Recap #210: Rumic World: The Laughing Target by Rumiko Takahashi
Title: The Laughing Target, a.k.a. “Yandere Saga”
Writer/Artist: Rumiko Takahashi
Summary: Yuzuru was an average teenager who had almost forgotten that he was betrothed to Azusa when he was only 6! Now arriving to claim what she feels is rightfully hers, only Satomi (Yuzuru’s current girl friend) stands in her way… and with the mysterious and frightening powers that Azusa brings, Satomi won’t stand in her way for long!
(TW: Sexual Assault)
Just because “Mermaid Saga” is over doesn’t mean I’m done with Rumiko Takahashi, which is why I’ve picked another of her earlier horror works for February and Valentine’s Day.
“Laughing Target” is a one-shot story from 1983, not as well known as her other works, but still a prominent example of her solo stories. It was one of the most highly promoted of the “Rumic World” banner, and one of the three solo tales adapted into an OVA.
Please keep in mind I have NO idea how I’m able to type the following information with a straight face, as this is the first time I’ve ever had to use the word “Yandere.” God I’m a nerd.
Above is a still from “Mirai Nikki,” which I’ve never seen before but this image evolved into the official “Yandere Face.”
This story is an early example of the character type that would later be dubbed a “Yandere.” If you’ve seen “Fatal Attraction” or read ANYTHING by R.L. Stine involving teenagers, you’ll know where this goes.
In manga, and later other areas of fiction, the yandere is basically a girl who is cute, loving, and murderously obsessed with keeping the object of their affection all to themselves, whether it means killing the competition or killing her beloved so they’ll never betray her. This is especially prominent in anime and manga, where it can either be played for laughs or in this case horror. Unfortunately, a lot of the cases where the yandere is meant for comedic usage (like in harem shows (don’t ask, Wing)) falls flat, as it reeks of double standards when it’s a girl abusing and terrorizing a guy. The heroic counterpart to the yandere would probably be the “Tsundere,” as in a girl who blows hot and cold, the type who’ll vehemently deny ever loving the object of their affection before showing their soft side. Of course, this too can reek of double standards when, if done poorly, the tsundere is a browbeating bully.
We’ve all seen examples of western yanderes in a lot of the works reviewed on this website. Point Horror, R.L. Stine, and Christopher Pike especially LOVE the use of an obsessed and dangerous teenage girl (and boy, of course) who’ll do ANYTHING to win their supposed love’s affection.
“Laughing Target” may be a horror story but it has some elements of Takahashi’s other works. Particularly, the lead male’s girlfriend Satomi fits like a downplayed version of a typical Takahashi heroine, getting easily jealous and assuming the wrong thing of her boyfriend to the point she might slap him for saying something stupid.
You can watch the OVA in six parts on Youtube.
Also, I can’t BELIEVE Len Freaking Wein, the guy who co-created Swamp Thing, did the English translation for Viz Media.
Azusa Shiga and her cousin Yuzuru were only six years old when Azusa’s mom, the head of the Shiga Family, decided they were going to marry someday. Yuzuru’s father argued against his sister, claiming they were far too young to make such promises and, after all, they’re COUSINS. Mrs. Shiga argued the sooner a groom is picked for Azusa the better, that way she’ll have no trouble ascending to head of the family some day and she has faith in her brother’s son. However, she warns Yuzuru’s dad she’ll make life difficult for him if he argues any further.
So that was it, and looked like Azusa and Yuzuru were going to get married when they were older. Azusa seemed happy about this, but while playing with Yuzuru she noticed he didn’t look too thrilled. Don’t you LIKE Azusa, Yuzuru? Don’t you WANT to be her husband? Yuzuru said of course he likes her a lot, and that thrills Azusa. She innocently declares they said do a pinkie promise, to seal they’ll be together forever.
Come ten years later or so and now Azusa is a beautiful young woman…
Minus one mother.
Azusa is at the front of winter funeral train, carrying her mother’s ashes and crying. It’s so sad, she lost the only parent she had left. And it was such a strange way for her to die, too! Yuzuru’s father has arrived, saying Azusa will be living with his family from now on, but as to the fate of the Head Shiga Family…
With tear-stained eyes, Azusa declares they won’t sell the mansion. She’ll simply marry Yuzuru and become the head of the family like Mrs. Shiga always wanted. And she knows Yuzuru wants it too, since they did promise all those years ago.
Yuzuru has also grown up to be rather good looking, maybe a bit conceited, and is the star of his school’s archery club. The freshmen girls in the club all cheer when Yuzuru nails another bull’s eye, annoying his girlfriend Satomi because their loudness is ruining everyone else’s concentration. When Yuzuru jokingly states he appreciates the unnecessary praise (when you’re THAT good, who needs it), Satomi just gets more peeved.
After school, Satomi complains about his attitude and Yuzuru jokes if she’s a little jealous. Who, her?! I-it’s not like she likes you or anything Yuzuru! Even if she’s your girlfriend. Anyway, Satomi asks what they’ll do now that school’s over for the day. Yuzuru explains he’s meeting his fiancee, which earns him a whack from Satomi’s book bag. A fiancee?! SATOMI NO-LAST-NAME HAS NEVER BEEN THE OTHER WOMAN IN A RELATIONSHIP.
Except for that one time, but that wasn’t Satomi’s fault the woman’d been DECLARED dead. Those paramedics NEVER give up…
Sorry Wing, little “Golden Girls” joke.
Yuzuru tells Satomi to take a chill pill. This “Fiancee” thing is just something that happened years ago when he was a kid. Besides, he’s talking about his cousin. Satomi is understandably freaked out Yuzuru’s engaged to his cousin as Yuzuru explains what a stern woman his aunt was. It was a decision Yuzuru had no say in. And then she recently died under mysterious circumstances.
Welp, Satomi figures that’s probably it then. Yuzuru will marry into his head family so why continue their relationship. He’s getting increasingly annoyed by Satomi’s attitude. Yuzuru hasn’t even SEEN Azusa in years, has no idea what she’s like now and for all he knows she’s probably got a legion of boyfriends. All that was ten years ago, people change, Satomi! Satomi doesn’t think so, and if she was in Azusa’s position she’d only be thinking about Yuzuru.
[Wing: In Satomi’s defense, it is a lot weird to learn your boyfriend has a fiancee.]
When Yuzuru arrives home, he’s told Azusa’s waiting for him. Yuzuru is shocked when he finally sees Azusa after all this time; she’s no longer that little kid he was once friends with. But he doesn’t appreciate it when Azusa melodramatically throws herself at him, thinking this is a bit much. Like he’s in some dumb manga or something.
Azusa is crying tears of happiness since it’s been five years after the last time they met. Once she’s calmed down the two get a chance to talk about how things have gone for each other. Yuzuru figures, with her looks, she’s popular with boys. Azusa says she’s never even SPOKEN to any other boys her age. Why would she, when she already has him?
And a point goes to Satomi, but hitting Yuzuru sets her back to 0.
Yuzuru and Azusa walk to school together, though it’s more Azusa clings to Yuzuru’s jacket and follows him. The guys all stop when they see the new cutie on Yuzuru’s arm, and unfortunately Satomi is there to see it too. Azusa’s like a frightened kitten, trembling and holding Yuzuru from all the guys asking who she is and calling her “Cutie.” Satomi gets the wrong idea and stomps off. All the while, Azusa is watching Yuzuru watching Satomi. During class, Azusa’s focus is all on Yuzuru looking at Satomi.
[Wing: But does she have the wrong idea? Does she?]
On their way to archery practice Yuzuru tries to talk to Satomi, who smugly asks why he isn’t with his beloved fiancee. You know, his cousin? The one he was flirting with? Another point lost on Satomi, since the “Flirting” was an anxious Azusa clinging to Yuzuru from all that unwanted attention. Yuzuru tells her she’s making a big deal of nothing, but she’s still angry.
From up in the classroom, Azusa watches them head to the archery hall.
After practice ends, the two get another chance to talk. Yuzuru reasons Azusa is only fixated on him because she doesn’t know anyone else yet. Give her time and she’ll start to make friends, find someone else, and stop clinging to him. Once again Satomi feels, if she were Azusa, she’d never let Yuzuru go. I mean, she’s also rather beautiful right? Yuzuru gains another smack when he agrees saying he was surprised by how much Azusa changed.
Seriously Satomi at this point I’d say LET him be with Azusa, or someone else. You aren’t doing yourself favors by being physical!
Yuzuru finally digs himself out by clarifying as firmly as possible Azusa is just his cousin and nothing more. Forgive him? Satomi accepts (but doesn’t apologize for hitting him) and they start to kiss realizing they’re alone.
Unfortunately, Satomi had to be the last girl in the club building. She hates getting dressed alone in the locker room, but she’s not REALLY alone when Azusa shows up and turns off the lights. Azusa quickly orders Satomi to stay the hell away from Yuzuru, because they’re gonna get married and she can’t have him. Satomi, shocked by how angry Azusa is, says that “Engagement” was a thing made when they were kids! Is she really holding Yuzuru up to that?
If Azusa wasn’t scary before, now she’s TERRIFYING. Her eyes glow and her hair becomes wild, screaming Yuzuru belongs to her as a demonic aura manifest around her!
Satomi is horrified as Azusa suddenly grips her head screaming at someone or something to leave her alone. The aura disappears and Azusa starts trembling, warning Satomi to say nothing of this to Yuzuru if she values her life. Azusa leaves, and Satomi sinks to her knees, half-dressed, in the dark.
Yuzuru’s waiting for Satomi outside, and when she emerges he sees how anxious she’s become and asks what happened. Satomi’s about to tell him about Azusa when she sees her standing behind Yuzuru in the distance. Satomi cowers behind Yuzuru, but when he turns around no one is there. She can’t bring herself to tell him what happened.
Meanwhile, Azusa is walking by herself when three punks from the high school surround her and refuse to let her walk by. Azusa flashes back to when she was a kid, when three boys chased her through the woods and tried to rip her clothes off. They screamed if she gets naked for her fiancee, why can’t they see her goods too?
Azusa tried to hide when one of the boys cornered her. She tried biting him, and he threw her on the ground and beat her. Desperately, Azusa grabbed a rock and hit the little bastard in the head.
And then she hit him again.
Cut back to those three punks having dragged Azusa into a nearby warehouse. They think it’s SO cute she’s Yuzuru’s fiancee, and it only makes them want her more. One of the punks makes Azusa look at him, and she smiles…
Before grabbing him by the throat and lifting him in the air.
The other punks are horrified as Azusa, transformed back into a demoness, snaps that one punk’s neck with her bare hands before lunging at the other two. A few moments later, Azusa calmly leaves the warehouse looking satisfied with herself.
Azusa thinks back to when she killed that boy in self defense, wondering what would happen to her now. She wished the boy would disappear, and her wish was granted. These… things appeared from the trees. Little blobby specters that began to swarm over the boy’s corpse. Azusa was horrified as she realized the creatures were EATING him.
Those same creatures are currently devouring the bodies of the three punks.
Azusa reaffirms her belief to keep Yuzuru to herself, and with a smile recalls what happened after she was almost raped back then. When the boy’s parents showed up at the Shiga house looking for their son, saying his friends reported Azusa was the last one with him, Azusa said she hadn’t seen him. Mrs. Shiga mused on what a nasty little boy he was, always causing trouble and doing naughty things to little girls. Mrs. Shiga thinks the village is better off without him coming back, and that makes Azusa happy.
Azusa began seeing those little spirits following her around, even appearing in her bedroom. One day, she gave them a snack by feeding rat poison to a dog that bit her. Mrs. Shiga was horrified when she saw Azusa near those creatures, but she assured her mom they were her friends. Mrs. Shiga could only hug her poor daughter.
At dinner, Yuzuru is wondering what bothered Satomi so much and excuses himself to call her. Azusa follows him and disconnects the call by hitting the receiver just as Satomi’s mother answered. Like what the HELL, Azusa?! Azusa starts crying asking why Yuzuru doesn’t like her anymore, saying she feels ashamed. Yuzuru tells her she doesn’t have to cry about it, but it’s not the phone call she’s thinking of.
One summer when Yuzuru was visiting, Mrs. Shiga told Azusa NEVER to mention anything about those weird creatures. Because if Yuzuru found out about them, he wouldn’t like you anymore Azusa. And you don’t want THAT now, do you?
Yuzuru decides to finally sit Azusa down and talk to her about this engagement nonsense. Azusa reminds Yuzuru he told her he liked her, and Yuzuru gets frustrated explaining that all happened when they were six years old! To which Azusa asks how a promise made by kids is any less sacred? Yuzuru has no idea how to respond.
[Wing: You don’t think someone might change their mind as they get older, Azusa? Really? Oh, girl, you’re a mess.]
The next day at school, Azusa is bitterly thinking it’s all Satomi’s fault for coming between her and Yuzuru. Satomi is looking out the class window when she sees Azusa’s reflection, as well as those weird creatures behind her. And then the window shatters!
Azusa eerily smiles as Satomi shields herself from the broken glass and everyone rushes to her side. Yuzuru kneels by Satomi and sees something else is bothering her. He looks up to see Azusa glaring at them with eyes that could peel paint off a wall.
Yuzuru brings Satomi to the nurse, then asks if she wants to go home. Satomi pleads she doesn’t want to be alone, thinking Azusa might try something else if she left school. Yuzuru realizes Satomi’s terrified of Azusa, but how could she break the window when she wasn’t even near it?
While waiting for Yuzuru to leave the archery hall, Satomi is approached by Azusa and put into a trance. Yuzuru finds her book bag on the floor and panics. Satomi comes to in the school’s science lab, wondering what happened and realizing her quiver is missing.
Oh don’t worry Satomi, Azusa’s holding it for you. And she’s slowly taking the arrows out…
Satomi tries to run, but Azusa is able to fling the arrows with enough force they embed themselves in the wall inches from Satomi’s face. Screaming for Azusa to stop, Satomi’s cries are heard by Yuzuru as more arrows hit the wall. Yuzuru throws himself at Satomi to get her out of the way. He can just barely make out Azusa in the darkness when one last arrow grazes his face, the fletch cutting his cheek.
The figure disappears and Yuzuru begs Satomi to tell him what happened. It was Azusa firing those arrows wasn’t it? Satomi is still scared of what Azusa will do if she tells Yuzuru, and starts crying. She pleads she’s not sure and she wants to go home. Yuzuru swears he’ll take care of her.
Walking Satomi home, Yuzuru mentions something his dad said. Mr. Shiga thought it was odd how Azusa’s mother started keeping the rest of their family at a distance. Now he thinks she was trying to protect them from whatever’s wrong with Azusa. Satomi’s so scared she doesn’t even want to hear Azusa’s name. Which makes sense as Azusa is following them.
Satomi’s mom thanks Yuzuru for bringing Satomi home and how well he watches after her. Yuzuru doesn’t feel like he’s doing a good job, bu Satomi asks him to be careful. On his way out, Yuzuru pets Satomi’s dog Jun and asks him to look after her. When Yuzuru leaves, Jun senses Azusa’s nearby and starts loudly barking. Azusa shuts him up with her bare hands, leaving Satomi and her mom to find their dog’s bloody body.
[Wing: Two dead dogs, I hope you fucking burn, Azusa.]
Azusa arrives back to Yuzuru’s house and he wants to know where she was. She smiles and doesn’t answer, but as she walks by he smells blood and fears for Satomi. Enraged, Yuzuru bursts into Azusa’s room and grabs her neck demanding to know what the fuck did she do to Satomi? Azusa feigns innocence but Yuzuru’s not falling for it, screaming he knows she’s been terrorizing Satomi but Azusa denies it. She starts crying, begging him to stop being so cruel.
Realizing he’s not getting answers from her, Yuzuru leaves to phone Satomi’s house. The relief on his face as he hears her voice is staggering, but Satomi tells him her dog is dead and she’s not going back to school. Yuzuru knows Azusa is the cause, but Satomi says she WILL meet him at the archery hall tomorrow at 6 PM to explain what’s happened.
Too bad Azusa was listening.
That night Azusa has a nightmare about her mother’s death. Mrs. Shiga approached Azusa one night, having figured out what the things who follow Azusa are. She said they’re the legendary “Hungry Ghosts” that live in shadows and feed on the dead. Mrs. Shiga tolerated them until now, but she can’t take it anymore and began to strangle Azusa! Begging for Azusa’s forgiveness, Mrs. Shiga said she couldn’t let Azusa become the family head and plans for their branch to die with her. Azusa screamed she’s going to be Yuzuru’s bride as Mrs. Shiga called her a demon, when the hungry ghosts manifested and swarmed all over Azusa’s mom!
Azusa screams her mom’s name, waking up in tears and saying it was her mother’s fault she died. The hungry ghosts manifest around Azusa, and she agrees nothing and no one can stand between her and Yuzuru now. Especially not that little bitch.
At 6 PM in the archery hall Satomi meets Yuzuru and cries into his arms, terrified Azusa is going to kill her. Azusa doesn’t waste any more time, deciding she should’ve killed Satomi sooner. Unleashing her full demonic power, Azusa orders her pets to kill Satomi.
Satomi and Yuzuru are horrified as the hungry ghosts swarm on Satomi, but Yuzuru is able to fight them off before they hurt her. Arming himself with a bow and arrow, Yuzuru starts firing at the ghosts while Satomi gives him more ammo. Yuzuru orders Azusa to back off, willing to fire on her because she’s not the girl he once liked anymore. She’s something evil and he fires a warning shot into her arm.
Now Azusa is pretty pissed off, sobbing and screaming as she asks if Yuzuru hates her THAT much when she unleashes a swarm at him AND Satomi. Azusa lunges at Yuzuru, her hands like claws as his arrow pierces her chest right in her heart. As Azusa hits the ground her appearance shifts back to normal, and something black pours out of her mouth. The ghosts and whatever demonic essence was in Azusa’s body fade away. With her last strength Azusa crawls to Yuzuru, saying she needs him. Dying, Azusa says she’ll always be Yuzuru’s, and Yuzuru says she wasn’t really evil but was controlled by those things.
Azusa smiles, saying yes, it was all THEIR fault. Crumbling away into nothingness, Azusa’s last words are she’d never hurt Yuzuru.
After all, she promised she loved him, didn’t she?
Girl, he’s just not into you.
The animated adaption extends the ending a bit, where Azusa uses her last strength to feign dying so she can get close enough to Yuzuru and Satomi to try and kill them. She’s finally stopped when her head is chopped off.
Above are the two songs from the OVA. I can’t say anything about “Impact” but “Be Passionate” is positively HAUNTING and worth a listen.
I can sort of understand why Azusa was so attached to Yuzuru if he was the only boy who was ever nice to her, and if her mom kept them separated for five years after being the one who tried to push them together. It’s no wonder she developed a complex.
Satomi did grate on me with how she treated Yuzuru. I get he’s a bit conceited but seriously, you aren’t validating your points by jumping to conclusions, assuming the worst and hitting him, Satomi! Although she’s not as bad as, say, Akane Tendo from “Ranma 1/2.”
Takahashi’s artwork in this is really strong and she avoids falling into a “Same face” trap with Azusa and Satomi. Azusa’s facial expressions are staggering at how convincing they are, from the way she sobs over her mom’s death to her giddy at the thought of killing Satomi and they’re both totally believable.