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In the wacky hamlet of Penguin Village, Dr. Senbe "Slump" Norimaki decides to put together the perfect robot woman from data collected in pop idol photos and porno mags. Instead of perfection, he ends up with Arale-chan, a bespectacled and inquisitive tyke with superhuman strength, and the odd couple get into many wacky adventures. They are helped in their quest for the weird by Slump's penchant for crazy inventions, such as time machines, quantum cloning devices, an invisible gun, and X-Ray spectacles.
Akira Toriyama's original 1980 manga ran in Shonen Jump for 18 volumes. This anime version came about after an abortive attempt at a live-action show made producers realize that the only way to capture the cartoony spirit of the original was by making a cartoon. The other occupants of Penguin Village provide a menagerie of amusing characters in the fashion of Toriyama's later Dragon Ball, including a pig that does a rooster's job of waking everyone up in the morning, a superhero that must eat prunes to transform, and Gatchan, a metal-eating flying creature.
Dr. Slump is one of anime's most successful shows, scoring a massive TV rating of 36.9 at its peak (the "mega-hit" Evangelion managed a paltry 7.1). It has also been a hit abroad, particularly in the large anime markets of Hong Kong and Italy, but has yet to make it to the English language. The series also spun off several "TV specials" often premiered in theaters during summer festivals. Since the TV episodes often consisted of small vignettes, these "movies" consisted of little more than extended anthologies, like Hello! Mysterious Island (1981), which often spoofed other films of the day such as Queen of a Thousand Years (Who Is the Real Queen of a Thousand Years!?, 1981) and Don Quixote in Heroic Legend of Penguin Village (1986), which is about Slump undertaking a dangerous quest to the supermarket to get more toilet paper.
The first true DS movie, called simply Dr. Slump (1982), sends the characters on a space mission to planet Takeyasaodake, a mission loaded with parodies of the Star Wars movies, Star Blazers, and Galaxy Express 999. Later "movies" were closer in length to the TV specials they replaced, including The Great Race Around the World (1983) and The Secret Treasure of Nanaba Castle (1984), both glorified episodes at little more than 50 minutes. Though straggling TV specials would make it a lingering death, the official grand finale was Megapolis the Dream City (1985), a "movie" of only 38 minutes, in which Arale and company befriend some monsters from outer space.
The series returned for several New Year's TV specials in 1992, although only two of the vignettes, The Tearful Film Director and The Day New Year Didn't Arrive, were actually new; the other episodes were old DS "movies." The franchise was properly revived in 1997, when a new TV series, without the direct involvement of Toriyama, became the first anime to use computer coloring instead of cels.