[Throwback Thursdays] Urusei Yatsura (Those Obnoxious Aliens) Review & Characters - The Mother of All Rom-coms


urusei yatsura wallpaper

The Mother of All Rom-coms

  • Episodes : 195
  • Genre : Comedy, Romance, Sci-Fi, Adventure, Drama
  • Airing Date : October 1981 - March 1986
  • Producers : Animeigo, Kitty Films, Studio Deen, Studio Pierrot

So, you like Love Hina, Nisekoi or My Bride Is A Mermaid? Wanna know how it all started? Then you need not look any further. On this Throwback Thursday, we’ll take a look at one of the pioneers and great classics of the romantic comedy genre, Urusei Yatsura (Those Obnoxious Aliens).

Urusei Yatsura Preview / Plot (No Spoilers)

Based on a 1978 manga by the same name, Ususei Yatsura’s anime adaption first saw the light of dawn in 1981, and was an instant hit. It was the first major success of writer and filmmaker Oshii Mamoru, who later made huge success with his groundbreaking movies Ghost in the Shell and Patlabor 2: The Movie. The latter half of the anime 195 episodes saw Yamazaki Kazuo, who participated in a lot of high-profile anime project, taking over the role of director. Apart from the original anime, the Urusei Yatsura franchise also spawned six movies as well as twelve OVAs, an indicator of the show’s enormous success.

The series’ 195 episode span makes a detailed recap a pretty inconceivable task, but the main premise goes something like this: Casually strolling along the street, Moroboshi Ataru bumps into a Buddhist monk who warns him that his face has an aura of bad luck. Though he instantly shrugs his shoulders and walks away, he soon finds out that the monk’s prediction was spot on. After being picked up and escorted back home by a military envoy, he realizes that the world’s fate rests upon his shoulder: An alien race called the Oni, have decided to invade the earth and give humans one last chance to fight back. If a randomly picked boy from earth – who happens to be Moroboshi Ataru, of course – can beat the Oni king’s daughter, princess Lum, in a game of tag, their lives will be spared.

This proves an impossible task, however, as Lum possesses the ability to swiftly leap through the air. On the last day of the competition, however, the more than slightly perverted Ataru manages to steal Lum’s bikini, and thus touches her horns – the goal of the game – as she tries to prevent the bystanders from getting a peek at her exposed chest. As Ataru’s girlfriend, Miyake Shinobu, had promised to marry him if he won the game, he shouts out in joy as he wins the race. Lum misinterprets this as a marriage proposal for her, and falls in love with Ataru. And thus the main premise of the story is set.

urusei yatsura wallpaper

Who does Urusei Yatsura cater to?

As written in the introduction, Urusei Yatsura was one of the pioneers of the romantic comedy brand of anime, together with series such as Ranma ½ (whose manga was written by the same author) and Tenchi Muyo!. The series is credited with having the first tsundere-like character, princess Lum, as well as many other stereotypes whose inclusion later became conventions followed by pretty much every modern rom-com.

It’s not all fun and games, however, as the episodes range from silly and comedic to serious and even sad, also offering something for the kind of viewer that find series like Nisekoi, a bit too superficial and ‘light’. The varied episodes of the series also feature a lot of Sci-fi and adventure/mystery, so it will also be an enjoyable experience for those who like that kind of stuff. If you’re a fan of Oshii Mamoru, it goes without saying that you will like this (at least the first half of the episodes).

What's so appealing about this piece of work.

So what’s special about this anime? Well, it started with the manga it is based on: Usurei Yatsura’s author Takahashi Rumiko, the best selling female comic artist ever, was one of the first women in the manga industry. Consequently, Urusei Yatsura was one of the first Japanese comics that didn’t feature a female protagonist created by a male, which at the time (and even now) often resulted in these characters being objects of frustrated guys’ desires – not very interesting, in other words.

As mentioned above, the series is noted for it’s depth, both when it comes to characters and story. It is renowned for it’s references to past and present Japanese society and culture – the Oni, for example, is inspired by an ogre-like figure from Japanese mythology by the same name, who also often is depicted wearing tiger-striped loin clothes. It has storylines influenced by The Tale of Genji, the definitive classic of Japanese literature. Urusei Yatsura also has a fair share of references to Western and American pop-culture, with Star Wars fights incorporated in more than one episode.

Apart from being a great way to obtain knowledge on Japanese culture, the definitive selling point of Urusei Yatsura is that it created a lot of the character stereotypes and plot cliches we find in current anime of this genre, so if you want to know where it all started, this is the place to start your journey (Warning: you might find out just how unoriginal [input current rom-com anime name here] is).

Urusei Yatsura Trailer

Urusei Yatsura Main Characters List

Lum Invader

urusei yatsura Lum Invader

Voice Actor :Hirano, Fumi

Even if you haven’t seen a single episode of the anime, chances are still high you’ll recognize this anime icon, especially her characteristic tiger-striped bikini. The fact that this is still a popular choice at cosplay gatherings is a testament of Urusei Yatsura’s continuing influence on popular culture – there’s even rumors that this costume has made more than one appearance in the kind of movies you wouldn’t show your parents.

In terms of personality she’s sweet, honest and caring, and does everything to protect her ‘daaarling!’ Ataru, to whom she shows an unwavering affection, displaying all the characteristics of a Japanese ‘perfect wife’. But, in spite of being labeled an ‘otaku dreamgirl’, she has several not-so great personality traits. Lum is prone to jealousy, giving Ataru a powerful electric shock at the slightest hint of the start of a flirt, and is notoriously naive about how things work at earth, often leading her and her friends into trouble.

Her personality type is between what we in modern anime jargon would refer to as ‘moe’ and ‘tsundere’, terms which at the time hadn’t been invented yet.

Moroboshi Ataru

urusei yatsura Moroboshi Ataru

Voice Actor :Furukawa, Toshio

‘Unwanted’ by his parents and a ‘flirtatous scum’, Moroboshi Ataru is one of the first real ‘losers’ of anime. he is the polar opposite of Lum: lazy, perverted, offensive, cowardly, lacking respect for basically everyone else.

As the Buddhist monk points out in the very first episode of the series, Ataru suffers from a serious case of chronic bad luck. At one instance, for example, an unintended space taxi ride leaves him with a bill equal to all the oil that exists on earth, which the cab driver in turn starts to collect. Lum comes to his rescue, of course, but only on the condition that she can move into his house.

He isn’t evil through and through though; he also has a nicer side. Although he is initially cold towards Lum, without giving away to many spoilers it’s safe to say that his attitude changes later on. The relationship and contrast between Lum and Ataru has been described as a parody of husband-wife relationships in Japan, and he also still has feelings for his ex-girlfriend Shinbou though, significantly complicating the situation.


Contains Spoilers

Urusei Yatsura Review

As you’ve probably understood by now, I’m trying to stress the point that this series what one of the, if not the, first rom-com anime. For example, fans of Nisekoi or My Bride is a Mermaid will most likely recognize the ‘forced together’ aspect of the plot, as well as the love triangle elements (a square, if you consider the filthy rich Mendou Shutaro that’s head over heals for Lum). Urusei Yatsura introduced many of the conventions and stereotypes in anime, that persists to this day: the loser guy that gets the girls, the tsundere, the ‘magical girlfriend’.

However, being first doesn’t necessarily say anything about the quality, but luckily Urusei Yatsuro has more to offer than just this. As rom-coms tend to be character- and not plot-driven, the quality largely depends on the chemistry between the two main characters, and this is one of the most entertaining things about Urusei Yatsura – Lum and Ataru’s relationship. In addition there is a long list of supporting characters, as well as the different strange characters Lum and Ataru meet on their adventures.

The comedy ranges from situational, to puns (unfortunately often incomprehensible in translation), slapstick and more subtle irony and social criticism. The aforementioned references to everything from classic literature to Star Wars makes the series very enjoyable to those that are able to understand them, but also very frustrating to those who don’t.

An interesting thing about the storylines and episodes is that it is possible to observe how the series evolved over the span of the episodes: it started out as a funny, straightforward comedy, but then gradually shows influence of Mamoru Oshii’s distinctive style, with the highlights showing up towards the first half of the series, around the time when the second movie, Beautiful Dreamer, was made. As Yamazaki Kazuo takes over as director, we see another slight change in style and contents, making Urusei Yatsuro a very dynamic and varied anime that’s constantly evolving.

But we can’t allow ourselves be totally blinded by the series’ ‘classic’ status, there are also some flaws and drawbacks. Firstly, my main issue with it was the length - a run time of 195 episodes is simply too long, making starting watching it quite a daunting task. Because of the sheer amount of episodes, some are unavoidably more interesting than others, having quite a few skip-worthy ones.

The quality of the animation is nothing to write home about to say the least, even for it’s time. It never got in the way of my enjoyment of the series, though. If you’re looking for something visually stunning, the second movie of the franchise ‘Beautiful Dreamer’ would be an excellent choice.

Finally, the music, and especially the first intro song, is incredibly catchy, and is another area where Urusei Yatsura revolutionized the anime world – it established the convention of using a pop tune for the episode opening and outro.

1. References

urusei yatsura review References

The best thing about Urusei Yatsura is that it’s a very educational series. It frequently references Japanese society and culture, past and present. This makes it much more clever than it may appear at first glance, and you can actually learn a lot if you just pay attention. It takes some effort, though, and if you’re not too familiar with the Japanese language, a version with good subtitles and footnotes is essential.

2. Lum’s Bikini

urusei yatsura lum bikini

While I am generally fairly disgusted by anime that put more labour into finding creative ways to make the female characters show as much skin as possible, than actually developing the characters in anime, I’ve taken a liking to Lum’s tiger-stripe bikini and gogo boots. It’s not a sexual fetish kind of thing – maybe it’s the fact that it goes well with her green-bluish hair, maybe it’s the Fred Flintstone associations it gives me, no matter what it is this has to be one of my favourite anime outfits.

3. Oshii's Touch

urusei yatsura review Ooshii's touch

Although it is most evident in the second movie of the franchise, as mentioned above Oshii’s influence on the series gradually increased, and peaked towards the end of the first half of the franchise. These episodes shows that the director not only handles mystery/psychology-related themes like that of his later movies, but also masters slapstick comedy, explaining why he’s regarded as one of the masters of anime.


An interesting fact is that Takahashi Rumiko hadn’t planned for Lum to be a central character, and she was only supposed to appear in a one-off story. Luckily that didn’t happen though, and now she can be found everywhere from pachinko machines to songs and tattoos on indie musicians. It is hard to find an example of another anime that has sad such a long lasting impact on both Japanese and Western popular culture, especially considering that it was released 34 years ago.

New and fresh is good, but sometimes you just gotta go back to check out the classics, you gotta ‘play it again, Sam’. Digging up Urusei Yatsura.

Magnus

Writer

Author: Magnus

Hello there, I’m Magnus (no relation to Vampire Hunter D villain Count Magnus Lee), and I hail from the cold, northern part of the European continent. I like music, anime, movies and literature (aka ‘anything remotely artsy’), and am currently living in Tokyo, attempting to slay the dragon that goes by the name of ‘Japanese’, as well as figuring out the meaning of life. Recently started podcasting: https://soundcloud.com/helpodcast

Previous Articles

Top 5 Anime by Magnus