"A definitive UY site which would encompass everything I love about the series. A one stop shop for all your UY needs."

- Mason Proulx

Urusei Yatsura

Urusei Yatsura is a popular comedy manga from the late 70s and 80s. It is Rumiko Takahashi's first big hit, and is known for its ridiculous situations, adorable characters and cheezy puns.

The story centers around the relationship between Ataru Moroboshi, an normal guy with extremely bad luck, and Lum, a bikini-clad alien princess who has fallen in love with Ataru, as they interact with a colorful supporting cast in a town called Tomobiki.


Tomobiki-cho, the Urusei Yatsura part of Rumic World, is the oldest (March 1996) of all the subsites.

Created by Mason Proulx, Tomobiki-cho was originally launched at ottawa.net. After several redesigned, Tomobiki-cho relocates to tomobiki.com in 1997. Mason was a big part of early anime fandom on the internet, and his website can be seen as one of the "pillars" of the online anime community.

In early 2002, Harley and Dylan invited Mason to join a collective which would become Rumic World. Months later, Mason reads the email and agreed. After another redesign, Tomobiki-cho is finally re-launched with the other fansites under the collective umbrella of Rumic World.

Question and Answer

Q&A with Mason

When you first began working on Tomobiki-cho, what difficulties did you encounter, both on the technical end and the non-technical end?

Mason: To tell the truth, I actually hate all the technical trappings of using the web, even though I've always been good at it and started my career as a web designer. I did pretty well in computer science, but I dropped out because of how tedious programming felt. I'm a natural at coding web pages, but don't like discussing it. I mean just the thought of describing specific technical issues for this question fills me with an existential ennui. I just couldn't ever get past how boring it all is so I'm not one of those early adopters who were interested in the internet itself as a hobby. For me, I only saw it as a tool that allowed me to be creative.

That being the case, I disliked having to deal with internet providers and hosts whenever things didn't run smoothly. In the early days, reputable online businesses were rare, so server problems were frequent. Customer service for web hosts in particular would be so horrible that I got in the habit of procrastinating to avoid dealing with them. That would often continue for months until I had no choice but to deal with the problem. On a few occasions the site was down for a long while because I kept avoiding the issue.

Sometimes I'd just abandon a project when it would take too much work to figure out. Like when I had a UY message board early on, it ran on a very limited CGI script that could only handle X number of messages and required a lot of manual re-coding for moderating. Eventually the board got bigger than the code could handle and broke down. Fixing it would have involved learning much more about PERL language than I cared to, so I just let it go.

However, I only acted this way when the technical glitches would stop it from being fun. When all the technical resources were in place, building web sites was a pretty happy experience. It was just me writing code and creating graphics without a care in the world. Somehow that aspect of it never felt tedious.

When you first started Tomobiki-cho, your goal was to create the best Urusei fansite on the internet, looking back now, do you still hold the same feeling? Has your goal changed or expanded due to other factors you encountered throughout the years?

Mason: That was my goal, but it took less than a year to reach it since there wasn't much competition at the time. Since then other UY web sites began springing up, but none of them were ambitious enough to really compete.

Since then, the main purpose of the site has been to do it justice and then serve as a sort of museum piece for future generations. It's more accessible these days, but it still holds true that Urusei Yatsura is a difficult series to get into. There are so many barriers for a potential fan to overcome before they can get turned onto it, that Urusei Yatsura seems destined to remain obscure. Without my site, there would be very few in-roads to attract new fans.

Tell us what was it like back in the days when you had to update Tomobiki-cho by hand, when software weren't as advanced as they are now, and what is it like updating Tomobiki-cho now?

Mason: When I started, web sites weren't much to look at, and likewise my own web sites were really basic. Then in 1996 I picked up a book called "Creating Killer Web Sites," which changed my whole approach. It was the first time I had seen someone use graphic design as a basis for creating a web interface. It was so much better than the then-standard of run-on text with picture boxes thrown in. As someone who was aiming to become a graphic designer, that's something I could really get behind. From that point I became obsessed with creating slick looking web sites. Urusei Yatsura just happened to be the muse for that obsession.

For years it was pretty much limited to three tools: Notepad, Photoshop 3.0 (before layers!) and WS-FTP. It was fine when doing a page or two, but the bigger the site got, the harder it was to organize. Often I would have to make a global change across the entire site and would be forced to spend hours opening up a hundred pages one at a time and make the change over and over. If I were smarter, I would have sought out other web tools that might speed up the process, but I was stubborn and preferred a totally hands on approach. Thanks to that I became very skilled at HTML. So much so, that even in high school, just before the start of the dot-com boom I found it quite easy to get jobs as a web developer. Quite a feat for someone like me who has no aptitude for organization and hated computer science.

I still design the site primarily in Photoshop, but now I just update the site through Macromedia Dreamweaver, which automates much of the site management and coding. Sure there are better ways to make clean, efficient code, but life's too short.

Tomobiki itself has a lot of old code that I haven't bothered to change in years. Most of my sites now are built around Cascading Style Sheets (CSS), but going back and changing all those pages to be CSS compatible and W3C compliant would be a lot of work, so I've left it alone.

I heard there was a lot of antipathy toward Viz and Animeigo back when they abandoned the series in 1997?

Mason: Sure, fans were bothered how Viz and AnimEigo seemed to have abandoned UY. But it was such a long, drawn-out process over the years that it felt inevitable. So outrage wasn't as strong as it would be if they had stopped suddenly.

The fan community went so long without any new UY material being released, that the enthusiasm just dried up. It would be years before it had a comeback with a whole new crop of fans.

I was never surprised that they stopped releasing UY and that people soon quit paying attention to the series. For years it felt like a foregone conclusion. What actually surprised me was how it's undergone a minor resurgence in the past few years, made possible by it's availability on DVD.

Tell us a bit more about the event involving Harley and Dylan contacting you, how did you feel when you read their letter? What was your opinion of Rumic World back then, and how did you feel about Tomobiki-cho becoming part of it?

Mason: The first times they contacted me, I don't think I ever read what they wrote. At that moment I had gone back to college after working as a web designer for a few years, and I was so sick of wasting my life online that I had become a bit of a reactionary Luddite. I all but abandoned doing web sites and participating in online culture. I had no interest in socializing online so unless it was from a personal friend or maybe if the e-mail was especially clever. Otherwise I'd ignore it. I've always had a love-hate relationship with the internet, and back then, hate was winning the fight. As a result, Tomobiki-cho just gathered dust, until the server got too much traffic and I let the account expire.

The twins contacted me yet again when the site went down, but that e-mail sat in my inbox for a couple of months while I was out of the country.

When I got back and actually read their e-mail, I was elated. It was the perfect time since at that moment I had come to a crossroads. My graphic design program had web design as part of the curriculum and suddenly I had no choice but to get back into the fray. This brought back feelings of guilt for letting Tomobiki-cho go to seed, and yet I didn't have the heart to do anything about it. When these two strange benefactors came along and offered to take my site off my hands, I was glad I could give my site a good home.

The plan was just to give it away and be done with it, but we struck up a friendship and I found their enthusiasm infectious. After some time I became inspired to give the web site a complete overhaul. Now there was no way I'd give up the web site. Instead I thought we should merge our efforts and become one web site. Ever since we've been partners.

How much has changed after joining the Rumic World? Are things getting better?

Mason: There's a world of difference between updating a web site in isolation, as opposed to being part of a collaborative project. I find there's less pressure knowing that these guys are there for support. Honestly, I don't follow Takahashi 365 days a year. Often I go for months without thinking much about her works at all. Note that I've been into Takahashi for 15 years, and actually aware of Urusei Yatsura since childhood. So the obsession phase is long over. But now, even when I don't feel like promoting Takahashi, it's great that Harley and Dylan are always there to act as ambassadors in my stead (their dedication is a little scary actually, but don't tell them I said that).

Are things getting better? We already got over the hump years ago. Now we're just coasting.

What is the one thing on Tomobiki-cho that you're most proud of?

Mason: I used to say the writing of the character profiles, but that's starting to change. I wrote them when I was a teen, and some of that immaturity is reflected in the writing, which uses a lot of hyperbole. But I've decided I won't pull a George Lucas and try to rewrite what I originally put out.

I think my favorite section right now, is the Cultural References section. More than UY, I'm just a Japanese culture buff. And it's fun to explore aspects of the culture I've never really put much thought into before. Sometime in the future, I want to add more, including cultural aspects that may not be directly referenced in UY, but still provide a picture of 70's and 80's Japan. Like perhaps an exploration of the Japanese comedy traditions like "manzai" or "rakugo" that permeates into Urusei Yatsura. I also have a wide knowledge of Japanese pop music from that era I'd love to expand upon.

What's the future for Tomobiki-cho?

Mason: For the most part, Tomobiki-cho is complete. There is always room to add more content every so often, but the bulk of the work is set in stone. The main goal is just to stick around and be a monument to Urusei Yatsura. It may get a redesign some day, but I'm currently happy with the one that's there.

Q&A with Harley and Dylan

How did Tomobiki-cho influence you when you first started your rumic-related sites?

Harley: In the very beginning, when Life at Maison Ikkoku and Ranma ½ Perfect Edition were first built, the influence was primarily, "Tomobiki-cho is an awesome site, we should shoot for that level of professionalism." About two years into it, I started redesigning Perfect Edition and then the actual design of Tomobiki was a huge influence. Perfect Edition basically looked like Tomobiki-cho with a different color scheme. When we asked Mason if he would bring Tomobiki on to create Rumic World, I wasn't sure if the similar design would help or hurt our chances. I was hoping it would flatter him, but I wasn't sure. I was afraid it might piss him off!

The funny thing is that Tomobiki was a huge influence on other UY sites as well. I still see images Mason scanned from the mid-90s showing up on other UY sites.

Dylan: Oh tons. But at first Tomobiki was a goal I wanted to reach. My design skills were pretty terrible starting out, and my Maison Ikkoku site didn't look anything like Tomobiki when it first went online. The main influence from Tomobiki could be seen in the sections I had on the site and the information I provided. I always felt Tomobiki answered all the questions I wanted to know, and so when I made my own site, of course I modeled it on everything I liked about Tomobiki-cho.

What do you think is the most important feature in a fansite? What about the layout? Please give us some advice on how to create a successful fansite based on your opinion.

Harley: The layout is important, but I think content is king. There are certain elements that most sites avoid because they think it's tedious. Summaries for instance, I think that's just a basic cornerstone of describing the artistry behind whatever anime or manga series a site might be dedicated to. Most sites don't like to do them though because of the time it takes. I mean, I've been writing summaries of new chapters literally since our sites went online nearly a decade ago. It's a job that's never done and can be a pain, but it's so important.

The other thing is being aware of the shortcomings of the sites you're going to be in competition with. Knowing what they lack will show you where to capitalize. If they have something, then you should have it and make it look better and present it in a fresher way. If they don't have something then make sure you do.

Thinking big is important too. Don't just make a Ghost in the Shell site, make a Masamune Shirow site and discuss his opus. That way you're guaranteed to ensure your site never stagnates and you'll always have new updates, and tons of unique content.

But ultimately Thomas Edison said it best: "its 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration." If you continue to work hard, update, and add new content you'll find an audience. Nothing is sadder than going to a site and seeing "Last Update: June 1998."

Mason: I pretty much agree with this. One of the reasons I work well with Harley and Dylan is that we have a similar view on how web sites should be run. Content is King, has always been my mantra as well when I create web sites. A web site's main purpose is to inform the audience, and hopefully show them something they can't get anywhere else. Great design only enhances the experience, but it's no substitute for good original content. Originality is a key. There are so many sites out there that just borrow existing content. If the site doesn't offer a unique perspective, then what reason does it have to exist? I'm not so callous in real life, but on the web I say "Lead or get out of the way". Even some grandmother's blog about her cats has its merit because it offers a unique perspective. It's far better than some anime fan site that just repeats information that exists on dozens of other identical sites.

Working hard is a key, but regarding that whole Edison idiom; I find that perspiration comes naturally as a byproduct of inspiration. If I'm not inspired at all, there's no way I'll budge. So the trick is to find new ways to motivate yourself, and work towards clear goals. The work won't even seem that hard once your passionate about something.

Dylan: For me the most important thing a fansite can offer is the actual informational content. Of course, manga and anime are both visual media, and so for a fansite to get any recognition they have to look visually appealing. There are so many sites nowadays that are over stylized. Maybe they look beautiful, but they don't say anything, or the appearance of the site negatively effects the navigation. I prefer a clean and simple design with some negative space rather than a massive image with links floating around it.

As for content, I love details and minutiae, and new fansites are really moving away from that. Nowadays most sites post scanlations and fansubs rather than chapter summaries or anime guides. Trends change with technology, and we're sort of a part of a bygone era in that regard.

With our sites, I think we've all done a good job of providing content in an informative and entertaining way while also being good editors. Of course the three of us are rabid fans of Takahashi, but we try not to present ourselves that way through our sites. You're never going to come to one of the Rumic World sites and see "OMG, I hate Kikyo, she's so stoopid!" that sort of fannish mentality. If you want to make a good fansite, the less FAN the better. I lose interest very quickly with sites that are loaded up with fanfiction, fanart or are just generally fannish in their presentation. Speaking of fanfics, I think that was the only section of Tomobiki-cho that didn't survive the Rumic World redesign.

What was it like looking at Tomobiki-cho as an "outsider"? Is it different than when it became part of Rumic World?

Harley: It was intimidating, absolutely. I wanted Tomobiki-cho as the Urusei Yatsura part of Rumic World, and I certainly didn't want to have to build a site that was going to compete against Tomobiki if Mason turned us down. I mean, it would have been inferior no matter what. By that point I knew we had the best Ranma ½ and Maison Ikkoku sites, and our Inuyasha site was new and there wasn't a lot of competition with it at that time, but trying to compete with Tomobiki would have been very, very difficult.

It's very different now though. For the first few months after Mason hooked up with us I was very professional and careful with what I said or did. The conversations were very Takahashi-centric. I just didn't want to do anything that would piss him off or make him think he had made a mistake coming on board. I wanted to earn Tomobiki-cho being there, basically. I felt I had a lot to prove. But after the first few months things became much more relaxed and informal. We talk about movies, women, politics... We've met in real life, and become good friends.

Dylan: Yeah, it was different for me. I remember Tomobiki-cho being one of the very first websites I ever stumbled across after getting the internet, and being just amazed by it. Even compared to other websites that were online at the time it really stood out. I remember a very popular Ranma ½ website that was always treated like it was a big deal, but it looked like crap and had crappy information to boot and I never understood why it got the attention it did when something as slick as Tomobiki-cho was out there. Having said that though, I think most people recognized how special Tomobiki was at the time. To a certain extent I think its still that way. The people on our message board hold Mason in a certain reverence while they treat Harley and I as just "two of the guys".

Mason: That's because I don't post much, and when I do, I'm a pompous know-it-all. It lends an air of intrigue.

It's hilarious to me that you guys were thinking this way early on. At the start, I was just happy to find some colleagues who could lend a hand and help pull me out of the funk I was in. I talk a big game, but I've never really had an ego about my site at all. The fact that anyone gave a care about the site at all was always a pleasant surprise to me. I've certainly never written to a site to simply express my appreciation for it so I had no such expectations from visitors.

What did you think when you first sent Mason that invitation letter? Did you expect a reply? What happened? And what was it like when you received Mason's reply?

Harley: I was less than optimistic. I had written to Mason twice before with some general praise and not heard back, so I honestly didn't expect to hear from him. Especially after weeks turned into months. Needless to say when we heard from him all those months later I was pretty giddy. I couldn't wipe the smile off my face for quite a long time after that. I knew we were going to have something special with his contribution. At that point I figured we were getting the old Tomobiki-cho, but Mason spent a few weeks and totally redesigned the site before he joined up. Then we had to redo our other sites so they wouldn't look shoddy by comparison.

Dylan: We'd emailed him a sort of "fan letter" before telling him how much we liked his site, but I don't think we'd mentioned our sites at all and he never responded to that, so when we wrote to him the second time and offered to host Tomobiki-cho I certainly didn't expect the outcome to be any different. When he wrote us back and basically told us we could host Tomobiki-cho and put it up as it was, we were really elated, because we missed seeing it online, and it had influenced us so much. When Mason came on board as a webmaster and completely redesigned his site that was way more than I ever expected to happen. And it made Rumic World into the site we wanted it to be.

How does Tomobiki-cho work within Rumic World, does Mason still take care of most of the updates?

Harley: He does if he thinks of something that needs doing. Honestly things are pretty complete now. Recently there has been a small revival in Urusei Yatsura in Japan with a new Nintendo DS game and some figures. Small things like that I'll usually do the updates for rather than bother him with it. If its minor stuff I'll usually do it. For instance there was a chunk of manga summaries that needed taking care of, so while I was translating for Project ILM, I would do those. But it's absolutely Mason's baby.

Dylan: Yeah it's his site. I think Harley has made a few updates to it, but he always runs it past Mason first, and those updates were only informational additions like a summary or adding the new DS game to video games section. It's Mason's site and he decides what goes on it.

Any interesting stories you'd like to share regarding Tomobiki-cho?

Harley: Well, when we didn't hear from Mason after we invited him to join, we had grudgingly realized we had to build our own Urusei Yatsura site. Of course Tomobiki was really the only Urusei Yatsura site online that had any decent information, and it was gone at that time, so we were going to have a hell of a hard time actually creating a UY site. This was before I could speak Japanese, and I didn't own much of the English manga and certainly none of the Japanese. I had only a few VHS tapes at that time too, so I was certainly no Urusei expert.

Anyway, it looked like we were going to have to build our own Urusei Yatsura site and I didn't have much to go on. So I wound up going to Archive.org and reconstructing Tomobiki-cho from the bits and pieces that had been saved there. I wound up with something of a patchwork Franken-biki that was going to at least provide things like episode titles and CD information if nothing else. Thankfully all that proved unnecessary.

Mason: This story doesn't appear in the timeline and it's a doozy.

How about the fact that in late 2002, we came very close to losing Tomobiki-cho forever. The apartment where I lived had its radiator pipes burst open and flood the place in hot water. Most of my manga collection was ruined and worst of all it damaged my computer irreparably. At the same time my CD backups were lost when I had to move out while they repaired the apartment. Then furinkan.com had most of its files deleted out in some kind of server error. This was the hot new revamped site, not the old and busted site, so it was too recent for it to be archived online. So in a matter of a week, every copy of Tomobiki-cho in existence was wiped off the face of the earth. Talk about soul crushing. All that work I did earlier in the year was gone. There was no way I was going to start again. I was ready to give up on the site for good.

I had one chance to get it back. If I could send out my hard drive to be cracked open by professionals and all the data extracted...there was a good chance I could retrieve my site backup. The big obstacle was that it's an expensive process of over $1000. Since I had no actual business related files on there, it was hard to justify insurance coverage. And there was also a good chance that they'd fail to retrieve my files. But my father, ever the negotiator was able to make it happen. So anyone out there who appreciates the site, give some props to my pops.

Dylan: I don't know.....I guess something I got really excited about was Mason sharing the Kemo Kobiru no Nikki (Diary of Kemo Kobiru) stories. When he first put them up I was unaware of their existence, and whenever we find some buried Takahashi treasure its really exciting for me. A lot of the fans don't really share that passion of really NEEDING to see everything Takahashi has ever done, like the three of us. Thats a source of disappointment for me at times, that the Inuyasha fans are necessarily Urusei Yatsura fans or the Ranma ½ fans aren't really interested in checking out Takahashi's short stories....but thats the way fandom is nowadays. If everyone knew how hard it was to collect all those Diaries I think they'd be a bit more interested in them.

Harley: And I think seeing those Diary of Kemo Kobiru stories for the first time made us think about how much stuff there was out there that wasn't available in English. We knew these things were out there, but like most fans we didn't give any thought to going out and getting them.

A couple of months after that Dylan and I started making an effort to track down things in Japan... original color illustrations, One Pound Gospel chapters that were never collected in Japan, Takahashi's doujinshi work, things like that. I was aware of those things before, but seeing the Kemo Kobiru no Nikki stories on Mason's site made me realize how valuable they were, in terms of having a better understanding of her oeuvre.

Mason: It wasn't that hard actually. Just a case of right place, right time. I walked into a hobby store in an alleyway around Tokyo's Ochanomizu district. They had a 14 volume set of the magazines in which Kemo Kobiru no Nikki were first published for 10,000 yen. So I scooped it up. I also talked the poor clerk's ear off for an hour, but it was exciting to talk to a native otaku in its natural habitat. Lugging that stack of books back home was no picnic. Especially with the 50lbs of used manga I had previously purchased. I don't normally hunt for rare memorabilia the way Harley and Dylan now do. Their collection is way cooler than mine. I just happen to come across opportunities unwittingly.

Dylan: I'm going to be a bit self-congratulatory and point out that this is one of the things I like most about working with these guys. Takahashi has had a pretty big impact on our lives and I never get tired of hearing Mason's or Harley's memories about finding some long desired manga or CD or whatnot. I can tie that in with the whole trend of downloading manga, its just not as personal. It means so much more when you physically hold it in your hand and have memories of searching it out or saving up for it rather than just clicking a link and getting it for free.

Time for some what-if's! Let's say Mason never replied, and your Franken-biki went live, what name would you have called it? Also, if Tomobiki-cho never existed, do you think you'd still create a Rumic World?

Harley: Well, we never got to the name stage with the Urusei Yatsura site we started on. It was only two episode summaries and a background. We probably would have called it something like... "Planet Uru" or "Urusei Yatsura Land," or something odd. We like to use the series names in the titles as much as possible.

Your question put me in research mode like I mentioned when discussing how to build a good fansite, and I started googling to see what other UY sites were named. Like I said, "know your competition!" Whatever Takahashi's next series is will probably be "____ Land" on our site. It'll be tough to have to name a site immediately without at least having a few stories to give some sense of how the site should be named.

It's hard to say if we would have had a Rumic World if Tomobiki-cho hadn't existed. I think we probably would have eventually, because we were heading in that direction by developing separate sites on each of Takahashi's works. It might have been much later though. We were very fortunate that so much of her work was getting translated by Viz early on. If that hadn't been the case then I doubt Rumic World would have happened.

Dylan: Oh God! I'd hate to even think. Probably something fairly generic....The Urusei Yatsura Guide, Urusei Yatsura Encyclopedia, perhaps Darling! or some attempt to be clever. I've found it difficult to "brand" our sites with names. Sometimes it works (The Ring and the Rosary for our One Pound Gospel site) and other times it doesn't (I've never been happy with Life at Maison Ikkoku as a name). I do think that Rumic World would exist however. It might look very different if Tomobiki-cho had not been there as an early inspiration, but our obsession with Takahashi is what lead us down this path more than anything. I like showing off that obsession.

Mason: You could have called it "The Unofficial and Unworthy Shrine to Mason Proulx's Glorious Creation, Tomobiki-cho, the Urusei Yatsura Web Site...A Tribute."