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NUM-INOUS COMICS PT. 2

This essay is a very belated response to a " part 1 " published in February 2015. The gist of that essay was a response to a corre...

Thursday, June 30, 2016

NEAR-MYTHS: "JUST LIKE A WOMAN" (URUSEI YATSURA. 197?)

Rumiko Takahashi's inventiveness with creating memorable characters is, as far as I'm concerned, on a par with that of her more lauded predecessor, Osamu Tezuka. However, it's possible that she's never been as celebrated as Tezuka and her contemporary Miyazaki because she channeled that inventiveness into slapstick humor. Certainly in the U.S. it's rare to see comedy given the same props as "serious" drama, though from my pluralistic standpoint it's easy to see them as possessing the same potential for mythic import.

The first URUSEI YATSURA story, analyzed here, re-interprets the Japanese folklore of tigerish demons called "oni" into an alien lookalike species, of which Lum is the primary representative. Though she's not a literal demon, Lum becomes fascinated with a Japanese teen, Ataru Moroboshi, when he's selected to contend with her in a game of "tag," the stakes being the freedom of the Earth from Lum's people. Though Lum's feelings are not explored in detail, one interpretation might be that she's attracted to him because he's as feisty and demon-like as she is. In the earlier analysis, I said:

Perhaps Lum “stoops to conquer”—which is another way of saying that she conquers the conquering male by drawing him into her (literal) orbit, making him one of her demonic people. Of course this specific “doom” is set aside for the sake of future stories, since Ataru remains largely on Earth. But a lot of later stories end much the same as the first one, with Ataru and/or his male friends condemned to suffer some outrageous fate as a punishment for lustful desires. Perhaps there’s a sense in which, from the outset, Ataru is consigned to a comedic version of the Japanese hell—one where he will be the eternal victim of demonesses who constantly present alternating faces of feminine compassion and feminine sadism.

However, in subsequent stories Takahashi doesn't truly examine the Lum-Ataru relationship in mythic depth. It becomes just a comic routine; Ataru refuses to acknowledge his "marriage" to Lum (or for that matter, whatever genuine feelings he eventually has for her), runs around futilely trying to date other women, and gets punished for it by Lum's demonic powers. Most of the time, the women Ataru pursues are instantly turned off by his overbearing attentions. However, in a couple of stories, Takahashi formulated what might have been the biggest threat to Lum's hold on Ataru: a woman who doesn't care about having a meaningful relatonship.

In "Just Like a Woman," Ataru and his various cast-members meet Princess Kurama. Kurama, like Lum, is a sci-fi rewrite of a form of traditional Japanese creature: the "crow-demon" called *tengu.*
Ataru is kidnapped by a bunch of crow-men, who want him to mate with their princess so that she can repopulate the planet, presumably with human-crow hybrids who look more like Kurama than like her avian subordinates.




Note that in this panel Takahashi rewrites the famous "Snow White" myth. In popular retellings of the tale, Snow White is awakened by "love's first kiss." Here, Ataru has nothing on his mind but hormone-crazed lust. This would presumably be okay with Kurama, since she doesn't want anything from her potential mate but his sperm. However, she doesn't initially find Ataru physically attractive. Ironically, the only thing that makes her at all interested in him is the knowledge that another female covets him, which inspires her, bird-like, to "poach" on another female's territory.




The way Kurama does so, however, has nothing to do with romance: she wants to make Ataru over, so that he's more manly and less the lust-crazed idiot.




Naturally, Kurama's attempt to make a man of Ataru comes to nothing. "Just Like a Woman" concludes by infusing Ataru with "enhancing his anima" his feminine spirit. The goofy result is that Ataru starts acting like a woman in all respects, but a lesbian woman still oriented on babe-hunting.

Kurama doesn't give up at the conclusion of this story. The immediate sequel, "Dream Lover," shows her trying to use a form of aversion-therapy, designed to make Ataru fear the violence and capriciousness of women-- though how this would make the young fellow into good breeding-stock, Takahashi only knows. The sequence is noteworthy for having most of Ataru's female cast persecute and nearly kill him, though once again Ataru's lustfulness re-asserts itself over Kurama's technology.



"Father, You Were Strong" was Kurama's final attempt to remold Ataru before she gave up and started trying to find mates among other URUSEI cast-members, with no greater success than before.
In "Father," she takes Ataru back in time to expose him to the simple virtues of her own father, apparently a human being of medieval Japan who at some point produced Kurama's line by mating with a female tengu.




And of course, Ataru learns no lesson at all, and comes close to corrupting Kurama's image of parental strength and rectitude.




Now, I don't consider any of these stories "mythcomics," because the motifs used in them are not sufficiently organized. Takahashi often used concepts related to behavioral conditioning in her comic tales, but she was generally satisfied just to use them to put a given (usually male) character through the mill for a while, before his original nature re-asserted itself. Even the revelation that Kurama has a "father-complex"-- which would certainly go toward explaining why no man is good enough for her-- is left undeveloped.

Still, even if the characters of Takahashi rarely go beyond their basic comic setups, I feel that there's always a great deal of mythic potential there-- which is more than I can say for the majority of modern manga-artists.

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