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Master Designer and Director Akira Toriyama

Diane M. Sattler, Ph.D.
8 Jan 2016

Akira Toriyama, a former poster designer, came to be one of the most recognized and celebrated manga, anime and game creators in Japan and possibly the world. His most famous work was the "Dragon Ball" series of 1984, but he was also known for his popular video games: the "Dragon Quest" series, "Blue Dragon" and "Chrono Trigger."

Dragon Ball: Mystery of Shenron

This was Toriyama's first experience in video games, which he developed for Nintendo (NES). Although it‘s not considered the best game that Nintendo had, it was a good first effort by Toriyama, and it enjoyed some popularity among gamers. The star, Goku, must fight enemies that keep popping up in this overview game, which switches to side-scrolling for the big fights. The action loosely follows Toriyama's "Dragon Ball's" first two volumes where he collects, well, Dragon Balls. After that, Goku gets involved in a World Martial Arts Tournament for three levels, facing off against various strong opponents. Final levels depict Goku borrowing the Dragon Radar from Bulma and heading out in search of his Grandpa Gohan's dragon ball keepsake.

Famicom Jump II: Strongest Seven

Thid console was released in Japan in the early 1980's as the Family Computer, which was also known as Famicom. The platform was released two years later in the U.S. It was for this Famicom that the toy company, Bandai, created the Jump II role playing game (RPG). The stars were seven of the most famous characters created by Akira Toriyama. The main character is Goku, but other characters like Dr. Slump Arale share in this adventure. Toriyama also had hands-on collaboration with the design of enemies and vehicles among other things.

Chrono Trigger

"Chrono Trigger" usually is considered Toriyama's most important work. It is renowned in the game industry for its design and its influence on themes of the future. He and two other designers joined their considerable talents to create "Chrono Trigger." This game is where time travel was introduced, which now is a staple for game designers. Also, "Chrono Trigger" pioneered more fully developed characters, unique battle techniques and several game endings. It was a commercial success. In addition to NES, "Chrono" was adapted for PlayStation, mobile phones and ios and android devices.

Here are some of the noteworthy features of the game:

Attacks—Attacks, which can employ physical or magical methods, happen as opponents lie in wait in different places on the map, and that's where the battles take place. Characters have hit points, and when they're gone, game play is over, but the player can restore a previously saved point to continue.

Time travel—Using time travel is accomplished through time gates and eventually through a found device called "Epoch." By using time travel, players can wander through and play in all seven layers of time, while also affecting and changing the future (a real programming challenge).

Combining skills—Characters can combine their special fighting skills, and the combination forms a new skill that pops up in the choices when they have enough points.

New game plus—Players can begin a new game at the same levels that they've built up in a current game, very popular with gamers.

Eras—Eras include a prehistoric period with dinosaurs roaming the Earth, the Middle Ages with knights and magic, and a stark future of the struggle to survive after an apocalyptic event has occurred. Players can travel back and forth among the eras.

Tobal No. 1

"Tobal No. 1" was the first Toriyama design in 3D. Although the graphics were rough by today's standards, it still was a quantum leap for the field of graphics, and is considered a cult hit in the U.S. "Tobal No. 1" is set in the future and presents a familiar contemporary theme of struggle for ownership of natural energy resources, in this case, Molmoran ore. In the game, ownership is to be determined by tournament play, a civilized departure from all-out warfare.

One of the outstanding features of this game is the soundtrack. Digicube, which arranged the sound, later released the soundtrack plus one other track. Guido also released remixes: "Tobal No. 1 Remixes Electrical Indian." What makes the soundtrack so memorable? Rather than combining the usual techno and rock, electronic and instrumental music for this game is drawn from almost every musical genre the eight game music composers represent. Although it sounds like a committee designing an elephant, the combination not only works, it seems to be magical.

Blue Dragon

Toriyama directed this anime, which is based on an Xbox 360 game of the same name. He expected it to be his final work, a masterpiece in its own right. "Blue Dragon" didn't get the critical acclaim he expected, but it endured as manga and anime for nearly three years.

Toriyama's Short Works

After Toriyama stopped the extremely popular "Dragon Ball" series because he'd become a bit burned out and wanted to move on with his life, he formed his own studio, Tori (translated as bird), as a kind of namesake. Having his own studio gave him the freedom to focus on shorter works of his own choice, such as "Cowa!", "Kajika," and "Sand Land."

"Cowa!" is, in short, a tale of a human and monsters who form an unlikely and tenuous alliance and set out to save their village. The story has some interesting twists, such as:

  • Human and monster alliances
  • Shape-shifting monster
  • Use of Kung-Fu to fight monsters
  • Deadly disease, Monster Flu, that only affects monsters
  • Monster who is shrunken by hearing whistling (Aside: Could this this be akin to whistling in the dark that Mom always told us would chase away the monsters? I don't know if Japanese mothers also comfort their children with this suggestion.)
  • "Kajika" was serialized in "Jump" then collected and published in one volume in Japan, translated for parts of Europe, but wasn't published in the U.S. The volume was a tankobon, a stand-alone (non-series) work of manga. The main character, Kajika, had been turned into a fox-man from a curse to punish him for cruelly killing a fox as a boy. His salvation is that, if he saves 1,000 lives, he'll be restored to human form and allowed back into the village. So, he hooks up with a couple of other adventurers and they set out on a quest, saving lives and returning a dragon's egg that had delivered a curse to them. Despite the best efforts of an intent assassin who's pursuing them, they prevail.

    The "Sand Land" manga series was also collected into a tankobon at the beginning of this century, and three years later, it was released as a graphic novel. The consuming theme of this work is the shortage of water, a fictional struggle that may foreshadow future reason for conflicts, as it reflects ancient feuds over the precious resource. The group finds the dammed water—right in the oppressive king's backyard—reserved for his exclusive use. When the infuriated citizens rebel and tear down the dam, they also destroy the despotic king's power over the people. Power to the people! is a theme that resonates with people, no matter where they live.

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