Story & Art by Rumiko Takahashi
Translated by Camellia Nieh
Lettered by Jeannie Lee
Design by Yukiko Whitley
Edited by Amy Yu
The early volumes of Urusei Yatsura saw the series frequently change its status quo, introducing new characters and tweaking character relationships to keep things fresh. Rumiko Takahashi’s idea of what the story would be like also clearly changed over time, so the early volumes were figuring the series’ tone and characterization. Ten’s introduction into the main cast in the previous volume signifies Takahashi solidifying a status quo for the series for the first time. Consequently, this volume is the first stretch of chapters in the series thus far where the series doesn’t introduce a new major character, change relationships, or shift in setting. This makes it a pretty good barometer to judge the baseline of what the series will be like from here on out, or at least until Ryunouske’s introduction in a couple volumes shakes things up again.
If there’s one novel thing this volume codifies, it’s the use of continuous multi-chapter story arcs. Urusei Yatsura has always had continuity between chapters, but most of the time the chapters themselves can be appreciated as standalone pieces that are united as an arc through the repeated use of a theme or character, such as in the “Close Call” arc from Volume 3. Volume 4’s “Heian” arc was the first time Urusei Yatsura told a serialized multi-chapter story in which the ending of one chapter directly led into the next. Whereas the “Heian” arc was an alternate-universe side story, Volume 5 continues the experiment with serialization in-continuity with the “Deranged Marriage” and “O, Rain!” arcs. These arcs allow Takahashi more breathing room to tell more elaborate stories involving multiple characters and ideas, while structuring them into a clearer three-act structure, which is usually condensed with more of an emphasis on the second act in a usual one-chapter story. Takahashi will continue to play with multi-chapter arcs like these more as the series goes on, and go even farther with them in her future works, so it’s cool to see the genesis of them here as a vehicle for meatier stories.
“Deranged Marriage” and “O, Rain” are also significant as storylines focused on developing Ataru’s character. Ataru’s characterization shifted pretty dramatically from his initial status as the beleaguered everyman into the flighty lech he solidified as, a transformation that arguably removed some of his likability. This volume doubles down on this direction during the time-travel chapter, retconning his pervy goofiness into how he’s always been even as a kid. This characterization plays well when the series is dunking on him for his pervy fickleness, but as the series progresses, it becomes more of a necessity to buy into the Ataru/Lum relationship and root for them. Volume 2 did a lot of heavy work in this regard with the iconic “How I’ve Waited For You” and “Since Your Parting” chapters, which established that Lum and Ataru truly care about one another.
Still, Ataru’s good points as a person beyond caring about Lum hasn’t really been emphasized much since the early chapters, so these arcs bring out some necessary depth to his character. “Deranged Marriage” is the first time Ataru becomes jealous and protective about his relationship with Lum, which he usually complains about. He’s proactive in his pursuit of her, willing to squish himself into Ten’s spaceship and go all the way to the Oni planet because he’s worried she’ll hook up with someone else at her dad’s engagement party. A standout moment is when Ataru rescues Lum from being carried away from The Prince of the Underground while still in disguise, demonstrating his protectiveness. This storyline firmly establishes Ataru as a tsundere when it comes to acknowledging his feelings for Lum, decrying that he cares while his protective actions prove otherwise. It also shows that even though he does love Lum, he’s also unwilling to give up on his flirtatious ways, still hitting on other women during the story arc while planning to sabotage Lum’s wedding. Lum, however, can see right through him and knows he really loves her, which is enough to keep her amused and satisfied. This storyline really cements what the Lum/Ataru dynamic is like for the rest of the series, and firmly establishes how protective Ataru is about his relationship with her.
Both “Deranged Marriage” and “O, Rain” also demonstrate Ataru’s stubbornness to give up on something he sets his mind to, even if it comes at a cost to himself. While his stubbornness is a negative trait when applied to his pursuit of women, it’s shown as a positive quality in these story arcs, highlighting Ataru’s determination to help people even though he’s personally inconvenienced or in pain. “O, Rain!” particularly shows the extreme lengths he’s willing to go through, undeterred by the relentless barrage of rain falling on him. It gets to the point where he’s putting his own life at stake, but even then, he refuses to give up. Granted, Ataru has selfish motives during this storyline, but his single-mindedness when it comes to doing what he believes in is an admirable trait of his, and a quality that’s explored when he has altruistic intentions in later storylines. Both of these storylines do a lot of groundwork for establishing what kind of person Ataru is and can be, and how his relationship with Lum will develop over the course of the series.
Another one of my favorite aspects of the “Deranged Marriage” arc is how it highlights Takahashi’s skills as a character designer. The suitors at the courtship party are all so delightfully weird and strange, and Takahashi has fun coming up with just the most bizarre designs possible. There’s one particularly amazing panel that just shows off a bunch of the guests at the party. There’s a guy with a pipe faucet head heating noodles, a doctor examining a skeleton, a Tanuki wearing a UFO costume dancing on a rope, a cyborg with bull horns and no legs lamenting that he got all dressed up, Daddy Eyeball from GeGeGe no Kitaro chilling in a pot of nabe – there’s so much going on in this panel, it’s bonkers! This is just one example, but Takahashi’s playful designs are littered throughout the volume. Even in the first chapter of the book, I love how all the grotesque alien kids have these cute little pacifiers and bibs; Takahashi is spot-on in creating funny designs through contrast and mixing up disparate design elements into something truly unique and memorable.
Takahashi’s knack for creating interesting new characters and designs fuels most of Urusei Yatsura’s single chapter stories, and this volume is no exception. Takahashi introduces a few new characters during this stretch that she’ll get a few chapters worth of stories out of and then forget about. It definitely speaks to her skill creating fun characters that I want to see more from the likes of The Prince of the Underground, Prim, Dracula, Batty and so on. I think the funniest use of these short-lived cast members is the Pool Demon. His first story ends with him living in Ataru’s bathtub, and then in his next appearance, it’s said that he’s been living there for a month, playing to the fact that it has been literally a month’s worth of chapters between his appearances. Another clever meta-gag that stood out to me was Ran reintroducing herself during the Pool Demon chapter. Ran is a major character, but she hasn’t been in the story since Ten’s initial introduction, so Takahashi having her remind readers who she is was an amusing meta-joke about how often characters drop in and out of the series.
The Pool Demon chapter also highlights Takahashi’s playfulness with the medium of comics to clever effect. When the characters are underwater, they aren’t able to speak normally through word bubbles. Instead, their words become trapped in individual bubbles that scatter and float towards the surface. This allows for some fun compositions with the placement of the bubbles themselves in the panel, particularly one showing the Pool Demon dive back to the bottom of the pool and notice the characters’ word balloons floating up towards him. The best gag of all is that the characters can physically see and interact with these word balloons. When Mendo initially tells the Pool Demon to “Get Out of Here,” the words get mixed up in the water so the Pool Demon reads it as “Of Out Get Here” instead. So Mendo literally holds the bubbles together to show the Pool Demon the proper message. This is just one example of the mileage Takahashi gets out of the characters being aware of and able to physically interact with the elements of a comics page, providing for some great sight gags and meta-humor unique that add on to the series’ artistic ingenuity and irreverent style of storytelling.
While not many of the characters introduced in this volume stick around, there are a few recurring story elements it perpetuates. This volume continues the tradition of doing a beach arc every summer in the early years of the series, usually with a focus on a particular character, which was Otama the haunter in this volume’s case. It also introduces the running gag of Sakura and Tsubame being interrupted by the kids spying on them whenever they’re about to make out, an amusing recurring joke about a couple being interrupted that essentially replaces the similar Menko/Tsuyuo runner more common earlier in the series. This volume also sees Takahashi returning to more supernatural-based stories, using both Japanese and western cultural references in creating stories about an Ameonna, a ghost haunting a house, a watermelon god, the occult, a vampire, and more. Takahashi’s blending of the supernatural with sci-fi concepts is one of the most fun and unique qualities about the series, and it’s great to see her continue to balance her inspirations in fun and novel ways.
Urusei Yatsura has firmly established its identity, status quo, and style of storytelling by this volume, and if you’ve enjoyed what it’s had to offer so far you’ll find more of the same here. I really loved a lot of the chapters in the volume and seeing Takahashi have fun creating interesting new stories and experimenting with longer-form ones, while also giving some much-needed attention to fleshing out Ataru’s character. If volume 5 is the first-time Urusei Yatsura has settled into its status quo, then it really goes to show what constitutes as normal for this series is still anything but. This release continues to be a treat not only for the high quality of the book itself but for the bonus Data Files and Count Corners that feel totally made for dedicated fans of the series like myself. We’re now approaching chapters Viz has never previously published with the release of volume 6 in May, and I’m so excited for people to see all the ways Takahashi puts weird and weird together to make things even weirder going forward!