Akira Toriyama: Legacy of the Dragon Ball Creator

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With the beloved Dragon Ball series that is known for its epic stories and iconic characters releasing the new anime “Dragon Ball Daima” in spring 2024, we are reminded of Akira Toriyama’s lasting impact. Join us as we explore the legacy left behind by this visionary creator.

Akira Toriyama was born in Kiyosu, Aichi Prefecture, Japan. As a kid, he loved drawing, often creating pictures of animals and vehicles that fascinated him. His love for art started because of the Disney movie “One Hundred and One Dalmatians” in 1961, inspiring him to create illustrations just like it.

His first encounter with manga was from his classmate’s brother’s collection in elementary school. He later on even watched manga on a TV at a neighbor’s house which also left a big impression. He cites Osamu Tezuka’s “Astro Boy,” as the manga which started kickstarted his love affair with the genre.

Akira Toriyama

In elementary school, all his classmates drew anime and manga because there were not many entertainment options at that time. During middle school, he got more interested in movies and TV shows, taking a break from manga, but he still enjoyed creating his own manga from time to time.

In high school, Toriyama went to a school focused on creative design, and despite not reading manga very actively, he still made his own stories sometimes. After high school, Toriyama chose to work instead of continuing his studies, despite his parents’ objections. He worked at an advertising agency in Nagoya, designing posters for three years. Even though he was good at the job, he eventually got tired of it and left.

After quitting his job at 23, Toriyama entered the manga world by submitting work to a contest in Weekly Shōnen Magazine. Even though the timing did not line up for that contest, he got noticed by Kazuhiko Torishima, his future editor. Toriyama’s first published work, “Wonder Island,” came in 1978, but it didn’t do well. Despite the setback he kept drawing and sending in more stories, including “Today’s Highlight Island” in 1979.

Wonder Island by Akira Toriyama
Wonder Island by Akira Toriyama

In 1980, he hit success with “Dr. Slump,” serialized in Weekly Shōnen Jump until 1984 and the manga became very popular, earning him awards and a TV anime. This success led to Toriyama creating more manga for Jump and other magazines, winning contests like the Reader’s Choice with “Pola & Roid” in 1981.

Then came “Dragon Ball” in 1984, serialized until 1995 and selling millions of copies that later became a global phenomenon with anime, games, and more. While working on “Dragon Ball,” Toriyama also designed characters for video games like “Dragon Quest” and “Chrono Trigger.” In the late 1990s and 2000s, Toriyama worked on various one-shots like “Cowa!” and “Kajika,” along with collaborations like “Cross Epoch” with “One Piece” creator Eiichiro Oda. He also designed an electric car called “QVOLT” in 2005.

Toriyama continued to work on “Dragon Ball” related projects like “Dragon Ball GT” and “Dragon Ball Super.” His involvement in these series, along with designing new characters and storylines, kept the “Dragon Ball” franchise alive and well. In recent years, he designed a logo for his hometown’s anniversary in 2024 and created a new story arc for the anime adaptation of “Sand Land.” He’s also behind the story and characters of the upcoming “Dragon Ball Daima” anime series.

Akira Toriyama was inspired by his love for Hong Kong martial arts films that starred actors like Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan, and he set out to create a manga series that helped embody the spirit of these action-packed movies.

He started by writing his one-shot manga “Dragon Boy” in 1983, which later became the iconic “Dragon Ball.” This story was loosely based on an old Chinese tale called “Journey to the West” from where Toriyama crafted his notable characters in Dragon Ball—Goku as Sun Wukong, Bulma as Tang Sanzang, Oolong as Zhu Bajie, and Yamcha as Sha Wujing.

To blend the spirit of “Journey to the West” with the style of kung fu films, Toriyama created “Dragon Ball” with a martial arts theme. The title itself, “Dragon Ball,” was a homage to films like “Enter the Dragon” and the dragon-themed kung fu movies that were popular at that time. As the manga was serialized in a shōnen magazine, Toriyama introduced the concept of the Dragon Balls—a game-like quest to gather these mystical orbs. Toriyama had started on “Dragon Ball” with the aim that it would be a year-long venture, focusing on a simple storyline aimed at older readers than his previous work, “Dr. Slump.”

Dragon Ball
Dragon Ball

When he created Dragon Ball, he deliberately wanted to move away from Western influences and wanted to craft manga in a fictional world inspired by various Asian cultures. Throughout the series, he made new additions like the introduction of characters like Kame-Sen’nin and Kuririn, along with the Tenkaichi Budōkai martial arts tournament after getting feedback from his editors. The tournament storyline helped in capturing fans’ attention, helping “Dragon Balls” to rise in popularity.

As the series grew, Toriyama introduced tough enemies like the Saiyans and the evil Freeza, drawing inspiration from real-life issues in Japan, like greedy landowners during an economic boom. He never had the characters set from before and his storyline changed with time. As the story went on, Toriyama added time travel and thought about having Gohan replace Goku as the main character, but changed his mind later. He also made interesting choices in art where instead of big, powerful characters, he often drew strong characters as small, like Goku.

With “Dragon Ball,” Akira Toriyama changed shōnen manga forever, leaving behind a legacy of thrilling adventures, martial arts skills, and unforgettable characters that keep inspiring manga fans across the world.

On March 1, 2024, Akira Toriyama passed away at the age of 68 due to an acute subdural hematoma. His death was announced on March 8 by his production company Bird Studio, and the news was met with immense sorrow by fans all around the world who flooded social media with condolences.

Tributes poured in from fellow manga creators, including Eiichiro Oda, Masashi Kishimoto, and Masakazu Katsura, highlighting Toriyama’s impact on the industry. The news of his passing even eclipsed major events, such as President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address.

Recognized for his role in promoting Japan’s soft power globally, Toriyama received tributes from world leaders like French President Emmanuel Macron and French Prime Minister Gabriel Attal. Even China and El Salvador’s foreign ministries expressed their condolences.

His influence on the manga world is undeniable. Many manga artists credit Toriyama and his work, “Dragon Ball,” as an inspiration. For example, Eiichiro Oda, creator of “One Piece,” Masashi Kishimoto of “Naruto,” and Hiro Mashima of “Fairy Tail” are among the countless artists who were inspired by Toriyama.

The various awards he has won throughout his lifetime show his impact on manga history. He was ranked second in a 2008 Oricon poll of favorite manga artists and second again in a 2010 poll of manga artists that changed the history of manga, second only to Osamu Tezuka.

His contributions go beyond manga, with Toriyama designing characters for video games like “Dragon Quest” and “Chrono Trigger.” IGN even recognized him as one of the Top 100 Game Creators of All Time and the French government honored Toriyama as a Chevalier of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres for his artistic contributions in 2019. He was also nominated for entry into the Will Eisner Hall of Fame.

As a testament to his legacy, Toriyama will posthumously receive a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2024 Tokyo Anime Awards Festival. The impact of his work continues to be present, making sure that Akira Toriyama’s name will forever be a source of creativity and inspiration in the world of manga and beyond.

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