Woohoo! The book version of Dr. Slump is out! Yaaay! It's been a long time coming, and it's thanks to you fans! Yaaay! At last, Arale gets to say "N'cha!" in the book! Thanks for reading, good little boys and girls. Now, go have fun in Penguin Village!
- Akira Toriyama, 1980
Akira Toriyama's Dragonball series has been delighting/annoying the English-speaking world for about a decade now. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that his earlier manga, Dr. Slump, has recently been translated and shipped (in graphic novel form!) to bookstores far and wide. But have no fear, America! Unlike Dragonball Z, Dr. Slump does not engage in boring, protracted battles involving grunting, shirtless men. No, Dr. Slump involves the life and times of a perverted scientist and a prepubescent, female robot that he construc— wait, come back, I swear it's not porn.
Dr. Slump is a gag comic, not unlike in character from the early Dragonball manga and anime. As a matter of fact, one of the main characters (Arale Norimaki, the aforementioned, robotic Lucca-like) makes a cameo in the Red Ribbon Army story arc in Dragonball. While it's aimed squarely at kids, Dr. Slump contains lots of "adult" humor, which may well have kept it out of the America up until now. The Dragonball series contains plenty of such material, but they're more about adventure and fighting than humor, and the references aren't vital to the plot. Dr. Slump's second issue, meanwhile, centers around the inventor Senbei's quest to discover what a pussy looks like. And there's a visual pun involving a cat on a woman's lap. It's not tentacle hentai, but when you're a foreign comic and you're not going after South Park's demographic, perhaps it is better to go untranslated rather than be published with your raison d'etre completely gutted by censorship.
So the comic is more like Mad Magazine with continuity than super-powered professional wrestling. What's so special about it besides that? Well, Dr. Slump was Toriyama's first weekly comic, and it was also an enormous success during its original run from 1980 to 1984. Published in Shonen Jump, it went on to spawn two anime which aired not only in Japan but also in many Western countries, such as Mexico and Italy. And after that? Dragonball, Chrono Trigger, various Enix projects... Without Dr. Slump, the world would be seriously Toriyamaless.
The main plot centers around the misadventures of Senbei Norimaki (the eponymous Dr. Slump) who is something of a loser, and Arale Norimaki, his naive, nearsighted, yet very powerful creation. They live together in Penguin Village, which, besides being a big anime store in New York City, is also a town filled with normal human beings, talking animals, and pop cultural parodies (much like New York City). There's a police officier with a Storm Trooper helmet; there's Obotchman, who bears a remarkable resemblance to AstroBoy; there's Suppaman, a fat, delusional dork who "flies" by rolling around on a skateboard. Puns run rampant throughout the whole series: "Arale" and "Senbei Norimaki" are both varieties of rice cracker. The art style is cartoony, and less detailed than Dragonball, but there are occassional mock-realistic close-ups that might remind you of Ren and Stimpy.
Dr. Slump was eventually collected into 18 graphic novels. The English translation is being done by Alexander O. Smith, and is rated T for Teen. No, I didn't know ESRB-style ratings were being used for graphic novels either.
• Akira Toriyama fansite: http://www.toriyamaworld.com/drslump/
• Italian Dr. Slump fansite: http://www.paipai.net/manga/drslump/default.asp
• "Vocabulary of Dr. Slump": http://www.docoja.com/cgi-bin/keywordj?mangag+dr._slump+dico/mnggifg
• Artwork (yes, Arale really *does* look that much like Lucca): http://www.animecubed.com/galleries/drslump/
• The publishers: www.viz.com and www.shonenjump.com