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Asahi Shimbun Digital

Akira Toriyama Interview

“The Creator Shows Some Spine” with the New Movie ― Akira Toriyama-san Exclusive Interview

(Arrangement: Tetsuo Iwamoto) Akira Toriyama, creator of Dragon Ball, manga and anime that define Japanese pop culture, accepted a written interview with the Asahi Shimbun. The new movie, Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Gods, opened on the 30th, and an exhibition of his work in commemoration of it is already underway. In the Digitial Edition, we are making available all the questions from the written interview. (Parts of the correspondence that reveal contents of the film have not been included.)

■ Becoming Involved For the First Time in a Long While

In the latest movie, Toriyama-san, you participated in the production from the scriptwriting stage for the first time. What is the reason for that? Was there anything you noticed in coming face-to-face with the work after so long?
I was told about a project for Dragon Ball in its first animated film in a long while, and I read the story outline; while the beings “Beerus, God of Destruction” and “Super Saiyan God” (which goes above Super Saiyan) were interesting, the themes were heavy, and I felt that the world was a bit different from Dragon Ball. Rather than telling them about this or that problematic spot, I thought it would be faster if I just wrote it out concretely, and while I had intended just to give them a model―”for example”―my hand wouldn’t stop, and ultimately, I ended up writing almost everything, including the dialogue. I am reflecting on the fact that I did something terribly rude to the scriptwriter.

The serialization (in Weekly Shōnen Jump) was quite a while ago, so there were quite a few parts I’d forgotten, but as I flipped through the pages of my own manga that I hardly ever read, I was immediately able to get back its feeling, as you’d expect of the original creator.

Also, at the time of the Hollywood movie, the live-action Dragon Ball, the script had too little of a grasp on the world and its characteristics, and on top of that, it had a conventional content that I couldn’t find interesting, so I cautioned them, and suggested changes; but in spite of that, they seemed to have a strange confidence, and didn’t really listen to me. What came out in the end was a movie I couldn’t really call a Dragon Ball that lived up to my expectations.1

That being the case, there were parts where I wanted to show some spine, with a world and story only the creator could draw.

What areas did you expand from the suggestions on Beerus’s concept, having an aspect of greed with regards to food, and his cat-like visuals? What is the origin of Beerus’s name?
Beerus, God of Destruction, was in the story outline I was shown in the beginning, but things like the character concept, I ended up completely changing. With his being greedy with food, as well, I was aiming for the amusing gap with this fearsome being called the God of Destruction. As for his visuals, when I was thinking of a pattern for an enemy I hadn’t drawn in the past, the family cat caught my eye, and I thought I’d go with that. (It is a breed called a Cornish Rex; a bit of a rare cat, which is not popular in Japan.)

The name Beerus, I used as-is from the story outline. Anyway, it’s apparently a name that was taken from “virus”, but I mistakenly thought it came from “beer”, and gave his attendant the name “Whis”, which I took from “whiskey”. (Shueisha gives a supplemental explanation that officially, “Beers” comes from “beer”, and “Whis” from “whiskey”.)

He fights against ever-stronger opponents, so I imagine it becomes difficult to express the battles. In what way you come up with devices to show that he was fighting the “mightiest foe”?
I’ve drawn all sorts of battle scenes before, so to be honest, I had already nearly run out of patterns to use.

This time, it was mainly expressing the sentiment of “god vs. god” while they land heavy blows on each other, but the other battle scenes overflowing with a sense of speed, I left up to the anime staff. I admired how, thanks to them, it’s one wonderful battle scene after another: “Just as I expected from them!”

You made some comedic scenes where you have minor villains Pilaf & co. appear; how did you come up with a balance between laughs and fierce battles? Do you pay attention to the difference between comedy and battle in making a work “entertaining”?
I believe that, when you combine comedy and serious battles, both of them might come alive even more. As for me personally, though, I much prefer drawing dumb jokes to battle scenes.

■ I made the manga like this

Toriyama-san, it seems that you don’t think that your manga is imbued with much of a message; why is that?
I believe the mission of my manga is to be entertainment exclusively. I even feel that as long as I can allow [the reader] to have an enjoyable time once, I don’t mind if nothing remains, so I’ve never deliberately drawn it with the intention of sending a message.

Messages and moving scenes are things that other manga artists already draw.

I saw in a past interview that you said you enjoyed the part in the Dragon Ball serialization around where Piccolo Daimaō appears. Why is that? In looking back once again, what was the most enjoyable point in the serialization?
The reason I enjoyed drawing Piccolo Daimaō was because up until then, there were parts where I’d dragged in a bit of gag manga, and even though there were bad guys, they still had a humorous aspect to them somewhere. I had never drawn someone so evil before, so it felt very fresh.

I feel that, from this point on, the direction of the Dragon Ball manga was set.

The serialization was an epic that spanned a period of over 10 years; was there any sort of rules that you’d decided upon in drawing it?
It’s not something I’d go so far as to call a rule, but deadlines alone were something I absolutely kept. That’s because previously, when I was working as a designer at small advertising agency2, I saw and experienced firsthand just how many people it would cause trouble for if I went even a little bit over the deadline.
Was it because you thought it was more appropriate for shōnen manga that the emphasis shifted from the initial Journey to the West-style adventure story to battles at [events] such as the Tenka’ichi Budōkai?
While I was able to take the plot developments wherever I saw fit with an adventure-story, on the other hand, it didn’t have a lick of popularity. In spite, I shifted the focus to fighting, [thinking] “This is the kind of manga you’re all waiting for, right?” and as soon as I did that, it immediately became popular. That operation was too successful, and I remember being surprised myself.
With huge foes the likes of Freeza and Majin Boo before him, Goku trains and trains, and gets stronger. [In Dragon Ball], both physical growth and the passage of time are depicted, but “human drama”, such as romance, doesn’t come up very much. Do you have some sort of policy about that area? Did you think it wasn’t a match [for you / the story]?
That’s simply because I’m not good with expressing romance. Likewise, I can’t draw a kind and gentle girl. Also, this is often misunderstood, but I’m not good with wholesome content. It may seem wholesome at first glance, but there’s actually poison inside.
Early on, there were depictions of risqué content, such as in the interaction between Kame-Sen’nin and Bulma, but as the tale went on, I feel as though the sense of seriousness increased (the comical parts became fewer and farther between). Did you have a change of heart or anything while you continued the serialization?
This, too, is purely because, with the developments in the story, there was no longer a place for drawing risqué things.

However, stupid gags, at least, I would continue to squeeze into gaps in the fighting. To the point that I was patiently drawing the battle scenes for the sake of these little gags.

Where did you get the idea for sound effects that protrude outside the edges of the manga’s panels?
This isn’t particularly something I did deliberately; it’s just sort of to express that the sound is that forceful. I hadn’t read much (other) manga, so I don’t really know, but I think it’s probably a technique that already existed beforehand?
In order to show the movements of the fight, you made effective use of cuts between near and far. What sort of merits does that effect have?
If I drew nothing but close-ups, it would become difficult to understand what they were doing and where. So not only in the battles, but in general, I deliberately drew it so that, as often as possible, I could get at least one panel on a page that was a wide shot. Also, by depicting variation in size, it brings the power of the close-ups to life.
You have not only only artificial humans, but also many animal-like characters. How did you use them differently when you made them into humans or animals?
It would be boring if I just drew humans all the time, and it’s a quick-and-easy way of expressing a fantastical setting, so I often drew them to vary the characters, but in cases where they didn’t fit with serious scenes, I don’t think I drew them very much.

I’ve loved animals since I was a child, and I enjoy drawing them, too. To to the point that, since I don’t like socializing, I have more animals than friends.

What about the drive that enabled you to continue the serialization for so long?
That’s truly because of the response from everyone who enjoyed reading it, and because it was worth doing. That’s not just lip service; I really mean it.

By its very nature, manga is something where you have to draw a lot of similar illustrations. So for a fickle person like me, while it was fun in terms of expression, a lot of parts were rough, and there were many times that I wanted it to end soon.

For that reason, I’ve since lost any trace of the will to do a weekly serial, and it’s now all that I can do just to occasionally draw a short-term serial or one-shot manga.

What sort of presence does Dragon Ball have for you, Toriyama-san? What differences are there in comparison to your other works, such as Dr. Slump?
I suppose this manga was something of a miracle, in the fact that I, with my perverted and irritating personality, was able to do respectable work and have it be accepted by the public. The manga artist Masakazu Katsura, a close friend of mine who I’ve known since way back, is always saying this.

■ Considering its spread around the world

Both the tankōbon and the anime of Dragon Ball are famous around the world, and are loved across generations and borders. Is it because things such as Asian-style Kung-Fu, “Qi” culture, and its similarity to Journey to the West, were seen as exotic in the West, or were other elements more important [to its success]? What do you see as the reason for its being a hit?
I honestly have no idea why this is. During the serialization, I just kept drawing with the sole purpose of making Japanese boys happy.
After Dragon Ball, other Japanese manga and anime have penetrated the wider world. How do you see the spread of Japanese works around the globe? Where do you believe the strength of “Japanese manga and anime” lies?
Manga is a world where connections and large sums of money get you nowhere, and you compete solely on your abilities. I believe the works of various genres that have been accepted by the discerning eyes of Japan’s manga and anime fans are at an extremely high level as works of entertainment for the masses. The fact that those chosen works are being enjoyed all over the world may, in a sense, be only natural.

Neither conscious of the wider world, nor intending to make lots of money, their authors cut down on sleep and stake their lives on creating, simply because they are dead-set on giving people enjoyment. I suppose that pureness is probably their strength.

The following translator notes are included for the benefit of the reader as supplemental information.

1 This could alternatively be read as: “What came out in the end was, sure enough, a movie that I couldn’t really call Dragon Ball.”
2 Incidentally, his work in the advertising industry is where Toriyama pulled the “lingerie / foundation” pun for Lan-Fan, the female competitor during the 21st Tenka’ichi Budōkai.
English Translation: SaiyaJedi