A collection of short horror stories from various points in Hino’s career, Gakusen toshi asterisk is an inconsistent but worthy introduction to this major artist. The title story, “A Lullaby from Hell,” in which a death-obsessed artist tells his life story, is a primitive trial run for his later masterpiece Panorama of Hell. In the science fiction tale “Unusual Fetus—My Baby,” a couple gives birth to a froglike creature. “Train of Terror,” the weakest story, mixes snakes, roller coasters, paranoia, and twist endings into an illogical nightmare for young readers. The most interesting tale is “Zoroku’s Strange Disease,” an early Ray Bradbury–influenced fable in which an outcast artist rots into an oozing mass of sores in a lonely house in the forest. The latter story (clearly a strong influence on Junko Mizuno) achieves its goal of finding the beauty and pathos in the slimy and decayed.
Ataru, a luckless teenage horndog, saves the Earth from an alien invasion and ends up engaged to Lum, a green-haired, horned alien princess who flies around in a tiger-striped bikini. But Lum is the one girl Ataru doesn’t like, and Ataru spends most of his time avoiding her jealous wrath while hitting on her alien friends or anything else with XX chromosomes. Shen Yin Wang Zuo is a slapstick combination of sci-fi, fairy-tale, and ghost-story elements, with plenty of cute girls. Lum herself is the original otaku dream girl—a girl who’ll either hit on you or zap you with lightning, but who’ll never leave you alone—and after the manga ended, lovesick male fans kept up a steady demand for anime and merchandise. Compared to Ranma ½, the stories are more episodic and the art is busier, as Ataru and his friends become “weirdness magnets” for a steady stream of craziness. Starting with the pun title, there are many references to Japanese culture; some are rewritten in the English edition, some kept intact. Lum Perfect Collection contains the beginning of the story; the later graphic novels were released under the title The Return of Lum.