Dragon Ball Super
by Sam Leach,
How would you rate episode 69 of
Dragon Ball Super ?
Before Dragon Ball, Akira Toriyama's Weekly Shonen Jump hit was Dr. Slump, a gag manga about a lecherous inventor named Senbei Norimaki and the misadventures of his plucky, super strong robot “daughter”, Arale. I remember owning the first few volumes of the manga as a kid and reading them religiously, so I'm ready accept any and all Dragon Ball x Dr. Slump crossovers with open arms. It's a bit older, so it might not speak to the majority of DBZ fans (even I only barely have experience with it), but I really found myself charmed by this episode, its affection for Toriyama's original work, and its overall sense of humor.
The story goes that Bulma is up for a scientific invention award, but the honor ends up going to Norimaki himself cashing in on the fact that his world still sort of exists in the Dragon Ball world following the old crossovers from the original Dragon Ball anime. His invention is Reality Machine Number 2, a living cooking pot that has the ability to manifest the user's strongest desire (like nudie mags) out of thin air, using nothing but the user's imagination to go by. Obviously, this is an invention rivaling the dragon balls themselves. The ghost of Norikamki's rival, Dr. Mashirito, appears on the scene to foil his big day, having drugged Arale with a formula that "increases a child's desire to play a hundred times!", which is bad news for an energetic little girl with gag manga super strength. Havoc is to be wrecked if heroes like Goku and Vegeta are unable to keep her occupied until she calms down.
Arale's strength comes from her role as a gag manga character. This episode breaks the fourth wall repeatedly by having the characters remind us of that constantly, amazed at her ability to push Goku and Vegeta around, and even crack the earth in half because everything is just that much more of a cartoon whenever Arale is on screen. This works as a comedic spin because, as exaggerated as the Dragon Ball world is, there is an internal logic to it most of the time. The heroes got to be galaxy-shattering gods as a result of story development, and there is a general need to keep track of who's stronger than who, but Arale's power is determined by whatever would be funny in a given moment. Vegeta's quote: "Common sense doesn't apply to her at all! I won't get anywhere with a battle manga fighting style."
This is a one-off joke episode through and through, and judging by the next episode preview we're going to continue in this direction for a little bit while the show gears up for whatever its next serious arc will be. It's meta, it's full of poop jokes, and it's pandering to the portion of Toriyama's audience that might not be all that big to begin with, but I got a kick out of this episode and enjoyed it for what it was. I'm sure there are plenty of people hungry for the story to start back up soon, which I can empathize with.
Dragon Ball Super's charm comes from the boldness of its pandering, even when DBZ fans are not who it's pandering to. The show really seems to want to deflate expectations, and remind you that it's a cartoon first and foremost. Akira Toriyama's roots were in comedy, both with Dr. Slump and the early Dragon Ball chapters. I always really liked the Buu arc of DBZ because it felt like Toriyama was finding a way to marry his interests in goofy humor back into the space opera that Dragon Ball had become. Dragon Ball Super has always felt like a continuation of that marriage.
Dragon Ball Super is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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