Has there ever been a manga that broke big by shamelessly aping the biggest manga of its era? I’m going to guess not.
Today, the big manga is One Piece, and reportedly some editors want creators to make their strips more like Eiichiro Oda’s record breaking comic. In 1991, Shonen Jump had two behemoths of the medium on its pages, Dragonball and Slam Dunk. You could see their influence in both manga and anime of the day, but with Dodge Danpei you get two blockbuster series emulated for the price of one.
Based on a manga by Tetsuhiro Koshita, it feels like someone looked at Slam Dunk and said “well, another basketball manga would be too obvious, what’s another indoor ball game where you use your hands? Oh I know, dodgeball! And while you’re at it can you make it look like a poor man’s Akira Toriyama? Thanks.”
The end result is a hero who looks like a red headed Goku, a friend who’s a Krillin look alike and dodgeball uniforms that look like Toriyama designed body armour. Plus, other occasional Toriyama-esque touches like the shape of some characters eyes & eyebrows and silhouette hairstyles.
This first episode introduces us to hyperactive brat Danpei, and Danpei to the dodgeball team. This involves some nonsense with a dangerous loose dog and the thugs who own it being dealt with through the use of DODGEBALL SKILLS. I hope the rest of the show kept up this theme. Need to change a light bulb? Throw a dodgeball at it. Cooking a meal? Throw a dodgeball at it. Filling in tax returns? Throw a dodgeball at it.
We then get a scene where Danpei’s unnecessarily hot mother dresses up as a shark to scare her son, before being given the standard perverted camera pan up her swim-suited body. It’s not at a Gear Fighter Dendoh level in oddly Oedipal creative choices, but it does feel a little odd. Probably can’t blame the animators too much here, as a Google image search reveals that this is definitely Koshita’s thing.
Finally, this is all topped off a piece of lunacy that turned me around on this episode. Danpei visits his dad’s grave, and we get a superimposed shot of his dad in his dodgeball gear. Which has Games Workshop style SHOULDER SPIKES. Danpei then accidentally knocks the gravestone over, revealing a secret compartment containing a SPECIAL SECRET DODGEBALL. With a flame logo on it.
Outside of the irony-free gusto that the show has, there’s little to recommend here. Even more than Metaljack, this show feels like what I imagined all the early nineties TV anime that we didn’t get to see because we were too busy with OAVS to be like. As with many other shows of the era, the videogame spin-offs seem to be remembered better than the actual manga and anime that spawned them. As well it might, as Dodge Danpei had seven videogames based on it in the span of 1992-93.
Koshita had bigger hit with Lets&Go in the late nineties and more recently has been working on licenced strips such as Yatterman, Toy Story and Inazuma Eleven, a property that draws from the same well as Koshita’s own works did. Maybe even a bit from Koshita himself.