As a Tokyo-based writer, I will introduce you to various aspects of pop culture such as manga, anime, movies and music. I want to spread the joy of Japanese pop culture around the world.
Hi everyone. I’m Mokugyo, your MANGA.TOKYO otaku analyst. I love manga and anime, and I watch Dragon Ball Super every week. I especially enjoyed the recent episode in which Arale appeared, because I hadn’t seen the character for ages and I missed her a lot. I realized that fans of Dragon Ball Super and the younger generation of otaku fans might not know about the history of Arale.
In this article, I’m going to write about Arale, a significant character in the history of Japanese anime.
Arale is the main character of Dr. Slump which was created by Akira Toriyama, the same manga artist that created Dragon Ball. She is an android built by Dr. Slump, whose actual name is Norimaki Senbei but villagers call him Dr. Slump to make fun of him. The title of the anime, Dr. Slump, was Toriyama intention to make a comical manga with a perverted scientist as the main character. His editor asked him to put a girl character in the manga and that’s how Arale was born. She soon became famous, and eventually became popular enough to take over the main character role.
The manga Dr. Slump was adapted into an anime titled Dr Slump and Arale-chan, because they assumed that Arale’s popularity would rise because of the anime series. Broadcast of the anime started in 1981 and, as expected, it became a huge hit. It recorded a 36.9% rating, which was the third highest in Japanese anime history at the time. When Dragon Ball that took over the Wednesday TV slot, it meant that Toriyama’s manga continuously aired in this slot until 1999. Dr. Slump and Arale-chan was broadcast in Taiwan, Hong Kong, Italy, Spain, and France as well. Most anime fans overseas might have seen this anime dubbed in their own language.
Dr. Slump was a comical gag manga and was serialized in Weekly Shonen Jump in the 1980s. It’s a funny story situated in an imaginary village called Penguin Village, in which Arale and her pals run around and play wildly. Everyone copied Arale’s usual greeting ‘N’cha’ and her way of turbo-running with her arms wide open like an aeroplane while mimicking the sound of one – ‘kiiiin’ in Japanese. The anime became a social phenomenon. As Toriyama’s next manga, Dragon Ball, was so successful internationally, we tend to forget about the achievements of Dr. Slump. I believe that, even if Dragon Ball had failed and had been short-lived, Akira Toriyama would still have been regarded as a legendary manga artist because of Dr. Slump. There are annual traditional dance festivals during the summer in Japan, and it’s said that you can hear Arale-chan Ondo, the dance song of Arale, no matter what dance festival you choose to go to. The influence of Dr. Slump in the 80s was massive for the Japanese.
It’s speculated that Shueisha, who publishes Weekly Shonen Jump, was reluctant to adapt Dr. Slump into an anime, because anime in the early 1980s were not that famous. This anime, however, turned out to be a massive success, and Toei, the production company that produced the anime, continues to adapt manga from Jump, such as Dragon Ball Z and One Piece. It can be said that Arale set up the foundation of the tie between Shueisha and Toei.
Arale is an android with super strong powers. She can break the earth into pieces with her punch. She loves playing and is always running around full of energy. She is brimming with curiosity and pokes poop wherever she finds it. People liked toilet jokes in the 1980s. At the time, Japan was in an economic boom and people indulged in affluent lifestyles. The fondness towards toilet jokes was perhaps a backlash of such a posh life. People had this romantic notion of a simpler life in a remote and peaceful village, like Penguin Village where Arale lives. Penguin Village was regarded as a utopia for busy Japanese at the time.
Most of the episodes in Dr. Slump start with a new invention by Senbei, with which Arale and her pals then play around with. This causes a fuss and gives Senbei and Arale a tough time. Each episode is simple and funny, the perfect anime for the people of the era because it let them relax and forget about their daily lives.
The character design of Arale shows Toriyama’s talent. She wears a pair of glasses, her trademark. It’s so funny that she needs glasses even though she is an android. Toriyama is great at designing characters which make readers understand what the character are like at first glance. For instance, Arale has big eyes and wears the trademark glasses and a funny cap. She runs like an aeroplane and talks in a unique way. All of these give a unique impression. He is also skillful at drawing the disproportional nature of his characters. He can draw two-head-tall characters with dynamic actions from any angle naturally, and this ability gives more possibilities to his stories. His ability of drawing action scenes developed further in Dragon Ball.
Every fan of Dragon Ball knows that Arale appeared in Dragon Ball Super. However, not everyone knows that she appeared in Dragon Ball earlier than that. Before Dragon Ball Z started, there was Dragon Ball, the so called ‘mujirushi’ (no mark) by fans which depicts Goku’s childhood adventures. Arale and her pals in Penguin Village appeared in the series. The episode aired in 1987 and the story starts with Goku chasing after General Blue. They ended up arriving in Penguin Village and there Arale overpowered General Blue with her super strength, without any strategy. Actually, the recent reunion of Goku and Arale in 2017 marks their 30th anniversary. They also co-star in the movie Dragon Ball Mystical Adventure which premiered in 1988. Children were so excited to watch Arale in a Dragon Ball movie, since collaborations of popular anime characters was quite rare at the time.
There are frequent funny scenes in Dragon Ball Super. Toriyama cracks many jokes in the movie Dragon Ball Z Resurrection F, for which he wrote the script himself. Sometimes I hear fans saying ‘those gags are unnecessary’ or ‘I want to watch more serious development’. I understand them since Dragon Ball Z has become popular because of its serious battle scenes. On the contrary, Toriyama is, as Dr. Slump demonstrates, a person who loves relaxed gags. I also think those gags give a strong contrast, and therefore strengthen battle scenes.
In a way, Dr. Slump is a prototype of Dragon Ball. For example, it’s well known that word the word ‘Saiyan’ is a pun on the Japanese word ‘yasai’ (vegetable). The name Vegeta is obviously a pun for ‘vegetable,’ and Goku’s real name, Kakarot, comes from ‘carrot.’ On the other hand, Norimaki Senbei is the name of a snack- rice cracker wrapped in nori seaweed. Arale is the name of deep fried rice crackers. It seems like Toriyama loves puns and gave names of everyday things to the names of characters from his early works.
In Penguin Village, where Arale and her pals live, the mayor is a penguin, and other villagers are talking animals, such as a pig and a mouse as well as a talking dinosaur. The early Dragon Ball inherited the world of Penguin Village, and talking animal characters, such as Oolong and Puar, often appeared. As the serious battle scenes increased, appearances of talking animal characters decreased.
Goku is the protagonist in Dragon Ball and a martial artist. In Dr. Slump, there is a character who is a Kung Fu artist, Tsukutsume Tsun. He is a nice and friendly boy, but becomes fiercely powerful when he gets extremely angry. Goku must have inherited part of his character, as he changes from his usual kind state to a vengeful explosion ignited by his anger.
The story of Dr. Slump starts with an episode in which Senbei, a scientist, teaches a child of great strength, Arale, a variety of things. In Dragon Ball, the story evolves from the scene of the encounter of young Goku, who possess a super strong power, and Bulma, a scientist who taught the outside world to him. I think Toriyama is good at such pairings.
Dr. Slump was probably the main influence behind Dragon Ball. If you think of their connection, understanding Arale leads to understanding Dragon Ball and, furthermore, understanding the development of the anime boom in Japan. I hope more young people can learn about Dr. Slump by reading the manga or watching the anime.