Compared to most shows I have written about, Dr. Slump isn’t exactly the most obscure. After all, it was created by Akira Toriyama, who would have an even bigger success with Dragon Ball few years down the line. However, it never had a big distribution in English-speaking countries, so I figured I owe it to our readers to give a spotlight to the property.
“Dr. Slump” refers to Senbei Norimaki, an inventor who builds gadgets, having been born to invent. One day he builds a robot girl named Arale. Unlike other robotic humans, she has no superpowers. Arale’s eyes can’t shoot lasers, her stomach can’t shoot cannons, and she can’t fly (Arale wanting to fly is a recurring theme). In fact, the only thing Arale has going for is that she is incredibly strong. She was able to nearly split the Earth in half just by punching the ground.
Senbei creates Arale as a perfect little girl that can pass off as a human. However, she is anything but perfect. Being a machine, she is incredibly naïve, misunderstanding basic human customs and lacking common sense, which leads to awkward moments with Senbei and other characters. She is also nearsighted, requiring her to wear a large glasses. According to Toriyama, the glasses was meant to be a one-time gag (he claimed it was hard to draw and wanted to get rid of it), but after receiving letters from readers thanking him for it, saying that it made them feel better about their own glasses, he decided to keep it. Despite being a pain to draw, the glasses became Arale’s trademark.
Senbei has Arale pose as his 13-year old sister, intending to pass her off as a human without anyone knowing that she’s a robot. This proves to be difficult, however. Due to Arale’s naïve nature, she would do things that no normal human can do, from playing with her head (she would literally detach her head and throw it around) to displaying her aforementioned superhuman strength. Even her own anatomy can be a drawback; one episode had Arale wanting a bellybutton due to other kids at school making fun of her for not having any while changing clothes at the gym class (due to a misunderstanding, Senbei thought Arale was asking for genitals, which proved difficult since he has never seen a nude female before).
In spite of this Senbei is adamant that he can pass her off as a human. After creating her, he enrolls Arale in a school that his crush Miss Midori teaches. Arale befriends two rebellious teens, Akane, a blond girl whom Senbei regards as a bad influence, and Taro, the “bad boy” who wears sunglasses all the time. Another recurring character is Gatchan, a green-haired creature with wings hatched from an egg that Senbei brought home when he time traveled to pre-historic times (it was never made clear if the character is male or female). It was revealed that Gatchan was planted by God to destroy humanity, which failed due to Senbei entering its life.
The series takes place in a Penguin Village, a place where humans, anthropomorphic animals, robots, monsters, and even mythical creatures exist. Every morning, when the sun rises, he is seen brushing his teeth, one of the running gags. Mr. Pig is a side character seen from time to time; in the first opening theme song, he would say different things each episode, sort of a couch gag for the show. Akira Toriyama himself would appear in the show, sometimes as a robotic bird (‘Tori’ in Toriyama is Japanese for bird). Senbei’s rival is Dr. Mashirito, an evil mad scientist.
While Dragon Ball had its comedy moments, Dr. Slump is a pure gag series. Sexual humor is the norm, mostly stemming from Senbei’s perverted nature. He who would sometimes create gadgets just so he can look at women (particularly Miss Midori) naked. Pop culture parodies (both American and Japanese) are rampant, with characters like Suppaman, an overweight Superman lookalike who is very weak and has no real superpower. In short, he is totally useless. Suppaman is most often seen flying in the background. A little creature that looks like Kamen Rider (a tokusatsu staple created by cartoonist Shotaro Ishinomori) is also present in the backgrounds, perching on a tree like a cicada. Puns and toilet humors are also a common, which got carried over to the anime.
Even though the series is named after Senbei, the real star is Arale-chan. It’s not unusual for a secondary character to take over the series, but in Dr. Slump’s case, it was due to an editorial mandate. Kazuhiko Torishima, who was Toriyama’s editor at Shonen Jump at the time, favored Arale and asked that she would become the main star. Toriyama later admitted that this turned out to be for the good.
Dr. Slump debuted on Weekly Shonen Jump in January 1980. The comic was a hit, giving Akira Toriyama a push in his career. An anime adaptation came out a year later, courtesy of Toei Animation. The show was called Dr. Slump Arale-chan (Dr. Slump and Arale) and it began in April 8, 1981 on Fuji Television. The anime was a ratings hit and it even out-lived the original manga, which ended on 1984; the anime lasted until February 19, 1986. Altogether, 243 episodes were made. The following week, Fuji Television replaced the show with Dragon Ball.
However, that wasn’t the end for Dr. Slump yet. During the show’s run, four theatrical films were released annually from 1982 to 1985. Five more movies were made in the 1990s (two in 1993, another two in 1994, and one in 1999). In addition, Arale made a crossover appearance in Dragon Ball, helping Goku on one of his adventures.
A second television series, consisting of 74 episodes, was later made by Toei, again airing on Fuji Television from November 26, 1997 to September 22, 1999. Notably, this show was one of the first anime to have its drawings colored digitally, Toei having made a switch from painted cels around this time. Finally, a five-minute short film was made in 2007, released theatrically as a bonus with One Piece Movie: The Desert Princess and the Pirates.
There was an attempt to dub the series in English back in the 1980s, with the first episode dubbed, but it didn’t get picked up. The original manga did eventually have an English-language release, courtesy of Viz Media. In 2013, Discotek Media licensed the first five feature films for an American release. Hopefully the original show will have its release here as well.
First episode with English subtitles