The last topic I wrote about–the entirety of Kill la Kill–was pretty big, so here’s something small: a five minute Urusei Yatsura AMV.
Simple concept here. Lum, the oni alien who’s recently come to live on earth, pours herself a glass of juice and watches TV. She immediately becomes rapt, watching a dramatic scene of two lovers on a sunset beach, and then when this scene ends we seem to transition into her imagination, a dreamy mixture of TV scenes and scenes from her own life, possibilities of dramas that could be.
Aside from the AMV creator’s obvious infatuation with Lum as a conduit of innocent love (which he sells pretty convincingly here) and his pitch-perfect choice of music, we get a lot of stuff in this video that cuts deeply into the nature of human fantasies.
The trope of an alien being enthralled by human television and pop culture is a frequently used one, both in anime and in western TV and films. We like the idea of an extraterrestrial coming to understand us through our entertainment, probably because that’s the way that so many of us, arguably most of us, shape our own understandings of the world. Lum, the wide-eyed innocent alien viewer, is a proxy for ourselves as children, and even as adults. She loses herself in the drama on the screen, accepting it fully. It informs her of the nature of the human game and its possibilities, of what her place in it could be. TV has a distilled cultural wisdom that she lacks.
The song choice is perfect, with its chorus refrain: You know more than me/You know how it feels.
“Feels” is the key word here, because these kinds of dramas are all about emotions, and in the modern slang sense of the word, feels are what Lum and all the rest of us are looking for. It’s obvious but easily forgotten that what she wants from TV, what we all want, is drama. Not peaceful contentment or simple bliss, but rather a bittersweet mixture of gain and loss. The fantasies that play out on her mindscreen are wistful: some are romanticized, pastoral meetings between lovers. A scene of her and Ataru alone together in a beach house leaning against one another, listening to a record player, has a kind of nostalgic simplicity that personally makes me feel an ache. But amusingly, the majority of Lum’s fantasies here are ones of loss: silent partings between lovers in a bedroom, in an airport, at a train station filled with luminescent falling snow. Scenes that bring out the full extent of a romantic connections by severing them.
The Japanese love this stuff. I can’t begin to count the number of times I’ve seen an anime where a character is watching some kind of exaggerated soap opera scene in the background–usually a tearful parting between lovers, drenched in sunset colors–and we, the viewer of the viewer, get to have a good laugh at what suckers they are. Really, we’re laughing at ourselves, at human nature, because there’s something comical about the way in which we always pursue drama. By turning the melodrama up to 11, these scenes show us a truth by way of exaggeration: we crave emotionality, whether happy or sad, because it makes us feel alive. We love these kinds of scenes because loss, and the potential for it, is such an essential part of the human game. This kind of drama reminds us of the stakes of the game, and reaffirms us for playing.
The deep truth behind Lum’s dreams in this video, and all of our own as we immerse ourselves in fictional worlds, is that our everyday lives are no different in the end. We love the fantasy of these dramas because we’re in love with the fantasy dramas of our own lives. Human love is so dramatic, so beautiful, so poignant, because of its fragility. It always ends. The same is true of life itself. To be a living being is to be a small part of the universe that is dreaming, that for a tiny spark of a moment in cosmic time assumes a role separate from everything else, a role in which through love and reproduction a kind of immortality can be gained, and in which through death and love’s extinction everything can be lost. Outside of us, in objective reality, the universe goes on, but the bargain we make in order to be sentient, feeling, experiencing beings is to be bound to this subjective role. The pact we make with the universe in order to be human is to agree that we will always become lost in dreams, and our fictional dramas are our most vivid reminders of that.
The brilliance of this AMV comes from the creator being so familiar with the source material. Lum’s “dreams” here are for the most part not actually her fantasies. They’re real events that happen in the show. Usurei Yatsura is an animated comedy that often engages in parody, much like The Simpsons. It goes a step further than showing us a character watching a soap opera and actually has the main characters play out those roles themselves in an exaggerated way.
It’s easy to fabricate a video of Lum living out her melodramatic fantasies in a daydream, because as a character that’s who she actually is. She is a melodramatic daydream of Rumiko Takahashi, but a self-reflexive, comedic one. That’s the great wisdom of comedy. Drama is the format that allows us to most deeply feel and appreciate the extremities of the human condition, and comedy is what always puts things back into perspective for us. In a sense, it wakes us up.