Dr. Slump Vol. 1
Fans of Akira Toriyama should be happy to hear that VIZ Media has finally released Dr. Slump, a quirky title that serves as somewhat of the spiritual predecessor to the mega-popular franchise. Before we go too far into this review however, take note -- this is far more akin to the playful, cute and spunky Dragonball than to it's fight-filled follow up, Dragonball Z.
Honestly, I like it more this way.
Few people would have denied that Senbei Norimaki was a brilliant scientist, but when he produced his latest invention -- named Arale -- he really outdid his past efforts. Arale is a lifelike android in the shape of a young girl. She has the insatiable curiosity of a child and the mechanical power of a steamroller, so naturally, the two features combine to send her on some interesting adventures.
Each chapter shows Arale attempting to adapt to the world around her. It starts out simply, with the young 'bot learning about school and friendship. It soon takes a turn for the awkward when Arale asks Norimaki-sensei why she's "all smooth down there," but being a genius, he eventually thinks of something. It would probably have been a lot easier had the poor middle-aged man had any experience with the opposite sex. Sadly, his porn collection was edited by some inconsiderate person, giving him absolutely nothing to work with on the more detailed depths of the female physique.
The book is packed with quick jokes (mostly groaners), but I can't say they didn't grow on me as I read it. Much of the book's appeal comes from Arale and her blunt, precocious manner of speaking. Within the first few pages of the book, Dr. Slump (Senbei's nickname) begins marveling at his own creation. "The depth of my genius frightens me. To think I've created the perfect humanoid robot."
His ego bubble is quickly burst by Arale when she says, "I can't fly." Apparently, his view of the perfect robot isn't quite the same as her own, and she quickly laments the omission of tummy-based missile launchers and other evil-fighting weapons. Her view literally turns out to be a little fuzzy, however, forcing the Doctor to provide her with glasses.
The episodes presented in Dr. Slump are mostly self-contained tidbits of a tale, but there's so much going on in each panel and so many lines of snappy, silly dialogue that the somewhat weak storylines are easily forgiven. It reminds me in many positive ways of Rocky and Bullwinkle and Don Martin's contributions to MAD Magazine. The blend of childish humor with slightly adult overtones is excellent, and Toriyama achieves a balance found in only the best comedies. Books like this make me yearn for the days of classic Warner Bros. cartoons, or even the more recent Animaniacs series.
Dr. Slump's visuals are extremely distinct, with imaginative layers of detail, cartoonish character designs that can be adapted to fit the immediate mood (sexy, goofy, momentary seriousness) easily. Trademark elements of any worthy Toriyama product appear rather early on, from odd retro-stylish technology -- such as a time machine composed of an analog clock and a rug -- to dinosaurs (featured prominently in Chrono Trigger as well). Like it or not, the book sports a look that is unique to Akira Toriyama, and I personally find it refreshingly different -- despite the fact that the book was first published about twenty-five years ago.
VIZ Media did a good job of adapting the book, from what I can tell. I'm still no fan of big English sound effects, but hey, this is a Shonen Jump title -- we don't want to scare away the kiddies with funny foreign writing, do we? One huge benefit of the SJ brand, however, is the unbeatable $7.99 price point, a number that makes my wallet breathe a little easier. I'd like to see other companies compete with that one day. A little bit cheaper, and we'll almost be near the price of Japanese releases. I can dream, can't I?
In the end, Dr. Slump is a charming, light-hearted, wryly written series that should appeal adults and kids alike. Given the large number of angst-filled and drama-ridden series that we're subjected to on a regular basis, it's nice to read something so fun and fluffy. The book never dares to take itself seriously; it excels at showcasing a deft blend of nonsense and pun-filled humor. Sure, it'll make you roll your eyes, but it will certainly never inspire you to close your eyes and snooze. There's too much neat stuff for Arale to explore instead of sleeping, anyway.