I am really glad to see that the following for this group blog has been so strong when our own follow-through has not quite lived up to our hopes. When I first started developing this as a blog-and-podcast idea, I had no way of knowing that I would be offered the chance to participate in the creation of a new publishing company just a few months later. If I had known, I would have tabled the project until I had the chance to really commit to it.
Despite my lack of availability, though, the response to our first few months of posting was really strong, and I am sure that the fall-off in posting is entirely due to the fact that I was so busy I did not properly edit or manage the growth of Neurotropes on social media. This blog needed someone with a lot more available time than I had if it was going to make it, and I was putting 110% into Autonomous Press to make sure that the physical delivery of our first wave of books lined up with our already-scheduled launch party, and for some of the books that meant working with writers who were still putting finishing touches on the book as we were attempting to typeset it.
Over the course of this year, I’ve learned a bit about myself and about what would make this blog more appealing to a wider range of readers. Because of that, this relaunch is going to cast a wider net than the original blog concept did.
If you want to cover television for us, you will no longer be expected to do episode recaps on everything. Go ahead and shape your coverage to fit your needs. Whether that means spending multiple posts unpacking an important performance or summarizing an entire season of a show in a single essay, the emphasis is on locating the neurodivergent and neuroqueer tropes, characters, perspectives, and composition techniques, not on keeping up with the entertainment media cycle.
If you’re looking in other media, from movies to music to literature, fan fictions, or even visual art, we want you to write for us. For now, we will not be accepting new bloggers except by invitation, but you can submit your essays on neurodivergence and/or neuroqueer topics in all of the arts and entertainment media by emailing them to my editorial address. For more information, see our submissions page.
For my own part, I will be starting to blog about books, television, and movies again, but I’m taking a bit of a different approach. Part of the reason that Orange is the New Black coverage fell apart for me was because I could not take the grind of having to work through an episode by episode accounting of what was disappointing me about the direction of the show and the problems with the Vee character and the triangular relationship between autism, motherhood, and the tropes of toxic Black motherhood being continuously ground into the fabric of the plotting. I don’t have the ability to sustain my language over that kind of haul.
That’s not to say I won’t critique something, but if I have to go negative, I’d rather launch my criticisms across the show’s development and in order of strength, not as they pop up in individual episodes.
For that reason, when I’m approaching something and I’m not sure what I want to write about, I’m going to do essays about the entire work, whether it’s a full book review or a season review of a show. If I do go into episode-by-episode coverage or multi-part essays, I have to do it about something that excites me, and that I know I can write positively about. It’s just the only way I feel invested enough in the process to keep myself engaged, and I don’t think that’s a weakness or a problem.
Last but not least, part of relaunching Neurotropes has to involve integrating it with my other artistic activities, especially since those activities involve locating the neuroqueer in my own cultural record and displaying it in Clay Dillon’s world. Since the two projects, Shaping Clay and Neurotropes, are so related, I am going to be putting them together into one Patreon that will launch mid-May. The Patreon will discuss how contributions to the project will be used, including my plans for writers on Neurotropes to be paid for their labor.
On that note, whether you’re here to read or you want to write for us:
Dragon Ball 1×04 “Oolong the Kidnapping Monster”/”Oolong the Terrible” Summary
Today’s episode introduces a new recurring character and continues gags that are directly caused by Goku’s lack of understanding the concept of gender and appropriate behavior towards other people’s no-no zones. It will also establish Bulma’s usual “remedy” for Goku’s behavior, which is highly ineffective.
Goku and Bulma arrive in a new town, having located their fifth dragon ball. But the town is strangely quiet. Bulma wonders if it’s a ghost town, but Goku insists that there are definitely still people there. Goku tries to get them to come out of hiding.
Goku is promptly greeted by an ax to the head. It leaves a giant, reddening bump on Goku’s head; he’s otherwise fine. Goku doesn’t seem to realize that the man had tried to kill him, but he is angry that he’s in pain and was attacked.
The episode quickly moves away from the seriousness of attempted murder and goes to Goku asking if the man’s daughter is a girl. Instead of just taking her word for it, Goku sees the need to check and pats her crotch through the girl’s dress. The girl is understandably surprised and uncomfortable. Goku doesn’t see what he did wrong and hasn’t put together that he’s made her uncomfortable. Bulma hits Goku on the head for the action, which makes Goku’s head hurt more. He asks her what that was for, and Bulma yells at him. Bulma thinks the reason is obvious, so she doesn’t actually tell him. Goku remains absolutely confused.
Goku will continue to have moments where he is grabbing at crotches to see if someone is a boy or a girl. Goku, in the entirely of Dragon Ball and Dragon Ball Z, never encounters anyone who identifies as transgender, so it never results in him getting the gender identity wrong. Though there are instances where Goku encounters alien biology and the aliens are assumed to be men and accept the use of male pronouns, certain alien races are capable of producing asexually, which would mean that their species is intersex and/or nonbinary and have no use for male and female pronouns and social constructs. Gender identity is never actually discussed or addressed, and Goku’s inappropriate behavior is chalked up to “pervert boy behavior” by other characters and it is socially expected to be hand-waived. However, Goku is very different from the other characters who appear later who also display sexual inappropriateness. The difference is Goku has absolutely no idea what it is that he’s doing wrong, while the others know it’s wrong but relish in the act of sexual violation. It never occurs to Goku that someone could have traumatic experiences from being touched without permission or that it is a violation of the other person’s privacy and person, and no one tries to communicate that to him. It is assumed that he already knows what he’s doing wrong and doesn’t care, much like other characters in the narrative, but this isn’t the case.
Goku isn’t uncaring about how people feel. When he understands that someone is upset or hurt, he does want he can to fix the problem. So it’s not because he doesn’t care about other people’s boundaries and feelings. He just can’t put it together that their facial expressions and physical reactions of getting hit or pushed away mean that he did something wrong. He much better understands threats of physical violence, though in many cases he doesn’t really understand just how grave they are (especially when in relation to his person because he’s immune to almost everything). There is definitely a rape culture within the context of Dragon Ball (which is indicative of the rape culture within Japan), and Goku is surrounded by it but cannot recognize it for what it is and does not understand the seriousness of it and even gets taken advantage by it later in the series.
While it’s taken us three paragraphs, the moment in the episode passes by without a care in the world, and Bulma steers the conversation back to the monster that wants to kidnap the daughter.
They get the story about how the monster, Oolong, is a shapeshifter who is kidnapping all of the village’s daughters and that he has come for the man’s daughter, Kopowapa. Goku hears the story and decides that he will somehow capture Oolong and save the town. (Again, Goku, when he understands something is wrong, is more than willing to fix it and is the first person to volunteer and suggest a solution. But his understanding of right and wrong is unfortunately limited, as is his comprehension of facial expressions.) They make a deal that if they get rid of Oolong, they’ll give them the dragon ball.
There is additional Goku-grabbing-crotch-to-check-gender before the plot continues, this time Goku touching the old woman who has the dragon ball. Goku receives the same punishment as before, but still shows no comprehension as to why he’s being punished. It’s indicative of an inability to connect cause and effect.
Bulma comes up with a plan to trick Oolong into taking Goku to his hideout. They dress Goku in Kopowapa’s clothes. Oolong arrives and Goku pretends to be Kopowapa. Unfortunately, Goku also has to use the bathroom during the whole charade. When given an opportunity to, Goku goes to pee, but Oolong notices that “Kopowapa” has gone to stand in front of a tree. Oolong then walks over, sees Goku’s penis, then gets angry that they tried to trick him into thinking Goku was Kopowapa. Goku, despite equating lack of a penis with being a girl, doesn’t get how Oolong saw through the disguise and thinks that he must’ve seen his tail.
There are some gags and we’re shown that Oolong is capable of transforming himself into different things, but only for five minutes at a time. His usual form is that of a bipedal pig. The first confrontation with Oolong also shows that Goku sometimes needs prompting from others in order to make a logical decision, such as running after Oolong when Oolong runs away so that they can find the location of the kidnapped girls.
The episode ends with more gags, and it turns out Oolong wasn’t nearly as dangerous as he made himself out to be. (Let’s just say he’s easily pushed around.) The old woman gives Bulma the dragon ball, and the episode ends on that note.
This will not be the last of rape culture in Dragonball and how Goku suffers from it in subtle ways as a result of his developmental disability as opposed to the blatant ways that Bulma suffers from it due to her gender. It also won’t be the last of Goku’s inability to comprehend gender and what it means, which results in quite a bit of Goku not speaking up when behavior that he is adamantly against occurs in front of him. It’s not necessarily that Goku has difficulty with reasoning ability; in many fights later in the series, he performs admirably well with ingenuity and cleverness. But his intelligence only really gets to shine when he’s in a fight, and sometimes his honorableness is mistaken for stupidity or results in him misjudging his opponent’s respectability and he gets taken advantage by it.
The apparent main cause of Goku’s difficulty in perception seems to lie in his ability to observe, process, and understand what he’s looking at. These instances only increase as we continue through the series and with the more companions Goku accumulates, whom are at varying degrees of morality.
Sherlock and Joan team up (once again) to help out Harlan Emple (Rich Sommer, of Mad Men notoriety), a consultant of Sherlock’s who turns out to be the target of attempted murder via a mathematical scavenger hunt, and prove once and for all that maths is bad for your health.
Sherlock and Joan join forces to find the murderer of a negligent toy manufacturer and his lawyer in a return to status quo that seems too hasty, to me as much as to Kitty.
I focus this week on Kitty’s subplot, which has a great deal to say about questions of disclosure that I’d argue apply to neurodivergent diagnoses as much as it does trauma (categories that are all too often far from mutually exclusive).
Early in the episode, Bell reaches out a hand to prevent her from contaminating the crime scene and Kitty startles far more dramatically than is socially appropriate. Even then, the observant viewer has a pretty good idea where this story is going. (And those who are familiar with the name “Kitty Winters” in the Holmes books even more so.) But Elementary manages to both spill the beans on Kitty’s story within the episode, and at the same time, reveal nothing at all.
Sherlock tells Joan and the audience in very few words all they really need to know about what happened to Kitty: “The truth is, she was the victim of a horrific crime…She was taken. By a man.” He gives her the news reports about her case, sealed in an envelope.
Joan chooses not to read it. But (in a lovely Bechdel test-passing scene to close out the episode), Kitty gives her permission. And it makes all the difference that when Joan opens the envelope at close of the episode (notably, we are not offered a chance to see what’s inside), it’s at Kitty’s behest instead of Sherlock’s.
Thoughout the episode, we watched as other characters made hasty judgments about Kitty’s mental state. Bell, after Kitty’s outburst, decides that she is not the stabilising influence on Sherlock that Joan was. Sherlock has decided that, rather, his taking her on as a protégé is the stabilising influence that she needs to channel “certain residual feelings that she has into a productive skill.” Both narratives may well have some truth to them, especially Sherlock’s, but they also put Kitty into a position of powerlessness by characterising her in terms of what she is to others— in terms of what she fails to provide Sherlock and in terms of the scars left by an unseen, unnamed abductor. Even the narrative choice to present her story first through the eyes of those around her can read as a comment on how, throughout this process of disclosure, she has been denied the dignity of self-determination.
I suspect, on some level, Kitty’s prickliness this episode has less to do with her apparent jealousy of Joan (a much simpler, more predictable source of conflict, from both the perspective of the characters and our perspective as viewers), and more with the meeting she had with Gregson at the start of the episode— that is, with disclosure of her history and the knowledge that such disclosure will inevitably and irrevocably colour their view of her. The subtext is heavy when she bursts out, “It’s just I wish I had one right now. A Pip. Or is it a Pipz? I’d take one. Maybe two. Take myself a right old nap.” (The Pipz, after all, were safety hazards because they metabolized into GHB, a common date rape drug). There’s too the resignation in her voice when she tells Joan— “You had to see it. Same as the captain. Just the way it is”— that reframes her apparent behaviour this episode not in terms of how she was victimised by her abductor or how she’s not “stable,” but in terms of how Sherlock and Gregson, and the viewer have come to expect her to be forthcoming about her backstory. Regardless of whether we agree that any of these people had to know, the fact that conversations about the matter have either been compulsory or proceeded without her presence (Bell and Joan, Sherlock and Joan twice) makes it clear that that disclosure, too, can be disempowering and even victimising in its own way.
It makes sense, too, that her resentment about disclosure would be channelled through her perceptions about her position on the team— with Joan’s overshadowing presence, her work has become yet another area in which she is stuck in a comparably powerlessness position.
At the close of the episode, at last, Kitty gets the chance to speak for herself. Her own gloss on the subject juxtapose her acceptance of how much her past has shaped her choices with her weariness at retreading the topic, for I imagine, the umpteenth time. There’s more than a hint of impatience in her voice as she tells Joan, “Just read it.” The contents are not the revelation Joan might believe them to be— they are, after all, only newspaper clippings and will get Joan no closer to understanding Kitty than Kitty will get trying to understand Sherlock’s and Joan’s relationship by reading their old case notes. Real understanding can only come directly from Kitty. But at the same time, she admits that maybe they “will give you a better sense of me.”
Kitty chose this path because of what happened to her. It’s a phenomenon so predictable that there are a whole class of procedural characters like her (Dr. Allison Cameron of House is, for me, the most familiar example of this trope). Viewers and in-universe observers alike always like to see these characters in terms of the series of external events that led them here. There’s always the sense that perspectives of these characters inevitably coloured by their experiences— and as a consequence, less objective, less reliable, less real. There’s always the sense that because some cruel twist of fate put them on this path, they are not where they should be. There is always the spectre of the person they otherwise would have been— and should have been.
In an important way, Kitty is here because of factors outside of her control. But then again, the same can be said of anyone else: Joan, who gained the life we toured last week when she lost that patient, Sherlock, whose intellectual disposition made a life like his a foregone conclusion, and even one of this week’s suspects, the father whose life was defined by the child he lost.
Our choices too often seem like the deterministic conclusion of externalities beyond our control, and the externalities themselves seem meaningless. (Case in point: This week’s prep acted not out of some emotionally evocative motive, but out of simple self-interest.) We can’t helped but be shaped by choices that were not our own but, we can reclaim them— by the furniture we paint, by the roundabout paths we take to get to lives that look a lot like everyone else’s, by the price we’re willing to pay to be the one who “got the guy” after all. We can write our own origin stories.
Even if Kitty isn’t ready to tell her story just yet, she takes ownership of her own narrative by choosing to give Joan the file. She may have offered Joan the same content Sherlock did, but it matters that it came from Kitty. There’s power in self-definition– maybe the only sort of power we have.
Dragon Ball 1×03 “The Turtle Hermit’s Kinto Un / The Nimbus Cloud of Roshi” Summary
The third episode of Dragonball is, again, mostly gags and new characters introduced. However, it does introduce an interesting concept long before the anime gives the audience any reason to interpret Goku as anything other than ignorant but neurotypical. Through the use of the Nimbus cloud, Dragonball plays with the concept of innocence, who is and isn’t innocent, and the reasons why.
Bulma and Goku take their new turtle friend – known only as Turtle – to the sea, running into minor mishaps along the way. Turtle is so happy to be back at the sea, so much so that he promises to bring Bulma and Goku back a present. Goku and Bulma spend some time on the beach while they wait, and more instances where Goku learns more about the world around him occur. Turtle eventually returns with an old man on his back.
The old man is Master Roshi, a character who will be a recurring character and have an important role in Goku’s life. (In some ways, this is a rather irritating and unfortunate fact.) Master Roshi is bald with a thick white beard and wears a Hawaiian shirt, shorts, sandals, and a giant turtle shell on his back with the help of some straps. His alternate title is the Turtle Hermit.
Turtle tells Roshi that Goku is the one who helped him get back home, and Roshi says that he’ll give Goku a present in exchange for his kind deed. There are some gags in gift-giving plans not working out until Roshi finally calls the Nimbus Cloud.
This Nimbus Cloud isn’t to be confused with a real-life nimbus cloud that floats in the sky and produces rain. The Flying Nimbus in Dragonball is a yellow cloud just big enough to be ridden by one or two people (especially if they’re children). It can take you wherever you want, but the catch is that you have to be pure of heart.
Master Roshi attempts to demonstrate and fails because, as the episode quickly reveals as he interacts with Bulma, Roshi is a huge pervert. His perversion has tarnished his innocence and the Nimbus no longer acknowledges him as a rider. Goku, however, is able to ride the cloud no problem, and this makes Goku very happy.
As I mentioned before, Goku hasn’t yet exhibited traits that necessarily stand out as anything other than ignorance. The story’s reasoning for Goku’s innocence is that he’s a child and hasn’t been tarnished by the world yet.
But if you were like me and were an American kid watching Dragonball Z on the TV long before Dragonball was brought overseas and given an English dub, you already knew that Goku can and does still ride the Nimbus as an adult. Goku never loses this innocence, though later on he makes decisions that are questionable, though never rooted in mean-spiritedness. But why is that?
Is Goku innocent because he’s a child? Is he innocent because he retains a child-like attitude throughout his life? Or is his innocence specifically rooted in what he does and doesn’t understand about his surroundings and how he interacts with those surroundings, despite the fact that the majority of the time, Goku really doesn’t seem to understand what’s going on?
In short: is Son Goku forever innocent because of his developmental disability? Or is this a trait of Goku’s that he would have retained if he hadn’t received a head injury that altered his behavior (an occurrence that we learn of in the first episode of Dragonball Z)? We’re not given a straight-forward answer, but up until a very recent manga special created by Akira Toriyama this year, the audience is led to believe that Goku’s goodness and innocence is directly caused by his brain injury – thus, because he is developmentally disabled, he is good and pure of heart.
This interpretation of innocence is problematic due to a history of infantilization of the developmentally disabled, but as we’ll see at length, Dragonball in and of itself is very much a product of its time and culture and will treat us to a variety of instances of sexual harrassment played for laughs, racism, and ableism through the narrative, but the value of Goku as a developmentally disabled character shouldn’t be considered to be lessened due to the problematic material in his story.
A key factor in the determination of who is innocent and who isn’t is whether or not someone is perverted or sexual in nature, though the act of sex itself seems to have no effect. For example, Goku has two biological children by the end of Dragonball Z and always is able to ride the Nimbus Cloud. However, Roshi, Bulma, and a later character named Krillin – named Kururrin in the Japanese – are unable to ride the cloud, regardless of virgin status, because of their impure sexual thoughts and naturally manipulative and pessimistic mindsets. The other characters who are able to ride the Nimbus Cloud are mostly children who have not reached puberty yet and a few adults.
An indicator of both Goku’s innocence and his inability to infer what’s going on is his expression when Roshi and Bulma make a deal. It turns out Roshi has their next dragon ball, but Turtle says only Goku helped him. Roshi is willing to make a deal with Bulma in exchange for seeing her panties.
During the exchange, Goku really doesn’t seem to comprehend what it is that Roshi and Bulma are doing. Bulma gets the dragon ball, Goku is in awe of it, Bulma flashes Roshi, and Goku doesn’t have any questions, but he is also particularly quiet during the exchange. In fact, Goku’s reaction to Bulma flashing Roshi is entirely ignored, reduced to little twelve-year-old Goku standing to the side on his Nimbus Cloud, smiling because he has no reason not to be.
The episode ends with some gags and hijinks related to episode 2 and Goku’s discovery that Bulma doesn’t have male genitalia. Not an explanation as to why Bulma has different genitals than Goku, but let’s just say Bulma accidentally showed off more than she intended….
It is the beginning of rather violent reactions to Goku not realizing that he’s not supposed to touch someone’s crotch or underwear without permission but no actual explanation attached to them. So Goku never actually learns and it continues to be a problem for him. Not that he goes without consequences or repercussions…. You’ll see what I mean later.
In Elementary‘s season premiere, Sherlock (Jonny Lee Miller) pops back into Joan’s (Lucy Liu) life by way of a single-stick wielding underling, a portmanteaus of Victorian criminologist, and a locked room murder of a witness about to testify against narcotics cartel boss Elana March (Gina Gershon).
Sherlock’s attempt to explain to his sudden departure MI6 is the centrepiece scene of the episode. He confesses to Joan that he left New York out of fear that he could no longer stay clean. The heroin he hoarded last season was a test and when Joan decided to move out, Sherlock knew he would fail.
But in London, Sherlock claims to have realised that “the experience I’d had with you, the one that kept me focused and grounded, could be replicated…I realised it wasn’t you I was afraid of losing, not really. It was our relationship. The mechanics of it. The give and take. So I realized I could do it again.”
It’s a jarring— even devastating— moment for viewers who’ve grown to love Sherlock’s and Joan’s relationship. With total nonchalance, Sherlock reduces their relationship to a utilitarian means of keeping him on the straight and narrow.
Elementary’s portrayal of Sherlock’s substance abuse has thus far hewed closely to the AA model. Yet the way this episode undermines the relationships the show has spent two seasons building up inadvertently reveals a weakness of AA’s one-track approach that prioritises minimising the risk of relapse to exclusion of all other goals. It’s not just that Sherlock makes the argument that his fear of relapse is justification enough to leave his other commitments hanging (an argument I am sympathetic to). In instrumentalising his relationship with Joan, Sherlock also makes the implicit point that he has no use for relationships beyond those that serve a clear function in his life—that he has no one in his life that he would be willing to risk his sobriety for, no one that he be willing to stick with even when they complicate his life, no one whose own needs and desires he could take in stride even when they conflict with his own.
Sherlock couches his rejection of such relationships in the language of relapse and self-care. And to be sure, he might be right. The show notably tackled the balance between blocking out damaging influences and maintaining valuable relationships with Rhys, Sherlock’s former drug dealer in Season 1’s “A Giant Gun, Filled With Drugs” and with a Randy subplot in “Dead Clyde Walking.” When Rhys first shows up on his doorstep, Sherlock defends his presence to Joan: “I consider the man a friend…You mistake the support ethos as a complete system for living. It is not, at least not for a man like me.” But in both cases, the show ultimately sided with the side of caution, looking favourably on Sherlock’s and Randy’s decisions to cut ties with the human reminders of their past drug use.
Yet, it’s one thing to avoid association from those who are likely to offer up drugs and another entirely to use the same logic to justifying running away from a relationship just because things got complicated. There will always be a risk that the people in our lives might make decisions that challenge us emotionally— that they might up and decide they’d rather not live and work with you 24/7 anymore or that they might not accept an olive branch after your actions left them shot and their career prospects hanging by a thread. That’s just the risk of having genuine human relationships as opposed to partnerships of convenience.
In his many incarnations, the character of Sherlock Holmes has always tended to err on the side of lacking respect for the humanity of those around him. But it’s always been one of Elementary’s greatest strengths that the show does demonstrates the validity of the choices of others when they conflict with Sherlock’s interests, and presents conflicts like Joan’s decision to move out and Bell’s unwillingness to forgive Sherlock as opportunities for Sherlock to gain a little respect for others. In explaining Sherlock’s departure in terms of a conflict between Joan’s need for greater independence and the risks her choices present for Sherlock’s sobriety, it’s fascinating to see the show use this point of view to complicate the once-clear dichotomy between healthy, valuable relationships and risky ones.
It’s not only Sherlock who negotiates this balance, however. When Sherlock shows up at Gregson’s office, hat in hand, Gregson (Aidan Quinn) echoes Sherlock’s sentiment to Joan: “We’re not friends. I like you. I want good things for you. But our relationship? It’s a means to an end as much to me as it is to you.”
By peppering the episode with instances where characters reconceptualise the show’s foundational relationships as means to an end, Elementary also demonstrates awareness of concerns that Kitty (Ophelia Lovibond) might end up as more a plot device to complicate Sherlock’s and Joan’s relationship than a character in her own right. Now that Sherlock has explicitly explained her presence in terms of replacing Joan, the show has set the stage for Kitty to eventually step out of the role Sherlock has cast her in.
As Joan already has. When Joan first finds Sherlock in the brownstone earlier this episode, she makes it clear: “I didn’t need you anymore. I still don’t.”
And as the episode (and the agreement they come to work on separate cases) does a great job of demonstrating, she’s right. She finally has the life apart from Sherlock she’d been yearning for throughout Elementary’s lacklustre second season— the burgeoning PI business, a lizard-seeking (non-white!) boyfriend (Raza Jaffrey), and a proper nemesis of her own to boot. And even though Sherlock and Kitty pitched in along the way, it’s Joan who finds the magnet that was used to propel the bullets across the elevator, and gets the climactic confrontation with Marsh. Even the episode itself didn’t seem to need Sherlock much, who roamed the periphery, popping up here and there in Joan’s story.
No, she doesn’t need him— but maybe this time around, it won’t be about need. Maybe this time, theirs won’t be a relationship girded by the utilitarian functions they serve in each others’ lives, but by something a little more unbreakable.
Dragon Ball 1×02 “What The…?! No Balls!”/”The Emperor’s Quest” Summary
In episode 2 of Dragonball, we’re given a bigger taste of just how sheltered Goku has been and just how differently he thinks about nudity compared to Bulma and how that comes into conflict with her. There’s also some minor plot stuff, but it’s mostly gags and Bulma and Goku getting to know each other better. No new dragonballs are retrieved in this episode. There is yet to be an exact difference between Goku’s ignorance and a persistent lack of understanding social cues and facial expressions, but this is just the second episode.
Bulma teases Goku with the television and other technology, including a Dino Cap that turns into a house. Goku thinks it’s witchcraft, which is something his grandfather had taught him about and told him to be distrustful of. Bulma, however, thinks it’s rather cute and funny that he’s so ignorant about technology. She isn’t so fond of the fact that he doesn’t know what a bath is.
Bulma quickly learns that Goku has absolutely no shame in being nude and doesn’t comprehend that his genitalia are not parts of him that other people are typically comfortable seeing. When asked to cover himself up, Goku mistakenly thinks that he’s supposed to cover his face with the towel Bulma gave him. Bulma gives up instead of trying to explain it. She then gives him a bath, complete with a hair wash. Goku has a lot of questions during the bath, such as what shampoo is and why it’s going in his hair. Bulma has some questions of her own, seeing that she thought Goku’s tail was attached to his pants, not his back. She tried to pull it off of Goku. Understandably, this hurts Goku and he objects. When asked what she’s doing, Bulma says that she’s just trying to wash Goku’s back. Goku remarks that he can wash his own back, and he grabs the scrubber brush Bulma was using with his tail. Bulma freaks out because she hadn’t realized the tail was real from the get-go and now has to deal with the process of accepting that her new-found friend has an actual monkey tail.
Bulma asks why Goku has a tail, and Goku says that he’s not sure why but that all boys have them. Bulma temporarily wonders if that’s true, since she’s never actually seen a boy naked before and realizes that she can’t be one-hundred percent sure that they don’t. But then Goku remarks that his grandfather hadn’t had a tail, and Bulma goes back to insisting that Goku is a weirdo.
Bulma then takes the opportunity to take her own bath by herself after Goku is done and all dry. Goku however tries to help her scrub her back, but she refuses and kicks him out of the bathroom. Goku doesn’t understand that nudity is a big deal to Bulma (and others) and thinks she’s being subconscious about not having a tail.
There’s also some cultural differences in regards to food. Goku has never had bread and coffee before, which are staples for Bulma, but Bulma freaks out when Goku hunts down and eats a giant centipede and a wolf. But the majority of the episode is dedicated to Goku and nudity and how it affects Bulma. It also highlights that Goku really doesn’t understand the concept of gender and needing privacy when someone isn’t clothed. Goku has no problems going to the bathroom in front of people or being completely naked in front of Bulma, and he doesn’t understand why Bulma would have problems with it.
He also crosses a line unknowingly when he wakes up before Bulma in the morning. He crawls into bed and lies down in between Bulma’s legs, settling his head atop Bulma’s crotch. He becomes confused as to why he doesn’t feel a bulge under his head. Goku, not realizing that he shouldn’t do it because it’s a violation of privacy and Bulma’s consent, slides Bulma’s underwear off, all the while talking aloud about how “it’s almost like she doesn’t have a – !” He realizes that Bulma does not have the same set of genitalia as he does and screams, most probably because he thinks someone has mutilated Bulma’s genitalia. Goku doesn’t know how babies are made and has no reason to equate sets of genitalia with gender identities. This is because Goku has grown up to the tender age of twelve completely separate from the concept of gender as a social construct.
Goku’s ignorance about gender, genitalia, nudity, and sex will continue throughout the anime. He never assumes anyone’s gender just by looking at them. He’s doubtful about it right up until the point he’s able to discern what set of genitalia they have. Even though he is surrounded by people conforming to and insisting on conforming to the concept of a gender binary, it never sticks in his head that traits Bulma has in common with other people indicate that they probably are also women. And no one ever really educates him properly on the subject. (We’ll get to the education on the topic he does get later.) His ignorance about these topics is definitely played for laughs, though mostly due to the embarrassment it causes other characters. Goku is never bothered by his lack of understanding or his nudity and never learns how to be because he sees absolutely no reason to be embarrassed. We’ll discuss his lack of understanding and lack of shame and how it connects to the concept of innocence in a later post.
It should be noted that Goku never encounters trans individuals in his journeys, but does become friends with nonbinary individuals. But the conversation about nonbinary gender is never brought up, and all of these nonbinary individuals accept the use of male pronouns.
The episode continues past this point, introducing a turtle who Goku wants to help get back to the ocean.
So far, a lot of Goku’s misunderstandings seem to stem from solely ignorance on how the world works. But as the series continues and Goku becomes more knowledgeable about certain things, it becomes a bit clearer that there’s something else going on there.
Dragonball 1×01 Bulma and Son Goku/The Secret of the Dragonballs Summary
Dragonball is the first in a three-series long story. It began as a gag manga series by Akira Toriyama in 1984, and it ran until 1995. It eventually evolves away from being simply humorous to full of action and even rather bleak at times, though extensive emotional depth is kept at arm’s length, though it can be inferred. Dragonball was inspired by the Chinese novel Journey to the West with some inspiration also being drawn from Jackie Chan and his kung-fu movies and a one-shot story that Toriyama created called Dragon Boy. Goku and his first set of friends (Bulma, Oolong, Yamcha and Puar) are modeled after characters in Journey to the West, Goku being modeled after Sun Wukong*. The manga was adapted into two anime series, Dragonball and Dragonball Z. The anime spanned from 1986 to 1996. Dragonball Z proved to be so popular that, when the manga came to an end, it created its own spin-off series called Dragonball GT that focuses on Goku, his granddaughter Pan, and Trunks, the son of Goku’s best friend Bulma. There are also a variety of Dragonball movies, and Dragonball Z Kai is an edited re-release of Dragonball Z with all the additional material not found in the manga cut out. It also has a lot of video games, soundtracks, and an American live-action movie that no one liked and no one wants to talk about. (The live-action movie’s biggest flaw was that it tried to follow American superhero archetypes while completely ignoring Goku’s original personality. Thus, it was not well received and was not seen by many due to that alone.) Dragonball Z arguably is a huge reason as to why anime became very popular in the Western world and catapulted the genre into Western culture, resulting in the expansion of the anime nerd sub culture. Goku is like the Japanese Superman, and this is important because Son Goku might be the most well-known developmentally disabled character to grace the American television. This was likely an accident, but there are traits that indicate this throughout the series, slowly brought to our attention in ways that are easy to overlook.
(*Sun Wukong was a monkey who possess a lot of hubris, and he was punished for his pride by the Buddha dropping a mountain on him. Sun Wukong was the most violent and most intelligent disciple of Xuanzang. Son Goku is a very strong little boy, but he decidedly is not conventionally bright.)
We begin our story with a survey of the mountainous surroundings, treated to some images of cute little animals just minding their own business. Then we are introduced to Goku, an obviously-strong little boy carrying a giant saw that is three times bigger than he is and walking atop of a giant wheel of wood that he must have sawed off of a tree somewhere.
Goku rides the giant circular block of wood all the way home, which is a house in the middle of the mountains where he lives alone. Once at home, he uses the wood that he has secured for himself as a way to train himself to become stronger. He throws it into the air, jumps up after it, then punches it with his bare hand, and the wood splinters into smaller pieces of wood, suited for fire-making.
Goku then declares to himself that he’s hungry.
We then cut to a car that is rolling along the mountain road. The narrator tells us that Goku isn’t aware of this person’s arrival, but that the new character being introduced is “totally radical.” Enter Bulma Briefs, a pretty teenaged girl with blue hair and a giant pink shirt she’s wearing like a dress, complete with a belt around her waist. He pulls out her Dragon Radar, and the glowing little dot on the radar tells her where she needs to go. I personally don’t know how she can read that thing, seeing as it looks like it’s just a giant pocket watch with a green grid and flashing lights instead of clock hands, but she gets around with it pretty well.
Cut back to Goku, and he is about to go off to hunt down some food for himself. He pays his respects to his “grandpa,” which is in actuality an orange ball with four red stars in the middle. Goku stops his departure when he sees that the ball is glowing, which it hasn’t done before. He continues to talk to it as though it’s a person, specifically Grandpa.
Goku then finds some apples to eat. As he’s tossing away apple cores, one of the cores hits a saber-tooth tiger on the head. The tiger becomes angry and decides it is going to attack Goku over the injury. Goku however uses both the use of his tail and his physical strength to outsmart and overpower the tiger. The tiger ends up going over a cliff. Goku then goes fishing with the help of his tail. He successfully catches a giant fish, that he then takes home.
As he’s reaching his home, Bulma comes barreling down the road in her car. She can’t come to a complete stop in time and ends up hitting Goku with her car. Bulma is rattled, but uninjured. Goku is also pretty okay considering he got hit by a car. He gets up easily and is a little sore all over, but he has no problems going over to Bulma’s car, picking it up with his bare hands, and then throwing it over his head. Goku’s speech indicates that he thinks Bulma’s car is sentient or a part of Bulma’s body. He has never seen a car before. He thinks the car is a monster and that Bulma and the car are trying to steal his well-earned fish.
Before Bulma is able to explain herself, she defends herself with a gun. She shoots multiple bullets at Goku, but they have no effect. Because Goku is ridiculously strong and immune to bullets. Goku also hasn’t seen a gun or bullets before and considers the gun to be “the black arts,” as in witchcraft. His grandfather had taught him that witchcraft is bad, so his response is to begin another attack on Bulma.
Seeing that she actually can’t defend herself against Goku using force, she cries uncle and communicates to Goku that she isn’t a monster, but a human. This gets Goku to stop attacking her.
Goku circles her and surveys her, trying to figure out if Bulma is telling the truth that she’s a human. He sees too many differences between himself and her and thinks that means something’s up. Bulma says that it’s because she’s a girl. Goku hasn’t ever met a girl before. Goku admits that the only other human being he has ever met was his grandfather. Bulma is his only other human contact ever.
Goku tells Bulma that his grandfather is dead now, and as he’s talking about it, he uses his wooden pole that he calls a “power pole” to lift the skirt-looking part of Bulma’s make-shift shirt-dress and gets a peek at Bulma’s panties. This understandably upsets Bulma, and she bats his pole away and pulls her shirt down over her panties. She scolds him, and Goku doesn’t understand why she’s upset. He tells her that he was looking to see if she had a tail and assures her that maybe girls take longer to grow theirs.
Bulma notices for the first time that Goku has a tail. She chooses not to correct him that most people don’t have tails and plays along with his world view. Goku then asks how Bulma got “the monster” to do what she told it to do, and Bulma explains that it’s a car. Goku does comprehend what a car is, but he admits that he’s never seen one before, though his grandfather told him about it.
Goku then invites her to his house for dinner and talking about Bulma’s life in the city (since Goku has never been) and playing together. Bulma tells Goku that if he’s thinking about doing anything improper, he can forget it. She means no sex or other sexual activities, but Goku has absolutely no idea what she’s talking about. Seeing that he doesn’t, Bulma gets embarrassed because she doesn’t want to explain and tells him to just forget it. Goku does that easily enough.
Bulma thinks Goku’s innocence makes him adorable. Goku thinks Bulma is kind of weird. They head on to Goku’s house and exchange names for the first time. Goku thinks Bulma’s name is funny and is not very tactful in telling her so. Bulma takes offense and says that Goku’s not a very normal name either. Goku says it’s still not as weird as hers and laughs about it.
They reach Goku’s home and Goku takes Bulma to meet his grandfather (the glowing orange ball). Goku is about to do whatever greeting ritual he ordinarily does, but pauses when he sees that the ball is glowing again. Bulma gets excited to have found another dragonball. Perhaps too excited because she pushes Goku out of the way so she can grab the dragonball. Goku gets angry and demands that she give his “grandpa” back. Bulma, understandably confused, asks what he means by “grandpa” when it’s a dragonball. Goku swipes the ball back and says that the four-star dragonball is the only thing that his grandfather gave him to remember him by.
Goku thinks that Grandpa is trying to tell him something through the glowing of the dragonball. Bulma takes out her two dragonballs – the five-star ball and the two-star ball. Bulma explains that the balls glow when they’re all together and then explains what dragonballs are and what they do.
There are seven dragonballs in all, and when they’re all together, they summon Shenlong the Dragon. Shenlong then grants one wish, and that wish can be anything you want.
We then cut to the villain of the storyarc, Pilaf and his two minions, Shuu and Mai. Pilaf obtains the one-star dragonball and thinks he can make his wish already. Mai corrects him and tells him that he needs all seven dragonballs before he can make his wish.
Pilaf announces that he wants to wish for control of the entire world.
We then cut to Goku who is reeling with the information that Bulma gave him about the dragonballs. Bulma gets excited just talking about the dragonballs and monologues a little to herself about how she can’t wait to wish herself a boyfriend. Bulma asks if Goku will let her have his dragonball. Goku says no because it’s a gift from his dead grandfather. Bulma tries the tactic of “but your grandpa said to always be nice to girls,” but that doesn’t work. Bulma then tries to barter with Goku, saying that if Goku gives her the dragonball, she’d let Goku see her private area without any underwear on. Goku sees absolutely no reason why he would ever want to see that, and Bulma takes offense.
Bulma then decides to say that he can go with her on her adventure. He’d get to keep his ball, she’d be able to have all seven balls when the time comes to make her wish. She uses the idea that he’d be able to learn a bunch of stuff and see new places and that his grandfather would be very proud of him for doing so much stuff. Goku is easily swayed by the idea of making his grandfather proud and takes her up on her offer.
Bulma does have a secret motive for asking him to come with her. She thinks he’ll make a good bodyguard, considering how strong he is. Which is true.
They start to embark on their adventure, and Goku asks how they’re going to find the dragonballs. Bulma then explains what the Dragon Radar is and shows him how it works. She then takes out a “Dino Cap” that then turns into a motorcycle. Goku freaks out and asks if she’s a witch. Bulma says witchcraft has nothing to do with it and that it’s a scientific invention.
Bulma drives along until she accidentally loses control of the motorbike. She manages to rectify it, but it simulates a “flying” sensation as it jumps off a hill and lands at the bottom. Goku thinks it was fun and wants to do it again. Bulma, though, has to use the bathroom. She tells Goku she needs to make a pit-stop, but Goku doesn’t know what that means, so at first he tries to go with her, but she tells him to stay put, then goes to pee behind a giant rock. Goku doesn’t understand why she can’t pee out in the open like he does. Bulma then screams for Goku to come over to where she is. Goku complains about mixed signals, then sees that she’s being kidnapped by a giant talking pterodactyl.
The pterodactyl asks who Goku is, and Goku introduces himself and asks if he’s a friend of Bulma’s. The pterodactyl lies and says that he is, then ties Goku up to a tree. Goku only clues in that the pterodactyl is lying after he’s already tied up. The pterodactyl makes fun of Goku for being slow on the uptake, then flies away. Goku frees himself from the ropes, then goes back to the motorbike because he thinks it can fly and that he’ll be able to go after them on the bike. He manages to get the bike to jump up into the air, then jumps off the bike when it stops going higher. He uses his power pole by shouting “Power Pole Extend!” The pole elongates, and then Goku uses it to hit the pterodactyl right over the head. The pterodactyl then lets Bulma go and flies away.
Bulma ends up peeing her pants, ruining her underwear.
So far in the story, a lot of Goku’s misunderstandings and view of the world seem to come from the fact that he’s very sheltered. But this is only the first episode, and there are 153 episodes in Dragonball alone.
I am very pleased to announce that the first wave of writers that responded to our Write For Us posting have been recruited to the site. This means that shortly we will start to see some episode recaps from current TV shows, some anime recaps from Hulu, and some book reviews.
We are continuing to expand and to recruit more writers, and there are a couple of people whose applications are still in review, so we will probably be doing about one of these posts per month while we expand.
Because we are recruiting writers who are both writing about intersectional social justice issues and also part of either the big-tent neurodiversity community or the disability blogging community, we’re going to have a variety of voices writing for a wide range of audiences. Some of our new people will be focusing on fandom, some will be focusing on the general public, and some will be (like me) attempting to take a scholarly focus while keeping the language as accessible as possible for a general readership.
Together, we will be pulling toward a Neuroqueer approach to art, literature, and media criticism. Since the goal of this site is to develop that approach in a way that is community-centered, valuing diversity of opinion and flexibility, there will naturally be some inconsistencies and some ideas that don’t develop the way we hope they will. That’s just the nature of the work we’re doing, which is why we are basically constantly recruiting.
Having more voices means having more people checking our reasoning. In that spirit, I want to encourage prospective writers to keep sending us applications, either through the Facebook page or through my email: MichaelScott at Neurotropes dot com.
We’re also always accepting one-off guest posts through that email account if you have single-post reviews of books, movies, video games, or essays comparing shows/works with similar themes. There are several people that have contacted us about contributing these as on-topic movies are released. Most of those people only wanted to know if they could contribute on no schedule, as they developed their essays.
The answer is yes. For them and for you. If you have an essay that fits this site and you want to guest post, you can send submissions in without applying to become a regular writer. MichaelScott at Neurotropes dot com.
Now, let’s welcome our new writers. All of them are starting at the position of “staff writer,” which basically means that they have a standing assignment and they are members of our developmental group that works on site quality and our style guidelines.
The Neurotropes Writers
Reagan Warren graduated with a B.A. in Theatre and Film and Media Studies minor two months after receiving her autism diagnosis. She’s working on keeping her first post-college job while she writes horror movie scripts and a fantasy book in her free time. She was inspired to take up martial arts as a child due to her interest in anime, and she is now a black belt in Tae Kwon Do.
Yi Li is a graphic designer, philosophy grad student, and chronic dabbler. She lives in London, and rambles about TV, politics, and neurodivergence at the tumblr handle DaysandDistance.
Kassiane, alias Neurodivergent K, is an Autistic & epileptic activist who writes at Radical Neurodivergence Speaking, is a reluctant mastermind of We Are Like Your Child, & has made written and spoken words thither and yon. In her daily life she is a dancer, gymnastics coach, neuroscientist in training, and cat furniture.
Reagan and Yi Li will both be covering fall TV for us. Reagan is focusing on NBC’s Hannibal and also on the Hulu release of the Dragonball franchise. Yi Li will be focusing on Elementary to start with, but she has an interest in Mad Men and Game of Thrones too.
Alyssa and Kassiane are our new book bloggers. Both of them will be covering YA, fantasy/science fiction, and other books on topics that this site covers.
With the recruitment process in full swing, my own coverage of shows for the podcast will be slowing down, but I look forward to the new perspectives that our writers will bring us, and I am happy to know that the site is at the point where we can keep this conversation developing in a more expansive, community-oriented way.