A Brief Look Back
by J.M. Steadman

March 28, 2002

I owe a lot to Urusei Yatsura. It was the series that first truly introduced me to Anime, and it became the first step along a path that would radically change my life. Indeed, so many choices have been derived from my persuit of Japanese studies that I wonder very much what things would have been like had the videotape not caught my eye that day.

I remember it very well, a cold Fall day in 1997 (I -think-) that found me wandering the shelves at Best Buy in search of Star Trek episodes on VHS. That was where I found it, just to the right of "The Final Frontier" - a yellow and purple volume with a sexy, green haired girl reclining on its cover. "Those Obnoxious Aliens!" What was that doing there? Glancing to either side to make sure no one was watching, I picked up the tape and examined its flavor text. Alien invastion, hmn hmm. Flying, a tag race, an unintended marriage proposal. Hmn, hmm. Warning, brief nudity. Really? Fifteen dollars. Did I have fifteen dollars? Yes. Would I be able to buy it without ID? I could try.

And so the hook was bitten. I purchased the volume without earning so much as a glance from the register operator, and around 2 am the following morning (when I was sure no one would be awake to intrude) I inserted it into the family VCR.

I cycled through a variety of emotional responses that night as I was fed my first serving of enlightened entertainment. From initial "What the hell is this?!" bewilderment at the opening credits, to lust at the promised two seconds of nudity, to awe at what could be achieved with simplistic animation. After the two episodes had run their course, I sat before the snow onscreen; the gears in my brain whirled furiously. Then I rewound the tape and watched it again, this time taking notes. After finishing the material a second time, I looked my scribblings over and spontaneously decided to write a "book report" for a high school class I wasn't actually taking.

I just happened to rediscover the notebook containing that paper a few days prior to this writing. Here then is an unedited transcript of the report, reflecting my impressions at the time:

Cultural Studies
Josh Steadman
Media Observation - Japan
"Those Obnoxious Aliens"
Jpn-1981 Usa-1992

General Base Plot

When the Oni decide to invade Earth, they want to play fair. Since there is no way our planet can build any sort of military defense, the fate of the world is to be decided by contesting in their national sport - tag. A Terran champion will be chosen at random to chase their princess, a curvacious humanoid named Lum, and to lay his hands against her horns to win.

Enter our (anti?) hero, Ataru Moroboshi. Ataru is an extremely unlucky geek who drools at the chance to lay his hands on female flesh. (Sounds familiar.) At a severe disadvantage due to the Oni flying ability, all seems lost until Ataru's girlfriend promises to marry him if he is victorious. With THAT running around his head, he finally manages to succeed. Goody for Earth. Unfortunately, Lum misinterprets his victory cry as a marriage proposal... to her. Now Lum's living in his closet, his girlfriend hates his guts, his parents wish he'd never been born, and his Lum-crazed schoolmates are trying to "get him out of the way". Life is painful for Ataru.


The comedy relies on a heavy variety of slapstick, irony, and the occasional mild pornography. (In the first episode, Ataru finally tags Lum by ripping off her bra with a plunger gun.) Although Ataru has essentially saved the world, nobody seems to really care about him unless Lum is around. The English dubbing is carefully pronounced yet posesses incomprehensible tendancies. Plots often cause big problems yet end without resolving them. (House burning down, penguins ravaging Tokyo, oil raining from the sky, etc.)


1. In American comics we represent sleep by a ballooned Z. In Japan however, sleep is represented by a rapidly expanding and contracting bubble in the oral/nasal area.

2. As I mentioned earlier, the English sound tends to be wierd. (Not that hard to understand, I have a terrible time in Spanish.) Ataru uses expletives frequently and is sometimes difficult to understand.

3. The animation, although choppy, is an excellent example of its type at the time of its production. It also solves a few problems, like eliminating lip/sound matchup difficulties. Since the facial movements are unspecialized the tape could be dubbed in any language without difficulty.

4. The gesture of touching one's head to the floor indicates begging.

5. Despite the common genetic features in Japan, characters have rounded eyes and red hair.

I admit to some embarrassment at reading this report today, as it reeks of the sort of overeager, ignorant newbie viewpoint I criticize today. "Good" dubbing? A frontal flash constituting pornography? I apparently thought that the dubbing had been recorded in Japan, and I could only guess at some of the customs through their portrayal by the story's characters. Some role models!

Or were they? The examination of AnimEigo's liner notes from subsequent volumes would later provide the foundation for my study of the Japanese culture. A little over a year later, I began tutoring a Japanese exchange student in English. When we were not studying, we would often watch anime and discuss our differing cultures. And he would often ask, "Where did you learn all this stuff?"

And so one thing lead to another. I came to learn what an otaku was (and realized that I had been a Star Trek otaku for many years). I discovered Tomobiki-Cho and took over its fanfic department, and with support from my online sempai, founded an anime club at my school.

Today my anime library is so large that transporting it from place to place requires significant effort. In response to this I have been progresssively moving my collection to the less-bulky DVD format, rewatching the material as old plastic is traded for new. Urusei Yatsura is among the last of my tapes to make the transition, and once again I find myself being swept away by the power of Takahashi's imagination.

Pity the first volume lacks an optional English track.

-J.M. "Sakurambo" Steadman.


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