Urusei Yatsura Movie 1: Only You

I did not start out as a hardcore anime fan. For many years I would casually rent some anime at video store or get the occasional fan-sub tape from Chinatown. But it was not until I really got into Ranma 1/2 in college that I invested myself in fandom at the next level. I began to actively research anime and stated to look into Rumiko Takahashi in specific. I found that much of the inspiration for Ranma 1/2 came from her earlier series Urusei Yatsura and the character of Ryuunosuke Fujinami‎. But while there were informative fans sites about the series the anime was hard to find beyond the second movie. But when Animeigo started releasing the series on DVD is became much easier for me to buy and watch. I had watched Beautiful Dreamer several times but I was hungry for the other movies. When Animeigo released the movies in a box set (minus Beautiful Dreamer which was still a Central Park Media release) I preordered them to finally see what I had been missing. The first movie I saw was very different from Beautiful Dreamer but equally special.

In conjunction with Beautiful Dreamer (Urusei Yatsura movie 2), Only You was my introduction to this massive franchise a great many years ago. And while looking at it now I surely didn’t know the details, I still fell in love with the oddball cast and their hilarious antics. And luckily since Urusei Yatsura proper doesn’t exactly have a deep and intricate plot, these movies are just another crazy enjoyable ride.

Once again a major disaster has come to Tomobiki. This time it is a woman named Elle who is claiming that Ataru is engaged to be her husband as she come to Earth claiming what is rightfully hers.  Worst of all her claim on Ataru also involves a game of tag and is far older than Lum’s. Lum being Lum will not bow down without a fight and steals away her Darling to marry him before Elle can. And so Class 2-4 and various aliens are soon involved in a fight between 2 princess for the most lecherous man in the universe. But Elle must have some skeletons in her closet because no one is attracted to Ataru who does not have a few screws loose.

Rewatching this now, I realize how little about the basic Urusei Yatsura plot is explained in this movie. This is not a criticism, more a fact, that perhaps you need to have at least a minor familiarity with the premise; the first two episodes of the TV series would be enough. Funnily enough, the premise of Only You itself is kind of an alternate of the trouble Ataru gets in by chasing and capturing Lum which is how the TV show starts. Ataru seems to constantly being getting himself accidentally engaged to aliens. The good news for the unfamiliar is catching up with the characters is very easy since it’s a comedy.

Like any modern Shonen Jump movie the main purpose of the movie is to show all your favorite charters in a self-contained story. This means that while the core cast from the TV is the focus of the story you get little cameos from fan favorite characters like Sakura and Cherry. The normal character dynamics are in full swing with everyone has their own little petty agendas like in the TV series. I did notice that Kurama was oddly prominent in the movie. While she is a reoccurring character in the anime and manga she is hardly a piece of the core secondary cast like Benten or Ran. It is not like she steals the spotlight but her presence it oddly in the forefront for such a minor player. I have to wonder if her character or at least her voice actress was just popular at the time.  I must mention that this movie takes places in the early part of the TV series so Ryuunosuke and Onsen-Mark to not appear in the movie.

If there is one thing to remember about Urusei Yatsura, it’s that everyone is a jerk-face and that’s the way we like it. Sure it is about a bunch of relationships, but everyone is really out for themselves. At the same time, since they have an extended period of time to work with you get a wide range of emotions and not just gag after gag. Ataru is the biggest jerk alive but at least he gets the snot beat out of him, gets electrocuted, gets imprisoned, and various other incidents over the course of the film. In and around that you realize he cares about Lum but he is either really good at fooling himself or just an idiot; probably both. Lum on the other hand is absolutely vocal in her love and wants from Ataru almost to a fevered insanity. This is what allows you to root for them in bizarre terms. So of course you love the ripped from The Graduate moment near the end (can there be a wedding interruption without this reference?).

I find Elle interesting because she possess many traits that would make her a heroine in any other series especially before we learn her unusual little hobby. She is a princess who just wants to find someone who loves her who she is not what she can do for them. She is strong and commanding but also delicate, contemplative, and romantic. She just has certain tastes that make Ataru look like an unambitious amateur. But this mixture of horrible human being mixed with a strangely likable core makes her a perfect addition to the cast. Almost everyone in Urusei Yatsura is a despicable character but you love them all the same.

This is the Mamoru Oshii I can actually enjoy. When he is forced to work within limitations he is able to incorporate his own artistic flourish while still being fenced in so his directorial fetishes do not overwhelm the work. This is probably one of the most smoothly blended combinations of his style and Takahashi’s original vision. You have much of the original manga’s madcap comedy and unique characterization along side Oshii’s more brooding pacing and idiosyncratic flourishes.  Most notable is the fact that the opening scene and the flashback have a stylization with Oshii written all over them. While the original TV show focuses more on mecha design than the manga would ever dream of doing, Only You takes this to near pornographic levels. While Lum and Elle but get a few select scenes of gorgeous animation they are mere after thoughts to any shot of an alien spaceship, vehicle, or any item of alien technology.  All the mechanical designs are extraordinarily detailed  and obviously have had oodles of yen poured into them. Sadly Oshii utterly despised doing his movie. This led to him very forcibly trying to exert his own style more which for better or for worse would lead him to his later career.

You can tell with this film that the TV character designs haven’t been totally set in stone yet. No one is unrecognizable by any stretch, but they aren’t quite their iconic selves and tend to go off model more than expected. For the most part the animation doesn’t reach great levels except in extraneous background, space, and mechanics which is a bit of a shame. There are a couple of mini-battles which are nicely done too though. The music is an interesting note because there are tons of insert songs with lyrics; nowadays you expect an ending song and maybe an opening one.

In many ways the best way to approach this movie is to approach it like you would a Shonen Jump movie. This is a big budget filler episode. No introduction is made to any of the characters or the premise of the series. The movie assumes you are a fan and runs with the plot without looking back. Thankfully unlike those yearly Shonen Jump movies you don’t feel like the movie is just spinning its wheels.  Since Urusei Yatsura itself does not really have much of a plot a this feels much more organic. Unlike the somewhat infamous Ranma movies this is also much more thematically similar tone.  There is also an intelligent reuse of the theme of tag to tie this into the main series. It is not the best Urusei Yatsura movie nor is it my favorite but it is highly enjoyable and easily recommended.

Urusei Yatsura doesn’t lend itself to thinking too hard about the plot, it is all in the name of comedy. As I said maybe you should watch a couple of TV episodes if you don’t know the origin of how Ataru ends up with Lum and a crazy bunch of aliens in his life. But really this is a funny, ridiculous movie and that’s all you really need to know.

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