Dr. Slump: Hello! Wonder Island (1981)

About six months ago, I had one of the biggest parenting surprises I have ever had. Our son was looking for something new to read, and I handed him the first volume of Akira Toriyama’s epic of slapstick and toilet humor, Dr. Slump. When they were around his age, his older brother and sister loved it. I have long advocated for every home in America with under-tens to have at least the first eight volumes in stock. Like many comics from every nation and every genre, Dr. Slump ran far longer than it should have – weekly for five years in this case – and the law of diminishing returns set in around its halfway point, but those first eight collections are solid gold. When it comes to comics, every under-ten should have free and clear access to Peanuts, Mad, Melvin Monster, and Dr. Slump.

I didn’t hear a chuckle from upstairs. This comic has a super-powerful robot girl named Arale causing absolute chaos while running around with poop on a stick. It is everything this child – that any eight year-old – should want in a funnybook. However, half an hour later, he came down with a sour expression and said he couldn’t get into it. That’s cool; kids should make up their own mind. We’re just here to introduce him to old stuff, and he likes what he likes and doesn’t like what he doesn’t like. But how in creation this kid didn’t like that Dr. Slump book, I have no idea.

A few years previously, I picked up Discotek’s collection of the first five Slump movies. There was a cartoon adaptation that ran throughout the eighties on Fuji TV and spawned eleven theatrical specials. Most of these are really short and aired as additional features to longer movies or at festivals. Hello! Wonder Island is just 25 minutes long, and only one of them, the second, is longer than an hour. Discotek’s collection doesn’t have a dubbed option, so it’s been collecting dust on the shelf for a while now, waiting for him to be confident enough to read subtitles. Since, thanks to Criterion’s Godzilla set, he’s willing to read ’em, I decided this morning to strike.

Naturally, of course, he loved it. Dr. Slump is colorful, unpredictable, and absolutely ridiculous. One recurring gag in the comic is that the little community of Penguin Village is filled with muscular wanna-be superheroes and action men waiting for their moment of honor and glory, only to have some child dressed in a fox costume knock them over on her way to something funnier. This story begins with the Superman parody and the Tarzan parody yelling in each other’s face about whether the movie should be about them, and those little gears in our kid’s head finally clicked into place and he understood how gloriously absurd this is.

Maybe it also helped that I drew some comparisons to other media that he already loves. Senbei’s utter inability to land a date with anybody is not unlike Jon from Garfield and his endless wacky inventions might remind him of Wallace from Wallace & Gromit. That said, some cultural differences between the US and Japan mean that there’s probably a thing or two that some American parents might find shocking. Senbei routinely cusses a blue streak and keeps a stash of girlie magazines, and Arale routinely mocks him with a chant of “Pervert, pervert!”

But is this for under-tens anyway? Yes, absolutely. A vampire bites Senbei and Arale bites the vampire right back, she picks up fire-breathing dragons, and she smacks demon lords in the shin with gigantic bats. Even the little aliens who look like butts and are stuck on Earth make a short appearance. This is glorious, goofy comedy for kids and he had a ball. I told him we’ll watch the next one in a couple of months.

And who knows, he might give the comic another try as well. Stranger things have happened!

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