Rumiko Takahashi’s Urusei Yatsura romantic harem-parody manga ran from 1978 to 1989. Other popular manga followed, making Takahashi one of the more influential (and affluent) manga authors.
In volume one, Ataru Moroboshi learns the importance of precise phrasing.
Ataru is an unlikely protagonist. Not only was he born on an ill-fated day under unlucky stars, but he’s not exactly the heroic type. He’s a lazy and self-indulgent schoolboy. He’s also obsessed with sex and prone to serial infatuations. He has a long-suffering girlfriend (Shinobu Miyaki) but repeatedly tests her patience by flirting with other girls.
When alien Oni invade Earth, it seems all is lost. The Oni command technology humans cannot match; they would win any conventional war. For reasons that are unclear, the Oni don’t want a conventional war. Instead they want Earth’s champion to contend against the Oni champion. If Earth’s champion wins, the Oni will quietly leave. If the Oni champion wins, the Earth will belong to the Oni.
Ataru is randomly selected to represent Earth. Representing the Oni is beautiful, young, bikini-clad alien princess Lum. The contest is a series of games of tag. Even Ataru can hope to win at this. His hopes (and the hopes of the Earth) are dashed on the morning of the first race, when Ataru learns that Lum can fly.
Ataru loses repeatedly. Hoping to encourage him, Shinobu promises to marry Ataru if he wins. The way to victory is revealed when Ataru accidentally tears off Lum’s bikini top while trying to grab her. Her reaction suggests a cunning scheme. Ploy played, Earth is saved!
Ataru, however, ends up in trouble. At the moment of victory, he boasts that thanks to his win, he will soon be married. Lum misunderstands. She assumes that Ataru means to marry her; she accepts. Ataru attempts to clarify matters but Lum isn’t listening. Not only that, she installs herself in his house. Ataru finds himself with an angry girlfriend and an alien fiancée. A fiancée who is jealous, short-tempered, and can throw lightning bolts at will.
The stories in this volume were written forty years ago, in the context of a different culture. Things that may have seemed acceptable (or funny) then may be off-putting now. Well, readers often have to make accommodations for other times, other mores. At least the characters who offend us now are generally portrayed as terrible people. Almost everyone in the series is deeply flawed in one way or another, but these folks are really really flawed.
The volume contains ten stories, all of which follow a simple plotline: weird crap happens to Ataru (often his fault), aforesaid crap is complicated by his buddies (lusting after Lum) and by Lum (she’s an alien and a naïf). This volume is slapstick comedy, with Ataru the butt of the plots.
But the volume also builds a complicated history. Episodes don’t reset to an eternal now. Characters remember past events. Result: a tangle of complications. There’s also steadily increasing roster of characters, who have love lives of their own. “Let a thousand Love Dodecahedrons Bloom!” might have been a series motto.
UY is an example of how far awry author’s plans can go and how much success can come an author’s way if they are adept at improvising. Lum was supposed to be a one-off character, one minor complication in the wacky romance between Shinobu and Ataru. That’s not how it played out. Takahashi took note of readers’ reactions to Lum and the result was manga history.
Readers familiar with Takahashi’s later works (or even works later in this series) may find the art a bit unpolished and the humour a bit heavy-handed. Takahashi has grown more accomplished over the course of her long career.