March 27, 2014

Dragon Ball

Z? Z who?

So I just finished re-reading Dragon Ball, and I have to say, it still holds up extremely well. There's a reason it's one of the most popular manga of all time. Dragon Ball was written and drawn by Akira Toriyama from 1984 to 1995, after Dr. Slump. Out of all 42 volumes, 1-16 are designated as Dragon Ball and 17-42 are designated as Dragon Ball Z (re-labeled as 1-26). I should point out that this is only the case outside of Japan. Over there, the whole series is just "Dragon Ball," and runs volumes 1-42. It's not really that big of a deal, because it's not like the story changes or anything. I'm not sure why the series was split in the U.S., but I'd guess it had something to do with the TV broadcasts of the anime.

I would say that having read the whole series, volumes 1-16 are definitely more entertaining than the later ones. Toriyama really hits his stride in terms of storytelling and humor. It's more of a never-ending adventure split into small mini-quests. Things like traveling through the desert, encountering Pilaf and gang, helping Ox King with his castle, training with Muten Roshi, freeing a village from Oolong, climbing Karin tower, taking on the Red Ribbon army, helping Upa and his father, seeking out the all-seeing crone, or even the early tournaments. They all felt like little standalone stories, and I enjoyed them a lot. It's all pretty lighthearted with a good sense of humor. At its foundation, it's just a lot of fun.

Goku's personality helps a lot with allowing the stories to be all over the place. Nothing is locking him down, and has a general carefree attitude about everything. Even in the stories themselves, it's pointed out how truly innocent and void of sin Goku is. I should point out that this only really works when he is a kid, yet his character remains intellectually unchanged through adulthood (as is described below). The supporting characters, for the most part, also have strong personalities. Bulma, Kuririn, Lunch, Roshi, and others make the stories much more interesting, and their personalities are varied enough to make a really nice cast. It's usually in the fighting segments that they're pushed to the background, not really having anything to contribute simply because "only the strongest can succeed, and Goku is always the strongest."

In Dragon Ball, Goku is a kid. This means that physically, he's not the omnipotent god he will become as an adult. His mind is also that of a child. This is one of the most important things that make Dragon Ball much better than Dragon Ball Z. Things will happen around Goku as opposed to only against him. He's part of the story, not the story itself. Yet even nearing the end of Dragon Ball, it starts to falter. Volume 16 is solely Goku vs. Piccolo. That's it. Just one huge battle for 150+ pages. I understand the importance, but it drags on for quite a while.

Later sagas (i.e. Dragon Ball Z) get into the huge drawn-out epics of fighting "the ultimate threat," one after another. Even the tournaments, which started out as very enjoyable, quickly turn into fierce battles between the few main characters that are still physically able to match one another. Almost all of the humor is phased out in favor of reaching for highest possible level of intensity. But since it's only that again and again, it gets old pretty fast. As stated before, the supporting characters get pushed to the background during fighting segments. And since the entire manga basically becomes only fighting, they have absolutely nothing to contribute. Often they are left behind entirely.

And again, since Goku is always the strongest, even characters that are able to fight well can't do anything anymore (e.g. Tenshinhan). For Dragon Ball, I could ask, "What awesome adventure will happen next?" Anything and everything was up for grabs. For Z, the question changes to, "What diabolical force will Goku have to destroy next?" There's absolutely no question that another evil force will rear its ugly head and force Goku to do battle in order to save the Earth/Galaxy/Universe/Reality.

Goku's character retains that sense of innocence throughout his entire life. It makes sense when he's a kid, often leading to humorous situations. But as an adult, it doesn't really work out. It actually makes him into a completely inconsiderate jerk. He is married, has kids, and has the responsibility of defending the Earth among other things. Yet he still jets off on a whim, carefree as ever, without ever considering how his actions affect others. But even if someone outright calls him on it (which almost never happens), he still can't fit the pieces together on why he's being an asshole, and everyone just kind of lets it go. Lather, rinse, repeat.

There aren't really any new notable characters introduced past volume 16 that aren't "the next strongest guy," which is too bad. Characters like Pilaf, Oolong, Yamcha, Bulma, Kuririn, Roshi, Lunch, Taopaipai, the All-seeing Crone, Mr. Popo, and Commander Red aren't presented anymore. It's ground down to just the main fighters, and even then there's not really any more character development. The whole series loses that sense of fun, which is what made it great in the first place. Sure, there are maybe one or two exceptions (i.e. Ginyu Force), but they rarely ever happen.

The root of the problem is that the stories become extremely formulaic. Nearly every single time, an extreme battle will be taking place, and one (or both) of the combatants will claim to a) be preparing for the ultimate attack, or b) not using their full power. Both claims cause everyone present to freak out. After said "ultimate attack" or "full power" is used/reached, it will often happen again. And again. The common tropes associated with the series are not exaggerated. I'm not saying that it's bad. It just becomes a very predictable paint-by-number scenario.

The artwork differs a bit from Dr. Slump. I don't really feel that one is better than the other, though. In Dr. Slump, there's a lot of attention to detail, especially for interior shots of buildings and for machines. There's a great sense of wackiness to it all, and anything can (and does) happen with the art. The backgrounds don't really blow my mind, and I would say the very rural setting contributes to that. In Dragon Ball, however, the panoramic scenic shots are very impressive. The stories take place in every type of location on Earth (and beyond), and Toriyama can draw it all brilliantly. He also captures action very well. The characters are very distinctive and have a good aesthetic design in both series. But Dragon Ball gains much harsher linework, which assists in matching the level of intensity.

All in all, Dragon Ball feels much more controlled than Dr. Slump. Having concrete story-lines helps this a lot. There are set objectives and obstacles, and Point B is actually reached time and time again. Though I do have my complaints about the series, it's still one of my favorites. I feel that part of truly enjoying something is being able to point out the imperfections as well as the brilliancy (as opposed to subjectively clinging to it as the "greatest thing ever" simply because you can't even entertain the fact that it might not be perfect).

I feel that Toriyama is a better comedic storyteller than a serious one, so volumes 1-16 of Dragon Ball will always hold up better in my mind than the later ones.

March 17, 2014


Over the weekend, I decided to finally take some time to investigate the world of composing chiptunes. I know I'm a little late to the party, but it's never too late to investigate something that interests you. I listen almost exclusively to game music, and being able to compose in the actual format enticed me into action.

However, I ran into the issue of where the hell I was going to start. I did some research on basic terminology and how music trackers work in general. After much searching and experimenting with different software, I ultimately made the decision to start simple. I decided to use LSDj, which exclusively utilizes the Game Boy sound chip to create music. LSDj (which stands for Little Sound Dj) stood out to me for a number of reasons:

  • I love the Game Boy sound, sound quality, and timbre
  • Four channels mean it's not wholly overwhelming, and personally I find that limitations breed creativity (the tracker still has a ton of capabilities though)
  • If I make the decision to purchase an actual Game Boy flash cartridge and put the software on it, I can take it with me

The included manual and online wiki provide a vast amount of information, both for beginning and advanced instruction. They are both extremely helpful. There are also a ton of features and capabilities in LSDj, making it a true powerhouse and full-fledged music workstation. The experimentation phase is never going to stop, which is great.

In less than an hour of messing around, I had already created a piece worthy of being on a crappy, third-rate Game Boy game. Success!

After experimenting with the free demo, I made the very easy decision to drop $5 for the full version (the actual minimum amount is only $0.01). I am using an emulator, but the more I play around with it, the more I want to buy an actual cartridge. A friend of mine already has one, so I might ask to borrow it and see how nice it really is to be able to carry it around with me.

I might eventually move to more advanced trackers in the future, but I'm just having too much fun right now. Being a music grad provided an easy window into the actual composition part. The only initial challenge I faced was how to input notes/effects and working with the more-complex-than-you-would-think interface (keep in mind the whole thing uses only four buttons and a D-Pad). Once I had the basics down, though, I was golden.

The next challenge is to familiarize myself with the more advanced features, tweaks, and shortcuts. But I feel like that won't be as much of a challenge. It'll be more messing around and mix-matching different combinations of things.

I also know my end goal is not to enter the whole chiptune scene. I know it would take more time and effort than I can expend, because there is so much you can do with LSDj, and I've got more stuff I want to do. I just want to familiarize myself with the software, and maybe create some music that I feel would fit right in with the early 90's Game Boy library. Just have fun with it, I guess.

Just what I need. Something else to suck away all my free time.

March 14, 2014

Club Nintendo Poster Error

So impressed.

So I just read this email today upon arriving home from work:

Man, I am impressed. Even acknowledging the error is something a lot of companies wouldn't even bother doing. Actually addressing it, taking on the additional printing and shipping costs, and mailing them out to everybody that claimed one originally is very commendable.

Too much of the time, a company will only even offer a replacement if you as the consumer bring it to their attention and request something be done about it (and only for a limited amount of time at that). They're not going to go through all that work just because it's the right thing to do. Don't be ridiculous. They're just going to hope that a) no one notices, or b) that nobody cares enough to bother contacting the company. So I applaud Nintendo for taking the high road.

Well done.

March 4, 2014

Pluto, Volume 3

Act 16 - Uran

Atom picks up Uran from the police station after her incident with the large escaped cats. On their way out, they pass Professor Abullah. Abullah has been called from Persia to Japan by Superintendent Tawashi to help out on the recent murder cases. It also turns out that Abullah was the last person to speak with Junichiro Tasaki before he was murdered (back in Volume 2).

As Atom and Uran are walking back home, Atom states that he couldn't tell if Abullah was robot or human. It turns out that Abullah is mostly machine, since he lost much of his natural body in the war. He asks Tawashi about the recent localized tornados, and heads over to Central Park to check out the most recent site.

Act 17 - Death to Machines!!

Jump to Düsseldorf. A man named Adolf has just been given clearance to retrieve the body of his brother, who was killed three years ago. Adolf states that even though his brother was scum, he still wants to give him a proper burial.

He takes the body to a local doctor, who discovers that the body was killed in a very specific way. Later, Adolf and his wife are having dinner at a local restaurant. Gesicht and his wife just happen to be there also. Gesicht is called away by work, and ends up stopping a group of criminals who have hijacked a military-grade vehicle. He stops them with his unique Zeronium ammunition.

Meanwhile, Adolf travels to a secret meeting late into the night. It turns out he's a member of the "KR," which is a group of staunch robot haters. He reveals to the group that his brother's body had been killed by a Zeronium Alloy Shell. Adolf makes a pledge to destroy whoever killed his brother.

Act 18 - Zeronium

Since Zeronium is so rare and requires special clearance to use, Adolf travels to the Office of Public Information to find out any information he can about Zeronium discharges three years ago. Bafflingly, there is no record of any incident. The only result is Gesicht's attack the night before. Adolf puts pieces together and decides that Gesicht is responsible for his brother's death. But whether or not that's actually true is unknown. Regardless, the head of the KR sees it as a brilliant opportunity to forward their cause.

Act 19 - Epsilon

Hercules retrieves and activates his battle suit that he used during the war, intent on finding the murderous robot that killed Brando. Before he can take off, however, he is shot down. It turns out to be another powerful robot named Epsilon. He states that if Hercules can't even take that one shot from him, he'll never be able to destroy his true target. He also believes that humans and robots are growing ever closer. And if they get too close, something terrible will happen.

Meanwhile, the leaders of the KR are discussing how they can use Adolf's story as ammunition in the fight against robots. They have to be careful, however, because if the public really knew how terrible Adolf's brother was, they'd side with the robots.

Act 20 - Robot Haters

Adolf purchases a Compact Cluster Cannon (basically a guided rocket launcher). As he's holding it, he has flashbacks of his childhood. Turns out his father lost his job because of robots, and ended up killing himself because of his perceived uselessness. His older brother is also anti-robot, and it's clear that Adolf's anti-robot sentiments started at a very early age.

Meanwhile, the KR has started their media invasion, placing strong right-wing proponents of their cause on major news networks and programs. Secretly, the head of the KR also gives a silent assassin permission to kill Adolf if he does anything stupid. As a side note, I hear everything this guy says in Ed Wuncler's voice. I just can't help it.

Adolf follows Gesicht to the woods, where he's thrown back by the appearance of Epsilon before he can use his Cluster Cannon. Epsilon wants Gesicht to stop Hercules, in hopes to prevent another massive war.

Act 21 - Uran's Search

Uran awakens and senses something sad nearby, so she skips school to investigate. She ends up in a redevelopment zone, and finds a homeless man asleep under a bridge. It turns out he's a robot, so Uran rushes to get some energy for him.

After he wakes up, he states he can't remember his name or where he came from. All he can remember is a model number. But apparently he painted some abstract art on a nearby wall before passing out. Uran leaves to fetch some more paint and food, and when she returns, the man is admiring all the flowers in the redevelopment zone, and completes his painting, which turns out to be flowers as well.

Act 22 - Pluto

A mysterious man is walking in an abandoned alley while speaking to Professor Abullah via wireless communication. Abullah states he has a job that needs completion, and the man readily agrees.

Uran is trying to sneak back home without being detected, but is caught by Atom. She attempts to make up excuses as to why she's been out so much lately, but Atom promptly shatters them with basic logical questions. He doesn't pry though.

Uran makes her way back to the redevelopment zone to find it full of flowers. It turns out the man can breathe life into things. He states that there's a world of life (represented by his flowers painting), but there's also a world of death, befreft of any life. He then has a vision of something that absolutely terrifies him, which Uran doesn't understand.

Meanwhile, Abullah's agent has made his way to Central Park, where the most recent localized tornado touched down. He suddenly starts hacking and heaving thousands of cockroaches from his mouth, which scatter into the park. Abullah tells him that he has to be careful not to damage who they're looking for. The model number Abullah gives matches the one the man gave Uran earlier, and Abullah states the name is Pluto.

Act 23 - Wandering Soul

The cockroaches return in the morning, and the man contacts Abullah to tell him that he's located Pluto. Abullah says he's on his way.

Meanwhile, Uran and the homeless man are still talking about life and death. The man reveals that he can create a small tornado. It starts raining, and flowers start blooming everywhere around them.

Suddenly, Atom and the Robot Specialists from the Ministry of Science appear. Atom tells Uran to get away from the man, because he has a strange electromagnetic field spinning around him, and he's dangerous. The police suddenly show up as well, to everyone's surprise. The man hears Uran address Atom by name, and it causes him to swell with hatred. The police are preparing to fire, but Atom stops them at the last second. The man mutters something about robots deserving to die, when suddenly a flash of lightning erupts from his head in the shape of two horns. He then promptly falls to the ground.

Upon closer inspection, Ochanomizu discovers that the homeless man's electronic brain is missing. Suddenly, a large construction robot smashes through a nearby wall. He states that the man is his off-duty body, and that he had been looking for it. It creates many questions, most notably how the man was able to function at all without any A.I..

The final scene we're shown is a lake far from the redevelopment site. Abullah and his agent stand at the shore while the surface erupts. A large robot bursts from the depths, and Abullah states that this is Pluto's only real body, and his orders are to destroy Atom.


Some questions are finally moving towards answers, but a crew of new ones are quickly taking their place. This is only part three of eight, so there's a lot more to go. I still really enjoy seeing Urasawa's imagination at work. I really like his location shots. His "old-time village on top of a futuristic skyscraper" was particularly impressive.

This volume was less "eventful" than the prior two. Nothing was wrapped up here, but it was still intense nonetheless. It was much more of a "building up" sort of volume.

Now that we've finally seen Pluto (kind of) and found out who is controlling him, will motivations be revealed? Does Pluto's possession of the construction worker show he has capacity (or urge) for good? Who was Adolf's brother, really? Is there a connection between Abullah and Dr. Roosevelt? Why is Uran so rude? Will Epsilon's predictions come true? When will Dr. Tenma show up? Argh, so many questions! On to Volume 4!

Dr. Slump


So I was going to try and focus on Astro Boy and Pluto, because trying to juggle tons of manga and comic books at the same time is rough for me. I don't like a series to be sitting forever while I slowly whittle away one little bit at a time. I like things to be completed in a relatively timely manner.


I started Dr. Slump just to see what it was all about, and ended up putting everything else on hold. This series is absolutely hilarious. The writing and drawing work together seamlessly to present a no-holds-barred explosion of humor. I made the mistake of taking some volumes to work. I had to do my best not to laugh out loud like an idiot in front of co-workers. And even if they did ask, my explanation as to why I was laughing would have made me sound like I have the humor level of a six-year-old.

Dr. Slump was a manga by Akira Toriyama, originally serialized in Weekly Shonen Jump from 1980 to 1984. It launched him to super-success in Japan, and was years prior to his Dragon Ball success.

The first Toriyama work I read was Dragon Ball Z, and I thought it was cool. Then I picked up Dragon Ball, and thought, "holy crap, these are his strengths as a writer." Then I read Dr. Slump, and saw the true genius that is Akira Toriyama. Dragon Ball is great, but what separates it from Dr. Slump is that darn central plot. Things like main objectives spread through multiple volumes, "realistic" relationships built between characters, and fighting to achieve similar goals. That being said, Dragon Ball is also very good, but in a totally different way. The whole thing is very grounded in its own universe. Dr. Slump, on the other hand, doesn't hold back. It's like the entire thing is happening on a whim, and no amount of logic is going to bring it down. If an idea pops into Toriyama's head, no matter how ridiculous or outlandish, it's going in. If he feels like putting the characters in an American Western setting, he'll do it. If he feels like re-telling a fairy tale with his characters, he'll do it (with the most ridiculous casting possible).

The basic story is that a scientific genius and inventor (but idiot all the same) named Senbei Norimaki creates a robot "daughter", whom he names Arale. She's going to be his "scientific triumph," except she ends up having the carefree personality and mind of an innocent child. Just with, you know, massive super strength and incredibly advanced intelligence. Arale is supposed to be the main character (much to Senbei's chagrin), but Toriyama really kind of uses her as a pivotal figure to showcase the whole town. Most characters get their own story focused around them at one point or another. And when a new character becomes part of the team, the general wackiness lets it happen seamlessly.

The stories are episodic in nature, often being made up of only a few pages each. There's not really a "main goal" the manga is headed towards, it's more of a, "what on Earth is going to happen today?" type of feel. This allows Toriyama to loosen standard restrictions that would otherwise prevent the manga from doing its own thing. It's like a stream of consciousness, except the narrator is an eccentric pervert who procrastinates and holds trivial grudges.

There is a sort of sense of continuity between stories, though. For example, if a character from Volume 2 shows up again in Volume 8, he'll remind the reader of that fact (and often state that "his fans" demanded his return). The fourth wall is broken a lot, and real-life characters (e.g. Toriyama himself, his editor, etc.) are thrown headlong into the mix. At one point, Toriyama even interviews/interrogates characters, asking how such crazy things could possibly happen. They retaliate by stating that he's the writer, so it's his fault. It's chaos at it's finest. Characters regularly reference that they're in a manga, and how stupid the writing is. They'll break through panel lines to reach other panels, directly address the reader, and insult the writer/editor/reader. Numerous parodies on Japanese, American, and Chinese culture run rampant throughout.

Toriyama does not hold back at any point. It's like his crazy mind is spewing out wacky ideas and ridiculous stories, and everything just goes down on paper without thinking about it. He's stated numerous times that stories pretty much got written as they were being drawn, and often the approaching deadline would force whatever idea came into his head to become that week's story. Everything from sentient poop running around and ganging up to aliens inadvertently defeated by a game of robot tag. It's such brilliant pandemonium. The pacing is quick, and the reader (not to mention the characters) barely have time to take a breath, and that's a large part of what makes the manga work so well.

The character themselves range from "normal" people, to aliens with butts on their heads, to everything in between. Their personalities are very distinct for the most part, and running jokes are quite common. It's definitely a crude gag manga, but it has such a feel-good atmosphere that you can't help but laugh. As obscene as it is sometimes, it still has a feel of innocence (as weird as that sounds). The humor may be inappropriate, but at its core it's harmless.

In between stories, Toriyama has "bonus pages" spread throughout each volume. They might be how he gets ideas for stories, what his typical day is like, reminiscing about his past, and the like. Obviously, these interludes are just as ridiculous as Dr. Slump itself, and it's fun that Toriyama makes himself the butt of his own jokes. Some of my favorite bonus pages were in Volume 13, where he created his own "Hall of Shame," and pointed out writing or art mistakes he had made in prior Volumes, resulting in physical punishment by his editor.

Some aspects are lost in the translation to English, however. Many puns and plays-on-words lose their effectiveness, sometimes even having to be explained via margin notes. Character, object, and location names are often jokes in themselves, and though they aren't changed for the English release (thankfully), the joke is nonetheless lost on us. It was particularly painful when the Tsun family was introduced. They are from China, so Toriyama used a goofy sort of Japanese writing and pattern order to convey their odd speech patterns. In English, though, the writing is still in English, so the translator attempted to compensate by placing awkward words and phrasings at the beginnings and ends of sentences. It doesn't work nearly as well.

Dr. Slump was adapted to anime format in both 1981 and 1997. Unfortunately, we didn't get either in the U.S., but out of the eleven movies, we are getting five of them later this year. I've watched a few episodes of the anime on YouTube. I have to say, it captures the ridiculousness pretty well, although I feel the humor works better in print, because animation just can't fully capture the rapidity of the pacing.

I was considering doing a Volume-by-Volume post, but it's so chaotic that it wouldn't make much sense. I would highly recommend this series to anyone that wants to see gag manga at its finest, with toilet humor, vulgar puns and all. Even though it has a very cartoonish look, I wouldn't recommend it for kids under the age of 13 or so. Some of the jokes would probably be over their heads anyway.