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Dr. Slump Volume One
posted September 6, 2005
 

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Creator: Akira Toriyama
Publishing Information: Viz, 185 pages, $7.99
Ordering Numbers: 159116950x (ISBN)

Dr. Slump was Akira Toriyama's first hit serial. It was released through Shonen Jump in the first half of the 1980s, even overlapping briefly with the Dragonball saga by which Toriyama became internationally known. Unlike the comedic fantasy of the original Dragonball, Dr. Slump is more of a straightforward comedy, one that depends on recurring events played against established traits rather than a long, involved plot. It starts as a barely socialized scientist, Senbei Norimaki, creates a little girl robot named Arale. And, well, that's pretty much it, at least for this volume. Their stories careen back and forth between the two worlds the characters straddle: the elementary school, little girl and caretaker activities for which the leads are poorly suited, or flights of fantasy they stumble through and even obliviously try to wrestle to their advantage. It's a sitcom, sturdy and endearing.

Most of the charm in Dr. Slump bubbles up from Toriyama's art, the large heads atop squat, solid bodies, rounded lines communicating a happy-to-be-right-here vibrancy broken only occasionally by exaggeration of expression or motion. Everything is adorable, and everything is sort of dependable, if that makes sense. It's a trick that is echoed in the writing. Nothing lacerates or even threatens to bruise. When there is the occasional eroticism of children's activities or desires, Toriyama may deflate it with a ludicrous comment or play it off against the discomfort it causes in Norimaki. When the risk of discovery sponsors degrees of elaborate avoidance, the stakes feel more like hot air than representative of dire consequences. It's as if the extended family represented by the characters is wise, kind, and strong enough to absorb all that's odd about the central premise; anybody that doesn't feel supported is that way because of their lack of enlightenment, not because of anything harsh or foreboding about the world in which the characters live. When I say Dr. Slump is less of a fantasy than Dragonball, I may be overlooking the factors that come into play to make a series of lighthearted adventures possible in the first place. It's a nice place to visit, and by and large living there seems like it would be pleasant, too.