You have got to admire a character design like Lum’s. The fact she is usually only wearing a tiger striped bikini is bound to draw attention for a start. Couple that with the green hair, horns and knee high boots and you have rather an iconic character.
She is one of the main characters in a manga and anime which started in the 1970s called Urusei Yatsura. The plot mainly revolves around Lum (an alien) and Ataru (a letch) who she fell in love with after he foiled her father’s attempt to take over the world. He did this by beating her in a game of tag. Lum is basically sweet and innocent but also has a very hot temper and being an alien can shoot electricity out of her hand. This comes in handy to keep poor old Ataru in check because being a pervert at heart he is generally trying to get with every lady that moves.
As you can probably tell by now the plot is pretty barmy but it is a fun series which interestingly has often been described as a Japanese version of The Simpsons. Not, I think, because they are particularly similar in tone or set up but because of the enduring popularity they have even years and years down the line and also because they are both chock full of cultural references.
American culture is pretty well known abroad so The Simpsons is not a problem for British audiences, Urusei Yatsura on the other hand can become almost impenetrable to foreigners. So much so that the company that localised Urusei Yatsura for the USA had to provide extensive liner notes for the series explaining references and why they chose to translate the many puns in the show the way they did.
For its run as a TV show Urusei Yatsura generally stayed at the level of ‘fun and charming hijinks’ for the majority of the time. However there were also a series of movies made back in the eighties and the second of which was directed by a certain Mamoru Oshii. If the name doesn’t ring a bell he is the man who directed the Ghost in the Shell and Patlabor films and also live action stuff like Stray Dog. If you haven’t seen these films I can tell you that they definitely cannot be described as ‘fun and charming hijinks’.
So for a brief moment Urusei Yatsura became a philosophy driven art house film about the nature of dreams and reality, the difference between a sweet dream and a nightmare and whether our dreams will make us truly happy. It is a great film, the kind that has to be watched a few times to work out and just about as far from the original show as you can get. I implore you to check it out, it’s called Beautiful Dreamer. If only The Simpsons Movie had dared to do a similar thing. Apparently the original author of the manga did not like Oshii’s interpretation of her creation and he never got the chance to create another film with these characters, which is a shame.
Earlier I noted that this anime is a hard one to translate, this is true to the extent that Animeigo, the US distributor, did not even attempt to make an English dubbed version. Over in the UK though, the BBC did give it a go. You probably never heard of it because it was given the title Lum the Invader Girl and shown as part of a ‘Japan week’ on the now defunct channel BBC Choice. The voices were provided by Anna Friel and Matt Lucas, two fairly famous actors in the UK and I think Lucas did a good job, really capturing the spirit of the original Ataru.
The BBC dub wasn’t a great success though, they only dubbed the first 3 episodes and their definition of ‘translation’ was very very loose. In the great British tradition of dubbing foreign shows such as The Magic Roundabout and Monkey, the script was largely thrown out the window and they seemed to more or less make it up as they went along. They added in references to stuff like Pokemon, Millwall Football Club and The Archers, what they produced was actually quite amusing despite hardly being true to the source.
Judge for yourself:
This wasn’t the show’s only flirtation with British popular culture though. A lo-fi band, once described as the most indie band in the world by NME chose to call themselves Urusei Yatsura. They happen to be one of my favourites and I feel were criminally ignored with only one UK top 40 single to show for their efforts.
Click on this picture for the song they did a Peel session for and which is perhaps their greatest (also note the UY references in there):
Who would have thought a girl in a tiger striped bikini could have such a big effect on people?