Story/Art: Akira Toriyama
Translation/Adaptation: Alexander O. Smith
What They Say
It’s business as usual in Penguin Village: an alien arrives on Earth in hopes of becoming a superhero to the weakling humans, a bank robber tries to kidnap Arale and baby Gatchan, and Arale wrecks the town police car–again!
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers):
One thing I noted in my review of Dr. Slump vol. 1 was its tendency to feature several different types of humor, an approach that almost assured that some jokes would be a success, but which felt unfocused. The second volume tends to fare a bit better, though there are still some issues that continue to plague what might otherwise be a wholly lighthearted, pleasant read.
In this installment, Arale, Dr. Senbei’s child-like android creation, continues to inadvertently wreak havoc throughout Penguin Village with her superhuman strength and insatiable curiosity. Her adventures range from the mundane – going to school and finding someone’s lost coin on the ground – to the fantastic – traveling back in time to prehistoric Japan. However, most of this volume’s chapters involve the unveiling, use, and subsequent mis-use of one of Dr. Senbei’s crackpot inventions. The book ends with a two-part story during which Senbei expends an almost unheard of amount of energy in order to catch a glimpse of Arale’s teacher, Ms. Yamabuki’s panties.
Some of this volume’s best gags are those which are self-referential or require some form of pop-culture savvy, as well as those which make clever use of the comic medium; in one chapter, Arale startles Senbei by reaching across the dividing line between comic panels to get his attention. The author also uses a lot of clever methods to demonstrate the passage of time, including Arale puncturing the Sun with a spear, which deflates it like a balloon and allows the stars to come out, and illustrating a “time warp” into an intermediary frame while having another character comment on how quickly time seemed to pass. There are, however, a few moments when this meta humor gets to be overwhelming; during a few chapters closer to the beginning of the volume, the characters reference the fact that they are, in fact, manga characters a few more times than is funny or necessary. On the other hand, there are some truly fun little illustrative “shout-outs” to pop culture icons, including the characters from Star Wars and the alien from Alien. There are also repeated references to Ultraman, something which is bound to be more familiar to Japanese audiences than to those of us in the West, but which gives the manga an amusing sense of time and place.
Many of the visual gags wouldn’t be half as compelling if not for Toriyama’s art skill. While most of his layouts could be described as “functional” rather than “creative,” the amount of detail to be found in his character and background artwork makes up for this shortcoming. Though most of his characters could be described as “super-deformed,” they’re all given a good sense of weight and substance and actually demonstrate a good variety of body types. The items that they wear read clearly as cloth, leather and metal. And, best of all, there are some fun Easter Eggs to be found in some of the backgrounds, including a brief cameo by R2-D2. The artwork really makes each volume worth reading more than once, since there’s really no way to catch all the little bits and pieces of bonus imagery the first time around.
That said, one of this volume’s greatest weaknesses shows itself when Dr. Senbei becomes the focal character. The character is, for lack of a better word, a pervert. While perverted characters are celebrated by some fans, I find myself almost completely turned-off every time Senbei goes “full-ecchi.” In one story, he creates a machine that turns photographs into reality, so, after sending Arale and her friends away, he goes looking for a pornographic magazine so that he can use one of the photographs to create a beautiful companion for himself. In another chapter, he creates a Rube Goldberg machine who’s sole purpose is to flip up Ms. Yamabuki’s skirt. The extent to which he indulges in this behavior (and the fact that the punishments he receives are rarely enough to dissuade him) makes the character come across as a creeper rather than a put-upon, frustrated inventor, to the detriment of many chapters.
There’s also the frustrating fact that there’s almost no continuing narrative to this manga so far. While some series can survive on a steady diet of gags by themselves, there’s something to be said for the art of creating a multi-layered, story-relevant joke that drops its payload several chapters after it begins. The longest stories in this volume are only a couple of chapters (about thirty pages or so), and while there are several recurring bit characters, there have been as-of-yet none of the sublimely-satisfying moments where a gag reaches culmination after several chapters. If could change one thing about the series, it would probably be to give it some stronger continuity.
Overall this volume demonstrates a marked improvement in the quality of gags compared to the first volume, though there are still some nagging issues that keep it from being entirely successful. Its continued reliance on creeper humor (that is, portraying its male lead as a sex-starved nerd whose goals involve peeping on women or creating them in the image of his own desires), as well as its tendency to go “full meta” too often, drag down what would otherwise be a simple, enjoyable gag manga. Toriyama’s art, on the other hand, does quite a bit to elevate many of the gags and demonstrates a keen artistic skill. While the lack of continuous story might be a turn off to some, its short chapters and easy-to-understand sense-of-humor make this volume almost as approachable as the previous one.
Content Grade: C+
Art Grade: A-
Text/Translation Grade: A-
Age Rating: 13+
Released By: VizManga.com
Release Date: July 1st, 2005 (Print)
MSRP: $7.99 Print/ $4.99 Digital