“It’s Not Easy Being Gomu Gomu…” (Dream 9 Collaboration Special Review Part Two)

Remyelle July 2, 2013 No Comments »
“It’s Not Easy Being Gomu Gomu…” (Dream 9 Collaboration Special Review Part Two)

When we last left our fearless heroine, she was dauntlessly searching for the key to unraveling the mysteries of the amalgamous entity known only as “Dream 9 Collaboration Special”. She poured herself tirelessly into her work, and came to the conclusion that to know a Dream 9, you must first understand it’s parts.

For current purposes, that means a cursory review of three very different anime series: Toriko, One Piece and Dragon Ball. This journey took her to the realms of pirates, nerdlocks, and pygmy marsupials. Only by the skin of her teeth did she avoid vicious leek beatings, character cult abductions, and nonstop carmelldansen marathons (okay, so maybe she went to one or two of the latter, but it was in a very heroic fashion that she excused herself!!). In the end, she triumphed and returned to her post even stronger than before.

Like a saiyan. (If you get that reference, don’t bother reading the DBZ summary–you’ve already won all the knowledge.)

Needless to say, a full review of any one of these titles is worthy of a review series of it’s own. Every last one of these shows is well established with a full cast of characters and a world all it’s own, not to mention multi-arc plots that span years and years worth of episodes. On a long enough timeline, we can only expect there to be a level of nuance and-

O.O!! So-without-further-ado-let’s-go-ahead-and-get-started!

What’s a Toriko?

Rather than just being a nice interrogative header, I was literally thinking just this as I made my initial link-click. This was the one series I knew the least about, and by least…I mean I thought that maybe I’d heard the name once in passing. Maybe.

However, my curiosity was piqued and the video was playing before I bothered thinking much more on the matter. I was adequately confused. Nevermind all the elements from Toriko’s world that were just thrown at you without much explanation (IGO? bishoukuya? capture level?), but even Toriko’s personal introduction left me baffled as I watched it.

“One of the Heavenly Kings?” …So did that mean he was from a supernatural anime like Yu Yu Hakusho or Angel Sanctuary?

Not even close.

Well he and Luffy speak as though they’re pals…so he’s a pirate or has some connection to ships or the sea?

Nope.

>.<# Well…well…he’s physically huge! It looks like he’s smuggling watermelons in his biceps! He would make Ken and Ryu feel svelte by comparison! OBVIOUSLY, he has to be some sort of beat-’em up hero, right??

Wrong.

Given his angelic sounding title, his pre-existing familiarity with pirates, his participation in a contest involving Earth’s mightiest warriors, and his massively muscular physique, what else COULD Toriko be besides a world class expert specializing in procuring rare gourmet food items? (It was so obvious, I just don’t know how I missed it!)

Don't be fooled: Azuma's holding Japan recipe #232: Blood of My Enemies Bread

As unexpected as The Rock starring in the Tooth Fairy.

Flippancy aside, I was surprised to discover that in terms of plot elements, Toriko has more in common with the infamous Yakitate Japan! anime (mhmm…the anime about bread making) than it does with any King of Fighters or Fist of the North Star series.

If you’re sitting there with eyes wide and mouth open…I understand your shock. Well, you know what they say about books and covers…

Toriko’s world is currently in the “gourmet age” where gourmet food items have become so ubiquitous that they roam the open plains and grow on trees. (No, but really.) The more dangerous, hard to find, remotely located, or ridiculously named (this show has a penchant for puns that I have to respect) an ingredient happens to be, the higher it’s “capture level.” The higher a gourmet creature’s capture level, the more valuable it is, and the more heroes and villains alike want to obtain it.

The show bounces back and forth between a struggle over resources and man vs. nature. From what I’ve seen, it actually does quite well balancing the very different dynamics of environmental antagonists and personalized antagonists. Toriko definitely respects the land and its inhabitants, but often times these creatures they’re stalking really are as dangerous as their capture level makes them sound. Conversely, the ‘villains’ of the show (usual rivals seeking the same creature or ingredient), don’t seem to trend toward one-note personalities or the cliche of  “evil for evil’s sake.” They all have their own goals and dreams…and those goals and dreams just happen to require that Toriko and his gang be out of the picture one way or another.

A brief summary of a Toriko episode (again, from what I’ve seen, which isn’t much) is: Toriko is informed of a potentially exciting ingredient. Toriko and a character du jour (or du story arc, oftentimes) hunt it down. Toriko and Co. encounter problems, either with the creature or with a rival culinary party. Struggle and hardship happen. Toriko and Co. prevail and all characters eat and are merry.

Toriko, as I mentioned earlier, is one of the “four heavenly kings” of gourmet hunting. Each has as amazing set of superhuman skills aimed at stunning, trapping, and killing their prey. In addition to a near encyclopedic knowledge of his world’s many creatures (and neck muscles that would make a silverback green with envy), Toriko also posses a few very special talents. He’s able to produce an intense aura that takes various forms depending on his target. His main attack involves summoning the force of the universe (much like Goku’s Spirit Bomb were I to draw comparisons). With a solemn hand clap and a bow of his head, his body glows. A single phrase leaves his lips, “gochisosama deshita” and his attack begins. One or both arms become engulfed in sapphire energy as he channels his power and shapes them into the fearsome weapons that have earned him his fame. Like many a hero, he calls out his attack as he springs forward: “Fork!! Knife!!”

What would have happened if Obi-Wan had told Luke to "use the fork."

One of those moments when you realize that, yes…you are watching a show where a giant panda’s attack was repelled with the power of an energy-fork. Utensils: Utilize them.

…Wait. Wot?

Well, to be fair, I don’t know what I was expecting from a show that centers around gourmet food hunters. The wind up really should have tipped me off, actually. You see, gochisousama deshita is often translated into “thanks for the feast” and is traditionally said before leaving the table. The terms “fork” and “knife”…are not hiding any secret subtleties.

Moving away from our titular character, we’ll make a quick stop in sidekick town by examining Komatsu.

Like a culinary Tonto to a less-than-lonely Ranger, Komatsu is the everyman of the series. All of his skills are related to his occupation as a chef, and have been worked at and honed. He might not be the flashiest character, but I happen to find him the most interesting.

Komatsu isn’t pretty. He isn’t tall. He isn’t muscular. He isn’t all-powerful. He is just an amazing chef that wants to know where his high class ingredients come from and winds up tagging along with Toriko on his adventures. I love him because despite his “shortcomings” (and even his “shortcomings” aren’t extravagant! He’s just phenomenally average!), he manages to hang with the big dogs because he possesses the most inspiring superpower of all: PASSION.

Not to say that Toriko or any other character in the series isn’t passionate, but they’re “gifted”. Komatsu is…talented and not much else. He frequently gets kidnapped. He’s often knocked around by the conflict du jour. He’s got few (if any) combative powers…but he never gives up. He never just throws his hands up and goes home. He’s Toriko’s friend, compatriot, and assistant, and he’s okay with all of those titles even if he never gets the glory. He believes in the person that becomes his friend through the series, and follows him without question.

I really like that. He’s very…real in a world that is amazingly overdramatized for what it is. In a world that is so fixated on the superfluous, I feel that he’s actually a decent role model with real-world values.

From Left to Right: Komatsu, Toriko, and Coco

Before I wrap this up, I’ll at least overview the rest of the gang:

Terri is the name of Toriko’s Battle Wolf. Apparently, several of the heavenly kings have battle animals, but not only do I know next to nothing about that trend, I don’t much care to find out. (Only painfully adorable animals deserve my attention and love!)  Coco  is the most level headed and intelligent of the heavenly kings and has some sort of poison hands (and a strange fashion sense!). Sunni is another heavenly king, and is  obsessed with beauty. Where “hair as a weapon” is concerned, Sunni rivals Sindel from Mortal Kombat  (he’s also so slashable it hurts). Sunni’s sister made little to no impression on me, but apparently has a crush on Toriko. Zebra (yes. ZEBRA) is the last of the four heavenly kings and serves as the anti-hero of the series. Zebra’s voice can literally span the globe and just happens to have the ability to make things EXPLODE… I haven’t seen too much of him, but he definitely seems like a fun one.

My only problem with this anime is that, oh my galoshes, could we GET any more 1st world with our primary problem?? This isn’t about saving the world, or fighting evil, or even struggling to better oneself. …The biggest stake here is “will we be able to eat the most delicious food possible??” Now, they cover this up well, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t find myself invested in the characters…but damn. How privileged are we that this idea even came up?

Regardless, Toriko made it’s debut as a manga in Shonen Jump and has been going strong ever since.

Now we get into the two goliaths of anime: One Piece and Dragon Ball.

What’s a One Piece?

I didn’t have to ask myself this question going into this crossover, and neither do you.

Go on. Try it. Try telling me you haven’t heard of One Piece.

No. No no.

Look me in the virtual eye and TELL ME.

TELL ME!!!

You can’t, can you?

I didn’t think so.

Even if you’ve never seen a full episode of this series, you know what it is, or have a picture in your head of one character or another, or can’t stop hearing that catchy-as-anything rap song that serves as an english opening.

After avoiding lung cancer, Sanji now spends his days daring diabetes to do it's worst. 90% of his teeth have fillings.

4Kids! They can turn wine into water, cancer sticks into candy, blood into bruises and any firearm into something absolutely ridiculous!

One Piece was at the vanguard of the anime renaissance.

It was up there with Yu Yu Hakusho and Inu Yasha where fansubs were concerned, and was among the first wave of GIANT series to be picked up by American dubbing companies.

It helped pull anime out of porn section obscurity and into the main stream.

It drove people crazy with the repetitive cosplay at every convention ever since it hit Cartoon Network.

It sparked controversy on par with Yu-Gi-Oh when it came to 4Kids! censorship.

I’m so confident that everyone has a decent idea about this series that I’m going to make this overview SUPER brief.

Imagine a boatload of pirates in the goofy, over the top world of silver age comic books.

That’s One Piece.

Luffy picked the wrong outfit to emulate.

It almost makes TOO much sense when you think about it.

…Okay, maybe not that brief.

So One Piece is a gazillion, million episodes long at this point. The series started with the introduction of the Pirate Age and the astounding treasure the great pirate king hid in ONE PIECE somewhere beyond the great line.

I recommend tracks 7 and 11! :D

Judge all you want.
No other soundtrack taps into the heart of the cards. (Or has Pegasus’s English VA singing in character.)

Although I was a fansub girl for many years, I’ll admit to falling in love with the rap opening that greeted me in the dubbed version. As much as 4Kids has gotten wrong over the years, I steadfastly hold that the dubbed opening is the one thing they got really really RIGHT.

…Then again, I own “Yu-Gi-Oh: Music to Duel By.” (I enjoy it unironically). *shrug*

The main character of the series is Monkey D. Luffy. Luffy not only wants to be the greatest pirate ever, but has acquired special powers via consumption of the magical gomu gomu no mi or Gum Gum Fruit. This is just one of many aku no mi (devil fruits) that exist in One Piece’s world. Each devil fruit comes with a power all it’s own, as well as an equitable drawback to even things out. While devil fruit users can perform amazing feats like sprouting extra limbs or (in Luffy’s case) stretching any part of his body as though it were made of rubber (watch our Mr. Fantastic!), these super powered seafarers become absolutely helpless when submerged in water.

It’s a nice touch, really, as it makes these otherwise ridiculously powerful beings more human. What’s more, unlike Superman’s kryptonite, this isn’t some contrived conflict creator that only pops up when the story calls for it. These characters are constantly surrounded by the one thing that can undo them completely, and that leads the door open for a world of interesting plots and circumstances where you become genuinely concerned for them.

That last sentence is what makes this series worth watching. The plot is broken up into arcs, but really, the arcs are standard shonen (primarily for boys with a focus on action and adventure) affair. Fight through legions of baddies until the main baddie is reached. Struggle against all odds. Somehow come out on top. Rinse. Repeat.

However, the characters grow with every encounter. They form bonds, they have their own motivations and hopes and dreams, they feel real. It’s this character-centric focus that really makes the viewer invest in the show and care about the outcome of each episode and arc…to the point that even picking the series up now, years after I last watched, empathizing with the Mugiwara Crew was as easy for me as reuniting with old friends.

Dragon Ball: I Know You Know. I Just Want to Reminisce.

Do I even have to say more than the title? Sure One Piece is pretty ubiquitous, but Dragon Ball is one of those shows that absolutely defined the shonen genre back when people were still calling every cartoon that came out of the east “Japanimation.”

Dragon Ball enjoyed three full seasons, a remastering of those three seasons, and more movies and games than I currently have the patience to count. It’s spawned countless parodies and imitations within a variety of media sources across the globe. It has an abridged series that easily runs a close second to my beloved Yu-Gi-Oh Abridged in terms of quality and hilarity. (Check it out at TeamFourStar: http://teamfourstar.com/ )

Receding hair lines. Proof that Saiyans and Humans aren't so different after all.

Which do you prefer: Hero or Antihero? Irrelevant, but why not vote in the comments? 😉
(Also: scroll over text is fun!)

What most people remember most about the series is the idea of “powering up” through a series of veiny constipation-faces and uncomfortable noises, and the (often related) drawn out conflicts consisting of more filler than story.

On that point, I remember anxiously awaiting Goku’s first super saiyan transformation. I would rush home from the bus stop and dial up two of my best friends (three-way calling on a phone attached to a WALL!! zomg!!) just before plopping myself down to watch the newest episode of DBZ on Toonami.

We did this every school day for over a WEEK. Each time hanging up the phone certain that ‘tomorrow’ had to be the day. How could it be any other way? Planet Namek was about to blow up and both Goku and Frieza had gone through like…seven power ups already! Still, day after day, we left scratching our heads as we wondered how the show’s creators had managed to fit such a large amount of nothing happening into each episode. (Nevermind the obvious question of temporal distortion that Namek’s 4 episodes=5 minutes plot hole raises!)

I also remember a good friend of mine reading us Vegeta slash-fics from inside the cabinet of a side-table.

I also remember buying a DBZ Movie with subtitles because Media Play didn’t have the new Rurouni Kenshin in yet.

Can we just say that Dragon Ball is extremely nostalgic for me? Good.

Like One Piece, the plot is nothing to write home about. It’s standard shonen affair: Bad-guy comes, good-guys struggle, good guys triumph. The titular Dragon Balls are the show’s deus ex machina for bringing back dead characters…and not much else. (Unlimited power to do anything…and Goku’s team seems to be trying for a “wish for 5 resurrections, get the sixth one free” punch card. )

The baffling thing though, is that I wouldn’t say that it comes anywhere near One Piece in terms of character development. The characters grow older and get stronger, sure…but I’m struggling to say that they really grow as individuals or even have much in terms of personality. Despite that though, Toriyama still manages to suck audiences in. The pace, though often mocked, is expertly timed for a serialized story. Sure it might take a week for anything to happen, but each episode until that something occurs is certain to end on a cliffhanger of some sort.

It’s devious.

Devious enough to make this series into a shonen legend.

 

Next week: Dragon Ball and One Piece part company! The break-up that rocked a network! How Toriko came to rule the roost! The two collaboration specials that time forgot!! (Fortunately the internet remembered!)

All this and more when we explore “The Heart of Dorkness” (Dream 9 Crossover Review Part 3) !

 

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