Few manga artists are as decorated as Rumiko Takahashi. Over the course of her career, she’s won the Seiun Speculative Fiction Award twice, the Grand Prix de la Ville d’Angoulême from the Angoulême International Comics Festival and got a spot in the Will Eisner Award Hall of Fame. Her romantic tales like Ranma ½, Inuyasha and Maison Ikkoku have earned her a legion of fans each on top of that. To think it all started with a strip about a boy getting pestered by aliens.
Urusei Yatsura (‘Those Annoying Aliens’) began as part of Shonen Sunday Comics in 1978. It caught on so well it made one of its lead characters, Lum, an anime icon. Its original 1980s anime series became a beloved classic too, with a fresh adaptation of the series set to debut in October 2022. So, newer fans will get to see what Takahashi’s breakthrough work is like. But it has a few quirky facts behind it. Here’s some Urusei Yatsura trivia.
8/8 It Started Off As A One-Shot
Well, kind of. One year before Takahashi started on Urusei Yatsura, she produced a one-shot called Katte Na Yatsura (‘Those Selfish Aliens’). It was about a boy called Kei caught in the middle of a conflict between three aliens for the planet Earth.
With the help of a glamorous girl called Akane, he has to find a way to disarm three bombs planted inside him and save the world. Kei has some similarity to Urusei’s hapless male lead Ataru, and one of the alien races are the perennially annoying Dappya Men. It was enough to earn Takahashi the Best New Comic Artist award from her publishers Shogakukan.
7/8 Cultural Exchange
Takahashi would rework Katte Na Yatsura’s premise into Urusei Yatsura by adding some Japanese folklore into her sci-fi romcom. For example, while Lum is an alien, her race is based on the Oni: horned ogres who dress in loincloths. They try to take over Earth by challenging humans to a game of tag (‘Onigokko’, ‘the game of the Oni’, in Japanese), and Ataru wins by grabbing Lum by the horns.
According to folklore, pulling an Oni’s horns means they have to grant the puller a wish. Which is why Lum misinterprets Ataru’s dreams to marry his girlfriend Shinobu as a proposal to her. That’s not to mentioning supporting characters like the ice-powered Oyuki (after the ‘snow woman’ Yuki-Onna), Kurama (crow-faced goblins called Tengu), or biker babe Benten and the Shichi Fukujin (Japan’s ‘Seven Gods of Fortune’).
6/8 Lum’s Speech Was Based On Japanese Valley Girls
Localization can be a tricky business, as one culture’s quirks may not translate so neatly into another’s. Like how the Stand names in Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure affect Western copyright laws, but not Japanese ones. Or how Dragon Ball’s Goku speaks like a country bumpkin in Japanese. Localizing that into an English yokel or redneck accent might make him hard to take seriously, so Goku sounds more standard by comparison.
However, Lum’s speech patterns would perhaps be more familiar if localized directly. They were based on the way Japanese high school girls spoke, like using ‘uchi’ for ‘I’ instead of the formal ‘watashi’ or ending sentences in ‘datcha’. Essentially, it was the equivalent of a valley girl starting and ending each phrase with ‘Like’ and ‘y’know’. Combined with her forward, somewhat ditzy nature, it fits her to a tee.
5/8 Ataru Was Originally Paired With Shinobu
Despite Lum’s habits, some would think Ataru would be over the moon to have a beautiful space babe by his side. He’s an otherwise unremarkable guy living in a typical Japanese town with few prospects, yet he’s living Captain Kirk’s lifestyle without needing to leave home. But there’s a reason why the ‘Urusei’ part of the name means ‘annoying’. Lum is far from Ataru’s dream girl.
She was supposed to be an obstacle in Ataru’s way to classmate Shinobu’s heart. He’d have to overcome Lum’s advances and annoyances to affirm his feelings for her. Takahashi even did a story with just the two of them as emphasis. However, the fans and her publishers liked the chemistry between Ataru and Lum more. With much reluctance, Takahashi capitulated, and Lum took precedence over her human rival.
4/8 The Series Was Directed By Mamoru Oshii
Urusei Yatsura wasn’t just Takahashi’s breakthrough work. While under Studio Pierrot, the anime series put future Ghost in the Shell director Mamoru Oshii into the spotlight. He served as director and storyboard artist for the show, then directed both of its animated films: Only You and Beautiful Dreamer. While the first film followed Takahashi’s style of storytelling, the second film was written directly by Oshii without Takahashi’s input.
Its plot certainly resembled Oshii’s later works, as it involved a repeating timeline, shifting realities, and a demon bent on producing an eternal dream to thrive in. The film has received a re-appraisal over the years, but fans didn’t like its ‘philosophical’ approach at the time, and Takahashi disliked its deviation from her stories. Oshii would leave the series, but then the show shifted production to the infamous Studio DEEN.
3/8 It Became A Cult Classic In Spain
The show did go beyond Japan, though anime was a much more niche medium in the 1980s and 1990s than today. It would take a decade and change for Takahashi’s work to become popular on a wider scale in the West. However, there were a few exceptions.
The show reached Spain as Lum: La Chica Invasora (Lum the Invader Girl) and got two different dubs: one in standard European Spanish, and another in Catalonian. While this didn’t lead to the show catching on in Latin America like its space-based action contemporary Saint Seiya, it did gain a dedicated audience within Spain’s borders.
2/8 There Was A Short-Lived British Dub Of The Show
For years, the only English dub of the original Urusei Yatsura came through the now-defunct AnimEigo, who licensed the show, OVAs, and one movie up until their bankruptcy in 2009. They released the show across a range of media, but on an erratic scale, and they never quite got the show a regular schedule on TV.
In fact, the anime’s only shot on Anglophone TV schedules was in Britain. In 2000, BBC Choice (now BBC3) broadcast an improv dub of the show’s first three episodes for their one-off ‘Japan Night’ special. Titled Lum: The Invader Girl, the dub is pretty bad, but entertainingly so. It’s comparable to the equally dodgy CD-I Legend of Zelda game dubs or the equally British dub of PS2 clunker Battle Construction Vehicles.
1/8 The Original Manga Never Got Fully Translated In The West
With the show’s sporadic Western releases, it’s probably no surprise to learn that Urusei Yatsura’s manga never got a full, official English translation. In fact, it’s the only one of Takahashi’s manga to be left incomplete. Viz Media originally released it as Lum * Urusei Yatsura in the late 1990s, then dropped it after 8 issues.
It was brought back in Animerica as The Return of Lum and got enough fan buzz to gain its own monthly schedule. But it ended in 1998, covering only 11 of its 34 volumes. The series has now been re-licensed by Viz and has been released with new translations since 2019. With luck, fans will get the full deal this time.
The new Urusei Yatsuraseries will be broadcast on October 13th, 2022, and streamed on HIDIVE
More: Urusei Yatsura (2022): What to Expect (According to the Manga)