mendou’s guards gather around the octopus pool, in a tizzy because there are sakura petals floating on the surface and something’s missing.  They’re not sure if this is due to the monster their master fears, but agree to destroy the evidence, which apparently involves jumping into the air and fishing in the pool with nets.  The lookout spots Mendou coming, and they line up by the door in time for him to enter, carrying a pot of octopus food.  They come to greet him at the surface, and he tells them how glad he is for their company before tossing them some food, as his guards watch in increasing panic.  Suddenly he notices something wrong:

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He goes through this with several more (if you want to learn to count to seven in Japanese, this is the episode for you), determining that they’re all down one arm.  The guards try to distract him by saying that octopuses have seven arms, but Mendou insists that it’s four lights eight arms.  Mendou spots that one octopus is holding a sakura petal, and goes to confront his sister.  Since the guards have searched everywhere else, the thing he seeks must be in her quarters, which does indeed seem to be the case.

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The tree wiggles its branches, which Ryoko says is it denying having eaten the octopus’s tentacles.  However, the kuroko pull back the screen to reveal that it has a tentacles sticking out of…some unspecified orifice that’s apparently serving as a mouth.  Mendou tells her that eating the symbol of their house proves that it’s the monster that will destroy them, but Ryoko insists that it’s just a cute widdle tree that’s misunderstood. Their grandfather comes in and breaks through the dilemma with a suggestion: hold a flower-viewing.  Mendou strides out of the room and commands it to be done, and word spreads through the guards.  Kuroko invite Sakura, Cherry and Kotatsu Neko, with another group telling Lum and Ataru that Ryoko needs their assistance.

At the complex, we see that this is not going to be an ordinary flower-viewing, as the tree stands in a fenced-in wrestling ring, viciously swinging chains around.  Mendou gives a pep talk to a bunch of his goons (who are dressed in wrestling gear), while Ryoko leads in her crew.

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Ataru is set to go home until a kuroko tells him that the prize is a kiss from Ryoko.  The goons don’t care about him, as they have their sights set on bigger prey, and swarm over the fence to face off against the tree.  Sitting with Mendou’s grandfather, Cherry and Sakura agree that the tree is a bit of a troublemaker but not actually up to ill.

The fight begins, and the goons charge past Ataru to deploy their secret weapon: enormous bottles of sake hidden in their pants. (“Ladies…”) Ryoko cries foul, but Mendou counters that in the harsh world of flower-viewing there are no referees and no rules.  The tree is doing fine, anyway, sending the goons flying in all directions.  Despite Mendou urging them on, Sakura notes that in a real match the tree would already have won on points.

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The goons break and run, which Ataru interprets as them being intimidated by him, but it turns out that a new challenger has appeared: Lum, in a tiger-print leotard, who’s there to stop him from kissing Ryoko.

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Ataru turns and runs, claiming that he can’t fight a woman.  Meanwhile, some of the goons have made their way to the tree, and insert their sake bottles into its mouths.  The tree soon becomes tipsy, turning bright red and tipping over.

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It’s declared a tie, with the Mendou sibs agreeing to let it go.  We end on a traditional final-panel tableau, as Lum tries to get Ataru in a leg hold while he and one of the goons discuss who has a rougher life.

Changes from the manga version: The manga starts with the second half of the episode, with the Mendou guards in the octopus pool.  From there they’re the same except that Cherry, Sakura, Kotatsu Neko and Mendou’s grandfather don’t appear.

Thoughts: There’s a pattern emerging here: adapt the manga story in the second half of the episode and make the first half setup for the situation. (That had been done in earlier seasons, but not as consistently.) The setup makes the situation much more fraught than in the manga story, meaning that the tree’s menace has to be walked back in order to make the unresolved ending work.  That said, the tree as set up in the first half is a good balance of threatening and silly: that setup could be used for something much darker, but a tree that raids refrigerators is hard to take too seriously.  With all the buildup, the ending does seem to come a bit abruptly; they could have stretched the fight out further, but breaking the story where they did makes sense.

This episode does demonstrate something about the character dynamic of the show: some characters are at their best when they’re frustrated, while others are best as instigators.  Shinobu and Ryuunosuke are in the former category; Ten is in the latter.  In the Mendou family, Shutaro is category 1 and Ryoko is category 2, which makes for an excellent comedy sibling dynamic: she doesn’t have to succeed at anything in particular as long as she’s annoying her brother. (A younger sister annoy her older brother? That’s unpossible!)

One thing I couldn’t work into the summary but want to note: Mendou looks both funny and adorable being surrounded by his octopuses.

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Next: Benten and Ryuunosuke take on biker gangs to rescue a kitten!

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