By Rumiko Takahashi. Released in Japan in two separate volumes by Shogakukan, serialized in the magazine Shonen Sunday. Released in North America by Viz Media. Translated by Camellia Nieh.
Every fan has their obsessive favorite minor character. Usually more than one. I have two when it comes to Takahashi’s work. I’ve already discussed Akari Unryuu, Ryouga’s girlfriend in the later parts of the manga in my reviews of that. As you might have guessed, my favorite Urusei Yatsura character makes their debut in this volume. No, not Kotatsu-neko, though he sort of amusingly stoic. No, not the school principal either, though it is funny that both he and Kotatsu-neko debuted around the same time. No, it’s Shutaro Mendo’s younger sister Ryoko, introduced here as essentially an agent of chaos in a series entirely composed of agents of chaos. Ryoko is fickle, bored, and also a sociopath, happy to trigger her brother’s fears of the dark, annoy him by flirting with Ataru, or simply toss a hundred grenades out her window because it’s fun. Most North American fans experiences her Ranma knockoff, Kodachi Kuno, first. Accept no substitutes, though, Ryoko is best unfiltered.
Having established most of the regulars by now, Takahashi is starting to experiment with her work, dialing up some things and ramping back some others. Ran, who’d vanished for a while, is back on a semi-regular basis. So is Rei, and we start to get the start of the eventual Ran/Rei pairing when we see the one thing that’s sure to win Rei over: food. (Lum’s cooking, usually lethal to Ataru, is implied at times to also be lethal to actual aliens – she fills the ‘can’t cook’ stereotype box.) Oyuki is starting to be the soft-spoken yamato nadesico, but is still wearing her battle bikini rather than her kimono. And she’s dipping back into Japanese history again – this is the first book to feature new, never before officially translated manga material, and I can imagine 1990s Viz translators wanting to cut the chapters where Ataru is Zenigata (no, not the Lupin one). Nowadays, there are actual endnotes to explain things like Ryoko’s kuroko attendants (being a drama major, they are another reason I love Ryoko).
Also, while it’s always been around, we’re really starting to see a lot more fourth-wall breaking here. Tezuka started this, of course, and Takahashi’s friend and colleague Mitsuru Adachi also does it. But Takahashi is as broad and blatant about it as with the rest of UY’s humor, with Lum appearing on the title page to complain that she’s barely in this chapter, and other characters complaining about Ataru not being in it at the start because he’s still in bed. UY is a performative manga that its characters know they’re in, but they aren’t actors. For the most part the stories are still one-shot chaotic messes, though sometimes chapters run into each other, such as the first part of the book detailing the students trying to leave school to get lunch outside campus, which ends up being the students simply ditching school entirely.
As these chapters were being written, the anime was also being created – it debuted in the Fall of 1981, right around the time the Ryoko chapters would have been in the magazine. As the manga goes on, there will be a little influence from one on the other – though less than you’d expect. Fans of the anime might be startled, though, by one chapter here early in the manga being the basis for the final episode of the anime. That said, even if you’re not an experienced UY fan, these volumes are still chaotic, funny fun.