I have to say I’m glad that there are still anime and manga licenses that can surprise me. Despite the number of crazy anime licenses (that are not Macross) that have been announced there is still about one a year that pleasantly surprises me. The one for 2018 was the fact that Viz said they were going to try and release the Urusei Yatsura manga again despite dropping the license twice before. I was generally content with the anime release from AnimEigo from a few years back but I can’t say I was not at least something secretly hoping for a full release of the manga even if it felt highly unlikely. So I was a bit blindsided in the best possible way by the news and have been waiting for the new and improved books ever since then.
This post is less of a review and more of my observations on the first volume. Like with some of my Type-Moon posts none of what I would write would even remotely be considered objective or measured. This has always been a series that I loved and was very important to my early hardcore fandom so to say I look upon this book with rose-colored glasses is putting it kindly. If anything think of this as a look into the thoughts of a super fan.
I did have an “Oh! Now I see it moment.” with this two-volume omnibus. For the longest time, I always heard that Shinobu and Ataru were supposed to be the main characters of Urusei Yatsura and Lum mostly drifted to the forefront thanks to a combination of fan demand and Rumiko Takahashi changing the direction of the series as she wrote it. If you have only seen the anime you never really get the sense of that. Lum and Ataru always feel like the main characters. Shinobu, on the other hand, is very clearly one of the most important side characters but none the less she is a side character. In retrospect, that is mainly because the anime started three years after the manga and therefore it could just start as if Lum and Ataru were always the stars. The problem was since I only read a few random volumes of the original Viz releases I was never able to fully grok what had happened.
Finally reading these first two volumes with over a decade of experience under my belt gave me a very different view of the series. Shinobu and Ataru are far more in focus as the “destined couple” in this book and Lum comes off as a more as a Shampoo like interrupting cow character. Lum is there as an important side character but she is more there to provide general hi-jinks and romantic obstacles for the main couple than as a legitimate romantic option. In one story the twist at the end is that the mother of Ataru’s son from the future is Shinobu. When the anime eventually added Kokeru he is played off as a dream of Ataru’s mom more than a real character and a signifier of the future like he was in the manga.
This was a fact that I always read and generally understood as a nebulous idea of Lum’s gradual shift to being the main character but reading the new translation help solidify the idea as more than just something I read in articles or wikis. Considering how iconic Lum eventually became and how central the Lum and Ataru relationship became it makes sense why the anime would just gloss over Shinobu’s original role. From what I can tell the shift in emphasis happens fairly organically in the manga but it was still fascinating to see when I was actively looking for it.
Other than that it was mostly just a nice return to a classic. I love Rumiko Takahashi’s work but Urusei Yatsura always felt unique in her overall repertoire. Much of Urusei Yatsura would go on to inform both Ranma 1/2 and Rin-ne as well as her overall style but it still feels very distinct. Ataru is the best exemplar of that. He is utter sleazy and shifty in a way no other Takahashi protagonist would ever be. He has his moments of virtue and skill but generally, he is a likable scumbag that just so happens to have a good heart buried DEEP below a truck full of character flaws. The rest of the cast follows suit. In Takahashi’s later works she would follow this formula but she would generally make the main characters a little nicer from the jump and it was only the supporting characters who retained that original amount of Urusei Yatsura sleaze. It is that commitment to making the cast of Urusei Yatsura lovable monsters that gives the series its unique flavor.
The main cast is still filing in so all the character dynamics have not formed. You have Lum, Shinobu, Ataru, Lum and Ataru’s parents, and Cherry right from the jump. The book introduces Sakura, Rei, Benten, and Oyuki so there is a decent mix of the main human and alien characters, therefore, the general framework is in place but there are still a few key players who have not shown up. Technically Onsen-Mark has appeared but he feels more like a generic teacher with a distinctive outfit than the nemesis of class 2-4 he would become. But until Mendo, Ran, Kotatsu-neko, and Ten show up the general pace of the manga is not fully solidified. Those four characters, in particular, change the flow of the manga when they are introduced. Eventually, Ryuunosuke would do the same thing but much like Ukyo Kuonji in Ranma 1/2 I consider her a late addition cast member that gets elevated to the main cast position within already well oiled machine. It was interesting to see how Takahashi found her voice with the series within the first two books and then anticipating how the flow of the manga would change shortly.
I will say that one of the coolest additions to the series is the little Urusei Yatsura facts sections that appear at the end of each volume. I assume they are from one of the later Japanese anniversary releases. They generally highlight one character and then give some interesting statistics like how many times Lum electroshocks people (and Ataru in particular) or how many times Ataru sneaks out of class to have a meal. You can learn some trivia contest-winning facts like how many times has Ataru ever treated anyone to food. (BTW the answer is only two times.) They make it feel like a prestige release of a beloved classic and I’m very glad those pages are included.
It was a real treat to finally be able to legitimately read the Urusei Yatsura manga in such a dignified format even if the material itself is wacky goofadoof fun. I’m looking forward to reading the rest of the series in this format as I feel this might the time Viz will complete the series in its entirety. Especially now that Rumiko Takahashi was inducted into the Will Eisner Comic Awards Hall of Fame it had become an increasingly awkward situation for one of her most influential series not to have an English release. I’m extremely glad this gap in her rich history is finally being filled in and I hope to read more soon.