The comedy manga Urusei Yatsura by Rumiko Takahashi gets a double volume publication by Viz! This series has been around since 1978 but its hilarity still lives up to its reputation even today! Urusei Yatsura translates to “Those obnoxious aliens” and centralizes around the incredibly unlucky Ataru Moroboshi and his antics involving extraterrestrials, spirits, and love triangles. The first chapter of the series introduces us to him and the ever popular alien girl, Lum. Lum and her race have come to take over earth, but they are a generous race; one human on earth is chosen to save the world if they can beat Lum in a game of… tag. A series of gags later, and Ataru saves the world and accidentally agrees to marry the beautiful alien! This chapter sets the tone for the rest of the series in that Ataru gets thrust into all sorts of trouble!
Anytime I start a new series, I look out of for what catches my attention. Is it the cliff hangers? The plot development? I think I mentioned the lack thereof of any serious progression. So what kept me interested? The chapters didn’t end in any definitive way and sometimes, it felt like a random place to stop. Something about seeing Ataru engaged in all sorts of shenanigans was all I needed. Maybe I wanted to know if him and Shinobu would ever get a moment together. Or perhaps, I wanted to know if Lum would ever get her way. It’s a different sort of “carrot on a stick” than what I’m accustomed to. It felt like I was reading old comic strips from the funnies of a newspaper (Dilbert and Garfield anyone?). Like those stories, you would read them to see what sort of craziness or gag the main characters would get themselves in this time! World Building and Character Development are more subtle, but you still get progression in seeing Lum and others tackle different situations and being placed in awkward and hilarious scenarios.
This isn’t at all to say that the characters in Urusei Yatsura are interesting or that they aren’t fleshed out. On the contrary, its the use of comedy that ties everything together. That may seem like a cop out explanation, but just for an example, its as if every time Ataru meets a new “woman”, you get to see the responses of the other women in his life accordingly. I feel bad for his girlfriend Shinobu for putting up with Ataru’s questionable loyalties.
Aside from the meat of the series, there is Urusei Yatsura’s art style. The panels themselves are simple. They are simple to the point where features are highly exaggerated and sometimes don’t seem to fit quite right with the rest of the other drawn characters. For instance; Rei, Lum’s ex., Whenever he transforms into his “tiger alien” form, it is very goofy looking and stands out among the rest of the drawn characters. At first, it is a bit glaring but there is more behind the madness. What looks to be goofy caricatures often resembles old Japanese paintings of animals and spirits. Rumiko Takahashi’s real talent is often left for the chapter covers. Its a lot more detailed and you can truly gauge her creativity and experience as a mangaka! Her style is iconic but can be overlooked with all the new styles that have sprung up in more recent years.
Urusei Yatsura is definitely a harem style series but only at the very least. At its core, it is pure comedy. It’s easy to see why some people consider Takahashi san’s work to be the origin of the “harem” genre in Japan. Unlike typical harems though, our main guy Ataru isn’t sought after by just women. He is constantly pestered by other characters for attention. The best of all, in my opinion is Cherry, the Buddhist monk who takes all the free meals he can get. Cherry is actually the first recurring character we meet in the series and his role seems to be to protect Ataru from the many bad omens that surround him daily.
We can’t talk about this series without of course talking about Lum, the icon of Urusei Yatsura. Her jealousy is what makes every chapter so interesting and propels Ataru into interesting situations in order to get out of her clingy grasp. Though, one cannot help but save sympathy for him. Aside from all the stuff he seems to walk into by mistake, Ataru isn’t the best role model. Lum is a perfect foil for his behavior as his decisions often incur the wrath of our beautiful alien princess in one form or another. Most men would consider themselves lucky to have someone like Lum as a partner, but it’s Ataru’s disdain for her that really characterizes the series into the game of cat and mouse it usually turns into. Because of her presence and tendency for being over the top, it is easy to mistake her for the protagonist, but rest assured, that position belongs to Ataru Moroboshi.
Something extra the omnibus gives us is some commentary from Rumiko Takahashi on a lot of her inspirations for certain panels and characters. It was interesting to learn that she made Lum to be her polar opposite. Writing outside of her comfort zone was probably the best decision she could have made for Urusei Yatsura and it is a lesson we can all walk away with.
I’m going to give this set of chapters another read as it was something that I could really relax with. If you are looking for something funny, has some pretty girls and lots of Japanese lore references and puns, Urusei Yatsura is the manga for you! Even though many say it’s the first harem style manga, it felt very much like a parody of one. Generally I enjoy Rumiko’s works. Inuyasha and Ranma ½ were childhood staples for me so it felt good to round everything out with one of her earlier pieces.