No Case Too Small: Urusei Yatsura

The case in question is episode 75 of Urusei Yatsura: And Then There Were None

hisuiconNo Case too Small is the ongoing feature of the blog where we look at a mystery based episode of a non-detective related show. Since today is Halloween we decided to do a very thematically appropriate episode of Urusei Yatsura. Usually Urusei Yatsura is a madcap screwball comedy where the most lecherousness young man in Japan is engaged to a beautiful but jealous alien princess with electrical powers. Around this time in the production of the show you can sense that the crew was getting bored with straight adaption of the manga and were pushing the boundaries of what they could get away with in the series. Episode 71 was “Shinobu’s Cinderella Story”  which was a mostly a humorless noir story involving a Shinobu getting involved in a murder over the inheritance of a vast fortune. This episode also takes the crew of the normally goofy series and places them in a terrifying murder mystery with the cast dying one by one in various gruesome ways. While the mood might be in strong contrast to the shows’ normal vibe it is perfect macabre story for today.

Lum is the type of show where you never know what the next episode will be about, it is a rather odd and varied assortment of short comedies running the gamut of success. But you always expect comedy, and maybe the occasional tender moment, so this episode comes off as particularly creepy. And even the few attempts at silly just cement how bizarre the tale is.

hisuiconAtaru, Lum, Mendo, Shinobu, Cherry, Sakura, Onsen-Mark and the Gang of Four all arrive on a secluded island due to a mysterious invitation. None of them know who invited them but soon after they are dropped off they discover that no one will be back for them for at least a week. Strangely enough it seems that there are only accommodations for 10 guests even though there are 11 of them on the island. As the Tomobiki high school crew try to discover why they were summoned they find Cherry dead in his room. The first murder heralds the untimely demise of everyone from the school as an unknown killer fashions their deaths to invokes the nursery rhyme “Who Killed Cock Robin?” The survivors must discover who is killing and why before time runs out. But what does the mysterious uninvited guest have to do with the murders?

hisuiconThe episode is clearly a mix of two very classic murder mystery formulas. The isolated island onto which 10 guests have been summoned to just to have them die one by one is clearly invoking Agatha Christie’s “And Then There Were None” even if the title did not spell that fact out for you. They also play with the idea of whether or not the killer is an unknown person on the island or one of the people with an invitation just like in the Agatha Christie novel. But unlike “And Then There Were None” instead of the killer using “10 Little Soldier Boys” as his modus operandi this episode uses “Who Killed Cock Robin?” The choice of song is very intentional as “Who Killed Cock Robin?” is a favorite song to be used in murder mysteries throughout the ages. It lets each of the victims have a very visually distinctive but gruesome death. Despite all the classic elements used in the episode the mystery itself could be a bit stronger.

We’ve said before that with Urusei Yatsura you just go for the ride and don’t look too deeply but with this episode one wants to try to figure things out in some fashion. The obvious questions are who summoned them to the island? Who is the uninvited guest? Why are they being targeted? The glaring problems with the mystery kind of make sense once we realize that everyone was trying to pull one over on Ataru; also making it rather impossible for use of logic being UY and all. And more than likely the gaps in the story are actually supposed to be funny. My favorite part being when for no particular reason they essentially say let’s just skip those verses from “Who Killed Cock Robin?” (because there aren’t enough people on the island)! Still, I think they could have brought a few more people along to make it work. The 11th man scenario doesn’t work because they all already know each other. Also why would any one of the cast not expect Lum to come along on the trip? Where have they been the last 74 episodes? The depictions are so gruesome that it is hard not to take the episode seriously except upon reflection.

hisuiconI do wonder if they really want to do multiple part story with this episode. As it was mentioned the murders in this episode happen in such a quick succession the plot barely has any time to breath. Two or three episodes could have played with idea that maybe the killer was someone on the island or maybe the murderer was someone hiding in the group. You could have had more accusations and paranoia in general. They try to do that in the episode but everything goes by so fast that you hardly have time for any of those more complex reactions to set in. Perhaps this was scripted out as a longer story but the staff got worried that audience would not stick around for something so different in tone without an explanation by the end of the episode. They were willing to play with the feel of show in single episodes but a drastic change for a multiple episode arc might have been far too risky. While the normal order is restored at the end dragging out that revelation might have been too much. Still it was an interesting episode if for nothing else its an unusual monkey wrench it throws in the normal flow of the series. It is a great episode to watch on Halloween as it is pretty spooky despite all its flaws.

While not a good mystery, this episode of Lum is singularly memorable in every way. The humor inherent in Urusei Yatsura is hard to see in this episode despite possible intention. But it does take being mean to Ataru to a whole new level which UY is well-known for.  And I do have to give it props for not making it a mere dream sequence. On a random note, good lord does this series need a remaster or maybe it has one in Japan. But these AnimEigo releases are really sad-looking. Still one has to be happy we have them at all!

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4 thoughts on “No Case Too Small: Urusei Yatsura

  1. Daryl Surat says:

    I don’t think there’s a single full-length Urusei Yatsura story that is two parts long, so I don’t think this is an instance of having to compress what was originally meant to be a two-parter into a single part. But there is something slightly off about the episode’s pacing that makes it feel a bit weird. This was one of the final episodes from the Oshii era, which ended on a wonderful “screw you guys, I’m going home” note with episode 78 about Ataru’s mom at the mall.

    Like just about every single other person who ever saw this show, I first became aware of the “Who Killed Cock Robin?” episode of UY (and the poem itself…) several years ago, when Animeigo released the OAVs on VHS back in the early 1990s. Some of those OAVs were clip shows that largely consisted of of snippets from episodes yet to be released in the US, and a significant chunk of one of them was devoted to this story. I kind of think it was funnier in narrated highlight mode than in execution. UY always gave the finger to continuity as it was, but perhaps it’s easier to laugh at the insanity of the entire cast being murdered once framed in the context of “looking back on good ol’ times.”

    It’s possible that there was just too much anticipation between the recap version and the full length one. Episode 75 would have been on Volume 20 of the old releases, and UY went on hiatus for a couple years…after Volume 19. Then again, the Summer Christmas Party of episode 79 (volume 21) was also prominently featured in the recap OAVs, and that episode is STILL a grand triumph of art.

    • reversethieves says:

      Well the introduction of Asuka Mizunokoji was a 2 part episode but in general most of the episodes were self contained and in fact most of the first episodes were 2 15 minute stories.

      I am just wondering if in the experimental period before the end of the Oshii era someone proposed this grand idea and the director liked it enough to produce it but not enough to break formula and do a 2 part episode. That in my mind makes sense because otherwise the pace in the episode is rather breakneck for no good reason to get to the twist at the end especially with the number of characters involved. It works in the end but it would have worked better had it had time to breath or if they reduced the number of people involved.

      Also just to piss you off it does sort of have the feeling of a grim dark fan fiction. One of those stories where someone takes a show they love and writes a fan fiction that is REAL because it is GRIM and DARK and therefore clever. Note: This is far better than 99% of those types of fan fiction because they tend to wind up being, “Oh and Lum is really a psychotic lady whose jealousy ends up killing Ataru. Look at me and my SERIOUS COMMENTARY on a gag show!” At least this is an inventive twist as opposed to wading into the emo part of the pool. But I still think the comparison can be made. They both have the characters acting a bit out of character to suit the story the author wants to tell more than the situation and their established personalities.

      – Hisui

  2. Daryl Surat says:

    I used the “full-length” adjective in my post to disregard the early episodes containing two stories, but for my money’s worth the most fanfic-esque episode of Urusei Yatsura–and my least favorite–is “After You’ve Gone,” the episode where Lum finally leaves Ataru alone just as he’d always wanted and he gets all sad and tearful because it turns out that’s not really what he wants after all. It is virtually devoid of jokes and isn’t even surreal to compensate for that…so naturally, that episode is almost universally considered by fans to be the single greatest episode of Urusei Yatsura of all time.

    • reversethieves says:

      Well as we said in the Keeping in Real post people seem to think that dark and serious is always better. So overall that is unsurprising.

      I thought “Pitter Patter Christmas Eve” was the most popular episode but you might be right. I don’t have the DVDs in front of me and my memory is hardly the best.

      – Hisui

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