Urusei Yatsura: Only You

It's hard to make a feature-length film out of a comedy show that normally runs twenty-two minutes.  The recent revival of Futurama was greeted with fanfare, but I haven't met anyone who thought the four TV movies were all that great.  Funny?  At times, sure, but what worked in bite-size made you feel bloated as a mega gulp.  While Futurama and Urusei Yatsura are quite different shows, the same issue rings true for the first film in the UY canon, Only You.  A couple of later films in the series, most notably Beautiful Dreamer, played with the formula and created expanded plots that were great fun while needing a longer running time.  Only You, in comparison, feels more like an expanded TV episode with padding to make it nearly 100 minutes.  It's on the ragged edge of enjoyable, but it's not even close to the best this series has to offer.       

The film assumes that you have some knowledge of the TV show, as there are no introductions to our usual gang of idiots.  (That might sound like an insult, but not for this bunch of folks...and homage to Mad Magazine aside.)  As it starts, Lum and Ataru are a couple, Lum doting on her "darling" and Ataru wanting to have nothing to do with her.   Everybody in Tomobiki suddenly receives an invitation to the wedding of Ataru and "Elle."  Ataru knows nothing about it, but Lum's fans pummel him senseless in an effort to squeeze the truth out of him.  As it so happens, Ataru and Elle played a game of shadow tag 11 years prior, and when Ataru stepped on Elle's shadow, he proposed to her...at least according to her planet's mating rituals, and the time has come for Elle to return to her paramour.  While Ataru should have learned his lesson from being engaged to one interstellar hottie, he didn't, and he goes panting after Elle despite the threat of lightning bolts from Lum's fingers.  Heading off into deep space to stop the lunacy, Lum figures that the best way to keep Elle's hands off of Ataru is to finally marry him herself.  As the regular crew gets hauled along, these two damsels get a war started to find out just who gets to marry the dumbest lech on the planet Earth.   

If you didn't know who Mamoru Oshii was, this movie would not make you think that he would become one of the most celebrated anime directors of all time.  That isn't to say he doesn't do good work here; he cut his teeth on Urusei Yatsura as the chief director on the first 106 episodes, and this was his first feature film.  There are early signs of his trademarks, such as his attention to visuals; while the AnimEigo DVD shows that the film has not been pristinely preserved, the otherwise excellent disc brings out how Oshii and his team made the most of a big-screen budget.  The spaceships in particular are far more intricately and lovingly rendered than a film of this nature calls for, though it should be said that the characters also look crisper and cleaner.  Nobody's going to think this was made in 2010, but I found the look of the film refreshing.  There's a visual charm to early '80s animation that I simply haven't found in recent productions.        

There's certainly fun to be had in this movie, especially if you're unfamiliar with the tropes of shonen harem anime or have never seen where it all started.  Unlike many other series, Urusei Yatsura presents its characters unflatteringly and makes you enjoy them anyway.  There is nary a shred of decency to Ataru, who is schizophrenic enough to want to chase anyone in a skirt save for the girl who's already throwing herself at him.  The rest of the characters either hate him or want to kill him...except for Lum, who doesn't hate him but out of jealousy does nearly kill him on numerous occasions.  While sometimes other entries in the UY universe go deeper than that, it doesn't have to.  Slapstick humor with a violent streak is best played with cartoonish characters, and that's what Only You is...a fun-loving cartoon.  Not in the "immature for kids" sense, but at its heart, it is meant for simple laughs, and it has several.  Only You is entertaining enough to rent, I'll give you that.

But Only You is hamstrung by two problems common to many TV-to-film adaptations.  The first is cameo syndrome.  While we may not see every character introduced in UY's first 50 episodes, we come darn close.  I'm sure they wanted to avoid angering fans of particular characters who were expecting to see their favorites show up.  (Heck, I know people who are still upset that Tom Bombadil didn't make it into any of the Lord of the Rings films.)  However, when everybody's given a cameo, none of them are special, and it just makes your film far longer than it needs to be.  Is it funny for Cherry the monk or the long-suffering ex-sorta-girlfriend Shinobu to show up for ten seconds?  Not really.  If the cameos had been cut and the story more focused, about twenty minutes would have been cut, and the pacing wouldn't have lagged as much. 

The second problem is the musical interlude.  Yes, Only You has one, and it stops the movie in its tracks.  A lot of anime films from the era have them, but unless your name is Macross, they don't work.  The song itself isn't funny, which for this sort of picture is amazing.  It tries to lend the show some dramatic import it doesn't have and shouldn't have.  In fact, the song gave me enough time to contemplate whether what I'd seen up that point was really all that funny.  Not good, friends, not good. 

I can forgive Only You for not introducing the UY characters; after all, this was during the manga boom when the manga and its anime counterpart were everywhere.  I can forgive it some of its lapses outside of comedy territory and its overeagerness to please the fan base.  I'm willing to forgive all that because it is still amusing and, unlike many of the shows it would inspire, so willing to run with its ridiculous stereotypes and stupid characters right into the end zone without becoming overly crass.  Beautiful Dreamer and Lum The Forever are far better films because they add layers of thought and intelligence to the whole thing nobody could have ever thought would work.  But this film is a long-play TV episode, flawed but still very much the core Urusei Yatsura experience.  

Urusei Yatsura: Only You -- very brief nudity, comic violence -- B-