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LUJ Professor Edgar Peláez Remembers Dragon Ball Creator Akira Toriyama

LUJ Professor Edgar Peláez Remembers Dragon Ball Creator Akira Toriyama


LUJ Professor Edgar Peláez Remembers Dragon Ball Creator Akira Toriyama

On March 1, 2024, millions of manga fans were saddened by the news that Dragon Ball creator Akira Toriyama had passed away at 68. One of those devoted fans, Dr. Edgar Peláez, now teaches a course in Manga & Anime here at Lakeland University Japan. 

We caught up with Dr. Peláez and asked if he'd reflect a bit on how Toriyama influenced manga. 

In what ways has Toriyama's Dragon Ball impacted the world of manga?

Akira Toriyama changed the world of shounen manga (manga for boys). We can clearly see a before and after on the type of stories that have become popular in Shounen Jump (the magazine that published Toriyama's works) since Toriyama debuted. He followed a similar path as many previous mangaka, starting with a gag manga, Dr. Slump, and later on moving to action and adventure with the publication of Dragon Ball that his popularity reached overseas. 

His works have been a source of inspiration for many popular mangaka like Eichiro Oda, creator of One Piece; Masakasu Katzura, creator of many popular series like Video Girl Ai and DNA2; as well as Masashi Kishimoto, the artist behind Naruto. All of them and many others have shared stories of how the work of Toriyama influenced their life and careers. Without Dragon Ball, we probably wouldn't have One Piece, which is today's longest manga running series.

At the same time, inadvertently, Toriyama's work was key to expanding the influence of anime and manga on a global scale. Many people's first approach to anime was through the Dragon Ball franchise. Its anime adaptation has been broadcast in more than 80 countries and it's safe to say that, for many, it was their first approach toward Japanese culture. Its appeal was such that it even crossed political barriers. After the announcement of Toriyama's death, the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs offered its public condolences; the French President Emmanuel Macron and many Latin American politicians also paid tribute to Toriyama on X (Twitter). This is evidence that Toriyama contributed to the development of Japan's Soft Power and the expansion of Japanese pop culture.

In your interview with The Japan Times, you mentioned 'economic differences' and how the character Goku reflected this in some way. Could you elaborate on that?

The character Goku has a very peculiar story. We can say he's an immigrant from another planet and raised by his adoptive grandpa, who taught him the values of hard work and perseverance. Goku is always in a good mood, despite the many challenges he has to face and keeps working hard to become the strongest fighter. Despite coming from a humble origin, living in the mountains, he ends up becoming the hero that saves earth and even the universe, multiple times, by following the same values that he was taught by his grandpa and his teacher, Master Roshi, who happened to be his grandpa's best friend: eat well, be good and don't give up. 

In many ways, in a region like Latin America, where the economic differences cause many children to live in households in which both parents have to work, or in single-parent families, many of us were partly raised on similar values by our grandparents, encouraging us to keep working hard and not give up on a better future.

Considering Toriyama's career, what would you say will be his lasting influence on the culture of manga?

As I mentioned, his works have been a source of inspiration for many popular manga authors. Shounen manga usually follows the "Hero's Journey" archetype of story, but Toriyama was able to handle it in a way that connected across different generations: Grandparents, Parents and Children have all enjoyed Dragon Ball. His works will continue to bring different generations together. I can only assume that for many mangakas, this will become their goal: creating something that breaks the boundaries of culture, politics and time.