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Remembering manga artist and Dragon Ball creator Akira Toriyama


One of the most respected and successful manga artists in the world has died. Akira Toriyama, creator of the series "Dragon Ball," was 68 years old. And as the news spread Friday, fans poured out their love and appreciation for the artist, whose work introduced many in America and around the world to manga and anime. Toussaint Egan joins us. He's an editor at the website Polygon. Mr. Egan, thanks so much for being with us.

TOUSSAINT EGAN: Thank you so much for having me.

SIMON: Help us understand Akira Toriyama's his talents and contributions, if we can. He started the "Dragon Ball" manga in 1984, which of course features Son Goku, a martial artist.

EGAN: Yeah. So he started the manga in 1984 after he completed "Dr. Slump," which was his first mainstream debut in Japan. But "Dragon Ball" eclipsed that popularity, like, almost a hundredfold, actually. And in 1986, it was actually adapted into an anime that ran from 1986 to 1989.

SIMON: We have a little sound effect from one of the anime episodes. This is the energy beams that Goku shoots from his hands.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As Goku) Kamehameha.

SIMON: Children all over the world can imitate this.

EGAN: Absolutely. Yeah. It brings me back to Saturday mornings when I was a kid. Yeah.

SIMON: Yeah. "Dragon Ball," of course, has a global audience, but it resonated especially with Black fans. Why do you think that's so?

EGAN: Goku's story from his earliest chapters in "Dragon Ball" to even, like, his - the middle of his life in the chapters of "Dragon Ball Z," he was an outcast. He was somebody who was a stranger in a strange world. And it's not that Goku could not be defeated. It's that he always persisted and always got stronger, and in that way he was undefeatable. And I think that was a story that just resonated for a lot of, like, Black kids coming up, including myself.

SIMON: Well, tell us about your relationship with "Dragon Ball," if you could. How did you start watching? What did it mean to you?

EGAN: Oh, everything to "Dragon Ball." It was the first anime that I ever watched. I remember I watched my first episode of "Dragon Ball" on - I believe it was a public-access Spanish-language channel. And I did not know a lick of Spanish back then, and I do not know a lick of Spanish now, but I can tell you that I was so enraptured by what I was seeing on the screen that I still dutifully woke up and checked that channel every day, just so I could have just another inkling of "Dragon Ball" before I finally figured out what it was.

SIMON: What was there in Akira Toriyama's artistry that - now that you have some expertise in analyzing this, that you think reached into you?

EGAN: I think that he has just honestly iconic line work. I think that his characters had wide eyes and just very expressionable (ph) faces. He also, like, came up with all kinds of flying machines and crazy doohickeys that you'd always see, like, in the manga or in the TV show. He was just a masterful draftsman and a masterful character designer on all fronts.

SIMON: What kind of legacy and inspiration does Akira Toriyama leave?

EGAN: To try to sum it up, it feels almost incalculable - I mean, across not just how "Dragon Ball" introduced an entire generation of anime audiences, including myself, to anime, but how it has impact music, how it has impact fashion, how it has impact even manga, relatively. Nearly every single major manga that exists today, whether you're thinking about "One Piece," whether you're thinking about "My Hero Academia" - it's literally dizzying. There's hardly a shonen manga that exists today that has not in some way been touched by the influence of "Dragon Ball." It's that huge.

SIMON: Toussaint Egan, an editor at the website Polygon, thanks so much for being with us.

EGAN: Thank you so much for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.