Angels in Tomobiki-land

 

Here's a story about the curious intertwining of two of the best-known anime series of the 1980s:

 

Takachiho Haruka (1951 - ) began working on science-fiction novels while he was still in high school; among other things, he was interested in the sprawling, Galaxy-spanning adventure stories, referred to as "space opera", written by a number of American authors during the 1940s and '50s. While at Hosei University, working on a degree in social sciences, he went to his first science-fiction convention, where he met many other SF fans. Once out of college, he got together with some of them, among whom included Yasuhiko Yoshikazu, to start Studio Nue, which would become involved with work in print, manga, and anime. (A considerable amount of the mecha design seen to this day in anime series still comes from Nue.)

Returning to his notebooks from his student days, Takachiho worked out his first published novel, making his authorial debut in 1973 with Wakusei Pizan no Kiki, the opening of the Crusher Joe series, which would come to span eleven books. A visit from Australian SF writer A. Bertram Chandler precipitated a story which Takachiho wrote as a sort of spoof of his Crusher Joe stories, involving a pair of female criminal investigators with an unhappy reputation for weird luck and spectacular disasters [details of this are described elsewhere]. The first Dirty Pair short story and novella appeared in print in SF Magajin in 1979, then were collected into a paperback book in 1980. The stories turned out to be unexpectedly popular: Daatipea no Daibouken won the fan-polled Seiun Award (analogous to the American Hugo) in 1981 at Tokon VII for Best Short Story.

 

Takahashi Rumiko (1956 - ) started her work in manga while still a student and broke into print in 1977. She too had a great interest in science fiction, but also in Japanese mythology and folklore. Many of her story lines right up to the present draw on traditional Japanese tales, but sometimes blend these with aspects of contemporary life or ideas from science fiction. Sometimes, the cultural collisions produced in this mixing are developed by her for humorous effect. Takahashi is also a horrific punster, frequently playing on the multiple readings possible in a name or phrase in Japanese, in Chinese, and occasionally even in English. In addition, it is worth mentioning that she and Takachiho also share an interest in womens' professional wrestling.

Katte na Yatsura <Those Selfish So-and-sos> was her first published work, which evolved into her immensely successful comedic Urusei Yatsura. Already we have an example of her pervasive use of puns: Urusai Yatsura would mean "Those Bothersome So-and-sos", but she insinuates one of the words for star, "sei", to imply that these pests are extraterrestrial: thus, the title is usually rendered into English as "Those Annoying Aliens".

To keep this brief, the premise is that Earth has been targetted for conquest by an alien race. They give us a sporting chance: they challenge us to a game of tag. If a randomly selected Earthling can "tag out" the beautiful teenage alien princess, Lum, within ten days, the human race will be spared -- oh, did we mention she can fly? The chosen champion representing our side is also a teenager, from Tomobiki District in Japan: Moroboshi Ataru (whose name translates as "struck by a falling star") has already developed a reputation as the most lecherous male in the region (and we come to learn that he has some significant competition at that...). On the night of the penultimate day of the contest, he tells his "main" girlfriend, Miyake Shinobu (her given name means "to put up with" or "endure" here), that he will marry her if he wins and saves the world. The chase has been grueling, but Ataru at last is victorious. As he is about to catch Lum, he shouts out "I'm going to be married!" Lum assumes he is referring to her and accepts his seeming offer. Moroboshi, of course, means nothing of the kind and fully intends to continue his girl-chasing ways. Since Lum has now decided, however, that Ataru is her fiancé, she decides to remain on Earth... in Tomobiki... in Ataru's room. (It's what became a common manga or anime love polygon: A loves B, while B pursues C, D, E, ..., Z, etc. In the fullness of time, Lum grows to truly love Ataru, while he comes to admit that, uhh... yeah... he guesses he... kinda really does love her, too... probably...)

This is the set-up for Takahashi's series, which ran in Shounen Sunday from 1979 to 1986 and in anime on television or in OAVs from 1981 until 1991. It was the first of her storylines which came to involve a huge ensemble of characters. In addition to the good people of Tomobiki, it seems that Lum knows an awful lot of folks out there in the Galaxy; the longer she stayed on Earth, the more of them eventually turned up. (By the end of the story's run, we've met easily a few hundred people.)

 

As someone with an interest and involvement in science fiction, Takahashi must surely have followed the work of other writers and mangaka, as well as activities in fan conventions. Sometime around 1980, after the appearance of Takachiho's first DP book, a couple of minor characters are introduced in a brief story arc: they are two female ninjas or kunoichi. The one with short, bobbed hair and an eyepatch is named Kumade, which literally means "bear hand". This carries multiple meanings: it is a small iron claw-like weapon ("bear claw"), reminiscent of a garden hoe, used by ninjas; it is the name of a particular hand-strike in karate; and it is also the name given to a sort of bamboo rake sold at autumn festivals -- one is supposed to mount it pointing upward to catch good fortune falling from the heavens. In all, a name appropriate to someone who resembles a certain warrior-woman of our acquaintance, known for her unreasonably good luck. Her partner with the long tresses is Mukade, the name given to a number of varieties of poisonous centipedes found in Japan; this name also carries some historical significance.

A summary of their appearance in Urusei Yatsura is given here. The characters are sort of a lampoon of the Lovely Angels; the reference was even more obvious when the sequence was adopted for anime in 1982, with Kumade wearing a green outfit and short black hair and Mukade, with her long red hair, clad in blue (a simple color swap would make them a perfect match). One of the people at Studio Pierrot working on the series at the time was Dokite Tsukasa, who will turn up again in a bit.

 

Somewhere around the time that Takachiho won his first Seiun, Takahashi escalated things a bit further. Two of Lum's childhood friends, now also teenagers, show up at Tomobiki and become regular visitors. They are Benten and Oyuki, who just about always show up as a pair.

   

Benten takes her name originally from Bensaiten, the revered Hindu goddess of (among other things) longevity, wisdom, victory, and luck. In the migration of lore from India through China to Japan, Benten became a giver of good fortune and one of the seven Gods of Luck -- in fact, the only female among them! In Takahashi's hands, she is a fierce and (generally) victorious warrior who rides a red space-bike (with "warp" capability!) called Prosperity. She ties her hair back with a chain, which doubles as a weapon; her favorite armament, though, is probably her rocket launcher. While known for her toughness, short temper, and rough language, Benten is also pretty much friendly and open.

 

Oyuki is a Snow Princess of Neptune; in fact, her name means "<honorific> snow" and her character is based on a traditional Japanese legend. In a phrase, Oyuki is Yuri chilled to liquid helium temperatures: she is extremely polite, formal, demure, and absolutely unflappable. She never gets angry... but, if some remark or act should incur her displeasure, her eyes will narrow, her voice becomes even more level, the temperature in the vicinity begins to plummet, and the offending party (and everyone else within range) finds themselves encased in their own personal iceberg! Oyuki is also an intelligent, very successful (and rather stingy) businesswoman. She never travels without her account ledgers (which we see her consulting above) and seems to know almost every race in the Galaxy as a result of her business ventures. She usually arrives on the back of Benten's space-bike, of course riding sidesaddle.

The two of them quickly became major characters in Urusei Yatsura, appearing in a great many of the manga and anime episodes.

 

By 1983, when the Lovely Angels made their cameo appearance in the Crusher Joe feature, Dokite Tsukasa was working with Yasuhiko Yoshikazu at Sunrise on the TV series Giant Gorg. When it became clear that there was enough potential audience for a Dirty Pair TV series to be developed, Dokite was tapped for the jobs of animation director and character designer (and he is still involved with artwork related to Classic DP to the present). His past work on Urusei Yatsura left its most obvious influence on the visual styling of the characters, particularly in giving Yuri some physical resemblance to Lum. (As an amusing side note, Yuri's seiyuu, Shimazu Saeko, also played Moroboshi's long-suffering girlfriend, Shinobu.)

Dokite left a sort of signature at the end of the first run of Classic DP. In "episode 26", which was released on laserdisc in 1987, Kei and Yuri rush to WWWA headquarters to deal with a critical emergency. To waste no time, Yuri takes their aircar right through the building lobby and into an elevator, passing Lum-chan and nearly mowing down Ataru Moroboshi en route...

[from the Dirty Pair Film Book 1]
In the later VAP DVD releases of this episode, this sequence has been replaced by a similar one without these characters.

 

One more of Takahashi's creations is worth remarking upon in this account, for its influence on her own later work and on DP further down the road.

Takahashi already started, in Urusei Yatsura, to explore the issue of gender identity and roles. Fujinami Ryuunosuke (the family name means "Fuji-wave", referring to the famous print, "The Great Wave Off Kanagawa", from the Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji by Hokusai Katsushika (1760-1849); the given name is "son of the dragon") entered the story around the same time as Oyuki and Benten. Ryuunosuke's father is a widower who runs a modest teahouse and had wished for a son who would one day carry on the family business. Unfortunately for him, his only child is a daughter. This didn't appear to faze him at all: he set about raising her as a boy, including training her in martial arts. By the time she reached adolescence, her behavior had become pretty thoroughly masculine, but she began forming a desire to become more feminine. This being quite unacceptable to her father, he would thwart her every effort in that direction and remind her of her "proper" role. The outcome of this would often be an outrageous martial-arts battle, with Ryuunosuke launching into it with a cry of "Ore wa onna da!" (rendered into English as "I'm a woman!"; what is lost in translation is that "ore" is the pronoun "I" as it is used by tough guys and yakuza, or young males who want to sound like they are). Complicating her life further is the fact that, as a fine example of "young manhood", she is quite attractive to the other teenage girls of Tomobiki. Her attempts to break out of her unwanted role, and her on-going war with her father, is a recurring plot thread in the manga.

Ryuunosuke is seen by some fans of Takahashi's works as a precursor to her now much better known lead character, Saotome Ranma. But those of you reading this who are familiar with DP Flash will recognize something of Ryuunosuke in Kei, as Takachiho reconceived her in the mid-1990s. Her largely masculine attire is actually an extension of a gimmick Dokite used for Kei back in the Classic TV episodes (and nowhere else). Her own gender identity complication and her occasional need to remind others that "ore wa onna da" , though, seem to be traceable back to Takahashi.

 

If you want to know more about Urusei Yatsura, the finest site I know of is Mason Proulx' Tomobiki-cho, from which some of these illustrations were taken.