Urusei Yatsura is one of Japan's comedic gems. Starting out as a hit Manga (comic-book) series, it spawned a long-running animated TV series, a series of feature films, and OVA's (short, made for video specials),that continue to this day. AnimEigo has released all of the Movies and OVAs, and many of the TV episodes.
For the benefit of those of you who have never seen Urusei Yatsura before, here is a guide to the characters and situations.
Ataru Moroboshi is the least lucky and most lecherous lout in the Universe. Bar none. Deep down, he has a good soul, but he tries to hide it, and usually succeeds. Alas, it's about all he ever succeeds in!
Lum is the princess of the Oni, a race of very strange aliens who inspired Japan's demon legends during a previous visit. When they come back to take over the Earth, they give us one chance to save our planet; a champion, chosen at random, must defeat Lum in a game of Tag (their national sport, and "the game of the Oni" in Japanese). Unfortunately for Earth, Ataru is picked as champion.
Miyake Shinobu is Ataru's long-suffering semi-girlfriend. When all seems lost, she promises that she'll marry Ataru if he beats Lum. Inspired to new lows of deviousness by the prospect of finally getting lucky, Ataru manages to beat Lum, but his victorious cry of "Now I can be married" is misinterpreted by Lum as a wedding proposal, which she accepts.
After more misadventures, Lum is living in Ataru's closet, and Shinobu is wondering if she's been jilted or saved from a life of misery. Ataru, for his part, can't bring himself to settle down with Lum: "so many women, so little time." Unfortunately for him, Lum has a high-voltage way of expressing her ire.
Mendou Shutaro is the scion of the richest family in the world. Their private army is bigger than Japan's, for example. Like most men, Mendou has the hots for Lum, and can't deal with Lum's infatuation with Ataru. By the time period of "Only You," Shinobu is starting to give up on Ataru and become interested in Mendou.
Lum's Stormtroopers are her self-appointed guardians, and they are always getting on Ataru's case for some Lum-related misdeed.
Ten is Lum's little cousin. He's always setting Ataru up for a fall.
Ataru's Father reads the newspaper and tries to ignore the chaos. His Mother bemoans her fate and loudly wishes she'd never given birth to Ataru.
Cherry is a demented Buddhist monk whose mission it is to destroy evil spirits. Cleansing Ataru of his bad luck would be his crowning achievement, not to mention he figures it to be a life-long meal ticket.
Sakura is Cherry's niece, a Shinto sorceress who has taken the job of School Nurse for reasons unknown. All the boys have the hots for her.
Benten is a rooting-tooting intergalactic biker-babe, and one of Lum's best friends. She totes a big gun, and is notoriously inaccurate.
Oyuki is the cultured and refined princess of Neptune. To say that she is a "cool character" is putting it mildly.
Rei is Lum's ex-fiance. He looks like a god, is as dumb as a post, and has the bad habit of becoming a giant "Tiger-cow" when he gets upset.
Princess Kurama is the princess of the crow goblins, another race of aliens. She is fated to marry the man who awakened her with a kiss; alas, due to an error by a drunken crow goblin, it was Ataru. Needless to say, she'll do anything to escape her destiny!
Ran is one of Lum's childhood friends. Don't let the cute airhead demeanor fool you -- she's not a nice person, and she's out to get Lum for a variety of alleged slights and misdeeds.
Ryuunosuke is a girl whose father wanted a boy -- so he raised her to be one! She dresses, acts, walks and talks like a man, because her father won't let her be a girl (not that she'd have any idea of how to be one!). Ryuunosuke and her dad run the Hama Tea-shop, but they are perpetually broke.
Onsen-Mark is the high-school teacher who has to deal with all of the above. Some think that the only reason he hasn't gone insane is that he was nuts to begin with. His name literally means "Mark of the Hot Water Spring."
Asuka and Tobimaro ("Ton") Mizunokouji belong to the second richest in Japan (behind the Mendou clan, of course). Asuka's mother raised her apart from boys and men for some 16 years (when she first appears in the TV series, she's never seen her father, and neither she nor her brother know that the other exists), the result being that she flies into a panic at the sight of men, throwing heavy objects and leaping great distances to get away from them. To keep her from killing her brother, and her intended betrothed, Mendou Shutaro, her mother invents a special category of men called "Oniichan," or "Big Brothers," and all men in this category are non-threatening to Asuka. Unfortunately, all these good intentions only serve to further confuse Asuka about male-female relationships. For his part, Ton and Mendou are life-long rivals -- sort of.
Kotatsu Neko (literally, "Footwarmer Cat") is the large and vengeful spirit of a cat who died when its owners left it out in the cold. Given its fate, it is highly attracted to sources of warmth.
Many of the character names in "Urusei Yatsura" describe the characters very well in the original Japanese.
"Moroboshi Ataru," for example, means "to get hit by a star." And since "star" is at least partially synonymous with "alien" in this series, it means that he attracts aliens and other weirdos, like it or not. "Shinobu" is another good example, for a different reason: the word means "patient," but in actuality, she is anything but.
As for the Stormtroopers, their nicknames come from their looks: "Megane" means "glasses," "Chibi" means "runt," and "Perm" and "Kakugari" get their nicknames from their hairstyles.
The normal writing of "Mendou" means "trouble," but in the case of the Mendou family, the name is written with a different set of characters, giving a different official meaning ("face" + "temple," which in itself is somewhat descriptive), but nonetheless, the Mendou family lives up to the traditional reading of the word that is a homonym of their family name: they are lots of trouble.
Benten is actually one of the seven Chinese gods of luck, Oyuki is a takeoff on the classic snow princess of Japanese myth, and Princess Kurama and the Karasutengu ("Crow Goblins") are also based on the mythical "crow people" that are their namesakes.
The Japanese, like most Asians, put their family name first; all of the credits in these liner notes and the videos follow this convention. They also often refer to people by their family names; this is considered to be more polite. Use of a given name implies a certain level of familiarity and intimacy. In addition, the Japanese often use "terms of reference" such as "big-brother," "little-sister," "Aunt," and so on, both alone, as a suffix, and even in a friendly way to refer to people they are not related to, but who, if they were, would fit into that category.
For example, children will often call young women "Onee-san," which means "Big Sister." These same young women dread the day the children start calling them "Oba-san," or "Auntie."
On top of all this, suffixes are tacked on to names to add inflections of politeness, and to specify the position the person holds. Thus, if Mr. Suzuki were a company president, he would often be referred to as "Sukuzi Shachoo," "Mr. Company President Suzuki."
How to appropriately deal with all of these terms in a natural manner is the recurring nightmare of Japanese translators. We also had to deal with the problem that many of the characters call each other by their last names. English speakers would not do this, but if we changed the subtitle to read "what the person would say if they were speaking in English," you would read one name and hear another. Since some people find this dissonant, we have decided to subtitle what they say, except that we translate terms of reference to the appropriate name where it would be awkward to use them in English.
Since many of these terms of reference and suffix combinations are either rarely used or nonexistent in English, it is inevitable that some of the flavor of the original Japanese dialogue is lost when it is translated into English. The following brief guide to the most common terms should help you notice some of the nuances and increase your appreciation of the film.
-san: the basic neutral polite suffix, equivalent to "Mr.," "Mrs.," "Miss" or "Ms." in English.
-sama: denotes someone in a higher social position than the speaker, or whom the speaker holds in great esteem.
-kun: is the standard suffix added to the names of boys and young men. It is also used by older men in reference to younger men, especially subordinates in a business situation. "kun" is also more intimate than "san."
-chan: is the equivalent of "kun" for babies and girls, but it is also used when an intimate friendship or other relationship exists between the speaker and the person being referred to. While "chan" is rarely applied to adult men, in situations where two men have had a long and close relationship, they will often be "chan" to each other. "chan" also pops up in the mass media a lot, because of its intimations of intimacy; perhaps the strangest example of this is that in Japan, Arnold Schwarzenegger is often called "Shuuwaa-chan."
In Urusei Yatsura, Lum is almost always referred to as "Lum-chan," although Mendou uses the more polite "-san."
In addition to the top 4, there are many suffixes that denote job relationships, such as the above-mentioned "Shachoo." Of these, the most commonly heard is "-sensei," or "teacher," which is applied not only to teachers, but also to doctors, masters of particular art-forms and business mentors. Recently, due to all the people sucking up to other people by calling them "sensei," real sensei's have been complaining about "sensei-inflation" reducing the prestige of the term.
The most common terms of reference are:
otoo-san: someone's father.
chichi: my father (very polite).
okaa-san: someone's mother.
haha: my mother (very polite).
onii-san: older brother.
onee-san: older sister.
otooto: my younger brother.
otooto-san: someone else's younger brother.
imooto: younger sister.
imooto-san : someone else's younger sister.
anata: "you." "Anata" is particularly used by Japanese women to refer to their husbands or lovers when talking to them. Depending on the tone, it can range in inference from sweet to caustic, though the usual meaning translates to "dear."
omae: lit. "in front of me." A less polite of saying "you."
kimi: a very sweet way of saying "you." More polite than "omae," but less polite than "anata."
sempai: "someone above me in a heirarchy."
kohai: "someone below me in a heirarchy."
The series title is a pun, with a couple of layers to it. First, the word "urusei" is a very crude way of pronouncing "urusai," which is Japanese for "loud or obnoxious." But the way the series' creator, Takahashi Rumiko, writes it, it takes on a different meaning. For the "sei" portion of "urusei," she uses the kanji "hoshi," which has an alternate reading of "sei," and which is how it is read in this instance. This kanji means "star" or "planet," and thus gives the phrase its extraterrestrial significance: A bunch of noisy Alien People.
The Dappya Kaijuu is the fish-man in the environmental suit who appears from time to time, and gets his (or sometimes their) name from their habit of ending all their sentences in the original Japanese with "Dappya!" Turns out that they first appeared in Takahashi Rumiko's first published manga, "Kattena Yatsura" (Selfish Bastards), which won her a prize in Shoogakkan's Second New Comic Writers' Contest, in 1978, and is currently available in Vol. 2 of Rumic World, her three-volume short story collection. Our thanks to Tonghyun Kim for pointing this out.
Japanese has many terms of reference that are often used in speech that have no direct equivalents in English. For example, there are specific words for "older sister" (Onee-san), "older brother" (Onii-san), "younger sister" (Imooto) and "younger brother" (Otooto). Such words are often used in a more general sense, especially by young children; for example, they often refer to older girls as "Onee-san," and the day that they start calling a woman "Oba-san" (Auntie) can be a black one indeed.
On top of this, there are several suffixes that can be added to names depending upon the relationship between the two people; "-san" is the neutral suffix, "-sama" is a respectful suffix, "-kun" is a familiar suffix almost always used with boys, and "-chan" is an intimate one, used with children, very close friends (usually female) and lovers.
Depending on the relationships involved, a person can be addressed by his first or last name, by his profession, or by his relationship in the family or group. So, for example, Mr. Moroboshi often calls his wife "Kaa-san" (Mother). Mrs. Moroboshi often refers to her husband as "Anata," (literally, "you"), a common way for a wife to speak to her husband.
When these terms of reference are used inappropriately, it is almost always either an attempt at flattery or an insult. So when Ataru refers to Lum as "Lum-chan" in "Electric Shocks Scare Me!," he is buttering her up.
Please refer to the guide to Japanese name suffixes located on page 2 of these Liner Notes for more information.
Furthermore, in subtitling a character's name, we have to deal with vocal patterns that are common in Japanese, but rarely (if ever) used in English. Of these, the most common is the long vowel, especially terminal long vowels. The problem is that they look strange to the viewer's eye, and so make the subtitles harder to read. Our solution is to eliminate or modify the spelling of the names so as to (a) promote readability and (b) taking into account the way English speakers apply the rules of pronunciation, try to convey a good approximation of the real pronunciation. In addition, where a generally accepted romanization of a Japanese name exists, we use it, especially with respect to modern place-names. Thus, "Mendoo Shuutaroo" becomes "Mendou Shutaro," "Tookyoo" becomes Tokyo, etc.
With one exception, UY episodes in the LD 1-10 Set were broadcast in production order. The exception is Episodes 18 and 19. Episode 18 contains Stories 37 & 38, and Episode 19 contains Stories 35 & 36.
This information comes from the original Staff List documentation provided to us by Kitty Films.