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Influential “Dragon Ball” creator Akira Toriyama dies at 68

Influential “Dragon Ball” creator Akira Toriyama dies at 68

The master artist's work spread the popularity of manga and anime far beyond the borders of Japan, and has made a huge impact on global culture.

Akira Toriyama, one of the most influential manga creators of all time, died March 1 from an acute subdural hematoma. He was 68.

The news was announced Thursday by his company Bird Studio and Capsule Corporation Tokyo, in a statement that noted, "It's our deep regret that he still had several works in the middle of creation with great enthusiasm. Also, he would have many more things to achieve."

Toriyama is best known for creating Dragon Ball and its various sequel series like Dragon Ball Z and Dragon Ball Super, which all played a major role in expanding the popularity of manga and anime far beyond the borders of Japan. They now have fans all over the world, and have made a significant impact on international popular culture.

<p>JIJI PRESS/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock</p> 'Dragon Ball' creator Akira Toriyama in 1982

JIJI PRESS/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

'Dragon Ball' creator Akira Toriyama in 1982

Born in 1955 in the Aichi prefecture of Japan, Toriyama was interested in drawing from a young age. He was influenced by Disney animated films and early manga pioneers like Astro Boy creator Osama Tezuka. His first successful manga was Dr. Slump, which starred an eccentric professor and his powerful young girl robot Arale. Dr. Slump ran from 1980 to 1984 in the pages of Shonen Jump and established Toriyama's career, but he reached even greater success with Dragon Ball.

Inspired by the classic Chinese epic Journey to the West and its hero the Monkey King, Dragon Ball is the story of Goku — a young boy with a monkey tail and martial arts prowess who goes on adventures with friends like tech genius Bulma in search of the titular seven Dragon Balls, which when gathered together can summon a powerful dragon capable of granting any wish. The series, which started as a weekly manga comic before being adapted into a TV anime series, mixed thrilling action with irreverent humor and colorful characters.

Dragon Ball Z expanded on this mythology and brought in more science-fiction elements, revealing that Goku was actually one of the last survivors of an alien race called the Saiyans. Another survivor, the Saiyan Prince Vegeta, came to Earth in search of him, thus beginning one of the most iconic rivalries in all of pop culture. The arrogant, hard-working Vegeta's constant efforts to surpass Goku (who, despite being from a lower social class of Saiyans, grew into one of the most powerful beings in the universe) became one of the highlights of the franchise and has inspired other works — think of Black Panther, in which Michael B. Jordan's Killmonger shows up to challenge Chadwick Boseman’s T'Challa in armor directly modeled after Vegeta's, or last year's Creed III in which Jordan and Jonathan Majors simultaneously punched each other in the face in an homage to an iconic image from one of Goku and Vegeta's many bouts.

Toei Animation 'Dragon Ball Z'
Toei Animation 'Dragon Ball Z'

Toriyama's talent wasn't confined to manga and anime: Even while working on Dragon Ball, he helped design iconic video games like Dragon Quest and Chrono Trigger. Dragon Ball Z was so popular that a sequel anime called Dragon Ball GT began in 1996, but though Toriyama contributed character designs, he mostly stepped back from the prime creative role.

Dragon Ball continued to be so popular over time that in 2015, Toriyama returned to the franchise to helm a new manga and anime called Dragon Ball Super, in which Goku and Vegeta faced challenges from enemies both old and new. The series produced tie-in movies like 2018's Dragon Ball Super: Broly and 2022's Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero, both of which hit No. 1 at the U.S. box office upon release.

"All the fans of Dragon Ball, not only in Japan but worldwide, are the source of this imagination," Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero producer Norihiro Hayashida told EW at San Diego Comic-Con in 2022. "That's why Mr. Toriyama continues working on this. The power given by the audience is the motivation for the creator to continue working on Dragon Ball."

Toei Animation 'Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero'
Toei Animation 'Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero'

Toriyama's cultural influence is hard to overstate. The international popularity of anime like One Piece and Naruto can be directly traced back to him and Dragon Ball. Just ask One Piece creator Eiichiro Oda and Naruto creator Masashi Kishimoto, who released touching tributes to their mentor via the Japanese manga magazine Shonen Jump, in which they both recalled how meeting Toriyama made them feel like children again.

"The thought of never seeing you again fills me with sadness. I've admired you so much since I was a child, and I even remember the day when you called me by name for the first time," Oda wrote. "He showed us the dream that manga can do things like this and that we can go to the world. He gave it to me. It was like watching a hero push forward."

"I grew up with Dr. Slump in the lower grades of elementary school and Dragon Ball in the upper grades, and it was natural for me to have his manga next to me as part of my life," Kishimoto wrote. "Even if I had a bad experience, watching Dragon Ball every week made me forget about it. It was a relief for me, a country boy who had nothing. Because Dragon Ball was really fun!"

Kishimoto continued, "I also wanted to create works like yours! I wanted to be like my teacher!"

Check out a selection of other Toriyama tributes below, from longtime Goku voice actor Masako Nozawa, Chinese state officials, and more.

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